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Public Enemy #1 poster image
Aired February 24, 2002

Public Enemy #1

The legendary outlaw John Dillinger

Film Description

Vaulting over bank counter after bank counter like Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 swashbuckler, The Mark of Zorro, thrusting his blue steel automatic weapon at one terrified bank teller after another, the legendary outlaw John Dillinger thrilled and terrorized America from 1933 to 1934. A desperado, a bank robber and a bad man no jail could hold, his reputation grew until he was named the country's first public enemy #1. 

Peeling back the myths surrounding the most infamous outlaw since Jesse James, Public Enemy #1 unravels the story of a charismatic stickup man, whose wild antics and flamboyant disdain for the law captured the imagination of Hollywood, the mainstream press and millions of ordinary Americans. 

The film chronicles Dillinger's life from his youthful first brush with the law to his death a decade later in a hail of bullets. It explores how, at a time of great hardship, Americans felt more admiration for a daring criminal than their seemingly ineffectual institutions of government. And it shows how FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was determined to turn Dillinger's story into a morality tale in which law enforcers are the victors and crime doesn't pay.

With the help of interviews with press photographers and former police chiefs, film historians and FBI historians, the film paints a vivid portrait of a captivating villain, one who played up to the media and delighted in making a mockery of the police, a man who sauntered into banks at noontime unmasked and screeched out of town with bags of cash, who taunted his nemesis in the Indiana State Police with "wish you were here" postcards, and who, legend has it, broke out of jail with the help of a wooden gun.

For months, as Dillinger wreaked havoc across the Midwest, the Feds were powerless to do anything. But when he drove a stolen car across state lines, Dillinger sealed his own fate. The action violated a federal law and the G-men seized the opportunity to act. On July 22, 1934, after weeks of trying to track Dillinger down, FBI agents were waiting for him as he left a Chicago movie theater. The outlaw died in a blaze of bullets. 

That night Dillinger's legend was transformed. While he was living, he was the adventurous outlaw, a man to be admired. When he died, newspapers reveled in the FBI's victory. In the months after Dillinger's death, the FBI eliminated almost all the depression-era desperadoes — Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and Fred Barker. But for decades it was Dillinger who remained central to the myth of Hoover's FBI.


Ben Loeterman

Laura Longsworth

Peter Rhodes

Chris Buchanan

James Callanan
Boyd Estus
Bob Elfstrom

Keith Carradine

Brian Keane

Jennifer Frankel

Arda Collins
Cinda Elser
Ralph Elser

Tania Lindsay 
Sarah Welch
Rachel Clift
Shane Murray
Anja Walter 

Katha Seidman

John O'Connor
John Cameron

Greg McCleary

Ed Joyce

Guy Holt
Gary Czowicki

Bob Shulman

Sean Kirby
Frank Caridi

Marty Seeley
Ann Brecke
Regina Figueroa

Brian Ricci
Dennis Duphily

Susan Buchholz

E. Gray Simons
Maura O'Brien
Jeannine Haas
David Rizzardi
David Mitchell
Gordon Kramer
Ellen DiGiovanni
Susan Buchholz
Ethan Time
Matthew McKeever
Lani Sternerup
Alexia Trova
Justina Trova
Sarah Welch
Graham Sturz
Christina Offutt
Jennifer Frankel

Walter Keevil
Fred MacDonald 
William J. Helmer
Tony Berardi
Alston Purvis
Robert Fisher
John Binder
Tom Leach
WPA Film Library
UCLA Film and Television Archive
F.I.L.M. Archives
Grinberg Film Libraries, Inc.
Historic Films
Indiana State Archives, Indiana Commission on Public Records 
AP/Wide World Photos
National Archives
Arizona Historical Society
New York Daily News
Federal Bureau of Investigation
John Dillinger Museum, Hammond, IN
Chicago Tribune

Tony Berardi
Tom Smusyn
Marilyn Olsen
Jeff Scalf
Henry A. Scheafer
Claire Potter
Alston Purvis
Thomas Doherty
Richard Gid Powers
Michael J. Albano, Mayor, City of Springfield, MA
Michael J. Ashe. Jr., Sheriff, Hamden County, MA
Michael J. Considine
Shawn Leary Considine
University of Illinois at Chicago
Historic Suffolk County Courthouse
PixMix Studios
Academy of Music, Northampton, MA
Greylock Federal Credit Union, Lee, MA
Town of Lee, Massachusetts
The First Congregational Church of Lee, MA
Eastover Resort, Lenox, MA
Northampton Airport
City of Northampton, MA
Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA
Take Two Photocraft


James E. Dunford
Rose Compagine
Greg Shea

Alison Kennedy

Mark Steele

John Jenkins

Mark Adler

John Van Hagen

Nancy Farrell
Vanessa Ruiz
Helen R. Russell
Rebekah Suggs

Maria Daniels

Danielle Dell'Olio

Daphne B. Noyes 
Johanna Baker

Susan Mottau

Sharon Grimberg

Mark Samels

Margaret Drain

A production of Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc.

