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Dillinger Grave Exhumation Update

Who would have thought that the simple disinterment of the corpse of a notorious gangster would turn into such a soap opera?

Sure enough, the announced re-surfacizing of the remains of John Dillinger has sparked controversy in the Dillinger community. John Dillinger was married only briefly, and had no children (that we know of). However, he had a sister and a number of half-siblings, many of whom went forth, were fruitful and multiplied. Now Dillinger has yea number of blood relatives in the Midwest, and thrice-yea number of people claiming to be blood relatives. All of them seem up in arms about John Dillinger’s disinterment.

The ostensible reason for this remains-disturbing is to prove once and for all the identity of the body buried in Lot 94, Section 44 of Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis. This was announced at the end of July, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Of course, this was of acute interest to me, as I had just published a novel about John Dillinger called Jackrabbit. One of the main plot points of Jackrabbit was that Dillinger had arranged for a body double to cover a getaway to Mexico.

The current imbroglio started when one of Dillinger’s nephews, Michael Thompson, applied with the Indiana health department to disinter his famous uncle’s remains. This was somehow connected with the History Channel, which is working on a documentary about Dillinger. Did money exchange hands? Sure, why not? (Actually, I have no idea. However, I’m a cynical bastard, so I buy in to the notion that HC flashed their big cable-history wad to get things moving.)

Of course, not all of Dillinger’s relatives and demi-relatives were happy about this turn. Dillinger great nephew Jeff Scalf said he it was “despicable” and “appalling” that the exhumation was announced. Scalf has some legal interest in and control of the Dillinger name and image, as he formed Dillinger LLC.

Scalf was presumably fairly happy when Crown Hill cemetery announced its opposition to the planned disinterment. They cited concerns about maintaining the integrity of the grounds and the possibility of upsetting relatives visiting the graves of loved ones during the disinterment. Both seem like legitimate concerns, given that 5,000 pounds of concrete and scrap metal supposedly cap the grave, put there to deter grave robbers. Removal of such an edifice will likely be a major undertaking.

The latest turn in the drama is that Michael Thompson is seeking a court order for the cemetery to cooperate with the planned exhumation. What’s next? Well, I don’t know, but I can’t help but think that John Dillinger is somewhere looking over all this with a cracked grin on his face.

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