Tony Stewart of Bedford, who is related to notorious gangster John Dillinger, points to scars on an exact replica of Dillinger’s death mask he owns. The scars show where Dillinger had plastic surgery the month before he was killed by FBI agents in Chicago. Stewart thinks those scar will help prove the body buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is Dillinger’s. (Photo by Krystal Shelter)
Tony Stewart of Bedford, who is related to notorious gangster John Dillinger, points to scars on an exact replica of Dillinger’s death mask he owns. The scars show where Dillinger had plastic surgery the month before he was killed by FBI agents in Chicago. Stewart thinks those scar will help prove the body buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is Dillinger’s. (Photo by Krystal Shelter)

By KRYSTAL SHETLER

(Bedford) Times-Mail

BEDFORD — When the body of notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger is exhumed next month, Tony Stewart fully believes DNA will confirm it really is his great-uncle buried under slabs of concrete and iron in Crown Hill Cemetery.

Stewart, who lives in Bedford and has written several books on the infamous bank robber, believes the exhumation will put the long-held conspiracy theories to rest.

“I really believe that’s Dillinger in there,” Stewart said.

The Indiana State Department of Health approved a permit July 3, sought by Michael C. Thompson and Carol Thompson Griffith, who say Dillinger is their uncle, to have the body exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery and then reinterred there.

The two, Stewart said, are likely Dillinger’s closest blood relatives. He is related to Dillinger by marriage.

“I just tend to believe it’s him, ... but over the years, people have just bothered the family about it,” Stewart said. “... I think they want to know. I think they want to put the conspiracy theories to rest, and I think that’s perfectly OK.”

This week, the ISDH released affidavits signed by Thompson and Griffith that say they’re seeking to have “a body purported to be John H. Dillinger” exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery for a forensic analysis and possible DNA testing, according to the AP.

In the affidavits, the relatives say they have received “evidence that demonstrates that the individual who was shot and killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934, may not in fact have been my uncle, John H. Dillinger.”

Stewart explained the conspiracy theories began in earnest in 1970 when “Dillinger: Dead or Alive?” was published by Jay Robert Nash and Ron Offen. In that book and its followup, “The Dillinger Dossier,” the authors purport a variety of evidence — the dead man’s eye color, fingerprints, blood type and heart condition — did not match those of Dillinger.

In his own book, “Dillinger, The Hidden Truth — RELOADED,” Stewart refutes those claims. For example, he spoke to a funeral director who said the eye color of a victim could turn from light to dark in the case of severe trauma. Dillinger was shot at close range in the back of the neck and the bullet exited near his eye. He also points out Dillinger’s military records show he suffered from a heart murmur.

“He probably had a lot of changes, just from the trauma,” Stewart said. “... I hope it’s Dillinger in the grave. ... I believe he was killed, but I’ll admit, in the back of my mind, there are some slight doubts. ... I see the family’s side and why they want to know. ... But I believe they got him.”

The planned exhumation will be covered as part of a documentary on Dillinger for The History Channel, the AP reports.

“I really look forward to watching it, to knowing,” said Stewart, who learned he was related to Dillinger when he was a young boy. He and his brother began reading up on the gangster, and from there, he’s been fascinated by the various gangsters of that era. To this day, he and his brother are the only two people who interviewed Hovious about her relationship with Dillinger, and that didn’t happen until much later in her life because she was often ashamed of her association to a criminal.

“She always said he was respectful and kind,” Stewart said. Hovious divorced Dillinger five years into his first prison stay. “... Throughout the years, a lot of people have created their own facts to make him look like a bad guy his whole entire life, but that really wasn’t the case.”

In fact, Dillinger was never convicted of murder, and Stewart doesn’t believe he was actually ever present for a murder, even though his gang members are accused of killing 10 people. Some people during those days considered him a folk hero for taking money from the banks, which weren’t highly regarded during the Great Depression.

“That was a totally different world,” Stewart said. “The Great Depression was on, two-thirds of people were unemployed ... that’s just one reason that drove people to crime out of many. ... There was no money and a lot of kids to feed. ... A lot of outlaws were created because of the effects of the Great Depression.”

The sensational publicity of the time, Stewart said, contributed to the problem. He pointed to newspaper advertisements that said Dillinger was “wanted dead or alive.” “DEAD” was typed in all caps and in larger font than “alive.”

“I don’t think they wanted to keep going, but there was no way out,” Stewart said. “They were wanted dead or alive, but mostly dead. ... Those agents didn’t have to kill Dillinger. ... He had been shot twice and was disabled by those injuries, but the agent walked up and shot him in the back of the neck in close proximity.”

In an unusual turn of events Thursday morning, the AP reported the FBI issued a statement in response to the plans to exhume Dillinger’s corpse. The news release reiterated the agency’s belief it was in fact Dillinger agents killed more than 85 years ago.

“I think we all just want to know the truth, once and for all,” Stewart said.

The AP reports the exhumation is expected to take place Sept. 16, according to the ISDH permit.


Bedford’s Tony Stewart, who is related to notorious gangster John Dillinger, has written a variety of books on the late outlaw, the Dillinger family and other true crime pieces.

His books include “Dillinger, the Hidden Truth — Gangsters & G-Men of the Great Depression era,” “Tony Stewart’s Poems, Lyrics and Short Stories,” “Johnnie & Beryl Dillinger — A Page from the Past,” “Crime Era — Special Edition,” “Crime Wave, Editions 1, 2 and 3,” “Dillinger, the Hidden Truth — RELOADED,” “The Search for Lauren Spierer,” “The Dillinger Family Scrapbook — A Genealogy Record of Ancestors,” “Gangster Gallery,” “Johnnie Dillinger — Public Enemy No. 1” and “The John Dillinger Legacy.”

Most of his books can be found online at Amazon or at www.lulu.com/shop/tony-stewart. You can reach the author at johnniedillinger@aol.com.