Did the FBI Really kill John Dilinger in 1934?

The official account is that the FBI killed John Dillinger on July 22, 1934 outside the Biograph Theatre with the Lady in Red leading him to his demise and all that. But there is usually a caveat that the FBI may have actually killed someone else, not Dillinger and that old Johnny boy lived out his days peacefully, on his front porch somewhere. Jay Robert Nash, a prolific written of crime, hasn’t meet a conspiracy that he hasn’t liked, so I’m skeptical of his writings. Does anyone have the proverbial straight dope on this??

John Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph theater by the FBI. There are countless books and videos in your local library detailing how the FBI tracked him down and killed him. I suggest you visit your local branch and read at least one of the many books on Dillinger.

Also, there is tons of footage of his body. I’m sure a picture or two could be had online.

To play Devil’s Advocate…

“The Lady in Red” allegedly stipulated that the FBI would have to promise not to take Dillinger alive. The FBI’s story is that Dillinger instinctively sensed “that the air was wrong” and went for his gun before they made themselves known, so they had to kill him.

In exchange for her services, the FBI paid Dillinger’s girlfriend’s fare and she returned to her native Hungary, never to return.

After the body of the man identified as Dillinger was taken to the morgue, two medical students made a death mask. This object was for many years kept in J. Edgar Hoover’s private office, and, so far as I know, is still on exhibit at the FBI building. The remarkable thing about this mask is that it does not look precisely like Dillinger; rather, it gives the impression of being of a man who resembles Dillingr from a distance.

The FBI explained this discrepancy by saying that Dillinger had undergone plastic surgery to disguise his looks. How, then, were they able to identify him? Because he looked like Dillinger. A film made circa 1960 starring Nick Adams suggested that the plastic surgeon duped Dillinger, somehow not stopping to consider that he would realize that his looks were unchanged as soon as the bandages came off. In the movie, Dillinger kills the crooked doctor in a fit of rage. In real life, the doctor identified by the FBI as having done the work died while in custody, allegedly while trying to escape.

Dillinger’s fingerprints were on file from his times in prison, and from his service in the army. The FBI said they could not identify the body by the fingerprints as Dillinger had successfully altered them. I remember as a high school student in the early 1970s going on a tour of the FBI building in Washington D.C. and being told by a young agent who acted as tour guide that it was absolutely, without doubt, impossible to alter one’s prints. Later in the same tour he told my class that Dillinger had done it.

Various people in the Chicago neighborhood where Dillinger was alleged to have lived in hiding claimed that the man who was shot had been in the neighborhood for months before Dillinger supposedly moved there.

People in Dillinger’s home town in Indiana are said to have claimed for years that a man resembling Dillinger would drive through town from time to time. If he saw someone Dillinger had known in his youth, he was wave to them, call them by name, and make personal references. While these second-hand stories do not seem worth much as evidence, it appears entirely likely that if Dillinger was alive, he would act that way; this is a man who used to call up FBI agent Melvin G. Purvis while he was a fugitive to make conversation. He ruined the political career of a sherrif by tricking him into shaking hands before a photographer while he was in custody.

Jay Robert Nash is not always the most reliable source, as the OP suggests. There is, for instance, his information that Ma Barker was a notorious murderess and a Lesbian, information which appears to be known only to him. Mrs. Barker was not wanted for anything at the time she was shot to death by the FBI, nor had she ever been described by the FBI as dangerous. People in the town where she lived were agreed that she was a law-abiding, churchgoing pillar of the community whose sons had run wild despite her best efforts. Information that she was a criminal came out only after her death. Immediately after the shoot-out in which she and her four sons, who had returned home to hide out, were killed, Hoover gave a press conference in which he said she was a vicious criminal mastermind.

To suggest that Hoover misstated is to suppose that the FBI could make a mistake, and could lie about it besides. If that it possible, it is even possible–though by no means certain–that Dillinger escaped.

Humorist Michael O’Donaghue once observed that unless you died in this decade, nobody believes you are really dead. He said that back in the 1970s, but the interesting thing is that it is valid observation about famous Americans for any decade since the 1930s. Since Dillinger has become “known” to have survive, so have Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrisson and Andy Kaufman. These later survival legends can be ascribed to wishfull thinking by fans, and something of the same kind may be at play in the Dillinger legend.

John Dillinger, was, in fact, admired in some degree by a great many ordinary Americans in his time; he was sticking it to the banks at a time when countless homeless Americans had already had it stuck to them. What’s more, his reputation for ruthlessness and violence appears to be greatly overstated. Michael Brown (probably best remembered as the composer of “You Can’t Chop Up Your Mother in Massachusetts”) used to give a lecture on Dillinger in which he argued that there was no good evidence he had ever shot anybody in his life.

