INFANT JOHN DILLINGER
John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903, in Indianapolis. The proud parents were John Wilson Dillinger (a grocery store owner) and Mollie Lancaster. John Dillinger was the couples second child, his sister Audrey Dillinger was born 1889. She was fourteen years older than her new brother. John’s father owned a small grocery store not far from home, located at 2210 Bloyd Avenue and four houses.
When young Johnnie Dillinger was only three years old, his mother became very ill and was hospitalized in 1906. She had developed serious health problems, suffered a stroke, underwent surgery and died soon thereafter. Audrey had married a few months before her mother’s death and had children of her own, but she tried to help out raising young Johnnie on occasions. THE DILLINGER HOME IN INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
After the loss of his mother, Johnnie Dillinger was often seen hanging out at his father’s grocery store. He became a lonely confused and sad child without his mother. John Sr. was said to be very strict, he was a busy man trying to raise a child, run a grocery store and was the Deacon of a neighboor church. The child would receive visits from his sister and grandfather Mathias from time to time. His sister Audrey tried to teach Johnnie to play the piano, but he eventally lost interest.
At age five, young Johnnie Dillinger entered school at Public School 38, in Oak Hill. He was described by his teachers as an average student, very well behaved and occasionally getting into trouble, but no more than any of the other kids. When Johnnie was about nine years old his father gave him a job helping out at the store. Johnnie was well known by children in the district for always having enough money to buy everyone candy treats.
Overall, young Johnnie Dillinger was a good kid who had a descent childhood, and usually appeared to be happy in family pictures. Most neighbors described Johnnie as a cheery friendly teenager, polite and well mannered. As a teenager, Johnnie attended School P.S.55, on Seventeenth and Sheldon streets, but it didn't take long before he began to lose interest in school, periodically skipping classes to go fishing or hang out with friends.At age 16, he dropped out to work at a machine shop in Indianapolis. His father became concerned about his son, who was staying out through all hours of the night, and was caught stealing watermelon, chickens and coal from the railroads freight cars that he sold to residents.
One of John Dillinger's biggest pranks was when he tied a rope around a neighbors rose trellis, attaching the other end to the Interurban trolley car.
When the Interurban took off the rose trellis broke into pieces, leaving a terrible mess of the neighbor's roses. By 1912, John's father courted and married Elizabeth Fields of Mooresville, a small town South of Indianapolis. Accorded to John Sr., his son resented his stepmother at first, but later grew to love her.
THE MOORESVILLE, IN DILLINGER FARM in 1939
By the time John turned eleven years old, he had a half brother named Hubert, born in 1914, and a half sister named Doris, born in 1916. John was three months shy of his seventeenth birthday when the family moved to Mooresville. He had given up, and quit school one year prior to the move.
By 1920, John’s father decided to sell his Grocery store and houses and move to the Mooresville. He purchased a sixty-seven acre farmhouse, just off Highway 267. The elder Dillinger figured that farm life would be good for young John, and perhaps keep him out of trouble. John Dillinger had no interest in farm life, but did enjoy hunting, and would spend many hours out in the woods with the family dog. He was a fairly good shot; his prey would consist of rabbits, squirrels, and possums. Entertainment around Mooresville was limited to a pool hall, a movie theater, and baseball field. John began coming home late in the evenings, and sometimes didn’t come home at all. It seemed the more the elder Dillinger corrected his son, the worse the situation grew. John spent most of his evenings at pool halls in Mooresville and Martinsville. While in Martinsville, he began dating a seventeen-year-old named Frances Thornton. Frances was the stepdaughter of Everett Dillinger, who was John's uncle. Everett did not approve of the relationship. He had his own plans for his daughter's future, and John wasn't a part of it. John soon asked Frances for her hand in marriage, but Everett disapproved and ordered his daughter to stop seeing him. Young Dillinger was heartbroken; he became bitter.
Sometime afterwards, Dillinger stole a car that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Macy of Mooresville.
The couple was attending church services, and soon discovered their car was missing. The car was reported stolen, and the couple found a ride home with friends of the church. This was the very same church John attended with his father on many occasions. He drove the car to Indianapolis for a joy ride, then abandoned the on a side of the road. Around midnight a policeman spotted him walking the streets, and decided to question him. Nervously, he told the officer his real name, and stated he had driven in from Mooresville earlier in the evening. He took the officer straight to the stolen car, then suddenly broke free and ran. John was scared; he knew car thief was a serious crime. This was officially John’s first crime, but the Macy's had refused to press charges.
DILLINGER'S MILITARY RECORDS
John feared the worst and thought he was going to jail; he panicked and joined the navy. After successfully completing basic training, he was stationed aboard a battleship, the U.S.S. Utah. He was listed as a Fireman Third Class. The U.S.S. Utah was scheduled to ship out in three weeks, but when the departure date arrived; Dillinger failed to show up for duty. He was listed as a deserter, and was soon court-martialed. John had grown tired of the navy life, and the strict discipline; he headed back to Mooresville with a fifty-dollar reward on his head. The navy would later drop charges and issue a dishonorable discharge. Back in Mooresville, he began hanging out at the pool hall, attending parties, and playing baseball.