(c) 2000, 2001
WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved


Narrator: On October 23, 1933, four men walked into the Central National Bank in Greencastle, Indiana and walked out with $75,000.

Precisely planned, meticulously executed, it was the work of a master at his craft, John Dillinger. 

Tom Smusyn, Dillinger researcher: In all his bank robberies, almost everyone said he was the coolest guy they ever saw.

They called him "Jack Rabbit" because some of those cages were 6-7 feet high, and he just would vault over them. 

Claire Potter, historian: He was handsome, really funny. He would tip his hat at people. He would joke with them, was a very social, very charming guy.

Narrator: Working in the midst of the great depression, when debt and foreclosures were a fact of life, Dillinger exploited the public's resentment toward banks. 

Thomas Doherty, Historian: He is representing a kind of rebellious impulse that many people in the Great Depression have good reason to feel, that is, the dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Richard Gid Powers, Historian: Crime had become a symbol during the early Depression that something had gone wrong with America. 

Narrator: Though his career AS a desperado was brief, HE would challenge the highest authority of the state. 

Potter: The stakes are whether the federal government can in fact police the nation. 

Narrator: The government's answer to a national crime wave was the agency that would become the FBI. Its director, J. Edgar Hoover, would stake his reputation on hunting down Dillinger. 

Narrator: In the 1920's, the central Indiana farmtown of Mooresville was a tight-knit community. John Dillinger Sr. was a well-respected farmer there. He hoped John jr., whose mother had died when he was just three, would follow in his footsteps... 

Jeff Scalf, Grandnephew: John was not cut out of the same cloth of his father in a way of being a farmer. That was not a life that John would choose.

Narrator: At the age of twenty, John was caught stealing a car. The next day, he joined the navy, But lasted only five months before going AWOL. He returned to Mooresville and within weeks got married. 

Smusyn: Dillinger was married. When he was 20 years old and his bride was 16. And she was a waitress. And basically she supported him. He did odd jobs. He was a machinist. He -- he was very mechanically inclined. But he didn't work. 

Narrator: Instead, John played on the local baseball team, where he became friends with Ed Singleton, 10 years older and an ex-convict. 

Scalf: And after one particular game, they got together and got-- they both got intoxicated to some degree on some homemade brew. And it was Ed Singleton who convinced John to go in and rob Frank Morgan.

Narrator: Frank Morgan, who ran the local grocery store, was a good friend of John Dillinger's father. On Saturday evenings, he'd walk to town with the week's earnings. 

Smusyn: Singleton had a car in the alley in back of a church, and Dillinger had a handkerchief with a big bolt in it. 

Narrator: They wrestled. Frank Morgan actually started to beat John up pretty bad.

Smusyn: Now, Dillinger -- pulled out a gun in the meantime. 

Didn't say a word. Not one word was spoken. 

Smusyn: Dillinger got scared, and Singleton, waiting in the car, got scared and took off on Dillinger. 

Dillinger ran down this alley and back to a pool hall. 

Scalf: and asks some people in the pool hall, "Hey, have you heard about Frank Morgan? Is he okay?" And, of course, no one had heard about it because it just happened moments ago. 

The next day, the sheriff put two and two together, and brought Frank Morgan to the Dillinger farm to identify his assailant.

Scalf: Frank Morgan doesn't believe that it's John. And, in fact, says "I know John, he wouldn't do that. Johnnie, you didn't do that to me, did you?" Well, at this point John breaks down and starts crying and admits, "Yes, Mr. Morgan, I did that and I'm very sorry."

Narrator: John Sr. was told the court would be lenient. HE advised his son, "Plead guilty and take your punishment..." 

But the judge threw the book at him. Dillinger got 10-20 years. Singleton, who knew the system and had hired a lawyer, would serve only two years. 

At the local reformatory, John grew up quickly. After 5 years, his young wife asked for a divorce.

Smusyn: Dillinger took it bitter... And he wanted to get away from everybody. He didn't want to even be .. as close as he was, and he wanted to go to Michigan City, as far as he could.

Narrator: Michigan City, was the home of the Indiana state penitentiary, a facility for hardened criminals. Dillinger's request for a transfer was a decision that changed the course of his life. 

Scalf: I think, he went to Michigan City with all intent to gain an education and to be a criminal.

Smusyn: He got in with the big time operators. And they taught him how to rob a bank.

Narrator: His mentor would become "handsome" Harry Peirpont, an experienced bank robber who had all ready served 8 years. His tutors would include Russell Clark and "Fat Charlie" Charles Makley

After 9 years in prison, Dillinger received word of his parole. 

