Dillinger's life on display at Indiana museum

June 30, 2009 (HAMMOND, Ind.) America's most wanted criminal and his gang brought lots of attention to Chicago and northwest Indiana during their 14-month crime spree. So much attention was brought to the area, that the Lake County, Indiana, Convention and Visitors Bureau opened a museum about the gangster in 1999. The museum's motto: "Crime Doesn't Pay."

"John Dillinger was the first [criminal] that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used [the term] 'Public Enemy Number One,' where he was the most notorious, the most hunted, the most wanted criminal in America," says Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and Dillinger Museum.

Erika Scheeringa, director of community relations for the Dillinger Museum and the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, says the museum explores the Dillinger era, the legend of Dillinger himself, his wit, his charm and even his elusiveness, which has sparked a fascination in the public of a man who would come to be known as a modern-day Robin Hood.

"He was very charismatic. He was always very polite to women. He was just always there for the public. He loved the public," says Scheeringa.

"There was a fascination [with Dillinger]," says Batistatos. "These urban legends of him holding up a bank and a guy standing there scared with his money, and Dillinger is saying, 'No, no we're here to take the bank's money, not yours,' or, the rumor that [the gang] was running out of a bank and [Dillinger] flipped a gold piece into a baby's crib. This kind of 'Robin Hood' image that Dillinger created for himself and the media played into, I think, really reshaped a vicious bank robber and an alleged murderer into somebody that had some following."

Bastistatos says that the fascination of John Dillinger and his gang increased when Dillinger made his famous escape from the Crown Point, Indiana, jail with a toy pistol. Legend claims Dillinger fashioned the toy gun from an old washboard and covered the wooden gun with black shoe polish.

"At the time, the sheriff's house was connected with the court house and with a garage. So, [Dillinger] was able to actually escape through three different buildings until he got into Sheriff Lillian Holley's car and actually drove away," says Scheeringa.

Scheeringa says that the FBI started hunting Dillinger after he broke a federal law as he drive Sheriff Holley's car across the Indiana-Illinois state line.

Several months after Dillinger's remarkable escape from the Crown Point jail, the FBI gunned down Dillinger in a hail of bullets outside Chicago's Biograph Theater.

The John Dillinger Museum is located at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond, Indiana. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information on the Dillinger Museum visit www.dillingermuseum.com

Indiana Welcome Center
7770 Corinne Dr.
Hammond, IN 46323

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