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John Dillinger: The Mooresville Days

John Dillinger was the most famous resident of Mooresville, Indiana until the TV program “Green Acres” came along and he had to share that distinction with popular Arnold the pig. (Arnold was bred on a Mooresville farm, but trained in Hollywood.)

Dillinger is one of the best-known outlaw heroes of United States folklore, and the only one in the comparatively short annals of Mooresville history. Born on June 22, 1903 in nearby Indianapolis, Dillinger’s family moved to Mooresville in 1919, where he grew up.

Though he robbed banks throughout Midwest America, John Dillinger is considered by many to be more Robin Hood than criminal. The press loved him and followed his exploits with glee, coining cute nicknames for him such as “Jackrabbit,” a result of his penchant for leaping gracefully over bank counters.

The Dillinger family is well respected, and actually still maintains the family farm in Moorseville, the son’s peppery history notwithstanding. During his youth in the little Midwest town, John Dillinger quit school early and tried a job as a machinist for a while, but soon landed in trouble and lost it. He gave his grocer father endless problems, as well as the law. He gave the Navy a brief spin, but was dishonorably discharged, unsurprisingly.

At the age of 16, after his failed Navy career, he went home and almost immediately landed in jail for robbing a grocery store. That was the official beginning of his reign of terror, for after he got out, he hurled himself down his own chosen criminal path with a fury that lives on in the history of the Midwest.

With the Dillinger gang, he wreaked absolute havoc through the states of Ohio and Indiana, escaping several times from capture and winning headline after headline in the papers.

At one point, John was shot and wounded by the FBI, and fled back to his hometown Mooresville to recuperate. After more bank robberies and more battles with the cops, he was finally gunned down outside a movie theater in Chicago, killed by four gunshots that found their mark at last. The body was taken back to Mooresville, followed by caravans of cars containing mourners of the folk hero now become a martyr and a myth.

Many books have been composed about Dillinger‘s nefarious but somehow fascinating life. Still touted by fans, the man was not only a bank robber but a sociopathic killer who, with his gang, murdered ten men in less than one year.

The social psychology revolving around the period of the Great Depression of the time suggests that poor people with very little hope took him on as a mythic figure, defying not only the law but the hopelessness of poverty as well.

As a folk hero, his exploits are legend, but in the end,  it was mainly a case of being in all the wrong places at just the right time.

Dillinger’s body now resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Crown Hill Cemetery. Those still in his thrall often remove pieces of the grave to take home as souvenirs… part of the price of his ongoing notoriety.


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