Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Dillinger

Final Curtain

At 10:40 on the night of Sunday, July 22, 1934 John Dillinger lay dead in an alley outside the Biograph Theatre. Law enforcement officers fired at Dillinger from the front and the back. From the rear, 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. A fourth bullet, fired from the front, entered his left clavicle and exited his left side. All four wounds, as well as the wounds suffered by two bystanders, were all consistent in proving that Dillinger was on the ground when fired at.

The body was taken to Alexian Brothers Hospital and laid on the lawn until the deputy coroner arrived. Officially declared dead, the body was removed to the Cook County Morgue. When the body arrived at the morgue it was already stripped. A large ring, photographed while the body lay on the floor of the police wagon that picked up Dillinger, was now missing and never accounted for. Approximately $7.70 was found on the body. Arthur OLeary claimed Dillinger carried thousands of dollars about his person. One rumor had Zarkovich searching the body in the alley and removing the money from his pocket. Another claimed the East Chicago police removed it on the trip to the morgue, however, Purvis claims that only FBI agents accompanied the body.

A pocket watch was also found with a young ladys picture in it. At first the woman was believed to be Mary Longnaker, Dillingers girlfriend from Dayton. The next guess was that it was Billie Frechette. The newspapers identified it as Polly Hamilton. How Dillinger came into the possession of the old watch was never revealed.

People viewing the dead body of John Dillinger (AP)
People viewing the dead body of
John Dillinger (AP)

At the morgue, the post-mortem room was jammed with doctors, nurses, interns, law enforcement officials, newsmen and the morbid curious, many of whom talked, bluffed or bought their way in. Meanwhile hundreds of spectators waited outside until the wee hours of the morning, some pressing their faces to the wire mesh protected windows in hopes of catching a glimpse of the slain outlaw.

One reporter wrote, Dillinger lay in a basement room. None of the dignity of death was his. A winding sheet draped his bullet-torn body like a travesty of a Roman toga. The whole place was soaked in a penetrating, persistent odor of formaldehyde.

George Russell Girardin describes the morgue as follows:

At the morgue hordes of the curious began arriving that night, and all day Monday the procession continued thousands upon thousands of them until the doors of this house of the dead were finally closed at midnight. The ghoulish parade included prosperous professional and business men, society matrons, politicians, police officials, housewives, meek-mannered clerks, painted and perfumed nightclub cuties, idlers of the streets, giggling high-school girls all seeking a vicarious thrill. There on the cold slab of the morgue lay the outlaws body, partly covered with a sheet, his face torn with wounds. They passed before him the men gaping with open mouths, the women shuddering and covering their eyes, or emitting short hysterical screams.

When the federal agents were late in arriving for the coroners inquest on Monday it gave photographers time to take more pictures of Coroner Frank Walsh posing with the corpse. At the inquest Sam Cowley handled the questions; Purvis did not attend. The gun that Dillinger was alleged to have pulled was not presented into evidence. Anna Sages name and role had not yet been revealed.

John Wilson Dillinger (father, left) and Hubert Dillinger awaiting the release of Dillinger's body (CORBIS)
John Wilson Dillinger (father, left)
and Hubert Dillinger awaiting the
release of Dillinger's body
(CORBIS)

An estimated 15,000 people shuffled past the body of the dead bank robber before the corpse could be taken to the McCready Funeral Home. On Tuesday morning the body was carried to a hearse that had arrived the previous day from Mooresville bringing Dillingers father and half brother. Chicago police gave the hearse an escort to the Indiana border. 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 corpses thigh, Audrey conceded, Its all right. Thats Johnnie.

On Tuesday night the body was taken to the Hancocks home in Maywood, Indiana. The casket was carried into the living room. Crowds filled the neighborhood the following day and Audrey agreed to open her home and let the public view the body for about an hour. The local police convinced the Dillinger family to hold the funeral that day, Wednesday, July 25, instead of Thursday as planned, in order to alleviate the crowds that had gathered in the besieged neighborhood.

