Descendants of 1930s bank robber John Dillinger say they have evidence suggesting he was not the man famously gunned down outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater 85 years ago.
And the “only means” of clearing things up is to examine the remains buried in the grave of the notorious gangster whose exploits captivated the nation during the Great Depression.
That’s the upshot of a pair of affidavits obtained Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times from the Indiana State Department of Health. They help explain the news that Dillinger’s body might soon be removed from the grave nearly a century after his bloody death at the hands of government agents on Chicago’s North Side.
So does confirmation from History Channel spokesman Dan Silberman that the network is preparing a documentary about Dillinger that would cover the exhumation, assuming it occurs.
Though records show the Indiana State Department of Health issued a permit July 3 for Dillinger’s exhumation from Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery, Silberman said Wednesday that “full approval for the exhumation has not been granted,” and a date for the exhumation has not been set.
Meanwhile, the Indiana State Department of Health also released a pair of two-page, signed affidavits from Mike Thompson and Carol Thompson. Each identifies Dillinger as an uncle. Neither could be reached by the Sun-Times for comment.
Their affidavits, dated in May, include the following claim:
“I have been presented with evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934 may not in fact have been my uncle, John H. Dillinger. This evidence includes the non-match of his eye color, the ear shape and protrusion from the head, the fingerprints not matching, the existence of a heart condition, and the apparent non-match of the anterior teeth.”
Dillinger purportedly had plastic surgery done to alter his appearance while on the run.
Regardless, the Thompsons’ affidavits say it is critical to learn whether Dillinger lived beyond July 1934, explaining: “If he was not killed on that date, I am interested in discovering what happened to him, where he lived, whether he had children, and whether any such children or grandchildren are living today.”
They said, “It is my belief and opinion that, if the FBI killed the wrong man outside the Biograph Theater, it is also important to identify the man in the grave at Crown Hill Cemetery.”
The “only means” of identifying that person is through exhumation, they said. They acknowledged it would “involve disturbing the ground of the grave in question and exposing the body, moving it to a forensic laboratory, analyzing it, and possibly removing a bone or bones for DNA testing.”
The Thompsons said the remains “will be photographed and videotaped during the examination, and at times during the forensic analysis,” and they gave their consent.
In a statement on its Twitter feed Thursday, Chicago’s FBI field office addressed the idea that a “stand-in” was killed at the Biograph instead of Dillinger.
“If it sounds like a conspiracy theory, that’s because it is,” the office said in its tweet. “A wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise including 3 sets of fingerprints, all positively matched.”
Digging up Dillinger’s grave might prove to be a difficult task if the exhumation moves forward. Susan Sutton, a historian with the Indiana Historical Society, said Dillinger’s father tried to thwart vandals by having the casket reburied under a protective cap of concrete and scrap iron topped by four slabs of reinforced concrete.
Still, workers faced similar conditions when another notorious Chicago villain was exhumed just two years ago. The remains of H. H. Holmes, who built the so-called “Murder Castle” on the South Side, were exhumed for the History Channel series “American Ripper.” That series also involved a descendent of the deceased.
Holmes, hanged in 1896 for the murder of his business partner in Philadelphia, left specific instructions for his burial. He was to be laid in a pine box and the box was then filled with concrete, buried 10 feet in the ground and covered again with concrete.
Contributing: Associated Press