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Public Enemy #1 | Article

Dillinger's Betrayal

Anna Sage | William J. Helmer

Anna Sage and Polly Hamilton were with John Dillinger the night he was killed. Sage, the legendary "Woman in Red," was actually wearing an orange skirt and white blouse. Born in Romania in 1892, she immigrated to America in 1909 with her first husband, Michael Chiolak. A year later, she gave birth to a son, Steve. 

Sage worked as a prostitute at "Big Bill" Subotich's place in East Chicago, Indiana. When she started dating Martin Zarkovich, an East Chicago police officer, Chiolak divorced her. In 1929 she married Alexander Sage, but eventually got a separation. 

When "Big Bill" died, Sage took over the management of the East Chicago brothel where she had been working. She later opened brothels in Gary, Indiana, and Chicago. Although her establishments suffered frequent police raids, she received two pardons from Indiana Governor Harry Leslie in 1932. 

Polly Hamilton was 26 years old when she met John Dillinger at a Chicago nightclub in early June 1934. A former employee of Anna Sage, Hamilton was working as a waitress and prostitute.

Dillinger introduced himself as Jimmy Lawrence, a clerk at the Board of Trade. Together they went dancing, to the movies, and to the amusement park. In an article that appeared in the Chicago Herald and Examiner, Hamilton wrote: "Now that I know he was John Dillinger, I can understand why he always liked the shooting ranges. Customers would line up to watch him knock over the targets." (Hamilton claimed not to have known Dillinger's true identity so she would not be charged with harboring a criminal.)

Hamilton described Dillinger as an Indiana farm boy who liked a home-cooked meal. He drank very little alcohol, and, she said, "I don't believe I ever heard him swear." Hamilton wrote that Dillinger was generous and considerate; "he never liked to hurt anyone's feelings." Although she enjoyed the time they spent together, Hamilton doubted that Dillinger was in love with her.

Polly Hamilton introduced Dillinger to her friend and former boss Anna Sage in 1934. At the time, Sage was facing deportation charges as an "alien of low moral character." She thought that if she turned Dillinger in to the authorities, the government would allow her to stay in the United States. Her old friend from the East Chicago police department, Mark Zarkovich, made the connection to the federal agents on the case. 

Sage met with Special Agent Melvin Purvis on July 19, 1934. Purvis promised to do all he could to stop her deportation proceedings, but said he could not give any guarantees. Sage said she would call him at the first opportunity.

Three days later, Sage called Purvis to tell him that Dillinger had invited her and Hamilton to the movies that evening. She said she would be wearing an orange skirt and white blouse to make her easily identifiable. Purvis quickly made preparations for Dillinger's capture.

Federal agents shot and killed Dillinger as he exited Chicago's Biograph Theatre with the two women after watching Clark Gable, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and a young Mickey Rooney in Manhattan Melodrama -- which was, naturally, a gangster picture. Hamilton fled to her workplace, and went drinking with a friend of hers. Although she later claimed that she had nothing to do with Sage's plan, the D.O.I. sent her with Sage to Detroit for two weeks to protect the women's identities.

Sage received a $5,000 reward for giving information leading to Dillinger's capture. However, she went public because she believed the government was not keeping its bargain. Sage complained that Purvis had promised to stop her deportation proceedings. Purvis replied that he had done all he could by informing immigration officials in Washington.

The federal courts maintained that only the Department of Labor had any authority in deportation cases, and was not obligated to honor promises made by Justice Department "gangbusters." On April 25, 1936, Sage was forced to return to Romania, where she died of liver failure on April 25, 1947.

Hamilton returned to Chicago under an assumed name. She started waitressing again, and eventually married a salesman named William Black. Together they lived a quiet, respectable life, until Edythe Black (formerly Polly Hamilton) died on February 19, 1969.


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