Just before he was freed, his cellmates gave him some valuable information. 

Scalf: There are already a list of banks that Harry has given John, of some banks that they know are ripe. And they trust John a great deal. These guys believed in him. John could have just taken these banks and let those guys rot in prison. But, there was already an understanding there.

Narrator: Dillinger promised he would come back to spring his friends. In May 1933, just before his 30th birthday, he embarked on his new career. 

While John Dillinger was in jail, others were enjoying the raucous, fun-filled 20's, at least in the heart of the Midwest, Chicago. 

Tony Berardi, photographer, Chicago Herald American: Chicago was great. I know that there wasn't Prohibition in Chicago, because you could find a speakeasy in every block. 

Narrator: As the authorities tried to stem the flow of liquor, prohibition gave rise to organized crime. Rival gangs fought for territory, with the bloodiest battles being led by a young pimp named Al Capone.. 

Narrator: Under Capone, violence reached its peak On St. Valentine's Day, 1929. Photographer Tony Berardi followed police when they were called to a liquor warehouse. 

Berardi: The first thought in my mind as a photographer should, is to find the best spot to take his first photograph. So I climbed up on top of a truck. 

Narrator: Berardi looked down on 7 bodies, riddled with machine gun bullets. 

Berardi: I shot a couple of shots from that position. Then I got off and shot completely around the place. 

Suddenly, people no longer saw bootlegging as a victimless crime. 

Potter: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre becomes this focal point around which something needs to be done. It becomes clear that federal policing around Prohibition is not working. 

Powers: The public and the media and the authorities were cast in a position where a stand has to be taken. Enough is enough.

Narrator: But the public and the media shared an ambivalent view of crime. Hollywood glorified Capone's career in a movie called Scarface. a new genre was born -- the gangster film. 

The depression brought poverty to millions of Americans, who felt abandoned by their government. When the gangster genre burst onto the screen, it played on the growing belief that success was no longer won through honest hard work. 

Doherty: The gangster genre emerges not coincidentally with the first full year of the Great Depression, 1930. And a lot of people see the gangster figures being sort of a twisted version of the American success ethic; 

Doherty: Cagney, especially in this archetypal performance as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy, represents a kind of virile, upwardly mobile masculinity. He's ambitious, resourceful; he's a witty conversationalist; he's a stylish dresser.

Cagney: "Going south?
Girl: "Yes, but I'm not accustomed to riding with, uh, strangers..."
Cagney: "We're not going to be strangers."

Potter: Most Americans in the Depression have a very conflicted relationship to the state. On the one hand crime is what everybody's worried about. But anger with the government about that leads people in many ways to enjoy seeing someone take his fate into his own hands, attack capitalism, get the money he wants, and disappear successfully.

Narrator: In June 1933, two years after the first gangster film, Dillinger began making armed withdrawals throughout the Midwest. 

Newspapers called his holdup in Daleville "one of the most daring in years." 

By September, after four successful holdups, Dillinger was poised to spring Pierpont, Makley & Clark from prison. If his plan worked, no bank would be safe. 

In Washington the government reacted to the crime wave by strengthening its federal police force. J. Edgar Hoover was modernizing the agency with a new kind of law enforcement. 

Powers: Hoover tried to identify the bureau of investigation with science. He founded an FBI laboratory which would allow clothing samples, tire treads, hairs to identified and used as forensic evidence. 

But if there was one thing he tried to identify his bureau with, it was fingerprints.

Narrator: But for all its technology, the bureauŒs police power was severely constrained. 

Potter: They're not allowed to make arrests independently of local officers or carry their weapons in federal enforcement unless they are accompanied by local officers.

Narrator: Tracking desperadoes like Dillinger was still the province of local authorities, and lawmen like Matt Leach. Leach had just been named head of the newly formed Indiana State police. 

Olsen: Leach is a very serious police officer. He's way ahead of his time. He's studied police psychology, and -- and he's made his way up through the ranks in the Gary Police Department, and now he has this opportunity for a big job.

Olsen: So here he is, thinking that this is really going to be a wonderful -- wonderful deal, and all of a sudden he -- his first -- right off the bat he gets John Dillinger.

Narrator: But Dillinger was not overly impressed by Leach's police skills. 

Olsen: Leach had a lot of informants there. They're always sending them off somewhere. And he gets there like 2 minutes after -- after Dillinger's left. At one point they get there and there's still a cigarette burning in the ashtray. and so Leach just looks incompetent over and over again.

Dillinger calls him up and says things like, "Hey, Leach, you stuttering bastard, this is old John. I bet you would like to know where I am." He says stuff like that to him. He sends him postcards saying, "Wish you were here." 

Narrator: In September, Matt Leach finally got a break. He learned Dillinger was visiting a girlfriend in Dayton, Ohio. When the cops broke in, Dillinger quietly surrendered. 

