"Tell them... you think I have been sufficiently punished and you are sure I will make good if given a chance."John Dillinger Autograph Letter Signed "Johnnie" to his Father Pleading for Help in Getting out of Prison. Two pages in ink, front and back of 5.5" x 8" plain sheet, no date [March 1933], no place [Michigan City Penitentiary, Indiana]. It was the age-old case of a young man, brought up in an honest, God-fearing family, who fell in with the wrong crowd of friends and paid for it with his freedom, and eventually with his life. John H. Dillinger was born in 1903 in Indianapolis. His father was a grocer, a good but stern man, and his mother died before his fourth birthday. Older sister Audrey took care of little John until their father remarried in 1912. In 1920, the senior Dillinger moved his family to Mooresville, Indiana, the hometown of his second wife. Young Johnnie had been staying out late at night partying and likely his father thought the country life would straighten him out. It wasn't to be though; the rural life bored the young man and he took to hanging out in the local pool halls where, fatefully, he met an older ex-con named Ed Singleton. A stint in the Navy (he deserted after three months) and a marriage to a local girl ensued but he couldn't hold a job and eventually got talked into robbing a local grocer by Singleton. On the night of September 6, 1924, Dillinger struck Frank Morgan, owner of the West End Grocery Store, on the head while Ed Singleton waited in the car. His gun went off, waking neighbors, and Singleton sped off. Dillinger was caught by police and the local prosecutor told his father that he would get off easy if he confessed and testified against Singleton. The elder Dillinger recommended that his son confess and plead guilty, expecting probation. The judge though, in a five minute trial, inexplicably convicted him of two concurrent charges with sentences of two to fourteen years and ten to twenty years. He was flabbergasted when he was removed from the courtroom in handcuffs and taken straight to jail. This extended stint in a state penitentiary turned a misguided young man into a hardened criminal. He is reported to have said, when being admitted into prison, "I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here." By the way, Singleton got only two years for the same criminal act, even with his criminal record.
This letter was written just weeks before his eventual parole on May 11, 1933, and Dillinger has obviously made some important criminal contacts and learned exactly how to manipulate the system. He was anxious to get out of prison and wrote this long, rambling, and rather demanding letter to his father, giving him detailed instructions on what to do and who to ask for help in his bid for freedom after eight+ years inside. The letter reads as follows (exactly as written), in full:
Mr. John W. Dillinger
R. R. 2
A friend of mine is mailing this for me so I thought I would outline a few things that I want you to do without fail. Mr. Wade can do me a world of good so ask him to write a letter to the board specifying that Singleton only done two years and that in his opinion and the courts opinion I have been punished sufficuntly and that in there opinion I would make good if given the chance, also be sure and have Mr. Wade to get the Judge and Prosecutor that sentenced me and the present Judge to sign my papers. Dad things are so unsettled that there may be a few changes on the board before April. I want you to get a big petition up ((8 or 10 hundred names)) and have it all ready but don't turn it in until about the 8th or 10th of April no later than the 10th for the papers have to be in fifteen days before the meeting, in the meantime have Dr. Comer or some other of your friends to see Frank Sheets and ask him to help us. He is a friend of Mr. Moorman, and he is the main guy on this board so you can realize how much good Mr. Sheets can do me if he will write Mr. Moorman in my behalf. Get after Emmett to see that fellow or any one else that has a political pull. Ask Emmitt if he knows Father Weber from West Indpls. if so see him for he has more power than Mussolini. You watch the papers and if the Governor makes any changes in the board you will have to see if you can locate someone that has a connection with one of the board members and ask him to give us a boost.
Dad it is imperitive that you appear up hear for me when the board meets and make a plea for me. Tell them you have bad health and you are getting up in years and you need my help on the farm as you are unable to do much and Hubert isn't strong enough to help you much and in view of the fact that Singleton only done two years you think I have been sufficently punished and you are sure I will make good if given a chance. Have Dr. Comer and two or three prominent business men to write to the board testifying to your ill health and poor circumstances. If you and some of your friends can get Mr. Morgan to help me it will throw a lot of weigh to the board in my behalf. All he would have to write is he thinks I have been sufficently punished and that he would like to see me have a chance to make good. Get Bud to help get my petition fixed up. I wish you would make a trip to Indianapolis and see Rev Fillmore and Howard Phillips and any other of your former business aquaintances you never know what connections they might have and any of them will be willing to help us if they can in any way. A fellow in here owes me $15 and will send it to you this way. Tell Hubert to send me an address of one of his boy friends and this party will send him a check for $15 and he can cash it and give the money to Hubert for you to pay your expenses up here. The reason I have to have someone else's address is this party cant send money to you in your name for its against the rules so we have to go about it in around about way. Tell Bud to only give me the address and say so and so is living at the following address. Well Dad so long and get busy and be sure and do all I ask hope I will see you and some of the rest in April.
Of the names mentioned in this letter, it is interesting to note the following. Frank Sheets was a local Mooresville politician, postmaster, and business owner. He was also the brother-in-law of the Mr. Morgan mentioned here who was, of course, crime victim Frank Morgan who actually did put in a good word for Dillinger with the parole board. The Father Weber Dillinger mentions as being very powerful was Father Joseph F. Weber, a highly respected, popular, and civic-minded priest in Indianapolis at the Church of the Assumption. Rev. Fillmore was Charles W. Fillmore, the Disciples of Christ minister who had married John W. Dillinger and his second wife and baptized the young Dillinger; he would also, just a few months later, preach John H. Dillinger's funeral.
Sadly, there was a snafu in his release papers and Dillinger spent eleven extra days in prison while it was straightened out. His brother Hubert picked him up on May 22, 1933, and when they got back to Mooresville, there was a hearse in the driveway. His stepmother, whom he dearly loved, had passed away an hour before they arrived; he never got to tell her goodbye. It was less than a month after his release that Dillinger robbed his first bank. Others followed in rapid succession and the rest of his story is history.
This letter is in fine condition with original light folds. The paper is rather thin so the ink has bled through a bit but it is totally legible. Included with this letter is a handwritten and signed letter of provenance from Dillinger's half sister. On a 4" x 6" lined sheet, she has written: "Feb. 18, 1998/ This letter was written by/ John Dillinger, Jr. to our/ Dad, when he was in/ prison./ He had someone mail it/ for him./ Frances Dillinger Thompson/ Half sister of John Dillinger, Jr."
For more information on the history of this Dillinger lot, please click here.
Estimate: $35,000 - up.
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