The Birth of Public Enemy No.1

In March of 1933, eight years after being jailed for a failed attempt to rob a local grocery store, future ‘public enemyJohn Dillinger wrote the following demanding letter to his father in an attempt to secure his own early release. Luckily for Dillinger, but not so much for the rest of the population, his father complied and in May of that year – after a campaign and petition – he was paroled. Within a matter of months he robbed a bank and was quickly arrested, only to be broken out immediately by three ex-prison mates whilst awaiting trial, thus signalling the beginning of a trail of bank robberies and murders, plus another prison escape, for which John Dillinger and his gang are now so famous.

This period was recently depicted – albeit rather loosely in parts – in the movie Public Enemies.

Transcript follows.


Mr. John W. Dillinger
R. R. 2
Mooresville, Ind.

Dear Dad.

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.