From his jail cell, Dillinger sent a letter to his father.

I have been a big disappointment to you but I guess I did too much time, he wrote. Of course Dad, If I had gotten off more leniently when I made my first mistake this would never have happened. Even as he wrote, his plan to break out his friends from Michigan City was beginning to unfold. 

Narrator: 170 miles away, at the Michigan city prison, inmates working at the prison shirt factory spotted an incoming carton marked with a red x. 

Several months before, Dillinger had arranged with Harry Pierpont to smuggle weapons into the prison.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sept 26, Pierpont, Clark, Makley, and seven other convicts quietly walked with their hostage, the assistant warden, out of the prison to freedom. 

Matt Leach was quoted in the papers as saying "You couldn't have picked ten worse men." 

Now they would return the favor to Dillinger, still sitting behind bars in Ohio. 

At 6:30 on the evening of October 12, three men approached sheriff Jesse Sarber. 

They claimed to be officials, who'd come to take Dillinger back to Indiana. 

"Here," said Pierpont, "are our credentials. " 

Together again, the jailmates would come to be known as the Dillinger gang. 

Narrator: Their first task was to arm themselves. Dateline, Auburn, Indiana. Two gunmen flaunted defiance in the face of the law when they raided the police station

The gang made off with a machine gun, rifles, pistols and bullet-proof vests. 

Five days later they did it again, in what the Peru Daily called, "An unbelievable challenge to law and order"

Then they went to work... Banks were so distrusted that the public quietly cheered when they were cleaned out. But the authorities were in a panic. 

Smusyn: The National Guard was called out, they put up road guards all over the place. And people were afraid to go out. 

Dillinger reveled in the attention, and toyed with his pursuers. 

Olsen: At one point Dillinger is walking down a street in Indianapolis. He sees Leach, and so he walks behind him for a couple of blocks. And Pierpont wanted to shoot him, but this is ill-advised move. So at any rate, they don't shoot him. But then Dillinger immediately calls Leach and says, "Hope you enjoyed your walk on Capital Avenue," whatever. And Leach is like, "Oh no, not again! Not again!" 

Narrator: for all the joking, the Dillinger gang was dead serious about its business. They took pride in their meticulous planning and efficiency. 

Scalf: Harry Pierpont was probably the brains of the organization because of his training and his background. But John was the kind of person that was the glue that he could actually bring these people together, because they trusted him, they liked him, he had the charisma. He was very good at reading people.

Narrator: Unlike Bonne & Clide who grabbed headlines with their reckless violence, Dillinger saw himself a robber, not a killer.

Scalf: And it's true that he did say that Bonnie and Clyde are small-timers that give our profession a bad name.

Narrator: The profession consisted of roaming the Midwest from bank to bank, hideout to hideout. Along with Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and other colorful desperadoes of the day, Dillinger captured the public's imagination. 

News Narrator: "The father of the notorious John Dillinger gives his story... in a letter I got from John from Lima, Ohio he said dad don't believe half that's in the newspapers for isn't so..."

Potter: There were very few people during the Great Depression who didn't feel that they were being buffeted about by history. And that really is central to the Dillinger myth. He and other bandits would tell people, "I got arrested. I made a mistake. And the state treated me so harshly that it changed me."

And yet, there was glamour too, and - just like in the Cagney movies - a steady stream of women. 

In November, he met a 26 year-old waitress, Evelyne "Billie" Frechette in a Chicago nightclub. 

Potter: As she told the story later to a True Romance reporter, she looked across the room and she saw these eyes. And of course it was John Dillinger. And he came across the crowded room and asked her to dance. And within minutes, she said, she'd fallen in love with him. 

He told Billie his name was Jack Harris. 

We can imagine a -- a whirlwind courtship of several days. She finally said, "What is it exactly you do for a living?" And he said, "Well, I rob banks."

Narrator: In January 1934, Dillinger's careful planning would go awry. at the first national in East Chicago, Indiana, a brave vice president sounded the alarm. As Dillinger fled with his hostage, officer William O'Malley was waiting outside. 

Smusyn: Dillinger walks out of the bank with the vice president.... O'Malley yells move, I got a good shot at him... O'Malley shot and hit Dillinger, but he had a bullet proof vest on. He got hit eight times right across the body. And he died instantly. 

Narrator: In east Chicago, Indiana, a line had been crossed. To law enforcement he was no longer John Dillinger, bank robber. Now he was John Dillinger, murderer.

Narrator: Now wanted in 3 states, John, Billie and the gang headed south to Mexico. But they got no farther than Tucson, Arizona. 

When A fire broke out at the congress hotel, their first thought was to rescue the guns. 