JOHN DILLINGER MARRIED 17 YEAR OLD - BERYL HOVIOUS 1924 (Photo colorization and effects by Kimberly Stewart)
Dillinger began courting a young lady named Beryl Hovious. She would soon become his wife; they were married on April 12, 1924. Dillinger settled down for a while, he found a job and enjoyed the marriage life. He joined a Martinsville baseball team called the Atletics (AC); he was noted as a good second baseman, and a shortstop. John and Beryl soon became good friends with another baseball team player named William Edgar Singleton, a team member who would also umpire for the team on occasions.
FIRST ATTEMPTED ROBBERY
He was known by other team players as Ed Singleton. Singleton was ten years older than Dillinger and had served time in prison for armed robbery. He was also known as the town drunk by residents of Mooresville. One night, Dillinger and Singleton met at the Mooresville pool hall and celebrated with a jug of corn liquor, also known as moonshine. Dillinger was probably influenced to have a drink by Singleton, because his wife Beryl later said in an interview with author 7ony Stewart, that John never drank while they were together.
B.F. MORGAN'S GROCERY STORE
The two soon became intoxicated and Singleton presented a plan to rob a sixty-five-year-old grocer named Frank Morgan, the owner of the West End Grocery Store located at 135 West High Street. He had convinced an intoxicated Dillinger that it would be easy money. This attempted robbery occurred on September 6, 1924 and would turn out to be a complete failure. Dillinger hid by the steps of the Mooresville Christian Church, while Singleton waited in the getaway car. It was after 10 p.m., when Morgan came walking up the street and passed by the church steps.
Dillinger jumped out of the shadows, and hit Morgan over the head with a heavy bolt wrapped in a handkerchief. Dillinger attempted to pull out a revolver. Morgan knocked the gun out of his hands and it accidentally discharged as the weapon hit the ground. No one was hurt, but the sound of gunfire and Morgan’s pleas for help woke up nearby neighbors. Singleton fled as soon as the shot was fired, leaving Dillinger behind to flee on his own. He fled on foot and headed back to Mooresville. At the time no one was aware of Dillinger’s involvement, but he had made his way back to the local pool hall, and asking questions about whether Morgan had been hurt or not. The incident was reported to police, and Dillinger soon was arrested. However, when questioned, Dillinger denied any involvement in the crime. Dillinger was scared and he confided in his father, who told him to tell the truth. Dillinger's father, a deacon of the local Mooresville Church, decided to speak to the prosecutor of Martinsville on the matter. He was told; since this was John's first offense he would get off with probation if he came clean.
SENTENCED TO INDIANA STATE PENITENTIARY
John listened to his father’s advice and pleaded guilty to the crime. B.F. Morgan had known John Dillinger since he was a little boy, and always considered him a good kid. Morgan had received eleven stitches in his head from the incident. Confident of the outcome, after talking with the Prosecutor, Dillinger’s father didn't hire a lawyer, nor did he go to court with John. Judge William’s did just the opposite of what the Prosecutor had told the elder Dillinger. As John stood before the Judge, and pleaded guilty, Judge William’s threw the book at him. The trial only lasted five minutes; he was sentenced on two concurrent charges, receiving Two to fourteen years, and Ten to twenty years at the Indiana State Reformatory with an additional fine of $200.00. He was removed from the Martinsville Courtroom in handcuffs, and transported to the Morgan County Jail.
MARTINSVILLE JAIL CELL WHERE DILLINGER WAS HELD
In the Morgan County Jail Dillinger was locked in an 8 by 8-foot cell, where he sat, confused about what happened. His father had promised him that he'd be home in a few hours. The court sentenced him without any legal representation or a public defender on his behalf.
DILLINGER MUG SHOT
Dillinger had even agreed to testify against Singleton, as a witness for the prosecution, which usually offered a bargain for a lighter sentence in return for testimony. After learning of Dillinger’s harsh sentence, Singleton went into court better prepared. He hired a lawyer and requested a new Judge. The Courts over looked the fact that Singleton had a prior record for armed robbery, and had a prior prison record. He pleaded guilty at his attorney’s advice, and received a sentence of two to fourteen years. He was paroled in less than two years. Dillinger felt betrayed, and couldn’t understand why the courts gave him such a harsh sentence. Looking at the facts, Singleton was an ex-con who had served six years for armed robbery. This attempted robbery was premeditated by Singleton. He had been studying Morgan’s daily routines and knew precisely, and knew when Morgan would appear with the profits of the week. Singleton needed an accomplice to complete his plan.
His choice was John Dillinger. Singleton had offered him some good moonshine, and later, persuaded him to rob Morgan. Dillinger’s testimony for the prosecution should have offered leniency for a lighter sentence. Upon arriving at the Indiana State Reformatory at Pendleton, Dillinger told one of the guards; if Singleton receives a lesser sentence, he (Dillinger) would be the meanest son of a bitch, anyone had ever seen. Years later, on August 31, 1937, Singleton would die as he fell asleep on the Pennsylvania railroad tracks. Hansel Sawyers, a friend of Singleton, was the last man to see him alive. Pieces of Singleton’s body were found 80 feet from where he met his demise. One man reported finding a leg in the road. After Dillinger’s release in 1933, he would keep his promise.
Dillinger became prisoner 13225. Background Indiana State Penitentiary. Photo created by Tony Stewart.
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