Updated at 5:25 p.m.
Two relatives of notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger who plan to have his remains exhumed say they have “evidence” the body buried in an Indianapolis cemetery beneath a gravestone bearing his name may not be him and that FBI agents possibly killed someone else in 1934.
The FBI immediately disputed that idea, calling it a “myth” that its agents didn’t fatally shoot Dillinger outside a Chicago theater more than 85 years ago. The agency said in a statement that “a wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise” including fingerprint matches.
“Dillinger, who was wanted for multiple violent crimes, was pronounced dead at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, bringing about an end to the Gangster Era,” said Siobhan Johnson, special agent for the FBI’s Chicago office.
But in affidavits released by the Indiana State Department of Health, two relatives of the famed criminal say they’re seeking to have “a body purported to be John H. Dillinger” exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery for a forensic analysis and possible DNA testing.
The planned exhumation will be part of a documentary on Dillinger for The History Channel, a spokesman for A&E Networks, Dan Silberman, confirmed earlier this week.
Mike Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith, who say Dillinger was their uncle, say in affidavits supporting an exhumation and reburial permit the state agency approved in July that they have received “evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934 may not in fact have been my uncle, John H. Dillinger.”
In their affidavits, both say that “evidence” includes that the eye color of the man killed outside that theater didn’t match Dillinger’s eye color, his ears were shaped differently, the fingerprints weren’t a match and that he had a heart condition. The document doesn’t elaborate on why the heart condition supports their theory that the man wasn’t Dillinger.
But both say they want the body exhumed and subjected to a forensic analysis and possibly DNA testing “in order to make a positive identification.”
“It is my belief and opinion that it is critical to learn whether Dillinger lived beyond his reported date of death of July 22, 1934. If he was not killed on that date, I am interested in discovering what happened to him, where he lived, whether he had children, and whether any such children or grandchildren are living today,” both say in the documents.
But Johnson, with the FBI, is confident that it was Dillinger who was shot.
“Claims that a man resembling Dillinger was actually killed have been advanced with only circumstantial evidence,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, a wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise. Special Agents M. Chaffetz and Earle Richmond, for example, took two sets of fingerprints from the body outside the Biograph Theater, and both were a positive match. Another set taken during the autopsy were also a match.”
The FBI took the unusual step of issuing a statement late Wednesday insisting that its agents had in fact shot and killed Dillinger “as he reached for a pistol from his trouser pocket” outside the theater.
The FBI said Dillinger was pronounced dead at a Chicago hospital. The agency also said that it’s a “common myth” that “a stand-in” and not Dillinger was the man killed, saying that such claims “have been advanced with only circumstantial evidence.”
Another Dillinger relative said, however, that he considers the planned exhumation to be disrespectful. Great-nephew Jeff Scalf tells WTHR-TV that he’s certain the late gangster is buried in the concrete-encased grave that’s marked with his name at the cemetery.
“I don’t believe in desecrating the dead. I think it’s been 85 years. It doesn’t matter,” Scalf told the Indianapolis station.
“Unless somebody was successful in robbing the grave, that’s John. I know that that’s John,” added Scalf, who’s a cousin of Mike Thompson, one of the relatives who sought the state permit.
The Indianapolis-born Dillinger, who was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2009 movie “Public Enemies,” 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.
Dillinger was awaiting trial in the slaying of East Chicago police officer Patrick O’Malley 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.
O’Malley’s granddaughter, Carol Kasper, lives in St. John, Indiana, with her husband Don Kasper, a retired Lake County deputy sheriff who doesn’t understand why Dillinger’s family wants to exhume the body after 85 years.
“They need to let bygones be bygones. They are just rekindling an old wound for the people of Lake County,” Don Kasper said. “It’s just stirring emotions up all over again.”