Moment of Indiana History

Dillinger – The Hoosier

Although he met his end in front of a Chicago movie house on July 22, 1934, the nation’s first Public Enemy Number One eventually found his way back home again to Indiana.

Alongside Eli Lilly, James Whitcomb Riley, and President Benjamin Harrison, legendary gangster John Dillinger is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis . Attending Dillinger’s funeral was a primal memory from his Hoosier childhood for Pop artist Robert Indiana, who would go on to create the LOVE icon.

John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in 1903; his mother died when the boy was three. More mischievous than the average lad, young John reputedly tied a playmate to the conveyor belt in the local veneer factory, releasing him only within a yard of the circular saw. Hoping to rein in the wayward adolescent, Dillinger’s father moved the family to the rural outskirts. After an abbreviated stint in the service, Dillinger returned to Mooresville and married, but quickly resorted to a criminal livelihood.

A grocery store hold-up that went awry in 1924 landed him 10 to 20 in the Indiana State Prison. Released on parole after nine years, Dillinger went on to pull bank heists across the state with a cadre of associates he’d established behind bars. Despite repeated incarcerations in Pendleton, Crown Point and Michigan City, Dillinger and his gangs managed to score more than $300,000 total, equivalent to 5 million today. Known for such acts as destroying a bank’s mortgage records during a robbery, Dillinger’s reputation for charity toward the common man, along with his movie-star looks and maneuvers cast him as a Depression-era Robin Hood.

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