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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press In this July 1934 file photo, people view the body of gangster John Dillinger in a Chicago morgue.

Saturday, August 10, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Could Dillinger have escaped again?

During his brief reign of crime in the early 1930s, John Dillinger is said to have driven FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bananas by repeatedly eluding the agency. The chase should have ended when Dillinger, charged with killing an East Chicago police officer during a bank robbery, was locked up in the Crown Point Jail in northwest Indiana.

The sheriff at the time, Lillian Holley, never wanted to talk publicly about how her infamous prisoner was able to escape on March 3, 1934, though reporters hounded her for decades afterward. (She died at 103 in 1994.) Somehow, Dillinger was able to make a fake wooden gun and bluff the guards into giving up their machine guns.

Less than three months later, Dillinger was shot to death by FBI agents and East Chicago officers as he emerged from a Chicago movie theater and went for his gun. He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, the city of his birth.

Or was he? As his legend has grown over the years, so too have doubts about whether they got the right guy. Arguing that the corpse buried in Dillinger's grave isn't his, some of his descendants have gotten a judge to allow the body to be exhumed as part of a History Channel documentary.

Courts allow this sort of thing for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the resting places of the famous have to be redone after they are disturbed by grave robbers – as were the tombs of Abraham Lincoln, in 1876, and Charlie Chaplin, in 1978. Sometimes it's to let family members be reburied together, or to resolve purported mysteries.

Two years after his death in 2008, Bobby Fischer, the chess master, was removed from his grave in Iceland at the request of an ex-girlfriend who wanted a paternity test administered. Fischer, it turned out, wasn't the father. Lee Harvey Oswald's grave was dug up in 1981 to determine whether the body resting there was that of the presumed assassin or of a Soviet agent: It was Oswald.

Let's hope the body in Dillinger's grave turns out to match the name on the headstone. Imagine, with everything else that's going on in the world, finding out that Public Enemy No. 1 got away again.