The Effects of John Dillinger on Government Law Enforcement in the 1930’s

The Effects of John Dillinger on Government Law Enforcement in the 1930’s

On a cold, dark snowing April night, John Dillinger and his gang sat down at Little Bohemia lodge to enjoy some dinner. Until, they heard gunshots and dogs barking outside. There was running, yelling and confusion floating through the air. John Dillinger knew it was the FBI looking for him and his gang. As they all


ran, they disputed throughout Northern Wisconsin. It was not the first time that this well-known criminal has beaten the FBI at its own game. John Dillinger has escaped the FBI many times before. John Dillinger was on the run from escaping a prison in Indiana. (Little Bohemia Lodge: History)

Dillinger and his gang were staying at Little Bohemia in Manitowish, Wisconsin. Dillinger’s attorney set up the stay for Dillinger and his gang at Little Bohemia because the owner Emil Wantka came to the attorney for some help. Emil Wantka was facing money problems. The town knew that the attorney that Dillinger was using was bad news. Dillinger paid Wantka $500.00 a night for each room. In today’s value it would be worth over $2,000.  Dillinger and his gang arrived in a joyful manner but with caution. They watched the owner and his family to make sure they were not making calls about the Dillinger gang to the police. John Dillinger was known for changing up his plans quick. This is one of the characteristics that aided in him never being caught. He changed his plans that night at Little Bohemia Lodge. He was planning on leaving as soon as one of his members from his gang would arrive. That member showed up as the shoot out between the Chicago police and John Dillinger’s gang began. However, that did not change the matter. Dillinger and his gang all escaped from the event at Little Bohemia. (Little Bohemia Lodge: History) They also had a great impact on the changes of the FBI during the 1930’s.


John Dillinger was a complex man. He came off as cold man at first but as soon as he got to know you it changed. He was truly a loving, polite and caring man.His exgirlfriend Evelyn Billie was interviewed after the death of Dillinger. She told the interviewers that, “John was good to me. He looked after me and bought me all kinds of clothes and jewelry and cars and pets, and we went places and saw things, and he gave me everything a girl wants. He was in love with me. I fell in love with him because of the man he was”.  She believed that he was a good man ( Dillinger was born in June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana. When he was 3 his mother died of a stroke. His sister and father raised him. His father was a self made man. He owned a grocery store and rental homes. Dillinger grew up in Indiana causing mayhem in the neighborhoods. His father was strike but also easy going. He would keep Dillinger locked up during the day but let him go at night. He was a part of the neighborhood gang called, “Dirty Dozen.” It was a small town so all that was really happening was petty tricks and petty theft. His nickname when he was younger was “Jackrabbit” due to his fast moves and quick runs from the police. At the age of 16, Dillinger dropped out of school because it was not fitting with the type of person he was. He decided to search for a career instead. He managed to get a factory job. His behaviors started to take a down hill spiral. He started drinking and fighting. Soon it spread to stealing such as cars and chickens but did not always got charged with the conviction until he attempted to rob the elder grocery in town. This arrest causes problems to the relationship between Dillinger and his father. He was charged with 10 to 20 years in prison due to not having a lawyer. If he had a lawyer it would have been smaller. He made many friends in prison. There were two that became his partner in crimes: Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter. In jail they planned robberies and escape routes. They escaped prison and started one of the most dangerous organized crime gang. Most of their crimes took place in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Their robberies were publicized and dubbed humorous. Dillinger was robbing a bank when a farmer came in with his money. Dillinger went up to the farmer and asked whose money it was, the farmer replied claiming it was his. Dillinger let the man be and said, “Keep it. We only want the Bank’s money.”  As soon as Dillinger was caught states would fight over him so that they could prosecute him. Dillinger could not be arrested in the state and charged for something that did not happen in that state. It allowed Dillinger time to escape, which he did. Little Bohemia was one of the last incidents that happened before Dillinger’s death. After the Little Bohemia event he was called “America’s Public Enemy Number One.” ( John Dillinger).

