If you woke up this morning and thought, “Gee, it’s been a while since my favorite Depression-era gangster featured prominently in the 2019 news cycle,” then we are pleased to inform you that it is indeed your lucky day. The body of John Dillinger, the gangster and bank robber who was notoriously gunned down outside of Chicago’s Biograph movie theater in 1934, will be exhumed from an Indiana cemetery for an upcoming TV special on History.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Michael C. Thompson, Dillinger’s nephew, reportedly recently applied to the Indiana Department of Health for a permit requesting the exhumation of Dillinger’s body, which was approved on July 3rd. While the permit did not specify as to why Dillinger’s nephew wanted access to his long-dead uncle’s body, a spokesperson for the History Channel did confirm to Rolling Stone that it would be part of an upcoming documentary for the channel. The exhumation of his body — whose casket was covered with concrete as a way to discourage grave robbers — is reportedly set for September 16th, and Dillinger’s body will be reinterred that same day.
Little is known about the reason for the exhumation: in response to Rolling Stone‘s requests for comment, a History Channel spokesperson would only confirm that it was happening. Yet the life of Dillinger, an outlaw who pulled off a daring escape from jail in 1934 and sent authorities on a months-long manhunt, has long been shrouded in urban legend and mystery. Born in 1903 in Indianapolis, Dillinger served eight and a half years for assault and battery with attempt to rob, until he was released on parole in 1933. Almost immediately after his release, he robbed a bank, which led to him being arrested again and held in a jail in Lima, Ohio. After members of his gang helped him escape from jail, they committed a rash of murders and armed robberies all across the Midwest, their reign of terror only coming to an end when he was shot dead outside the Chicago movie theater thanks to his date tipping off the FBI. His daring jailbreak and dramatic demise has long captivated true crime enthusiasts, creating a flurry of myths and legends that have persisted long after his death: some have claimed that Dillinger avoided the attention of authorities for so long by totally changing his appearance, getting a facelift and getting rid of his fingerprints by submerging his fingertips in hydrochloric acid; others have claimed that Dillinger faked his own death, and that the body in Indiana’s Crown Hill Cemetery is not even his.
Perhaps the most widely known urban legend associated with Dillinger has to do with his allegedly exceptionally large penis, a rumor that started after newspaper photos of his dead body that appeared to show him with a massive erection were printed in national newspapers. (The erection in question was likely just his arm, as Snopes later reported.) The myth has gained such traction over the years that many even mistakenly believe that Dillinger’s comically large phallus is currently housed at the Smithsonian; the fact that Dillinger was known for his sexual prowess and his enthusiasm for frequenting sex workers also likely played a role in cultivating the legend. (Indeed, the “Woman in Red” — who famously accompanied Dillinger on his final movie theater date and tipped off the authorities — was actually a madam at an Indiana brothel.)
Although it’s unconfirmed that Dillinger was, in fact, packing heat in more ways than one, with no insight from History as to the purpose of the upcoming documentary, one can only speculate that his exhumation is part of some sort of upcoming special comparing the genitalia of various infamous historical figures, journalistic integrity and the logistics of decomposition be damned. Please, History: it’s the kind of tawdry, historically irrelevant ratings bait the American people both want and, frankly, deserve.