UPDATE: Indiana Cemetery Objects To John Dillinger Exhumation Plans

Jul 30, 2019

 

This April 20, 2016 photo shows the gravesite of John Dillinger, a famous Depression-era gangster, at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
Credit Beth J. Harpaz/AP Photo

UPDATE:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis cemetery where 1930s gangster John Dillinger is buried is objecting to his body's planned exhumation as part of a television documentary.

The Indianapolis Star reports Crown Hill Cemetery said in a statement Wednesday that it objects to the exhumation in part because it's concerned "the complex and commercial nature of this exhumation could cause disruption to the peaceful tranquility of the Cemetery" and people visiting loved ones' graves.

Dillinger was fatally shot by FBI agents in Chicago in 1934.

WXIN-TV reports that Dillinger's nephew, Michael C. Thompson, sued the cemetery Wednesday, arguing it should allow him and his family to exhume Dillinger's remains for a forensic examination to determine if it's in fact Dillinger's body.

That exhumation would be part of a Dillinger documentary for The History Channel.

PREVIOUS POST:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Relatives of 1930s gangster John Dillinger want his body exhumed from an Indianapolis cemetery because they question whether he was actually the man FBI agents killed in Chicago in 1934.

The Indiana State Department of Health released affidavits signed by Mike Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith, who say Dillinger was their uncle. They want the body exhumed for a forensic analysis.

The Chicago Sun-Times and WLS-TV in Chicago first reported on the affidavits supporting an exhumation permit.

The relatives say they've received "evidence" that the person who was killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934, may not have been Dillinger.

The permit was approved in July. A&E Networks says the exhumation will be covered as part of a documentary for The History Channel.

A spokesman for A&E Networks says a documentary it's developing on gangster John Dillinger that's expected to include scenes of the planned exhumation of Dillinger's Indianapolis gravesite hasn't gone into production yet.

A&E Networks spokesman Dan Silberman said Thursday the documentary for The History Channel is still early in development and it's hard to say what the film's focus would be.

Silberman says he only learned this week about affidavits two of Dillinger's relatives filed in support of that permit saying that they believe Dillinger might not be buried in the grave.

Silberman says no date has been scheduled for the exhumation and additional approvals are still needed from government entities.

ORIGINAL POST:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The body of notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger is expected to be exhumed in September at an Indianapolis cemetery but it could be a tough job because his grave is encased in concrete.

Digging up the remains more than 85 years after Dillinger was killed by FBI agents also could resolve conspiracy theories that the man some considered a hero during the Great Depression isn't buried in his marked grave, said Susan Sutton, a historian with the Indiana Historical Society.

The Indiana State Department of Health approved a permit July 3 sought by Dillinger's nephew, Michael C. Thompson, to have the body exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery and reinterred there.

The permit doesn't give a reason for the request, and Thompson couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Indiana health department spokeswoman Jeni O'Malley said that based on the permit, the agency expects Dillinger's body will be exhumed and reinterred on Sept. 16 — the date listed on the document.

But digging up Dillinger's grave might prove a difficult task because days after his son's funeral, Dillinger's father had the casket reburied under a protective cap of concrete and scrap iron topped by four reinforced-concrete slabs, Sutton said.

"I think they're going to have a hard time getting through that," Sutton said.

The reason for the concrete-encased grave was to thwart would-be vandals, she said, citing "Crown Hill: History, Spirit, and Sanctuary" a 2013 book the historical society published about the cemetery's history.

"The main fear was that someone would come in and dig up the grave and either desecrate the corpse or steal it," Sutton said. "The Dillingers had actually been offered money to 'lend out' his body for exhibits, so they were concerned."

The Indianapolis-born Dillinger was one of America's most notorious criminals. The FBI says Dillinger's gang killed 10 people as they pulled off a bloody string of bank robberies across the Midwest in the 1930s.

Dillinger was never convicted of murder and he was lauded by some for robbing banks during the Great Depression as many Americans lost their homes and farms to foreclosure, Sutton said.

"So somebody who had, as maybe people would say now — 'Stuck it to the banker' — would easily become a folk hero," she said. "He was also known by some people to be very polite even while he was stealing. It's an odd combination."

Dillinger was awaiting trial in the slaying of an East Chicago police officer when he escaped from jail in Crown Point, Indiana, in March 1934 with a gun carved out of wood. While on the run, he underwent plastic surgery to alter his face and was said to have tried to remove his fingerprints with acid.

Dillinger, who was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2009 movie "Public Enemies," was fatally shot in July 1934 by FBI agents outside the Biograph theater in Chicago after he was betrayed by a woman who became known in the papers as the "Lady in Red."

Crown Hill Cemetery spokeswoman Crystal King said the cemetery has no information about the plans to exhume Dillinger, whose tomb is an attraction at the hilltop graveyard on Indianapolis' near north side.

Messages seeking comment were also left Tuesday for Jeffery Scalf, whose grandmother was Dillinger's half-sister, and for Savanah Light, the funeral director whose name is listed on the permit.