During the bleak, dreary years of the Great Depression, many criminals, famous even now, captured headlines and the interest of people beaten down by financial setbacks. Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, and other desperadoes ran authorities into circles, trying to stop them from mayhem and murder.
Of all of these, perhaps, John Dillinger was the most brazen, and probably the most brutal. Dillinger had killed a dozen people in his bank robbing rampage, many of them in cold blood.
Even Dillinger’s mug shot bespeaks a cruel, sneering man, out to get what he could get, and he’d kill anyone who stood in his way. But is that the sole truth of how a man gets to be so evil?
Not that what happens to us in our infant years is an excuse, but John Dillinger had a very hard life as a child. His loving mother died when he was only four years old. His father, known to be brutally cruel to him, would whip him for infractions of his rules, and then try to make it up to him with lavish gifts.
The poor young boy was completely devastated when his mother passed away, and it was too much to be left in the hands of an unfeeling father. Dillinger’s elder sister had by then married; she and her husband took young John in and tried to raise him in a way that would be less painful than what he experienced under his father’s heartless reign.
Young John, though, had a difficult time fitting in. He was always in scrapes, and his sister was always bailing him out. As a teenager, his father had remarried and took the boy back to his home. One might thing the stepmother would be the stuff of legend, cruel and unkind, and that’s what Dillinger initially thought. But the woman was good to him, and eventually he began to love her like a mother.
In fact, during one of Dillinger’s stints in prison, his stepmother passed away after a long illness, and Dillinger was heartbroken that he wasn’t able to see her or attend her funeral. But these weren’t the last words spoken by John Dillinger.
Dillinger’s stay with is father was for naught. The father had moved the family out of Indianapolis, fearing the effects of the city on his son, to a small town where he hoped they could get a new start. It didn’t work.
The young man, who had established quite a career as a petty thief, moved up to stealing a car. Dillinger was nabbed by police, and his father was ready to wash his hands of the youth.
By 1929, the year of the Great Depression when Dillinger was 26 years old, he had already been married and divorced, and had enlisted in the Navy, only to desert and be dishonorably discharged.
Unable to get a job, Dillinger and a friend robbed a grocery store for a mere $50. They were spotted by a local minister, who reported them to the police. Dillinger’s father urged his son to give himself up, thinking that it was the right thing to do, and that the sentence would be light.
Dillinger did as his father asked, but was shocked to be remanded to the state prison for a period of 20 years. The incipient criminal made up his mind he would be “the worst” thief that existed, and he learned lessons on thievery from his fellow inmates.
In 1933, Dillinger began a rampage over the state of Indiana, stealing thousands through bank robberies and murdering a dozen people. He was so notorious, the relatively new Federal Bureau of Investigation learned much of their means of capturing criminals by trying to nab Dillinger.
A local madam knew that Dillinger would be at a movie theatre at a certain time. She reported it to the FBI, who was waiting when he emerged.
Dillinger was killed in a hail of gunfire. The rumor was that the last words spoken by John Dillinger were “You got me!”, but that’s mere speculation. Police at the scene said he died instantly, and never had a moment to say a thing.