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John Dillinger Museum memorabilia could return to Crown Point, but bank robber's bloody pants will first be tested for DNA

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John Dillinger Museum memorabilia to return to Crown Point?

The wooden gun John Dillinger used to escape from the Lake County Jail was displayed at the John Dillinger Museum.

HAMMOND — The John Dillinger Museum long displayed the history of the notorious bank robber at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond, displaying artifacts like the wooden gun he infamously used to escape from jail and a replica of the bright neon marquee of the Biograph Theater where the FBI gunned him down.

In 2014, it moved to the basement of the Crown Point Courthouse where he was once arraigned, just down the street from the Old Lake County Jail he infamously broke out of after whittling wood into the shape of a pistol and bluffing the guards.

But three years later, it abruptly closed. 

The closing was so abrupt one Chicago television station ran the headline "Like Its Namesake, John Dillinger Museum Meets Sudden, Shocking End."

Since then, memorabilia like a photo of Dillinger's lifeless face, one of his submachine guns and the wicker body basket used to move his corpse after federal agents shot him dead have been sitting in storage in Dyer.

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is looking to potentially unload the Dillinger memorabilia.

Board member Tom Dabertin said he has reached out to Chicago museums to gauge interest and assess the potential value of Dillinger artifacts, such as a wanted poster describing Dillinger as a "mad dog" and "Public Enemy No. 1" and his original tombstone from Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. 

The Old Sheriff's House Foundation, which operates the Old Sheriff's House and Jail in downtown Crown Point, has inquired about acquiring the entire collection, which has been kept in tact.

SSCVA Board President Andy Qunell said his preference would be to keep the collection in Northwest Indiana. Crown Point would be an ideal spot given its connection with Dillinger, he said.

"Crown Point was where it all happened," Qunell said. "A lot of the big events with Dillinger happened right there."

The Old Sheriff's House Foundation, real estate agent Roger Pace and car collector Mark Love also are looking for somewhere in Crown Point to display Lake County Sheriff Lillian Hatch Holley's car that Dillinger stole during his escape. After returning to Crown Point in a parade filmed by the Discovery Channel in April, the historic vehicle is now on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

"The public can view it there," Pace said. "It's temporary until it finds a home here in Crown Point."

Before the SSCVA finds a new home for its collection of Dillinger memorabilia, it will grant the request of a Dillinger descendent to get a sample of a bloodstain in the pocket of the pants he was wearing when the Federal Bureau of Investigation mowed him down in a hail of gunfire. Dillinger's family hopes to extract DNA to corroborate that items found in his home authentically belonged to him.

"The benefit to us is that it verifies the pants were his," Interim CEO Cathy Svetanoff said.

In other business at the SSCVA's Thursday meeting at the Hammond Sportsplex, the board also decided to pass on a chance to buy up the collection of the Museum of Pinball that just closed in Southern California. Its vast collection of vintage pinball machines is being auctioned off.

The board elected to pass and instead pass on the opportunity to the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting and others.

Qunell expressed concerns there wasn't a strong enough tie to the Region.

"I don't know that we need to be in the museum business as a whole," board member Brent Brashier said.


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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