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John Dillinger Was Killed 80 Years Ago Tuesday

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 23, 2014 2:25PM

Hulton Archive/Getty Images Photo

Chicago and crime have long had a bloody and sordid relationship that has often been romanticized, as anyone who’s traveled out of the country and had people make finger guns and scream “AL CAPONE! POW! POW!” can attest.

Case in point: John Dillinger, the first man to be named “Public Enemy No. 1” by the FBI, was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. The handsome bank robber was elevated to folk hero status at the time of his death for his exploits with his namesake gang and had escaped jail twice, killed at least one police officer and eluded several attempts to capture him.

On that fateful day in Lincoln Park, Dillinger’s luck ran out. Police were tipped off by Anna Sage, a Romanian immigrant-turned-whorehouse madam, that Dillinger would either be at the Biograph or Marlboro Theater. The cops staked out both and were rewarded when Sage further tipped them that she, Dillinger and Dillinger’s girlfriend Polly Hamilton, would be at the “air-cooled” Biograph to catch a movie and beat the oppressive July heat. (Sage would later be nicknamed the “Woman in Red” because of the way her orange skirt appeared in the Biograph’s lighting.)

Dillinger made no attempt to hide while he was on the lam, as a Tribune account of his death detailed.

Despite Justice Department rewards totaling $15,000, he had lived an unnoticed and relatively normal life on Chicago's North Side. He often had dinner at the Seminary Restaurant at Lincoln and Fullerton Avenues. He went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and pulled one of his trademark bravado stunts by saying hello to his lawyer, who was chatting with a police officer.

Dillinger, Sage and Hamilton left the Biograph around 10:30 p.m., where 20 police officers were waiting. Dillinger attempted to flee through an alley and wound up taking four bullets. The one that killed him entered his neck and exited through his right eye.


Dillinger was declared dead en route to the hospital. His body was placed in display for the public to view at the Cook County Morgue. Scores of people flocked to the Biograph to see where "Public Enemy No. 1" met his fate. After his funeral in Chicago, Dillinger's body was driven to Indianapolis for burial.

Sage, for her efforts, wound up being deported back to Romania, where she died in 1947.