Russell Clark, Charles Makley, Harry Pierpont, John Dillinger, Ann Martin, Mary Kinder

John Dillinger became a criminal in a time when it was a very popular. Organized crime hit a peak in the 1920’s through the 1930’s. The Depression caused many people to spiral out of control. Men would visit the taverns instead of going back to families. They would spend the little money they had because they felt defeated. If they were able to find work, it would be working them to death for little pay. If they were unable to find work the stress of not being able to provide for their family was causing serve mental damages. It was the man’s role at the time to provide for their families. This society never faced such a defeat. Men were unable to provide for families and women were abandoning children to save their marriage. Becoming a criminal was sometimes the only option to survive. Organized crime was a fast way to make money it was dangerous but not as dangerous as you would think (Woloch 127-135). The only real danger was other gangs. John Dillinger’s gang consisted of some main players at this time such as, Baby face Nelson, Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter. Harry Pierpont was very dangerous. Dillinger and Pierpont separated before a planned mission. They got separated and Pierpont and the people following him were arrested. This is what caused Dillinger to create his own gang and caused enemies. ( John Dillinger).


The government at this time was crumbling. With the economy falling so was everything with it.  People were living in tents, unable to find jobs, unable to pay bills, which ended in a result with loss of money to the government. The lack of money only allowed small amounts of money to be given to programs such as BOI. BOI was the Bureau of Investigation, basically an inadequate form of the FBI. The BOI was the reason why organized crime got to degree it did. BOI lacked training and education. It also did not expand across the country. The agents at the time were not allowed to cross state borders. The organized crime took full advantage of that. States fought for criminals to charge them in their states. So that meant if a state charged a criminal with the act of crime in the state, he could not be charged in the others. It was a constant battle between states during this time. The BOI was not a constant front of the United States of America.


During the 1930’s the government was struggling. The economy was dramatically affecting all aspects of everyday life. The government was losing money but also control. The law enforcement was struggling to keep control. Organized crime took full control. J. Edgar Hoover became the director of the BOI that evolved into the FBI when he came into order. As the new director came into his position so did other changes.  Hoover put new orders and polices in place. Some allowed cross prosecution. Criminals could be charged with many crimes federally.  He created a new hiring process that involved a background check, physical test and interview. He created training that was needed before being placed into the field. He also formed relations with other countries such as Canada to exchange fingerprints and information on criminals.  New education was used such as collecting statistics to learn how to search for trends and patterns. Hoover also created the scientific crime lab. The lab was a benefit to the both the agency and criminals. It was used to properly figure out the guilty person. It would be questioned if these criminals did not reach the crime rate that they did if any changes would be made to our investigation bureau (FBI History).

It is important as citizens of the United States of America to know the agencies/programs we have to take full advantage of them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is one of the main ones many citizens do know about. However most of the citizens probably do not know how it evolved into such a program. If it wasn’t for the organized crime and crimes rates hitting such high rates, I do not believe that the BOI would have changed. It would have probably changed due to something worse or even more dramatizing then 1930’s robberies. If Dillinger did not rob all those banks in Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin, it is to believe that we could have suffered from a crime basis on a more serious and dangerous level. You can either hate or love John Dillinger but you cannot deny the impact he had on our investigation agency. 

Works Cited

“Dillinger Escapes.” Rhinelander Daily News 37. 23 April. 1934. 1-2. Access Web. 29 Oct, 2013.

“Dillinger Gang Slays U.S. Agent Near Mercer.” The La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press 23 April. 1934. 1-2. Access Web. 29 Oct, 2013.

Eau Claire County (Wisconsin). Sheriff: Sheriff Records, 1906-1920. Vol.2. Eau Claire Series 103. Special Collections Achieves. McIntyre Library. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

“FBI History.” FBI. FBI, 21 May 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

“Little Bohemia Lodge: History.” Little Bohemia Lodge.2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience, A Concise History.  Second edition, McGraw Hill, 2002.