The following is an article that appeared in the New York Times on July 22, 1934 regarding the shooting death of John Dillinger, a notorious American gangster and bank robber in the Depression-era United States. His gang robbed two dozen banks and four police stations.
Moreover Dillinger escaped from jail twice and he was also charged with, but never convicted of, the murder of an East Chicago, Indiana police officer. The cop shot Dillinger in his bullet-proof vest during a shootout, prompting him to return fire. It was Dillinger’s only homicide charge.
After evading police in four states for almost a year, a wounded Dillinger returned to his father’s home to recover. He went back to Chicago in July 1934 and was killed by police and federal agents who were tipped on his whereabouts by Ana Cumpănaş, the owner of the brothel where Dillinger was hiding out at the time.
Dillinger Slain in Chicago; Shot Dead by Federal Men in Front of Movie Theatre
Reached For His Gun
Outlaw’s Move Met by Four Shots, All Finding Their Mark
Had Lifted His Face
Desperado Had Also Treated Finger Tips With Acid to Defeat Prints
Two Women Wounded
Agents, Tipped Fugitive Was Going to Theatre, Waited While He Saw Show
Special to The New York Times
Chicago, July 22 — John Dillinger, America’s Public Enemy No. 1 and the most notorious criminal of recent times, was shot and killed at 10:40 o’clock tonight by Federal agents a few seconds after he had left the Biograph Theatre at 2,433 Lincoln Avenue, on Chicago’s North Side.
One bullet penetrated the head and another the chest of the desperate outlaw. He died as he was being taken to the Alexian Brothers Hospital. The body was later removed to the county morgue, where the identification of Dillinger was made positive.
According to Melvin H. Purvis, chief of the investigating forces of the Department of Justice in Chicago, and leader of the band of sixteen men who had waited for more than two hours while the desperado viewed his last picture show, Dillinger attempted to put up a fight.
“He saw me give a signal to my men to close in,” Chief Purvis said. “He became alarmed and reached into a belt and was drawing the .38-callibre pistol he carried concealed when two of the agents let him have it. Dillinger was lying prone before he was able to get the gun out and I took it from him.”
Surgical Disguise Falls
Dillinger had taken great precautions to prevent his being recognized. His face had been lifted by a surgical process since his last picture was taken and he had dyed his hair a darker shade than its natural light reddish brown.
“It was a good job the surgeons did,” Chief Purvis said, “but I knew him the minute I saw him. You couldn’t miss if you had studied that face as much as I have.”
Two women, passers-by who had no connection with the outlaw, were wounded by stray bullets fired by the Federal agents. They are Mrs. Etta Natalsky, 45 years old, of 2,433 Lincoln Avenue, and Miss Theresa, Paulus. Each was struck in the left leg. Their injuries, it was said, were not serious.
Patron of Gangster Film
Chief Purvis and twelve of his own men, accompanied by Captain Timothy O’Neill and three members of the East Chicago police force, went to the vicinity of the small theatre at about 8:30 P. M.
They had received information during the afternoon that Dillinger would attend the performance of “Manhattan Meldrama,” a gang and gun movie featuring Clark Gable and William Powell in the evening.
The sixteen men were posted strategically, some at all possible exits of the theatre, with groups to the north and south, and one detail on the opposite side of busy Lincoln Avenue. Chief Purvis, seating himself in his automobile a few feet south of the show house, watched.
It was about 8:30 P. M. when Dillinger walked up to the entrance and bought a ticket, or tickets. A Chicago policeman who happened t be at the scene said he was accompanied by two women, one dressed in red, but Chief Purvis said he saw none. Passing into the theatre, Dillinger took a seat.
While he was inside, the agents completed their preparations for his emergence. There were so many of them, and their actions seemed to the theatre manager and to observers in the neighborhood, to be so suspicious that the police were notified.
Policemen Frank Slattery, Edward Meisterheimer and Michael Garrity, who investigated, were shown Federal badges by the watchers and interfered not at all, although they were not told the object of the agents.
