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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Folklore historian believes John Dillinger's family is seeking ID confirmation

13 Investigates spoke with a local historian with ties to Dillinger's history and some time-treasured artifacts in search of some possible answers after learning his remains will soon be exhumed.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Indiana's most notorious bank robber is stirring up more talk after 13 Investigates learned John Dillinger's remains will soon be exhumed.

The big question is why?

13 Investigates spoke with a local historian with ties to Dillinger's history and some time-treasured artifacts in search of some possible answers.

A replica of John Dillinger's "death mask" is just one of the treasures Alan Hunter has acquired for his collection of one of the FBI's most wanted bank robbers. The man dubbed "Public Enemy number one."

"This was taken after he was shot. You can see the mark where he hit the ground," Hunter said holding up the cast of John Dillinger. "They would do a cast of your face. They would do a cast of your hand just as keepsakes," he explained. "He was a handsome guy. A Hoosier boy and there was some debate about how ruthless he was," Hunter continued.

For decades, the folklore historian has spent time collecting parts of Dillinger's history. That includes the jail cell door that once contained Dillinger in Chicago and the fingerprint pad used on Dillinger during his first arrest in Morgan County.

Every fall, Hunter gives tours in Irvington where the infamous bank robber and escapee is believed to have carried out a neighborhood robbery a year before his death in 1934.

According to Hunter, Dillinger robbed a store and soda fountain at the intersection of Julian and Washington streets on the east side.

"He came in and they robbed. He broke with the gang. He fled to Ohio and within a year he's dead," Hunter said.

Dillinger's notoriety is now breathing new life after 13 Investigates reported the Indiana legend's remains will be exhumed in September.

Records from the Indiana State Department of Health confirm a permit has been granted to Dillinger's nephew to dig up his grave. But the reports don't give a reason why. Hunter, who has met members of the Dillinger family, provided his thoughts.

"History is a process of discovery. They're looking for something," he said. "If I had to guess I would say it was to prove that it's him in there because there has always been speculation that he's not buried there," he explained. Hunter says the family has acknowledged the gravesite over the last 85-years since he was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.

Visited John Dillinger’s gravesite today. Surprised to see his headstone clearly chipped. Apparently people are...

Posted by Sandra Chapman on Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A visit to the gravesite revealed a chipped gravestone. According to Hunter, it's been replaced at least twice as people take pieces of it as a keepsake. The area underneath Dillinger's headstone is also cement. Hunter said there have always been concerns that someone might try to steal the remains. The added security will mean a more arduous process in September when crews exhume the grave.

"He deserves to rest in peace," said Hunter.