What did Christmas mean to John Dillinger? Did he have any recollection of knowing why this yearly celebration was being conducted around him? What came to his mind as he walked the streets of Chicago and saw the live reenactments of the first Christmas, passed the carolers and the Salvation Army bell ringers? Or did he not even notice?
I have read several accounts of John Dillinger’s life and learned that he lived from 1903 to 1934. His life consisted of only thirty-one years and more than one-third of those years were spent in prison. John Dillinger was one of the nation’s most notorious criminals and he became FBI Public Enemy No. 1.
From an early age “Johnnie” was headed in the wrong direction. His mother had died when he was three years old, a sister took care of him until his father married again, when John was nine years old. His father sold his business in Indianapolis and moved the family to a farm in Mooresville, Indiana. He hoped this would be a better environment for his son. But Johnnie’s life had already started a spiral downward and he was constantly getting into trouble. He led a neighborhood gang called the Dirty Dozen, and pilfered coal from railroad freight cars. At sixteen, Dillinger dropped out of school and began working at a machine shop, not returning home until very late at night. His nightly escapades included drinking, fighting and visiting prostitutes.
After five months he went AWOL from the Navy, then married Beryl Hovious. He was twenty and she was sixteen. John made friends with a older man who had a prison record and together they robbed a neighborhood grocer who was on his way home with the week’s receipts. John beat the man. He had no previous record, yet was given 10 to 20 years in prison. His friend got off with two years. He wrote his dad and said, “I went in prison a carefree boy, I came out bitter toward everything in general.” He forgot to mention that he was already involved in crime. He wrote to his wife with warmth and affection but she filed for divorce. In 1933, after nine years in prison he was paroled. He left prison determined to become a bank robber and along with friends he had met in prison, he became one. First, though, he made it possible for these friends to escape from prison. The Dillinger gang raided police stations for guns and ammunition. The bank robberies continued, but then in 1934, a police officer was killed and John went back to prison. He was never tried for the murder because he escaped from prison using a wooden, hand-carved gun. The Dillinger gang, including men like Baby Face Nelson, didn’t stop and there were more robberies, stealing cars and killings. This was during the great depression and Dillinger was actually becoming a folk hero to Americans disillusioned with failing banks and the ineffective federal government. It is said that people actually applauded his name and booed FBI Director, Herbert Hoover.
Now he was on the run again, had plastic surgery and said that “he’d like to live like other people, be married and settle down somewhere.” But, it was too late for this. The federal government had promised a $10,000 reward for his capture and a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. On July 4, 1934, he appeared at a movie theater with two women he had invited to go with him. One of them however, reported his whereabouts and while walking out of the theatre he was shot twice and died instantly. Although Dillinger never repented for his crimes, he did regret his chosen lifestyle. He had no illusions about his situation, “If I go on, it’s just a question of how much time I have left,” he said. He went on.
So, did the thirty or so Christmases in Dillinger’s lifetime go unnoticed? According to the Bible, God has revealed himself plainly through His creation to all people, but Dillinger and many others, did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. John had rejected the Christ-child of Christmas and his promise of a better life. Proverbs 2: 12 and 13 says, “Wisdom will save you from the ways of
wicked men, who leave the straight path to walk in dark ways.” It also tells us that man will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. So it was with Dillinger.
In this joyous Christmas season I want to end this shirlandyou on an encouraging note. That is that there is a future hope for you and this hope will not be cut off. And for those facing discouragement during this time, remember that there is a wonderful future for those who follow God, even if it is not realized in this life. So, do have a Merry Christmas!
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