A Painting of John Dillinger

A painting of John Dillinger has been created by Wingsdomain, an anonymous San Francisco artist. It is a brightly colored portrait, covered with squiggles. The painting is based on a 1934 Tucson, Arizona, Police Department photograph taken after Dillinger’s arrest and later used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its Most Wanted poster.

John Dillinger (1903-1934) was, of course, the American bank robber. During his brief criminal career, he and his gang robbed 14 banks, looted guns and bullet-proof vests from two police stations and staged three jail breaks. They also killed 10 men and wounded seven others. Dillinger was charged with the murder of an East Chicago policemen. In a speech given by U.S. Attorney General Cummings, he was named informally as the first Public Enemy Number One. The American public largely looked on him as a modern Robin Hood.

Dillinger had a loose association with Quakers. He attended Mooresville Friends Church (WYM) as a young man. His first arrest occurred when he stole Friend Oliver Macy’s car from in front of the church. (Macy declined to press charges). Dillinger later tried to rob a man in Mooresville and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. When he was released in 1933, Pastor Gertrude Reiner was asked by his parole board to help him. He and his father attended a service at the Friends Church, and she preached about the Parable of the Prodigal Son to him and his father, both of whom began to weep. Dillinger approached Reiner after the service, and told her, “You don’t know how much good your sermon has done me. I’m going to go straight”. (Within a month, however, he had robbed his first bank). Dillinger also had attended Disciples of Christ churches in Indianapolis and Mooresville when he was younger, and a Disciples of Christ minister delivered the eulogy at his funeral.

It is difficult to ascertain what Dillinger felt about Quakers. It appears, at least from the Reiner story, that there was something meaningful in Friends for him. But it is also clear that what Dillinger felt was most meaningful for him was money and that the easiest way to get it was to steal it. That was the path he chose.

The John Dillinger painting is a beautiful object. I loved its wild colors.

Gary Sandman

March 2021

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