Smusyn: They sent two firemen up to get the suitcases. The firemen got them, and they gave them a $12 tip, which was a gigantic tip in 1934. 

Smusyn: The next day, the firemen were reading a magazine, and they had lot of criminals in it. And they looked, "Hey, this one of the guys that broke out of Michigan City. And we got his luggage." So they called the sheriff. 

Potter: They get him in jail, he gives another name entirely, and normally he would be released. But the sheriff in Tucson takes his fingerprints and sends them to Washington.

Narrator: For J. Edgar Hoover, it was a chance to share in the credit. 

Powers Because Hoover had invested so much of the Bureau's prestige in fingerprint identification, he would make sure that his publicist pointed out that fingerprinting had been involved. And then he would exaggerate it perhaps, and say fingerprinting was the way that Dillinger was actually identified.

Potter: Washington comes back with a match, says, "This is John Dillinger. You've got him. 

Narrator: The popular press ate it up, and states fought over who would get to prosecute Dillinger. That honor went to his home state of Indiana. 

In Chicago, Tony Berardi's paper Contacted Indiana prosecutor Robert Estill to see when Dillinger would be extradited. 

Berardi: Estill was telling us The state would not come up with the money to extradite -- .. to extradite Dillinger. Our editor said, "Well, how much is it going to cost?" And he said, "Well, I'll" -- He said, "It's going to cost about $5,000, ... And I'll put $2500," and we -- and our editor says, "Well, we'll put in the $2500." So we sent a reporter and a photographer along. 

Billie was set free, the rest of the gang sent to Ohio, and Dillinger taken to Crown Point, Indiana.

Doherty: Dillinger is flown, not taken by car or train, but he's flown from Arizona back to Indiana. And in the airport he's greeted like a rock star. That there are huge throngs of (I guess you'd say) well-wishers or fans there to greet Dillinger, who arrives like this motion picture star. And it's one of the hugest news stories of the 1930's. 

Narrator: But when they arrived at the crown point jail, the sheriff, Lillian Holley, refused to let in the cameras. 

Berardi: Estill came out and said, "Sorry, boys, we're not going to have any pictures taken." I said, "You mean to tell me that we're not going to get pictures of this?" I said, "That's crazy." So that's when Estill said, "Give me five minutes." 

Berardi: Then -- then he told us to come in and photograph. Dillinger put his arm on Estill's shoulder... 

Smusyn: And here's Estill, smiling with his arm around Dillinger, like they're buddies. And Estill's going to try him for murder, in court. And that picture was the downfall of Estill.

Aware of Dillinger's knack for escaping, Crown Point beefed up security. 

Scalf: Crown Point is guarded by the National Guard. They've actually hired individual police officers from other communities with machine guns. So, it's like an armed camp.

Narrator: The arraignment hearings went on for 5 days and a trial was set for the following month. Dillinger bided his time and turned on his charm. 

Scalf: He becomes very friendly with the trustees. He becomes friendly with the guards. He becomes friendly with the sheriff, 

Berardi: We know that he was a -- a killer, but if you were with him for five minutes, he -- he'd hug you. I photographed at least the guy five times during the hearings. And I got to know the guy real well. ... I thought I was his pal.

Scalf: John has kind of lowered their fears and made them to feel, all right, well he's not such a bad guy; things are going well. All the while he's planning for his big adventure, his big escape.

Narrator: According to legend, Dillinger whittled a fake gun from a wooden washboard. On Saturday March 3, A guard walked past a figure lurking in the shadows and felt something thrust into his ribs. 

Smusyn: Dillinger put the gun to his stomach and says, "You're going to do what I tell you or you're going to get killed."

Dillinger made him call people back to the cell block, one at a time. // And he captured 18 guys and walked out of that jail. ... [laughs]

Potter: One of the things I love about the wooden gun story is, it shows how funny Dillinger was. When he was leaving the jail, he took it and he sort of ran it back and forth across the bars of other people's cells and said, "Look. I got out of this jail with a puny wooden gun." 

Berardi: I always felt that was kind of a phony thing. I thought that he paid off somebody.

Narrator: To some the Crow Point photographs reveal a conspiracy. 

Scalf: When he places his arm on Estill's shoulder, and configures his hand like this, he's signaling to the underworld, "I will pay for a gun. I will pay whatever it takes to get me out of here."

Potter: What got him out of jail were cash payments made by his lawyer, Louis Piquett, some of which were smuggled in under Billie Frechette's clothes, that were given to other jailers and a turnkey in the cell. 

Narrator: Newsreels re-enacted what happened next.. . Dillinger went around the corner, down to the town garage, where he took a car.

Potter: And what police car does he take? He takes Lillian Holley's police car. So Dillinger escapes from Crown Point in the sheriff's car. 

Smusyn: People were happy to see him go. And they followed his exploits from then on. It was a daily thing in the paper, looking for Dillinger. And was like a serial.

