Captured in Tucson, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona has had the distinction of figuring prominently in the capture of several people who enjoyed dubious celebrity. Cochise and Geronimo, for example, were the arch enemies of the US Army, and the settlers of the Sonoran Desert. Conversely, they were great heroes to their own people. John Dillinger also falls into this category of 'hero/villain,' though not quite so clearly. And John Dillinger was captured in downtown Tucson in 1934. Dillinger's capture, unlike Cochise's and Geronimo's, is still remembered in a Tucson celebration: "Dillinger Days 1934 Street Festival" Celebrated on January 21 in Tucson the events include dramatic re-enactments of the 1934 capture of "public enemy number one," John Dillinger, staged at the hotel, with educational and entertaining public events in the area of 5th Ave. and Toole Ave., including The Rialto Theater, Historic Train Depot, and Arizona Historical Society Downtown Museum. Free admission. Historic Hotel Congress, (520) 884-5980. Click here to see the website.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many Americans, nearly helpless against forces they didn't understand, made heroes of outlaws who took what they wanted at gunpoint. Of all the lurid desperadoes, one man, John Herbert Dillinger, came to evoke this Gangster Era, and stirred mass emotion to a degree rarely seen in this country.
Dillinger, whose name once dominated the headlines, was a notorious and vicious thief. From September, 1933, until July, 1934, he and his violent gang terrorized the Midwest, killing 10 men, wounding 7 others, robbing banks and police arsenals, and staging 3 jail breaks – killing a sheriff during one and wounding 2 guards in another.
John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903, in the Oak Hill section of Indianapolis, a middle-class residential neighborhood. His father, a hardworking grocer, raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary extremes, harsh and repressive on some occasions, but generous and permissive on others. John's mother died when he was only three, and when his father remarried six years later, John resented his stepmother.
In John's adolescence, the flaws in his bewildering personality became evident and he was frequently in trouble. Finally, he quit school and got a job in a machine shop in Indianapolis. Although intelligent and a good worker, he soon became bored and often stayed out all night. His father, worried that the temptations of the city were corrupting his teenaged son, sold his property in Indianapolis and moved his family to a farm near Mooresville, Indiana. However, John reacted no better to rural life than he had to that in the city, and soon began to run wild again.
A break with his father and trouble with the law (auto theft) led him to enlist in the Navy. There, he soon got into trouble and deserted his ship when it docked in Boston. Returning to Mooresville, he married 16-year-old Beryl Hovius in 1924. A dazzling dream of bright lights and excitement led the newlyweds to Indianapolis. Dillinger had no luck finding work in the city and so he joined the town pool shark, Ed Singleton, in his search for easy money. In their first attempt, they tried to rob a Mooresville grocer, but were quickly apprehended. Singleton pleaded not guilty, stood trial, and was sentenced to two years. Dillinger, following his father's advice, confessed, was convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob, and conspiracy to commit a felony, and received joint sentences of 2 to 14 years and 10 to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison. Stunned by the harsh sentence, Dillinger became a tortured, bitter man in prison.
Dillinger's reign of infamy began on May 10, 1933, when he was paroled from prison after serving 8½ years of his sentence. Almost immediately, Dillinger robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio. Dayton police arrested him on September 22, and he was lodged in the county jail in Lima, Ohio, to await trial.
While searching John Dillinger, the Lima police found a document, which seemed to be a plan for a prison break, but Dillinger denied knowledge of any plan. Four days later, using the same plans, eight of Dillinger's friends escaped from the Indiana State Prison, using shotguns and rifles that had been smuggled into their cells. During their escape, they shot two guards.
On October 12, three of the escaped prisoners and a parolee from the same prison showed up at the Lima jail where Dillinger was incarcerated. They told the sheriff that they had come to return Dillinger to the Indiana State Prison for violation of his parole.