It appears that the efforts to exhume the body of the notorious gangster, John Dillinger, from his grave in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana, have been scuttled.
Michael Thompson, Dillinger’s nephew, in coordination with the History Channel, had filed to have the body disinterred in July of 2019. Thompson wanted to make sure that it was his uncle’s body in the grave, not the look alike double Dillinger is said to have employed. The History Channel was involved because of an intended documentary on the life of the psychopathic bank robber.
The matter was hurtled into the courts when Crown Hill, a stately and tranquil operation, had no interest in going forward with the disinterment.
As the dispute began to boil, the History Channel dropped out. Earlier this year, Thompson withdrew his lawsuit against Crown Hill, at least for the present.
Aside from the identification of the cadaver, there was another element of interest in the Dillinger episode. He is buried in a “Pullman-style” grave — that is, beneath a massive series of barriers (concrete, scrap iron and four reinforced slabs). Although Crown Hill says it has the equipment for removal, the process would have been arduous; Pullman graves are designed for complete security, the Alcatraz of tombs.
The name Pullman refers to the late Chicago-based industrialist, George Pullman. While primarily remembered today as the creator of the first luxury sleeping railroad car in 1864, his life story is a tempestuous one, marked by bitter conflict and an unusual burial.
Pullman, born in 1831, had been a successful engineer prior to developing the lavish sleeper that enriched him. Not only was the car five-star appointed, but the manner in which he placed them with the railroads was ingenious. Instead of selling the cars, he wisely elected to keep the extra fare (usually .50 cents) that passengers paid to travel in them. He amassed a fortune of over $60 million by the mid-19th century.
One of his other great businesses was developing the city of Pullman (what else?), located 14 miles south of Chicago. He built brick homes on shady streets, erected a library, bank and hotel — a model town for use by his employees. At a premium of course; Pullman would not sell property, he rented every structure for 25% more than fair market value.
The panic 1893 was his undoing. During the economic downturn, Pullman behaved like a feudal lord: he cut wages, but adamantly refused to lower rents and usurious charges for utilities.
His workers struck locally and the American Railway Union followed with a nationwide boycott of his cars, effectively shutting down the nation’s leading transportation system.
President Grover Cleveland sent armed federal troops to Chicago. The strike was soon over, but Pullman’s reputation was destroyed.
He became the de facto Public Enemy Number One; Bernie Madoff and Nurse Ratched would have had higher Gallup approval numbers.
At least two attempts were made on his life. Pullman became obsessed with the belief that grave robbers would steal his body and either ransom it or deface it — this was not delusional, there had been ransoms of cadavers at the time, including an attempt on the body Abraham Lincoln (see our blog https://blog.martinoakscemeteryandcrematory.com/the-runaway-corpse-of-abraham-lincoln/).
When a heart attack killed Pullman in October of 1897, he was buried in a grave at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago that – by his direction — was eight feet deep, had several layers of concrete separated by a steel cage, tar paper and asphalt. The casket was lead-lined. Pullman didn’t believe in half measures.
Coincidently, Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, had been serving as an attorney for Pullman — he was named president of the company when Pullman passed. The elaborate Pullman crypt inspired him, because of the aborted robbery of Lincoln’s grave, to entomb his father similarly in steel and concrete.
Others have followed the pattern: Levi Leiter, who was a co-founder of Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago, died in 1904 and was interred in steel and concrete; the body of film star Charlie Chaplin was stolen, later found and is now in a vault of reinforced concrete; and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, whose original grave was smashed open, now lies secured in a concrete encasement.
In the cases of Chaplin and Van Sant, celebrity status forced their surviving significant others to seek security in impenetrable graves. Dillinger reaped what he sowed. In the case of George Pullman, his notoriety at the time of death was of a different nature. It brings to mind the James Fenimore Cooper quote: “an unquiet life makes an uneasy grave.”