The Prohibition Era was a dangerous time in American history. The threat of gangster violence and mobster politics was so brutal that it eventually led to the creation of the FBI. During the days of speakeasies and suicide doors dominated the early 20th century, the lives of these chaos-causing men and women are fascinating to explore. While the country was being crushed by the effects of the Great Depression, these outlaws and bandits were celebrated by the public for their brutish and unflinching acts of thievery and violence. These are some of their stories.
Born on June, 22, 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana, John Dillinger found a penchant for crime at a very young age. Early accounts of his childhood were riddled with fights, bullying, and run-ins with the law that were described as “bewildering” by those close to him. After fearing the city to be too dangerous, Dillinger’s father moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana, where Dillinger spent much of his adolescence. Trouble, however, was not far behind. Despite the town’s quaint atmosphere and small population, young John Dillinger grew a reputation for committing acts of theft, particularly involving automobiles.
With few options available to him, Dillinger enlisted in the United States Navy, working as a machinery repairman aboard the U.S.S. Utah. Only a few months in, however, Dillinger abandoned his post and was dishonorably discharged. In an attempt to calm his tumultuous lifestyle, Dillinger returned back to the quiet town of Mooresville, where he unsuccessfully tried to hold a steady job. When ends could not be met, however, he resorted back to old habits of crime and thievery. After a grocery store robbery went wrong, Dillinger found himself in front of a judge pleading guilty to assault and battery along with conspiracy to commit a felony that earned him nearly 10 years in prison. It was at the Indiana Reformatory and State Prison that Dillinger would cement himself in the world of organized crime proclaiming, “I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here.” His connections made during this time would prove useful after his release, giving him the knowledge and skillset to pull off the large-scale robberies for which he would eventually become famous.
Angry against the society that locked him up, Dillinger began plotting his next string of robberies that would lead him back to prison. After being apprehended by police in 1933 for stealing $10,000 from the New Carlisle Nation Bank, Dillinger was back behind bars, but not without an escape plan. With accomplices disguised as correctional officers, Dillinger escaped from prison and fled back to Indiana where the famous “Dillinger Gang” would make headlines for their crimes. For the next 2 years, the “Dillinger Gang” would wreak havoc throughout the Midwest, successfully pulling off 12 different robberies totaling nearly $7 million in modern currency. The process of bank robberies was now down to a science; the men in the Dillinger gang employed military-style tactics to pull off their various heists including the use of fast vehicles, powerful weapons like the Thompson submachine gun, and even bullet proof vests. Each member of the gang held specific and highly import roles during the heists. Lookouts, getaway drivers, and vault men were all strategically placed to improve chances of success. Detailed maps along with discarded cars and weapons following the crimes would confuse eye-witness as well as police, helping assure escape.
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