John Dillinger – Infamous Criminals
John Herbert Dillinger (June 22, 1903–July 22, 1934) was a bank robber in the Midwestern United States during the 1930s. Some considered him a dangerous criminal, while others idolized him as a present-day Robin Hood. He gained this latter reputation (and the nickname “Jackrabbit”) for his graceful movements during heists, such as leaping over the counter (a movement he supposedly copied from the movies) and many narrow getaways from police. His exploits, along with those of other criminals of the Great Depression, such as Bonnie and Clyde and Ma Barker, dominated the attention of the American press and its readers during what is sometimes referred to as the public enemy era (1931-1935), a period which led to the further development of the modern and more sophisticated Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Dillinger embraced the criminal lifestyle behind bars, learning the ropes from seasoned bank robbers like Harry Pierpont of Muncie, Indiana and Russell “Boobie” Clark of Terre Haute. The men planned heists that they would commit soon after they were released. Once Dillinger was released from Indiana State Prison at Michigan City, he helped conceive a plan for the escape of Pierpont, Clark and several others, most of whom worked in the prison laundry. The group known as the “first Dillinger gang” included Pierpont, Clark, Charles Makley, Edward W. Shouse, Jr., of Terre Haute, Harry Copeland, “Oklahoma Jack” Clark, Walter Dietrich and John “Red” Hamilton. Homer Van Meter and Lester Gillis (a.k.a. Baby Face Nelson) were among those who joined the “second Dillinger gang” after he escaped from the county jail at Crown Point, Indiana.
Among Dillinger’s more celebrated exploits was his pretending to be a sales representative for a company that sold bank alarm systems. He reportedly entered a number of Indiana and Ohio banks and used this ruse to assess security systems and bank vaults of prospective targets. Another time, the gang pretended to be part of a film company that was scouting locations for a “bank robbery” scene. Bystanders stood and smiled as a real robbery ensued and Dillinger and friends rode off with the loot. Stories such as this only served to increase Dillinger’s burgeoning legend.