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Mythbuster: John Dillinger

Many believe that John Dillinger was a type of “Robin Hood” thief, or a romantic outlaw. Many people devastated by the depression praised Dillinger as someone who “robbed those who became rich for robbing the poor” (FBI). He helped many poor people escape unrealistic payments by burning their mortgage papers and even became known as “Gentlemen Johnny” because, even while in the midst of a bank robbery, he was known to be very charismatic and polite, especially to women.

John Dillinger cannot be considered a modern day Robin Hood based on the fact that he was public enemy number one for a few different reasons. Dillinger and his gang were responsible for killing ten and wounding seven other people. Dillinger himself would use innocent bystanders as hostages to escape a bank robbery. He escaped prison on a few occasions, with his gang even killing a sheriff in the process. An individual who stands by their men even though they killed someone cannot be referred to as a modern day Robin Hood, because Robin Hood was known to discourage killing. He would not kill unless he was threatened, while Dillinger stood by his men after they shot a sheriff, beat him unconscious, then left him for dead (FBI). The sheriff was not the only person that Dillinger’s men killed. His men were frequently in shoot outs with police in which bystanders were put in danger through the cross fire. Robin Hood’s goal was to help the people in his community. Dillinger did the opposite, he put the public in danger because of his hold ups.

Robin Hood was a valiant hero who did not steal from banks to benefit himself. John Dillinger on the other hand was a vicious criminal. Despite the fact that Dillinger helped the poor buy burning their mortgage papers, he did not give the money he robbed to the people who were suffering the worst of the depression. Dillinger and his men kept the money that they stole for themselves. The only Behavior of John Dillinger’s that mirrored that of Robin Hood was the fact that he did take money from the rich people. Another difference between the two was the fact that Dillinger and his gang would break into police stations and steal bullet proof vests and guns. Robin Hood was not the type to take weapons from the law enforcement personnel by force.

While John Dillinger is a no doubt criminal the fact that he was intelligent cannot be overlooked. Dillinger escaped prison twice, the second time he escaped from an “escape proof” jail using only a wooden gun he whittled. He might have been a celebrity while he was public enemy number one for trying to escape the plunge of the economy, but we cannot push the fact that he and his men were responsible for ten deaths and robbing around what would be five million dollars today’s money. Robin Hood was considered a hero, while Dillinger was a danger to the society.

Author: Alisha LaConte


Barber, M. (2007). “What women can learn from John Dillinger.” The Miami Herald (FL), Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.

Christopher, G. (2009). “America’s own Robin Hood.” The Sunday Times 7. Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.

FBI, (n.d.). Famous cases. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/dillinger/dillinger.htm

May, A, & Bardsely, M. (Photographer). (2008). John Dillinger [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/gangsters_outlaws/outlaws/dillinger/1.html

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