Narrator: The story went national. Crown Point became known as "Clown Point", and Dillinger the likable hero; even to his many hostages. 

Reporter: "How did he act? Was he jolly?
Hostage: "Yes. He sang part of the way."  
Reporter: "What did he sing?"
Hostage: "Get along little doggie, get along."
Reporter: "Is that so..."

Doherty: Audiences in the 1930's reacted to Dillinger quite favorably. They applauded him. They laughed at his -- some of his more outrageous antics. They treated him like a screen hero, not a screen villain.

"This desperate public enemy now rises to fame as an underworld hero. Arrogant. That expression in his eyes..."

Powers The public was just ... amazed. What he'd really done was raised himself up, then, from being an ordinary criminal to someone who is a part of myth and legend. 

Narrator: But when Dillinger crossed the Illinois state line in a stolen car, he committed a federal crime. now, J. Edgar Hoover had the authority to go after him. 

Hoover wrote a personal note to his protege, Melvin Purvis, Keep a stiff lip, Hoover urged his man in Chicago. Get Dillinger for me and the world is yours... 

Purvis was typical of the young, law school graduates who formed the ranks of the bureau under Hoover. 

He had little use for the Indiana state police.

Olsen: Once the FBI really becomes involved in this case, they shut the state police off. They -- they treat them like they're guys that just fell off the pumpkin truck. 

This is devastating to Leach. They cut him off. They don't talk to him. They don't share information with him. There's a state police post that's right up there close, ... Within 25 miles of this area. They don't call the -- the detectives from that post. They -- they just -- They just shut him out.

Narrator: With the bureau after him, dill's life on the run was even more dangerous. He was reunited with Billie, but his gang was decimated. 

Russell Clark was sentenced to life in prison. Harry Pierpont and Charles Mackley, who had murdered Dillinger's jailer, were sent to the electric chair. 

Dillinger was forced to make new associates, including Lester Gillis, already famous as the bad-tempered killer "baby face" Nelson. 

In the early spring of '34, the new gang hit banks in South Dakota and Iowa. 

Narrator: And then, the object of a nationwide manhunt did the unthinkable. Under the noses of federal agents, Dillinger brought Billie home to meet his family. 

Scalf: John returns to the farm house for a family reunion. Essentially, this is a last gathering before John is supposedly going to take off and leave the country. 

He presents Billy. He's talking that they're going to be married soon,

Narrator: He had brought the fabled wooden gun, and gave it to the family as a souvenir of his exploits. 

Scalf: So, they have this chicken dinner. They have pies, they have all the fixings. They're having a good time; they're talking. And it's also clear that the FBI is watching in the woods.

Smusyn: They had to get Dillinger out of there they decided the way to do it was they had four cars. The first car, one of his nephews tried to hide his face like he was Dillinger. And the -- the feds followed that first car. Dillinger came out with three other cars, and went away. They followed the wrong car.

Narrator: In a detailed memo to Hoover, the agents gave their reasons for not closing in on Dillinger. But between the lines, the real reason was fear. 

Scalf: These are young men, many of them fresh out of law school. And perhaps they felt that we are only two people, why do we want to endanger our lives in trying to capture this individual who has been able to escape on numerous occasions.

Alston Purvis, son: When Hoover heard about this, he went -- he went ballistic. 

Purvis: The flak from that explosion certainly landed on my father's office as well. But it was -- it was ... a very bad mistake. I don't know what happened to those agents, but I -- I'd love to check it out. I don't think stayed on very long after that.

Narrator: Dillinger and Billie headed for Chicago. After he had dropped her off in the city, federal agents swooped down on Billie. Dillinger and a friend, Pat Cherrington, could only watch from his car. 

Potter: Dillinger was enraged. And what he wanted to do was come back and break her out Pat Cherrington, urges him to keep on going. She said, "It's suicide. You'll never get her. You'll be killed. 

As he was driving away, Pat Cherrington said, he just cried. He cried like a baby. And I think what we believe is that John Dillinger really loved Billie Frechette. He really loved her.

Narrator: She was sentenced to two years for harboring a criminal. John would never see her again. 

Narrator: On April 22, in the remote northern woods of Wisconsin, special agent Melvin Purvis led 16 federal agents to a position outside an inn called little bohemia. 

Powers In Washington, J. Edgar Hoover, middle of the night, 2:00 in the morning, alerted reporters that they had the gang captured and that there would be a big story in the morning.

Narrator: But a nighttime operation was risky. 

Purvis: They had no map of the area, so there was no way they could know that there was a lake behind the building. And so -- And then the dogs started barking.

Narrator: When three men came out of the inn and climbed into a car, the agents opened fire. 

Smusyn: One was killed, two were wounded. And they thought they got -- had the Dillinger gang, but they had three innocent people. 

