Biograph Theater Chicago theater thought to be haunted by the ghost of bank robber John Dillinger. The Biograph Theater is located on the north side of town and gained fame when Dillinger was gunned down near the alley outside on July 22, 1934.
Dillinger (1903–1934) enjoyed a spectacular career as a robber, earning him the title of the first Public Enemy Number One (a title also shared by ALPHONSE CAPONE). Born in Indianapolis in 1902, he started his crime life at a young age, when he linked with the Dirty Dozen gang and stole coal from the Pennsylvania Railroad.
In 1924, Dillinger’s professional crime life began with the attempted robbery and assault of a grocer. He served nine years in prison in Mooresville, Indiana, and was released in 1933. His time in jail was well spent, for he got to know many bank robbers who later became his accomplices.
Once out of prison, Dillinger became a robber in earnest, moving from city to city. In the space of 11 months, he robbed between 10 and 20 banks, plus police arsenals. He seemed to be a magic escape artist, evading traps set for him, and once even escaping from jail armed with a phony wooden gun. He murdered 10 men and wounded many more. A $10,000 reward was offered for him, dead or alive.
Dillinger hid at the home of his waitress girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. He was betrayed by Anne Sage (real name Anne Cumpanis), Hamilton’s roommate. Sage was in danger of being deported and struck a deal with the federal government to inform on Dillinger in exchange for staying in the United States.
The fateful night came on July 22, 1934, when Dillinger took Sage and Hamilton to the Biograph Theater to see Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable. Dillinger was well dressed and wearing a straw hat. Melvin Purvis, the head of the FBI in Chicago, set up a trap. Sage would identify herself by wearing a red dress (actually orange).
When Dillinger exited the theater at 10:40 P.M. with the two women, one in a reddish dress, Purvis signaled his waiting agents to draw their guns. He identified himself to Dillinger and ordered him to surrender. Dillinger turned and fled toward an alley. FBI agents fired on him. Two bullets hit his left side and one entered his back and exited through his right eye, tearing it to bits. Dillinger was killed instantly and collapsed just short of the alley. He was rushed to Alexian Brothers Hospital, even though he was already dead.
Sage, who became known as the “Lady in Red,” was paid $5,000 by the federal government for her part—but was deported anyway.
According to lore, instant souvenir hunters dabbed handkerchiefs in Dillinger’s blood at the scene, before his body was whisked away to the hospital. Others hunted for bullet fragments.
Since that violent night, passersby have reported seeing glimpses of a ghostly replay of the killing. A blue-gray silhouette of a man is seen leaving the theater, running toward the alley, falling, hitting the pavement, and then disappearing. A ghostly figure also is seen hovering near the spot where Dillinger fell dead. The alley is known as “Dillinger’s Alley.” The Biograph has gained a reputation for being haunted too; visitors can sit in the same seat once occupied by Dillinger on the last night of his life.
Popular lore persists that the man killed that night was not Dillinger, but a small-time criminal. Dillinger himself is said to have gotten away and lived out his life under a new identity. Little evidence exists to support the belief, which seems to be rooted in a common romanticism that denies the deaths of famous—and infamous—figures.
- Kaczmarek, Dale. Windy City Ghosts: The Haunted History of Chicago. Alton, Ill.: White Chapel Press Productions, 2000.
- Taylor, Troy. Haunted Chicago: History & Hauntings of the Windy City. Alton, Ill.: White Chapel Press Productions, 2002.
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