John Dillinger was laid to rest in Crown Hill Cemetery just outside Indianapolis. The cemetery was also the final resting-place for President Benjamin Harrison. A severe thunderstorm poured down on the mourners that afternoon. Two ministers conducted a brief service before the coffin was lowered into the grave. When the mourners left, a police guard stayed behind to prevent ghouls from unearthing the body. Days later the grave was reopened and an elaborate protection of concrete mixed with scrap iron and chicken wire was placed at staggered levels above the coffin.

What had happened to Sage and Hamilton after the shooting? One report said Anna and Polly headed north on Lincoln. At Altgeld Street, Hamilton caught the elevated train to Wilson Avenue and she proceeded to the restaurant she worked at. Once there, she told a friend she would be out sick the following day. Another version has agents leading them down the alley, where Dillinger lay dead. The alley ran behind Sages apartment.

Sage went home and changed out of the orange skirt that had turned scarlet under the bright lights of the theatres marquee, thus providing her with the infamous nickname, the Woman in Red, a name she would come to despise. Surprisingly Sage returned to the Biograph to witness the morbid chaos taking place there as spectators continued to stream into the area. Sage returned home again and, with the help of a girlfriend, removed Dillingers arsenal, taking it in a taxicab to Lake Michigan and disposing of it.

The police had already identified Polly Hamilton, but were unable to locate her. Sage had still not been identified. She was still the mysterious woman in red. The FBI was withholding information about her because she was considered a government informant. Officers from the Sheffield Avenue station caught up with Sage on the night of July 24 and took her and her son Steve into custody for questioning. Sages statements to the police were a complete pack of lies. She denied that Dillinger had roomed at her apartment; she denied that she knew Martin Zarkovich; she denied that she assisted in the capture for consideration in her deportation order; and she claimed that she did not know the man she was with was Dillinger until the moment he was shot. As for Hamilton, Sage told the police she had gone home to Fargo, North Dakota. When she hadnt turned up there the police speculated that she had committed suicide.

Sages interrogation was cut short when Sam Cowley rushed to the station with other agents and instructed her not to answer any more questions. Soon afterward, both Sage and Hamilton were taken to Detroit to maintain their safety and silence. From there Sage was put on a bus to California. While out there she was paid a visit by Sam Cowley who handed over her portion of the reward money, $5,000. Sage returned to Chicago after the deaths of Homer Van Meter on August 23 by St. Paul police, and Baby Face Nelson by the FBI on November 27.

On September 29, 1935 Sage told reporters that Cowley and Purvis had promised to stop the deportation proceedings, but the government was not keeping its part of the bargain. Cowley by this time was dead, killed in the shoot out with Nelson, and Purvis had resigned from the FBI months earlier, some allege because of the governments refusal to help Sage. On October 1, Sage petitioned Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt for a pardon. The governor had Captain Matt Leach question Sage about her role in bringing down Dillinger. Girardin reported the following conversation:

Has Mrs. Sage revealed any information that might be of value to the state of Indiana in the Dillinger matter? McNutt inquired.

She has not. Leach replied. Whenever I asked her any pertinent questions she merely squirmed around in her chair and refused to answer.

Sages case was heard in Chicago on October 16 where the court ruled against her. On January 22, 1936 the United States Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court decision. In late April 1936 Anna Sage was sent home to Rumania. When Sage died from a liver ailment on April 25, 1947 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that she had led the life of a well-to-do citizen in Rumania. In discussing a Rumania newspaper report of her death the Tribune stated:

Mrs. Cumpanas maintained to the end of her life that United States federal authorities had cheated her out of the $70,000 reward for which, she contended, she had agreed to put the finger on Dillinger, whom she described as a former business associate.

If the former business associate part is true it reveals that Sage and Dillinger knew each other well before the Biograph affair, which Jay Robert Nash maintains. However, everyone was at a loss as to the $70,000 that is mentioned.