Narrator: By daylight it was clear to the FBI-- as well as reporters--exactly what had happened. 

"This is the death car which was mistaken for Dillinger's car. It was riddled by federal agents when it didn't halt on command, killing one occupant and wounding two. Morris, shown here dying. And John Hoffman, owner of the car who is recovering, glad he escaped with his life."

Narrator: There was no trace of Dillinger or his gang. 

Smusyn: When the gang heard the shots, Dillinger -- they were all upstairs. They hopped off the roof and went down the incline to the lake, and followed the lake around to the northern end. 

Narrator: Dillinger and two of the gang walked until they reached the Mitchell's farmhouse. 

Mrs Mitchell: "They said all we want is a car to make our getaway because the federal officers are after us. They treated both of us very nice. And he said don't be afraid mother, you won't get cold because I'll put this blanket around you."

Narrator: Purvis learned that Babyface Nelson escaped by killing a federal agent and wounding two more It was a humiliating defeat. 

Berardi: I looked at Purvis, I said, "What the hell made you come here at night?" And he says, "Well," he says, "we wanted to capture the guy." 

Purvis: My father assumed total responsibility for everything that went wrong. And he offered his resignation. It was not accepted.

Potter: In the media there is a kind of disbelief that descends into mockery. It ends up on Roosevelt's desk, and Roosevelt is inflamed. And he actually goes on the radio that week, for his weekly fireside chat, and talks about this, and says, "The federal government," you know, "cannot be mocked in this way." 

Smusyn: The Attorney General was heard threatening to fire Hoover and just ripping into him in his office, following the chaos that happened in Little Bohemia. And it was a bad mark on Hoover. He was -- I think he was hanging by a thread, as far as his job was concerned. 

Narrator: The day after Little Bohemia President Roosevelt pressed congress to enact six sweeping crime bills. 

Narrator: Designed to beef up federal police powers, they were rushed through in less than four weeks, Hoover now had every weapon at his disposal, and no excuses to fall back on. 

Narrator: In Chicago, pressure was mounting on Melvin Purvis to produce results.

Purvis: It was a -- a blistering summer in Chicago, that summer. There were a lot of leads. Almost every day there was some kind of lead, .. and they were all false leads, and had to be checked out. And nothing seemed to be happening. 

Scalf: There are those who say, "John Dillinger has died. John Dillinger has left the country. They are even searching for John in London, because of a tie with organized crime. They actually searched some cruise ships. He's reported in Germany. He's reported in Japan." They can't find him; they don't know where he is. 

Narrator: In fact, Dillinger was right there in Chicago, seeing a plastic surgeon. 

Smusyn: Well, Dillinger had a dimple on his chin, and they wanted to smooth that out. Plus he had kind of a little bit of a ski nose. They wanted to straighten that out. And he had a -- a birthmark between his eyes.

Narrator: As long as he lived, he never again posed for a picture. the bureau's hunt was taking its toll. 

Potter: One wonders why Dillinger didn't simply leave the country. And we can only speculate about that. But one of the things we can speculate is, by the time he's holed up in Chicago, his resources are dwindling rapidly.

Potter: And he needs a lot of money, because not only did you have to pay off the police not to arrest you; everything Dillinger bought, he bought at a premium. He bought food at a premium. He bought shelter at a premium.

Narrator: Needing cash, the Dillinger gang walked into the Merchant's National Bank in South Bend, Indiana. 

Smusyn: When Dillinger went into the bank, he told the people, "This is a stick-up." And it was about 30 people in there. Nobody paid any attention to him. He took the tommy gun and just sprayed the ceiling, and plaster started flying, plus the noise and smoke from the gun. Everybody dove.

Narrator: The shots alerted police nearby. Unlike the carefully crafted heists of his early days, this one was spiraling out of control. 

Smusyn: It was like they knew the end was going to come. And why not right now? Let's -- The hell with everybody. And as Dillinger and the other -- the two -- the two other bank robbers came out, there was all kinds of shooting on that street.

Narrator: In the ensuing gun battle a policeman was killed, and four bystanders wounded. the gang got away, but it would be Dillinger's last bank job. 

Narrator: June was a month for celebrations. Dillinger had knocked off 15 banks and netted $300,000. on the day he turned 31 years old, Dillinger was named America's public enemy #1. Celebrating with him was a new flame, a prostitute named Polly Hamilton. John and Polly were staying with her madam, Anna Sage. But Dillinger was paying dearly for the pleasure. 

Potter: Everybody was profiting off of Dillinger. He was surrounded by parasites. He would give Polly Hamilton a hundred dollar bill to go out and buy $5 worth of food, and part of the deal was that she kept the change.

Narrator: Anna sage, a Romanian, was facing deportation. 

