John Dillinger’s body to be exhumed after 85 years
Well, howdy there! If you are reading this (which you most certainly are unless this interaction is taking place in the future and a robot is synthetically importing these words directly into your brain, in which case I would like to say: ‘Hey… Please don’t vaporize me’). I have some very, very bad news for you: You, sir/ma’am, are going to die.
Odds are that it will be quick and painless, but sadly, for a small percentage of you (less than eight percent), it will be more on the drawn out and painful side of things. Rats. Thankfully, once it is over you will never have to think about it again because, ahem, you’ll be fairly deceased at that point.
So, you’ll be buried or cremated or whatever your LegalZoom-prescribed wishes dictate, and life without you will begin. Oh sure, you’ll be greatly missed. Your first few birthdays will be celebrated with countless Facebook “in memoriam” posts but after some time, like everyone else, you’ll eventually be forgotten about, packed under 6 feet of compressed dirt, never to see the light of day again.
That is unless you were a notorious criminal and occasional folk hero whose distant busybody nephew decided he wanted to see how ghastly his great-uncle now looks.
It’s not the heat, it’s the ‘ex-humidity’
Michael C. Thompson, the nephew of 1930s criminal John Dillinger, has requested to have his uncle’s body exhumed from what was supposed to be his final resting place in Crown Hill Cemetery, as part of a History Channel special. For decades now, weirdos with too much time on their hands have speculated that Dillinger’s body wasn’t actually buried in the Indianapolis tomb, and we are now going to theoretically (and literally) get to the bottom of it.
According to legend, even prior to the trigger man’s funeral, Dillinger’s dad had supposedly received inquiries from organizations asking to “loan out” his son’s bullet-riddled corpse for public demonstrations and school fundraisers (well, maybe not the last part). This led the family to encase their boy under a thick casing of cement — casing which investigators will now have to find a way to chisel their way through if they want answers.
“There was a cap of concrete and scrap iron poured over it, and then, on top of that, there are four large reinforced concrete slabs,” said Susan Sutton of the Indiana Historical Society.
Getting to Dillinger won’t be easy. But at least it’ll be purposeful. They are bound to find lots of cool, selfie-suitable artifacts in there, right?
“Investigators can expect to find skeletal remains if the casket was wood, which is likely, then the casket would probably be damaged, caved in and disintegrated,” said Gary Ojeda, a licensed embalmer and funeral director. “So, it would not be a ‘nice and neat’ exhumation of the body or skeletal remains.”
That sounds just lovely.
Digging deep into Dillinger
If you’ve seen Michael Mann’s movie about the notorious bank robber (and box office receipts would indicate that you haven’t), you’d know that Dillinger lived an exciting life full of fast cars, loaded guns, and high crimes.
He robbed banks during a time when people had little, making him, as well as cultural contemporaries Bonnie and Clyde, folk heroes of sorts among the weak and weary who lived during our nation’s Great Depression. History has portrayed him as a gangster with a gun who stole when he needed to but didn’t take from anyone who didn’t deserve it.
But as is the case with most history, the truth behind the man in the black fedora isn’t quite that simple.
Dillinger and his gang can be fingered in the killing of at least 11 men while wounding nine others either in their robberies ‘or in their three successful jailbreaks. He traveled with the likes of Lester Gillis (aka ‘Baby Face Nelson), John Hamilton (aka ‘Red’), and of course, Harry Pierpont, who went by the most-feared alias of “Pete.”
Oh yes, you don’t want to mess with the man known as… Pete. He’ll getcha.
John Dillinger’s life of crime began when, after deserting his ship in the Navy, a newly married Dillinger and an accomplice attempted to hold up the local grocery store. After getting nabbed, he followed his father’s advice and did the honorable thing — he pleaded guilty, which got him served with joint sentences of two to 14 years and 10 to 20 years in Indiana State Prison. Nice thinking, pops. But as we know now, the story doesn’t quite end there.
In 1933, after serving over 8 years of his sentence, Dillinger was paroled and was once again quickly arrested during another robbery attempt gone sour. He clearly stank at that line of work. But one thing he was good at was getting out of tough situations.
Within four days of being locked up, eight of Dillinger’s friends (the guy makes buddies fast) used plans Dillinger had brought in with him and shot their way out of the prison using rifles and shotguns that had somehow made their way undetected into their cells.
A few days later a couple of them came back, killed the sheriff, took his keys, and freed their buddy with the mind of mischief. This was the birth of the famed and feared Dillinger Gang. If you are confused at how this was all able to happen, it was the ’30s. Give the guys a break.
Dillinger kept doing dirt and was eventually, like us all, set up by an Austrian prostitute who was working for the FBI. Chicago police surrounded J.D. after a movie and shot him four times rendering him fairly dead.
Holed up, hey
Which brings us back to the body in the ground. According to records, 15,000 people attended his Indiana funeral. Many even got a good look at him. Some went so far as to mold “death masks” of the guy, which — maybe I’m a prude but, yeah — that’s gross.
So why the desired postmortem status update? And is this a more regular thing in the funerary world than we have all been led to believe? I didn’t see too much of this on Six Feet Under.
“It is not common for a body to be exhumed or disinterred for research purposes,” said Ojeda. “In my (decade-plus of) experience, there has only been one case where the corpse was exhumed by order of the family and county coroner for some sort of investigative purpose.”
So, we know that the distant nephew made the request. But after so many years… Why? There have been no breaking stories, and to get this complex job done can’t be cost-efficient. Why not just let sleeping gangsters lie?
“I would consider the request to exhume a body after 85 years to be strange. What makes it strange is the long span of time that body has been buried and undisturbed,” Ojeda continued. “There is a fair amount of legal and financial hurdles to work through when requesting a disinterment, so there has to be a legitimate reason and permission granted.”
Perhaps the family currently feels like Dillinger’s dad did, and is nervous culprits wanted to make off with his body. Maybe they think someone already did and is currently in Boca doing the world’s grossest Weekend at Bernie’s routine with it. But without getting deep in them earthly guts, the question of what is left of the Dillinger family icon remains — is that really him in the hole?
For decades now, people have speculated that intentionally or not, John Dillinger’s body is not actually in the plot below where his name is engraved in thick granite. But how much of a possibility is that?
Ojeda concluded: “It is not common for people to be buried in the wrong location or plot. The gravesite is double-checked many times in the burial process by many workers and sometimes even the family themselves. I have never seen it happen … but I know it has occurred. These situations are complete nightmares for any cemetery or memorial park, and would involve legal action and financial restitution.”
And maybe that is what his old nephew is ultimately pining for: a few shekels from the local funeral home for the mismanagement of his ancestor’s remains nearly 100 years earlier. But more likely he just wants to put this urban legend to rest and his family’s complex and controversial history behind him by proving to the nation that it truly IS his great-uncle trapped beneath that concrete slab.
And if he really does want to earn a few bucks, maybe trying knocking over a bank? After all, it does run in his blood.