Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana and grew up in nearby Mooresville. In 1923, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but deserted within a few months. Dillinger returned to Indiana, married and attempted to settle down. But things did not go well. He had difficulty holding a job and his marriage disintegrated. One night in 1923, while out on a drinking binge, Dillinger assaulted and robbed a well-known local citizen. He was soon captured, convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison despite having no prior criminal record.
The experience embittered Dillinger. He embraced the criminal lifestyle behind bars, learning the ropes from seasoned bank robbers like Harry Pierpont. The two planned heists they would commit just as soon as they were released.
Dillinger served time in Indiana prisons until 1933, when he was paroled. Within four months, he was back in prison. His gang sprang him, but he was captured again by the end of the year in Tucson, Arizona and sent back to prison in Crown Point, Indiana.
On March 3, 1934, Dillinger escaped, using a wooden gun blackened with shoe polish. Once out of prison, he continued to rob banks, eventually named Public Enemy Number One by the U.S. Justice Department's Division of Investigation, later known as the FBI. The United States Department of Justice then offered a $10,000 reward on June 23 for Dillinger's capture, or $5,000 for information leading to his apprehension.
Dillinger's last day of freedom was July 22, 1934. Dillinger attended the film "Manhattan Melodrama" at the Biograph Theater in Chicago with his girlfriend Polly Hamilton and Ana Campanas, a brothel owner who was facing deportation charges. When they exited the theater, Campanas tipped off the FBI who opened fire, killing Dillinger.
To this day, loyal fans continue to observe "John Dillinger Day" (July 22) as a way to remember the fabled outlaw that he was. Members of the "John Dillinger Died for You Society" traditionally gather at the Biograph Theater on the anniversary of Dillinger's death and retrace his last walk to the alley where he died, following a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace".
To this day there are doubts whether Dillinger actually died on July 22, 1934. Some people who knew him said they did not recognise the body. An autopsy contained information that was controversial, such as:
A lot of legends surround John Dillinger. One of the rumors that followed his death was that he had a very large penis. This legend is the result of the photograph of his corpse; the bulge caused by his arm, stiff from rigor mortis, covered with a sheet; some who saw grainy newsprint copies of the photo mistakenly believed to be his unnaturaly large erect penis.