Unlike most of the other survival legends, though, there is enough of substance to support the theory that Dillinger escaped to give it plausibility. The same might also be said with respect to Jim Morrisson.

The discrepancy in what the poor FBI tour-guide said might be this: it is impossible to alter your fingerprints to look like another set of natural fingerprints.

It is possible to efface your fingerprints, using acid, abrasion, etc. This, as I understand it, is what Dillinger did.


So tell me, slipster, what’s the source of the story that Dillinger (o whoever died in front of the Biograph) had the world’s biggest penis and Hoover kept it preserved in a jar?

FWIW his sister had her doubts but came to believe – as the rest of the family did. I am not sure it was plastic surgey as Dillinger had three (two slight) bullet wonds on his face:

At the Harvey Funeral Home in Mooresville, Audrey Dillinger Hancock was not convinced the body was that of her infamous brother. After allegedly reviewing a scar on the back of the corpse’s thigh, Audrey conceded, “It’s all right. That’s Johnnie.”
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-two bullets slightly grazed his face next to the left eye. A third, the fatal shot, entered the base of his neck, traveled upward until it hit the second vertebra, then exited below and to the outside of his right eye.
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from this site

A related thread:

Summary execution of 1930’s gangsters?

This site answers both questions. Photographic evidence that it was really JD, including the picture that gave, um, rise to this urban legend…

Never thought the morgue photos looked much like him, myself, though I did read Nash when I was at an impressionable age.

My father had a friend who saw Dillinger (before the Biograph incident) and his gang loading up their cars in a St Paul alley. He ran and got his dad’s service revolver ao he could collect the reward. As Dillinger and another fellow were standing with tommy guns the kid’s mom didn’t think this was a good idea.

While I don’t have a cite for this, I do have a possible answer for BrainGlutton’s question.

After Dillinger (or whoever) was killed, a widely-circulated photo was taken of his body laid out on a table, with various officials standing behind him. The body is covered with a sheet. It does not lie flat; rather, a portion of it is sticking up, giving the impression that it is being supported by something sticking up from the body.

It is not an erection, though if it were, Dillinger would have been Guiness Book of World Records material. Careful examination of the photo shows that if the sheet was, in fact, supported by something protruding from the body, it was protruding from somewhere between the crotch and the knee. Further examination of the photo shows that one of the standing people is posed in such a way that one can tell–just barely–that he is holding the sheet up.

I had not heard that hoover was supposed to have kept the organ in a jar. The urban legend as I have always heard it is that it is in the Smithsonian.

This likely relates to the fact that there used to be a medical museum at the Smithsonian, and, by all accounts, some of the exhibits could gag a maggot. I recall that on the same trip which brought me to the FBI building my classmates and I visited Gettysburg. This was in the summer of 1972. While there a tour guide told us that when at the Smithsonian we should go look for the amputated leg of an army officer (I believe he was a general) which was on display there. When we got to the Smithsonian some of my classmates were disappointed to learn that the medical museum had been closed several years before. Somehow, I didn’t mind.

Another classmate who had not gone on this trip had visited Washington D.C. several years before, at which time the medical museum was still open. He claimed that among other anomalies the longest human penis on record was on display there at the time. I have never known whether to credit this story or not, as this particular kid was…a strange guy.

I have no firm opinion as to whether Dillinger survived or not; I only think that the story is credible–or more credible–than the great majority of such legends. The fact that his family confirmed it was him does not, I think, count for much. It seems entirely credible they would be reluctant to say: “no, that’s not him. The FBI shot an innocent man and are lying about it. Now you should go hunt him down and kill him”.

This museum (going under various names, including the Army Medical Museum, was indeed on the Mall near the Smithsonian, but no longer is. However, it still exists, sub nom The National Museum Of Health And Medicine, on the campus of Walter Reade Army Medical Center. And, it is well worth a visit.


Having been there several times, I can vouch for the somewhat-grotesque nature of the exhibits (black lung cross sections, amputated limbs from the Civil War, fetal anomalies, etc., as well as lurid VD exhibits). I’ve seen some pretty weird stuff there (e.g., necropsy of a fighter pilot’s lungs who had survived a crash landing years ago into a German pine forest, and was found at death to have numerous pine needles embedded in his lung sacs). But never did I see any mammoth male members, of Dillinger or anyone else, though I suppose the conspiracists could theorize that those are hidden away.