According to Chief Purvis, it was two hours and four minutes before the outlaw walked out of the theatre. He seemed completely at ease. He wore a while silk shirt, a gray tie flecked with black, white canvas shoes and gray flannel trousers. He had on no coat. His hat was a white sailor.
“I was standing in the entrance of the Goetz Country Club, a tavern just south of the theatre, when he walked by,” Chief Purvis said.
“He gave us a piercing look. Just after he went by and was midway of the next building, a National Tea Company store, I raised my hand and gave the prearranged signal.
“Dillinger went on, perhaps another dozen feet, and stepped down a curb to the mouth of an alley. My men, at least five or six, were closing in on him suddenly.
“I had thought it possible that he could have a weapon concealed and the plan was to seize him, pinion his arms and make him a prisoner. However, the men were instructed to take no chances.
“Becoming suspicious, Dillinger whirled around toward the men closing in. He was facing, I believe, toward the dark alley when he reached for his pistol. And that was when the shots that killed him were fired. Four altogether were fired. Two took effect. Presumably the two women were hurt by the pair that missed.”
Instantly there was a great commotion. The injured women screamed. George Gordon, son- in-law of Mrs. Natalsky and owner of the Goetz Tavern, hearing that she was injured, ran out to the alley. Seeing the body of a man lying wounded in the alley, he cried:
“I think that’s my brother-in-law.”
The agents, roughly pushing him back, told him to be quiet and not interfere. The victim, they assured him, was not his brother-in-law.
Chief Purvis leaned over the dying outlaw, looked at a gold fing which Dillinger was known to wear as a luck piece at all times, took his pistol from his belt — it was thrust down below the belt — and ordered that he be taken to the nearest hospital.
There was a quick run to the Alexian Brothers Hospital, but the institution would not admit Dillinger as a patient. There was a very good reason for this. He was dead.
The body was laid on the grass in front of the hospital, while four of the agents stood guard over it until the arrival of a deputy coroner. This official gave permission for the removal of the body to the county morgue.
Chief Purvis declined to give out the names of the men who had fired on Dillinger, nor would he elaborate on the manner in which the information leading to the killing had been obtained.
“There were two or three men who fired,” he said. “I was not one of them, but they were Federal agents.”
Mrs. Pearl Dowss, 924 Montrose Avenue, related that she was only about three feet away from the group of men when she was startled by the shooting. A flying bullet almost struck her, she added. But she was so interested in what had happened that she remained for more than half an hour at the scene.
FBI Mug shot of John Dillinger
Some of the observers of the drama declared that the girl in red, who dropped behind Dillinger as he emerged from the theatre, raised her hand, with a handkerchief in it.
It was the opinion of those observers that the girl in red was the “finger” and was cooperating with the agents. At any rate, she disappeared after the shooting and there was no clue to her identity.
Within a few minutes a great throng had gathered about the mouth of the alley. The word had gone forth that John Dillinger, a character known to all as the most determined and war killer on the continent, had paid his last debt to society.
Also hastening to the scene, and seeking information, were dozens of squads of Chicago policemen, who had been kept in the dark about the presence of Dillinger in the city.
No disclosure was made concerning the length of Dillinger’s last stay in Chicago, nor concerning the location of his residence.
The presence of Captain O’Neill and his men from East Chicago where Dillinger shot and killed Policeman William Patrick O’Malley during a bank hold-up in January, led to reports that they had furnished the clue that brought the kill. This could not be confirmed.
Policemen Slattery and Meisterheimer were in civilian clothes near the scene of the shooting. According to Slattery, one of the Federal agents told him afterward that he was among the luckiest of men.
“When we got the signal you were close to Dillinger,” said the agent, “you looked like Dillinger and I was about to shoot you when the other fellows let loose and killed the right man.”
J. Edgar Hoover, chief of Bureau of Investigation in Washington, expressed himself as delighted that Federal men had succeeded in ridding the country of its most dangerous criminal.