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EDITORIAL: Chance the Snapper is gone, so how about ... John Dillinger?

Exhuming the gangster’s body has a whiff of Al Capone’s vault about it. But we’ll take summer fun where we can get it, right?

People view the body of gangster John Dillinger in a Chicago morgue in July 1934.
People view the body of gangster John Dillinger in a Chicago morgue in July 1934.
AP Photos

We’re not sure exhuming the body of a 1930s gangster counts as summer fun, but we’ll take it where we can get it.

A good novelty news story can distract us from the oppressive heat and humidity of August, and we’ve already spun to exhaustion the story of Chance the Snapper, the alligator pulled from the Humboldt Park lagoon.

We’ll be fascinated to see what they learn if they dig up and examine the body of John Dillinger, buried in an Indianapolis cemetery. Is it really Dillinger? Or, as a niece and nephew say they have reason to believe, is somebody else buried there?

Did the real Public Enemy No. 1 go on to live out a quiet life selling used Fords or something?

The whole thing has a whiff of Al Capone’s vault about it. Remember that?

On national TV in April 1986, with great hype, Geraldo Rivera pried opened a space beneath a Chicago hotel once owned by Capone, speculating that there might be gold or bodies or tommy guns. He found a few empty bottles.

It was stupid, but fun.

The niece and nephew, who have asked Indiana authorities for permission to exhume Dillinger’s body, say in affidavits that they have been “presented with evidence” that calls into question the identity of the body. The eyes may be the wrong color, the ears may be shaped differently and there’s something about a “protrusion” on the head.

This seems odd. Even in an age before cellphone and surveillance cameras, the public in 1934 got an excellent look at Dillinger’s corpse.

People lined up outside the Cook County morgue to see Dillinger’s body after he was killed in an alley next to the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue on July 22, 1934. A classic photo of the body, with a bunch of creepy gawkers looming over it, was published in newspapers across the country.

You might suppose that if the morgue was showing off the wrong man, like a freak show curiosity, Dillinger’s father, sister or a childhood pal would have noticed.

There always seems to be a commercial tie-in for this kind of stuff, and not accidentally. Al Capone’s vault was terrific for Geraldo Rivera’s TV ratings. Two years ago, the exhuming of the body of 19th century Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes, which confirmed it really was Holmes, was done for a History Channel TV show called “American Ripper.”

Now History Channel is preparing a documentary on Dillinger, too.

Stunts like this, which frankly lead to news stories and editorials like this, are great for publicity.

Then again, Dillinger was good at breaking out of jails, so why not a coffin?

We need our summer fun.

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