Wooden Gun and Black Shoe Polish

This Day in History

Following a thrilling life of crime, on this day in 1934, the second man to have ever been dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1,” John Dillinger, was silenced by a barrage of FBI agent gunfire.

Dillinger and his accomplices made their mark through a year-long 11-bank robbing spree that amounted to over $300,000 stolen. He paved his road of notoriety with the blood of three federal agents and seven police officers after being jailbroken along with a handful of narrow escapes.

An Indiana native, Dillinger was born in 1903 and started off  a life of crime at a very young age. As a juvenile, he was a part of gangs that roamed the streets in search of troublemaking and light robberies. He ventured further to sneak out at nights and engage in drinking and fighting among other malicious activities.

Dillinger evaded arrest in several mall crimes until finally, a failed mugging landed him with 10 to 20 years in prison at 21-years old.

Wanted poster for Dillinger

Dillinger attempted a handful of unsuccessful escapes in prison until a professional bank robbery gang took him under their wing and smuggled him out in an elaborate and masterfully executed jailbreak.

Despite seeing the toll of crime on other inmates during his time in prison, Dillinger went on with binges of country-wide gang bank robberies and earned a reputation of an athletic and sharply-dressed gunman, along with a $10,000 reward for his capture.

If you had a glance at Dillinger’s wallet, you would have never guessed that the Great Depression was in full-swing when it boasted $130,000 – an impressive fortune during one of our the country’s darkest hours.

The crowd cheers outside the theater Dillinger was killed at hours earlier

Dillinger’s gang recognized that they were getting ahead of themselves in such a brief span of time, and retreated to Arizona to stay out of the police spotlight. They were discovered nonetheless by an elite governmental force and arrested in early 1934.

This time around, Dillinger achieved his most famed escape and comically locked up the entire prison staff. Legend has it that his weapon was either an actual pistol smuggled in by associates or, more likely, a fake wooden gun tinted by black shoe polish.

It’s definitely more interesting to believe that he used the latter.

Alas, Dillinger met his demise on this day following a movie with an incognito FBI date. After exiting the theater, Dillinger was abruptly ambushed and ordered to surrender. Delaying the inevitable, he briefly evaded the team of FBI agents until he reached the end of an alleyway where he received heavy gunfire to end his reign of terror.

As the second ever to be deemed “Public Enemy No. 1” (the infamous Al Capone was the first – only four years prior to Dillinger), John Dillinger will remain one of the most notorious criminals to go down in the annals of American history.

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