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Cemetery fights effort to learn who’s buried in John Dillinger’s plot

Indiana Reformatory booking shots of John Dillinger, stored in the state archives, shows the notorious gangster as a 21-year-old. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) — Crown Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery is putting up a fight over a request to exhume the body of Indiana gangster John Dillinger.

On Wednesday, a lawyer representing Dillinger’s nephew Michael Thompson filled a lawsuit against Crown Hill. The suit claims Crown Hill objects to the exhumation because “widespread media attention may be disruptive or unsettling to cemetery visitors.”

Crown Hill Cemetery initially agreed to honor the permit, requested in early July by Thompson. Its operators later changed their minds, releasing a statement.

“Crown Hill has objected to the exhumation of John Dillinger. We have a duty to the families we serve to ensure the safety and integrity of the Cemetery. We have concerns that the complex and commercial nature of this exhumation could cause disruption to the peaceful tranquility of the Cemetery and those who are visiting to remember their loved ones. Additionally, we received notice that not all of Mr. Dillinger’s next of kin agree with the exhumation. We honor the trust placed in us to protect all individuals in our care, and to protect the interests of those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Crown Hill Cemetery Management

The lawsuit also states says the cemetery is concerned that “removing several layers of concrete above Dillinger’s grave would disturb nearby graves.”

According to the FBI, three of its agents fired five shots at Dillinger outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago in 1934. Three of the shots hit Dillinger.

He was pronounced dead at 10:50 p.m. July 22, 1934, according to the FBI.

In early July Thompson and another relative, Carol Thompson Griffith applied for and was granted a permit to exhume Dillinger’s body. The planned exhumation will be part of a documentary on Dillinger for The History Channel, a spokesman for A&E Networks, Dan Silberman, said.

An affidavit signed by Thompson says he believes he has evidence that suggests the person shot outside of the Biograph Theater had a different eye color and ear shape. Also, he says, the evidence indicates a protrusion on the deceased’s head and the fingerprints did not match Dillinger.

The FBI has disputed the “myth” that its agents didn’t fatally shoot Dillinger outside the Chicago theater. The agency said in a statement that “a wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise” including fingerprint matches. The agency also says it’s a “common myth” that “a stand-in” and not Dillinger was the man killed, saying that such claims “have been advanced with only circumstantial evidence.”

If Dillinger is not the person buried in Crown Hill, the identity of the John Doe inside will quickly become a top priority for law enforcement officials and Crown Hill management. Crown Hill has expressed concern it could face legal issues from the family of a possible John Doe if the exhumation were to proceed.