79 years ago today, Dillinger gunned down

John Dillinger
John Dillinger and Billie Frechette

CHICAGO, IL – On July 22, 1934, famous bank robber John Dillinger was gunned down by federal agents outside of Chicago’s Biograph Theatre. Dillinger began his criminal career ten years earlier, robbing a grocery store in a small Indiana town. The police quickly caught up with him after the robbery and he was soon sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison. While in prison, Dillinger befriended many seasoned bank robbers, including Harry Pierpont, Homer Van Meter, and John “Red” Hamilton. These men taught Dillinger the finer points of robbing banks, and the group agreed that when they got out of prison that was exactly what they would do.


When Dillinger was released on parole after serving nine years, he immediately set about devising a plan to break his friends out. Dillinger’s gang was eventually able to escape, after Dillinger was able to smuggle pistols into the prison. The robbers then set about going on a crime spree throughout the Midwest, robbing more than a dozen banks. An army of FBI agents were tasked with tracking down Dillinger, and they soon tracked him to a lodge resort in rural Wisconsin. In what became known as the Little Bohemia shootout, hundreds of rounds were fired, one FBI agent was killed, and the Dillinger gang escaped.


Following the gun battle Dillinger traveled to Chicago were he laid low in a safe house, going so far as to burn off his finger prints and get a facelift in order to conceal his identity. However, the FBI was still able to get to him after convincing Dillinger’s friend and brothel owner Anna Sage to cooperate in order to avoid deportation. Sage told agents that she would take Dillinger to see a movie at the Biograph Theatre and that when the two came out, they could pounce on him. FBI agents were told to watch for her bright orange dress. At 10:40 p.m., Dillinger exited the theatre and the agents struck. He saw it coming however, and began fleeing down a neighboring alley. After seeing Dillinger draw a gun, the agents opened up, shooting Dillinger three times and killing him. The Man FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Public Enemy No. 1 was dead.