Dillinger nephew seeks new permit to exhume body from Crown Hill

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) — A nephew of John Dillinger has applied for a December permit to exhume the body of the 1930s gangster from a concrete-encased grave at Crown Hill Cemetery after his permit for a Monday exhumation lapsed.

Siblings Michael C. Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith, who say their mother was Dillinger’s half-sister, in May began proceedings to exhume Dillinger’s body, saying they have evidence that Dillinger may not be buried there and that he may not have been the man FBI agents fatally shot outside a Chicago theater on July 22, 1934.

Thompson and Griffith said in their permit applications to the Indiana State Department of Health that they want the body exhumed and subjected to a forensic analysis and possibly DNA testing “in order to make a positive identification.”

The FBI said in an August statement that it was a “myth” that its agents didn’t kill Dillinger and that “a wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise,” including fingerprint matches.

The Indianapolis-born Dillinger was one of America’s most notorious criminals. The FBI says Dillinger’s gang killed 10 people as they pulled off a bloody string of bank robberies across the Midwest in the 1930s.

The Indiana State Department of Health in July approved Thompson’s request to exhume Dillinger’s body Sept. 16, but that exhumation did not appear to occur. The first permit was valid only for Sept. 16 and the reinterment was to happen the same day, ISDH said.

A second application filed by Thompson dated Sept. 9 and received Monday by ISDH requests Dillinger’s body be exhumed Dec. 3 and reinterred Dec. 17.

Application filed Sept. 9, 2019, to exhume John Dillinger in December 2019. (Provided Document/ISDH)

Statement provided by ISDH:

We just received the application late yesterday, so the approval process has not been completed. We do not have an estimate on when it will be complete at this point.
Those dates are the dates the applicant has requested. So, if this application were to be approved, the disinterment would have to occur on Dec. 3 and the reinterment would have to occur on Dec. 17.

The previous application was for both things to occur on the same day.
We can’t speak to why the applicant has requested different days for the disinterment and reinterment.

Thompson filed a lawsuit Aug. 14 against Crown Hill Cemetery, after cemetery officials objected to the proposed exhumation.

The suit claims Crown Hill objects to the exhumation because “widespread media attention may be disruptive or unsettling to cemetery visitors.”

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

A few days after his 1934 burial, Dillinger’s father had his casket covered with a protective cap of concrete and scrap iron topped by four reinforced-concrete slabs to prevent vandals from trying to dig him up, according to Susan Sutton, a historian with the Indiana Historical Society. 

A Marion County judge on Sept. 4 issued an order granting Thompson permission to continue with the exhumation.

The court order gave guidelines for reburial of the body: If it is determined to be Dillinger, it will go back to the same grave. If it is determined not to be Dillinger, Crown Hill will choose the place of reburial. Law enforcement officials and cemetery management will need to pursue the identity of the body in that case.

An Oct. 1 status hearing is scheduled in Thompson’s lawsuit against the cemetery.

Another relative of Dillinger, John Scalf, on Tuesday said he was cooperating with the cemetery, believed Dillinger is the person buried in the grave marked with his name, and is “absolutely opposed” to the exhumation.

Scalf says his mother was Dillinger’s half-sister and was the gangster’s “confidant.” He said he found Thompson’s continued effort to exhume Dillinger “repugnant, vile and vulgar. If [Thompson’s] mother were alive, she would say the same thing.”

The History Channel said Wednesday it had dropped out of a planned documentary that would have featured the exhumation. A&E Networks spokesman Dan Silberman declined further comment, saying network officials “do not comment on why we aren’t moving forward with a project.”

News 8 reached out to Thompson’s attorney and to Crown Hill Cemetery for comment and on Tuesday had not heard back.