Dillinger joins the Navy in an attempt to avoid prosecutionJohn Herbert Dillinger joins the Navy in order to avoid charges of auto theft in Indiana, marking the beginning of America’s most notorious criminal’s downfall. Years later, Dillinger’s reputation was forged in a single 12-month period, during which he robbed more banks than Jesse James did in 15 years and became the most wanted fugitive in the nation.
Dillinger didn’t last in the Navy very long. Within months he had gone AWOL several times–the last time in December 1923. Making his way back to Indiana, he was arrested for armed robbery the following summer. Dillinger pled guilty, thinking that he would receive a light sentence, but instead got 10 to 20 years. His first words to the warden at the prison were, “I won’t cause you any trouble except to escape.” A man of his word, Dillinger had attempted to escape three times by the end of the year.
Between escape attempts, Dillinger became friendly with some of the more professional thieves in the prison. After he was finally paroled in May 1933, Dillinger hooked up with his new friends and began robbing banks throughout the Midwest. He also began planning to break his friends out of prison. In September, he smuggled guns to Harry Pierpont, who led a 10-man break from the Michigan City prison.
Dillinger gunned downOutside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre, notorious criminal John Dillinger–America’s “Public Enemy No. 1″–is killed in a hail of bullets fired by federal agents. In a fiery bank-robbing career that lasted just over a year, Dillinger and his associates robbed 11 banks for more than $300,000, broke jail and narrowly escaped capture multiple times, and killed seven police officers and three federal agents.
John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1903. A juvenile delinquent, he was arrested in 1924 after a botched mugging. He pleaded guilty, hoping for clemency, but was sentenced to 10 to 20 years at Pendleton Reformatory. While in prison, he made several failed escapes and was adopted by a group of professional bank robbers led by Harry Pierpont, who taught him the ways of their trade. When his friends were transferred to Indiana’s tough Michigan City Prison, he requested to be transferred there too.
In May 1933, Dillinger was paroled, and he met up with accomplices of Pierpont. Dillinger’s plan was to raise enough funds to finance a prison break by Pierpont and the others, who then would take him on as a member of their elite robbery gang. In four months, Dillinger and his gang robbed four Indiana and Ohio banks, two grocery stores, and a drug store for a total of more than $40,000. He gained notoriety as a sharply dressed and athletic gunman who at one bank leapt over the high teller railing into the vault.