Evelyn 'Billie' Frenchette (CORBIS)
Evelyn 'Billie' Frenchette
(CORBIS)

Polly Hamilton returned to Chicago and worked as a waitress under several aliases. She married again, this time to a salesman, and lived on Chicagos near north side until her death from cancer on February 19, 1969. She outlived Dillingers previous girlfriend by one month. Evelyn Billie Frechette completed her sentence and for a while traveled with a crime-does-not-pay carnival show. Frechette died on January 13, 1969.

John W. Dillinger, the outlaws aging father, was part of the traveling carnival with Frechette. In 1935 and 1936, during the tourist season, he worked as a caretaker at Emil Wanatkas Dillinger museum at Little Bohemia. Criticized for taking part in this, the elder Dillinger replied simply that he needed the money to support his family. He died in the early 1940s.

Louis Piquette was acquitted of harboring Dillinger, but instead was found guilty of harboring Van Meter. In addition to a two-year prison term, he was fined $10,000 and disbarred. When he was released from Leavenworth in January 1938, he found work again as a bartender in restaurants and saloons. In January 1951 Piquette received a presidential pardon from Harry S. Truman, despite opposition from J. Edgar Hoover. Piquette applied for reinstatement to practice law. While the matter was still pending in the courts, he suffered a massive heart attack on December 10, 1931 and died two days later at the age of 71.

Arthur OLeary received a suspended sentence due to his testimony against Piquette in the Van Meter case. He disappeared and was believed to have retired to Dubuque, Iowa where he died around 1970. Dr. Loeser, after completing his prison term, disappeared completely and nothing is known about his demise. As for Dr. Cassidy, he committed suicide at the home of his sister in Chicago on July 30, 1946.

Sergeant Martin Zarkovich was busted in rank for refusing to discuss the Dillinger case with Indiana Governor McNutt. Zarkovich persevered and was eventually promoted to chief of detectives. He later served as chief of the East Chicago Police Department from 1947 to 1952. After his retirement from the police force, he served the city as a probation officer until his death on October 30, 1969 when he was 73.

Matt Leach, the Captain of the Indiana State Police, was fired after Hoover complained to his superiors that Leach had not cooperated with the F.B.I. He spent time writing a book about Dillinger that was never published. While he and his wife were returning from New York after a meeting with a publisher, they were killed in an automobile accident in Pennsylvania.

( left to right) Purvis, Stanley, and J. Edgar Hoover, before the fallout (AP)
( left to right) Purvis, Stanley, and
J. Edgar Hoover, before the fallout
(AP)

Melvin Purvis left the FBI in July 1935 after a year of personal confrontation with Hoover. Some speculated that the Justice Departments reneging on Purviss promise to help Anna Sage had something to do with his leaving. The only excuse Purvis offered was that his unwelcome notoriety had diminished his value as a crime fighter. It was rumored that Hoover personally sabotaged every effort Purvis made to pursue a position in law enforcement, security or consulting work. Purvis, however, was still an immensely popular figure and headed up the Melvin Purvis Junior G-Men club for Post Toasties breakfast cereal, as well as endorsing other products.

In 1936 Purvis wrote American Agent, in which he practically ignored Hoover, his name showing up in a listing of Justice Department heads. The egotistical FBI director responded by writing Persons in Hiding in 1938, where Purvis was totally ignored and credit for his work given to Sam Cowley.

In April 1937 Purvis was engaged to marry Janice Jarrett, a beautiful aspiring actress, once described as the most photographed girl in the world. Jarrett had announced she was abandoning her movie career to become a housewife. An estimated 3,000 wedding invitations had been sent out, but just days before the blessed event the couple had a squabble after Jarrett kept Purvis waiting too long in a hotel lobby. When Jarrett showed up, there was a brief conversation after which Purvis returned to his room packed his bag and left.

Purviss life outside of law enforcement, much like his contemporary Eliot Ness, was a failure. With his health in decline, on February 29, 1960, he stood in an upstairs hallway in his Florence, South Carolina home and committed suicide with the nickel-plated Colt .45 automatic he had received as a going away gift from fellow agents 25 years earlier.

 

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