Much of the controversy surrounding Dillinger’s death has to do with the post-mortem identification of his body. There are some who believe that the individual who was shot and killed by FBI agents on the night of July 22, 1934 outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago, IL was not John Dillinger, but perhaps Dillinger-look-alike and petty criminal Jimmy Lawrence. Dillinger had in fact been using the pseudonym Jimmy Lawrence around Chicago for quite some time.
There may have been a good reason too for the FBI to cover up a mistake on their part, if in fact it was not John Dillinger who they killed. Just a few months before his death, Dillinger and his gang settled in to the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin, where they hid out of sight of the authorities. The innkeepers found out who they were harboring but were promised that no harm would befall them. Meanwhile, Dillinger didn’t trust them, and made sure that a member of his gang followed them into town, watched their every move, and listened in on all their phone calls and conversations. On one occasion, though, word was transmitted to the FBI that Dillinger was hiding out at the Little Bohemia Lodge, and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis assembled his team to storm the lodge and capture Dillinger. The execution didn’t work out as planned, and on top of the entire Dillinger Gang escaping the Lodge unharmed, Purvis and his agents managed to kill several innocent bystanders and lost a member of their team in a gunfight exchange. The incident nearly lost Hoover his title of Director of the FBI and the incident embarrassed the entire Bureau and cast doubt on their ability to maintain order. A second embarrassment of that nature during another Dillinger capture might well have been grounds for dismissal of many of the top FBI officials, and perhaps even graver repercussions for the Bureau.
There were other dubious circumstances surrounding the events that followed Dillinger’s death. The informant who notified Purvis where Dillinger would be that evening, Anna Sage, was promised U.S. citizenship in exchange for her information; however, when the dust finally settled, she ended up being deported after all. Another point of contention was that the person who was killed that night was even carrying a weapon. FBI agents claimed to have seen Dillinger reach for a weapon before he set off running into the side alleyway. The FBI even showcased in their headquarters the gun that was supposedly on Dillinger’s body the night he was killed. It turns out, however, that the small Colt semi-automatic pistol on display at the FBI was only manufactured after Dillinger’s death, making it impossible to have been the one he was allegedly carrying.
And then there were the autopsy findings, which were equivocal. Forensic analysis of the victim showed that he had stippling patterns on his neck, which is due to close range fire, and when writer Jay Robert Nash conducted his reconstruction of the crime scene in 1970 it showed that Dillinger had to have been in a prone position when he was shot. This would suggest that Dillinger was somehow tackled to the ground and was defenseless. (Note: Nash is not a trained or licensed crime scene investigator or forensic scientist, and the bases of his findings have not been scientifically referenced nor validated). Several physical discrepancies also existed. The scar on Dillinger’s face was not present at autopsy, which could have been the result of successful plastic surgery, but upon viewing the victim, Dillinger’s father exclaimed that it was not his son. A close up of the corpse face showed a full set of front teeth, however, it was known through various documented photographs and dental records that Dillinger was missing his front right incisor. The corpse’s brown eyes also did not match that of Dillinger, who supposedly had grey eyes. Finally, the body showed signs of certain illnesses and heart conditions that were inconsistent with prior medical records and Dillinger’s level of activity.
The body was, however, positively identified by John Dillinger’s sister upon viewing a characteristic scar on his leg. Furthermore, the fingerprints recovered from the victim were also poor in quality, due to the fact that Dillinger had attempted to remove his fingerprints by burning them with acid, but showed consistent features with Dillinger’s known fingerprints. The change in eye color can also be explained through post-mortem pigment changes in the eye.
If Dillinger managed to exploit the vulnerability of the FBI and escape death yet another time, this surely would be his greatest escape ever. BUT, these conspiracy theories are not widely accepted and exist among a small group of individuals not including the law enforcement and scientific communities.