Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is the final resting place of several famous Americans like poet James Whitcomb Riley, Dr. Richard Gatling (as in the Gatling Gun), and President Benjamin Harrison, most marked with ornate tombs and gravestones, but its most notorious resident has little more than a small stone marking his grave. Don’t let it fool you, though, gangster John Dillinger’s grave has quite the secret buried under it, even if it’s not actually John Dillinger buried in it…
After Dillinger was shot down outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, his family back in Indiana had him buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis as an ominous thunderstorm rang out and dumped rain on the gravesite. When the family left after the lowering of the casket, as many as 5,000 bystanders flooded the cemetery to grab flowers and even mud from the gravesite until the police forced everyone back.
As the cemetery placed a 24-hour watch detail on his grave for fear of his gang coming back to take his body or, more likely, the general public destroying the site, Dillinger’s father became increasingly fearful the plot would be tampered with. He had the cemetery dig up John’s wooden casket and then had it reburied with 4 giant concrete slabs, each reinforced with metal, at different depths. Anyone looking to dig up John’s body would face not 1, but 4 layers of metal and concrete.
While most believe this was done to protect John’s body, other believe it was to ensure no one every tried to exhume the body (if there was a body). Conspiracists think John Dillinger’s father had the grave protected to protect the truth: his son was alive and well, having tricked the FBI into killing the wrong man. We know, this is a little far-fetched.
Truth be told, John Dillinger’s dad probably knew from seeing how the crowds reacted during the burial that the gravesite was likely to be tampered with. Since John’s burial his headstone has been replaced 4 times due to people chipping off pieces of it as souvenirs.
The story of how John Dillinger came to be (supposedly) buried at Crown Hill Cemetery actually started over 25 years before his actual death when his mother passed away when he was just a young boy. His father, also John Dillinger, knew his wife Mollie was near death and purchased a family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in February of 1907. Both John’s mother Mollie and his sister’s child would be buried in the family plot by the end of that year. Dillinger would join them in 1934.
Before that, however, Dillinger would live a life so wild and so fraught with illegal activity he’d be named “Public Enemy #1.” His life of crime began when he and a friend, Edgar Singleton, mugged a local grocer on his walk home. Singleton plead not-guilty and was back on the street in a few years, but Dillinger gave a full confession and was sentenced to over a decade in the state pen. He spent time at the state prison in Pendleton before being transferred to Michigan City where he became a master student of crime. He spent over 7 years in prison before being released in May of 1933 and just a month later he’d rob his first bank in New Carlisle, OH and then rob upwards of a dozen more that summer.
Dillinger and his gang would keep pulling off bigger robberies, including raiding police stations for guns and bullet-proof vests, and John himself would be captured again only to be busted out by his gang.
Of all his robberies, it was one in East Chicago that would setup the most legendary Dillinger folklore… The robbery went badly, and police officer William O’Malley was killed as John, his partner- Harry Pierpont, and John’s girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, headed west to meet up with the gang in Tucson, AZ. The hotel, however, burned down and as the firemen battled the blaze they recognized Dillinger’s gang. When the 3 made it to Tucson they were immediately arrested.
Although several states wanted their hands on the man, John was extradited to Crown Point Jail in Indiana. It was here where his gang famously smuggled him a wooden gun. He’d use the fake gun to lock up 30 guards before grabbing their real guns and the sheriff’s car to escape.
This stop in Mooresville may have been the last peaceful moment for Dillinger, his girlfriend, and their gang as things quickly spiraled downhill from there. From more shootouts to plastic surgery to change his appearance, to his girlfriend’s capture, Dillinger knew his time was running out. He was hoping to make one more big score, but the brothel madam where he was staying and her corrupt cop boyfriend told the FBI where they could find John Dillinger.
On a scorching hot Sunday in July, Dillinger took his new girlfriend to see a movie at the air-conditioned Biograph Theater in Chicago. Thanks to the tip from the brothel madam, the federal agents were waiting as Dillinger left the theater. They opened fire, killing John in the brick alley beside the theater. John Dillinger’s days as Public Enemy #1 were over. His body was eventually recovered by his family and shipped back to Indiana where it would finally be laid to rest at Crown Hill Cemetery.
Despite living only 31 years and having a crime-spree lasting just a few years, John Dillinger has become an American crime legend. Towns connected to him celebrate with Dillinger-themed events, movies have been made, and items related to him draw, like the John Dillinger death mask, draw crowds at places like the Museum of the American Gangster. Ganster buffs can even have dinner at Dillinger's Wisconsin hideout, Little Bohemia Lodge, still with bullet holes in the windows from John’s shootout with the FBI here decades ago.
Source: Crown Hill Cemete