John DillingerOn March 3, 1934, bank robber and cop killer John Dillinger finally went too far. He committed a criminal act so heinous that there was even a federal law against it, ultimately prompting the FBI to hunt him down like a dog. That day, Dillinger had already busted out of a county jail in Indiana with a wooden replica of a gun he had whittled in his cell. Once outside, he stole a car and drove to Chicago, crossing into Illinois in the process.
In 1934, driving a stolen car across state lines was a federal offense. Robbing banks and killing police officers weren't. The FBI suddenly had jurisdiction to go after Dillinger, and director J. Edgar Hoover immediately made apprehending him the agency's top priority.
In Chicago, Dillinger tried to keep a low profile. He hung out with his girlfriend, and they stayed out of public places. But hiding out gets boring real quick, and in late July they decided it would be worth the risk to go see a movie. They figured it wasn't likely that anyone would recognize him in a darkened theater. And they were right -- nobody did recognize him.
Except for the FBI agents, who had been tipped off by an anonymous phone call about three hours earlier. They were told that Dillinger and two women would be taking in a movie around 8 o'clock at one of two theaters, the Marbro or the Biograph. So the FBI staked out both places.
This was the FBI's second chance. Their prior attempt, at a lodge in rural Wisconsin, had resulted in a bloodbath. The FBI accidentally machinegunned three innocent bystanders, killing one of them. Then the gangsters shot their way out, murdering one agent, wounding another, and also wounding a local cop. And all of the bad guys had gotten away. That debacle took place back in April, and the subsequent press coverage had been an ongoing embarrassment for Hoover.
Just before nine o'clock, Dillinger and his female companions arrived at the Biograph. They were spotted by FBI agents, who immediately alerted headquarters. The entire staff of Chicago's FBI office converged on the theater. They made the determination to confront the fugitive upon exiting the building. Agents were stationed outside each of the exits, where they waited for Dillinger to emerge.
Around 10:30 the trio finally appeared, and the agents closed in. Dillinger broke into a run and went for his gun. Three of the FBI men gunned him down. Two bullets hit him in the chest, and another round punched through the back of the head and out the right eye socket.
Now that the FBI had finally gotten their man, J. Edgar Hoover milked the event for all it was worth. Press photographers were invited to take pictures. The photos reveal what appears to be the entire staff of the Alexian Brothers hospital crowded into the morgue, gawking at the decedent.
One particularly famous image of Dillinger's body tilted up on an exam table sparked the lingering rumor that he had possessed a gargantuan penis. The conspicuous lump in the crotchal region was actually the dead man's arm in rigor mortis, captured with an unfortunate camera angle.
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