Potter: Anna Sage, had legal problems due to her conviction as a madam running a brothel. Anna Sage thought that she saw a way out of her own problem by approaching the authorities and trading Dillinger for consideration with her -- in her deportation hearings.

Narrator: On July 19, Sage met with Melvin Purvis in a bureau car to discuss what she knew. 

Purvis: When my father first met .. with Anna Sage, he said he would do everything he could to help her stay in the country, but he could not guarantee it because he was not .. part of his jurisdiction. 

Narrator: What Purvis could guarantee was money. While Hoover had staked the bureau's reputation on scientific policing. Purvis was hunting Dillinger the old-fashioned way‹by paying off informants. 

Narrator: Three Days later, desperate to escape a boiling apartment, John Polly and Anna decided to take in a movie. 

Smusyn: Anna Sage said that she had to get out of the house to get some grease or lard or something, so she -- she went down to the delicatessen about 5:30 and called Purvis that they were going to the show that night. 

Narrator: They headed for the air-conditioned Biograph theatre on Chicago's North Side. 

Potter: The Bureau of Investigation is not at all sure that they know what Dillinger looks like. They know he's probably dyed his hair and made all kinds of efforts to change his appearance. So they can't necessarily pick him out. So Anna Sage promises she'll be wearing the red dress.

Smusyn: Anna said she was going to wear a -- an orange dress with a white blouse. And the story goes, it looked red underneath the -- the theater lights.

Doherty: And they go to a motion picture called Manhattan Melodrama, which (symbolically enough) is a gangster film. 

Potter: They surround the movie theater‹local police, Bureau agents Purvis tells them, "When I see Dillinger, I will light a match."

Gable: "If I can't life the way I want, then at least let me die when I want. C'mon warden, let's go..."

Doherty: You always imagine what it must have been like for John Dillinger to sit in a motion picture theater and watch Clark Gable go off to his death sentence where he brushes aside any help from the guards and marches stoically off into his death. 

Inmate: "There he goes, they're giving it to him."
Guard: "Quiet!"

Smusyn: I think his last words, according to Anna Sage, is, "Wasn't that a good movie?"

Potter: If you can imagine this moment of tension: They don't know when he will appear; if in fact, when he appears, they'll have a clear shot. Will he be armed? Will he shoot back at them? They don't know. 

Purvis: My father was about 3 feet from Dillinger. He looked him in the eye. And Dillinger looked him in the eye and didn't seem to recognize him. 

Powers: Purvis moves up behind Dillinger.

Purvis: He said, "Stick Œem up, Johnny. We've got you surrounded." He started zigzagging towards an alley.

Powers: While he's still running, two shots mortally wound him. And by the time he hits the ground, he's dead.

Smusyn: According to witnesses, he just fell over dead. Took maybe a step after he got shot, and that was it. Straight on his face.

Narrator: One of the first newspapermen on the scene was a cub photographer named Hank Scheafer. 

Scheafer: The crowd over there was standing around, and a lot of them were wiping their handkerchiefs in the blood and so forth. One fellow rubbed his handkerchief in the blood, held it up and showed it to his wife, and he says, "Look honey, this used to be Dillinger." He says, "Our kids are going to love this someday." [laughs] 

Purvis: My father saw souvenir collectors, and he looked at Dillinger, and then he looked to them, and he walked into the alley and vomited. And he said it was probably the most disgusting sight he's ever seen in his life.

Berardi: There was big headlines. Probably for a week. And that picture, with his feet, at the morgue. Well, that was the last picture made of him.

Narrator: His career had lasted a mere 14 months but his impression on the nation was indelible. 

"At his sister's home in Maywood, Dillinger's body lies in state. morbid mobs gather for a last look at the man who made a career of crime. For all his daring, Dillinger is no match for death."

Powers: For Hoover, Dillinger is now a symbol of FBI greatness. This is -- This was the most mortal threat that the Bureau had ever faced, and it is now the greatest success that the Bureau had ever achieved. 

Potter: We can see Hoover and the publicity apparatus of the Bureau taking control of the story, So we see the emergence of a movie like G-Men in 1935, starring (guess who?) James Cagney, 

Cagney: "On the side where the man with the shotgun was sitting.
Agent: "That's right..."

formerly public enemy number one.

Cagney: "See if you have a set of prints on Denny Liggott, a New York gangster. Please, a hunch. They may check out with this one."

Narrator: It was the forces of Law and Order who were now the heroes. 

Agent: "You're marvelous. All you have to do is hear about a gardenia, and out of four million finger prints you pick the right one, just like that. What a detective!"
Cagney: "So nice to have you realize it."

Narrator: Dillinger was just the springboard Hoover needed to turn the bureau and himself into a legend. 

But it was Dillinger who transfixed the nation at a time when it was not always easy to tell the bad guys from the good.