Dillinger's T8 back in Indiana is perfect jumpoff for a crime history getaway

For a short time during the 14-month bank-robbing spree of Depression-era bandit John Dillinger, his getaway car was the fast and flashy 1933 Essex Terraplane, known as the T8, unveiled today at the Indianapolis International Airport. And If you're a crime history buff, that exhibit can be the starting point for a local tour of Dillinger hotspots.

Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in 1903, held up at least half a dozen Indiana banks, escaped from a supposedly escape-proof Indiana jail and, in 1934, was buried in an Indianapolis cemetery.

On April 7, shortly after he and his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette escaped in the car from a shoot-out with police, Dillinger and his brother crashed the car in a field.

The car was later recovered and repaired – with two slugs said to be from the shoot-out still in the front cowl panel – and is now owned by the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C., which is loaning the car to the Indianapolis airport until March 2015.

Bob Duncan, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority said the well-preserved, vintage automobile “is a living piece of a story that once gripped the nation.”

Besides guns, girls and bank-robbing, Dillinger also had a love affair with his T8, and other speedy cars.

After stealing a '34 Ford, one of several Fords he carjacked during his crime rampage, he even wrote a letter to Henry Ford thanking him for making such a "fast and sturdy" car. (Ford widely circulated a fake version of it but in 2010 discovered the real copy in the FBI files via a Freedom of Information Act request).

“The fact that Dillinger was a local boy increased the interest for Hoosiers,” former Indiana police officer and retired state jail inspector Walter Smith told NBC News. “Through his exploits, daring bank robberies, jail escapes, shootouts, the eventual title of Public Enemy Number One and, later, movies and books, his name was, and remains, recognized everywhere.”

For travelers who’d like to plan a Dillinger-themed getaway of their own, here are a few spots to consider between the Indianapolis International Airport and Chicago, where FBI agents gunned Dillinger down outside an air-conditioned movie theater on a hot July day in 1934.

Indianapolis: John Dillinger is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery (Section: 44, Lot: 94). The 555-acre cemetery is also the final resting place of many other well-known and historically important people and a wide variety of themed public walking and driving tours, including one called “Dillinger and other Notables,” are offered.

Courtesy of the John Dillinger Museum
Replica of the wooden gun John Dillinger used to escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Ind.

Crown Point, IND: Armed with a carved wooden gun painted black with shoe polish, John Dillinger escaped from the heavily-guarded, supposedly escape-proof Lake County Jail in Crown Point on March 3, 1934. Scenes for the 2009 movie ‘Public Enemies,’ starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, were filmed at the jail and tours through what is known now as the Old Jail/Sheriff’s House are offered Saturday morning and Thursday evening from May through October.

Hammond, IND: A wide variety of Dillinger-related memorabilia, including his baby pictures, his lucky rabbit’s foot, his “death pants” and the fake, carved wooden gun (actually, a replica of it; the real one is so valuable it’s kept locked in a vault) are on display at the interactive John Dillinger Museum inside the Indiana Welcome Center, in Hammond.

“The tale of John Dillinger robbing banks, eluding the police and even breaking into police stations to steal guns first entertained Americans when the country needed some diversion from the grim reality of the Great Depression,” said Spero Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, which operates the welcome center and the Dillinger Museum.

Movies like ‘Public Enemies’ help to keep Dillinger’s legacy alive, said Batistatos, and now a whole new generation is interested in the exploits of “the gentleman bandit” known to flirt with women during bank heists and pal around with police officers while in jail.

The Dillinger Museum at the Hammond welcome center is 17 miles from the jail Dillinger escaped from in Crown Point and about 25 miles from the Biograph Theater, where FBI agents waiting for Dillinger to leave the theater gunned him down on July 22, 1934, now known as the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.

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