On This Day In Finance: July 22 - John Dillinger Is Killed

By Investopedia Staff | July 20, 2009 AAA

On July 22, 1934, famed American bank robber John Dillinger was shot and killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago by FBI agents. Dillinger had spent the past nine months on the run following a rash of bank robberies, prison escapes and shootouts with police which cemented his place as one of the most wanted men in America.

John Dillinger's rise to criminal fame began in 1933 following his release from prison for assault and battery with the intent to rob and conspiracy to commit a felony stemming from an armed robbery of a grocery store for $120. After his release, Dillinger entered society during the heart of the Great Depression, leaving his chances at finding honest work next to none. Dillinger robbed a bank in Bluffton, Ohio but was captured and jailed subsequently. Shortly after his capture, Dillinger was busted out of prison by three of his criminal accomplices. Dillinger and his gang immediately became the most wanted criminals in the country. (To learn more about this time in history, read What Caused The Great Depression?)

It is believed that over the coarse of a year Dillinger and his gang robbed dozens of banks, stealing approximately $300,000. To get an idea of how much that is, inflation calculations would put that $300,000 stolen in 1933-1934 equivalent to nearly $5 million today. Some of his larger heists included: Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana ($29,890), Securities National Bank and Trust Co. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota ($49,500), First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa ($52,000) and the Central National Bank and Trust Co. in Greencastle, Indiana ($76,000). Many stories surround the robberies by Dillinger's gang that only built their legendary status. Among his more brash schemes included reportedly impersonating a bank alarm system salesman to gain access to bank vaults and determine banks which were relatively easy targets, and masquerading as a film director who was shooting a bank robbery scene as bank customers stood by and smiled. Over time, these sorts of stories have led John Dillinger to become a Robin Hood-esque character, holding almost urban legend status.

Dillinger's run came to an end when police and the FBI in Chicago were tipped off that Dillinger would be in a movie theater on July 22, watching a film. During the movie, federal agents surrounded the building and waited for Dillinger to come out of the theater where a brief shootout ensued. John Dillinger was shot three times and died on the scene. (For a look at criminals of a different kind, check out Tales From Wall Street's Crypt and The Ghouls And Monsters Of Wall Street.)

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