John Dillinger was a bad guy but people loved him because he was like the Robin Hood of gangsters.” This was recently said to me by one of the men who built the well-known Dillingers on Binghamton’s State Street.

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I was seated next to two gentlemen who designed and built Dillingers in downtown Binghamton at an event last weekend and as I was conversing with them, I remembered having recently read something about a gangster named John Dillinger. I couldn't help but ask if the Dillingers they built was named for the notorious criminal. As it turns out, it was.

John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in 1903 and by the time he died at the age of 31 in 1934, his name wasn’t just on the lips of almost every American, but on the pages of virtually every American newspaper. The newspaper industry put the idea in the minds of Americans that although Dillinger was a gangster, he was one of the good guys.

American newspapers painted Dillinger in vibrant colors and exclaimed that he was a man of bravado. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Bureau of Investigations wasn’t having any of it and used Dillinger as part of his campaign to transform the Bureau of Investigations into the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

The Dillinger Gang

John Dillinger was the ringleader of the Dillinger Gang which was believed to have been behind the robbery of 24 banks. Dillinger himself was involved in at least 12 of the robberies. Twice Dillinger was arrested and twice he escaped. The media ate it up. While in the Dillinger Gang, Dillinger himself was accused of murdering an East Chicago police officer however, he was acquitted of the crime.

John Dillinger's Death

Dillinger managed to slip away from police capture by moving around four states over the course of a year. However, in 1934, he returned to Chicago and attempted to find refuge inside a brothel but the owner gave him up to authorities who devised a plan to capture him. On July 22, Dillinger was inside a Chicago theater and when he walked out, the authorities were waiting for him. As he tried to flee, Dillinger was shot in the back and killed.

Dillinger’s Lasting Impression

Dillinger, the Robin Hood of gangsters, was so popular that following his death, his body was put on display for the public to see. It is estimated that 15,000 people flocked to the Cook County morgue to view the body of Dillinger. Even in the modern day, Dillinger lives on in infamy, and his gravestone has had to be replaced numerous times because visitors often chip off pieces of it to keep as a souvenir.

Why Dillinger Was Viewed As Robin Hood

At the time of Dillinger’s heyday, America was in the depths of the Depression. Dillinger and his gang are believed to have taken $300,000-500,000 from banks but that wasn’t all they did. They also destroyed mortgage records and this benefitted many as all documentation of the loans they owed the bank and were struggling to pay were wholly destroyed.

How fitting given the Southern Tier's deep ties with gangsters (if you need proof, just look up the Apalachin Meeting!) that Dillingers in downtown Binghamton should be named after one of the most notorious of his day!

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