this day in crime history: march 3, 1934

On this date in 1934, notorious bank robber John Dillinger escaped from the Lake County jail in Crown Point, IN. Dillinger, who had been arrested in Tucson, AZ in January, was awaiting trial for the murder of a police officer. On the morning of March 3rd, Dillinger pulled what was later reported to be a fake gun on jail guards and convinced them to open his cell. He and another inmate locked up the guards, grabbed some machine guns, and fled the jail with a deputy as a hostage. They made their way to a nearby garage, where they stole Sheriff Lillian Holly’s (front row, far left in the above photo) brand new Ford V-8. Dillinger and company fled across the state line into Illinois. This turned out to be John Dillinger’s fatal mistake. He had taken a stolen car across state lines, which is a federal crime. He would soon have the full attention of the FBI – the kind of attention he could live without.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – John Dillinger

FBI Files – Famous Cases: John Dillinger

Time Magazine – Whittler’s Holiday

Wikipedia – John Dillinger

9 thoughts on “this day in crime history: march 3, 1934

  1. I don’t know if Dillinger was too worried about the FBI back then. They didn’t have the bad ass reputation that they would later get after putting down celebrity criminals like Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and of course, Dillinger himself.


    • I’m sure he wasn’t. Killing Dillinger was what really built that reputation. Prior to that, they were better known for accidentally shooting civilians while they were trying to get Dillinger.


  2. I read once that the whole “wooden gun” thing was BS, and I believe it. (Have you ever tried to carve a wooden gun?)
    What I read was that the escape was paid for in advance. The “wooden gun” was a way to protect the paid-for guards.
    And the sheriff’s car that Dillinger boosted was parked in a very convenient spot for him. It had never been parked in that spot before.
    Dillinger owned the East Chicago PD (in Lake County), to the extent that two (relatively) clean ECPD detectives were murdered by other ECPD officers to protect him. How much would it take to get to a few grossly underpaid sheriff’s deputies in the middle of the Depression?


    • It was a wooden gun, but Dillinger didn’t carve it. Arthur O’Leary, an investigator working for Dillinger’s lawyer, came up with the idea. He paid a Lake County Deputy named Ernest Blunk to smuggle the fake pistol to Dillinger (Blunk refused to smuggle in a real gun).

      As for Dillinger’s cozy relationship with the East Chicago PD, that came to an end in January 1934, when he murdered ECPD Office Patrick O’Malley. O’Malley is the only person known to have been killed by Dillinger.

      A good book — actually the best book, in my opinion — is Dillinger: The Untold Story, by G. Russell Girardin and William J. Helmer. Girardin was an ad man in Chicago back in the 30s. He got the idea for the book when he met Louis Piquette, Dillinger’s lawyer. He interviewed PIquette, Arthur O’Leary, and Dillinger’s family, among others. The family still had the wooden gun, which they allowed Girardin to borrow for a while. I think a lot of the money Dillinger stole went to Piquette for various “services” rendered. Considering Piquette’s nearly limitless ethical flexibility, it was money well spent. 😉


  3. John D.:
    Gotta hand it to Dillinger…he DID so love Indiana.
    And the Ford Motor Company got a real “thumbs-up” letter from John to boot .
    Talk about an ENDORSEMENT!

    Good post.

    Roll safe out there.


    • I think he stayed close to the Hoosier state so he could maintain contact with his family. Not a wise thing for a fugitive to do, but he managed to get away with it a few times.


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