John Dillinger Museum: Crime Doesn’t Pay

Crime doesn’t pay. That’s the underlying message of the newly reopened John Dillilnger Museum in Crown Point, Indiana. The museum had been located in the Indiana Welcome Center in Indiana since 1999. The move to the Old Lake County Courthouse brings you that much closer to the Dillinger story, since the notorious gangster escaped from the county jail a short block away from the courthouse in 1934.

150724_IN_Dillinger-Museum-2 The locally made red brick and wrought iron in the lower level of the courthouse, where the museum is housed, has an old jail-like feel to it. The barred jail cell door that serves as the entrance to the museum stays locked until you’re buzzed in and closes again behind you, adding to the mood.

Old Lake County Courthouse lower levelJohn Dillinger Museum entranceThe story, set in a timeline on a maze of walls, is told from the crime side as well as the law side, good versus evil. The crime story is on red boards; the law story is on blue boards. It begins with Dillinger’s birth in Indianapolis and takes you through his life of crime to his bloody death.

John Dillinger Museum display

Following a spree of bank robberies throughout the Midwest, including one in which a police officer was murdered, and police station robberies that netted the gang an arsenal of firearms, Dillinger and his gang were captured in Tucson, Arizona. Dillinger was extradited to Lake County, Indiana, and placed in an “escape proof” jail. As you make your way through the museum, you’ll walk through a cell much like the one Dillinger was locked up in.

Firearms like those in the Dillinger Gang arsenaljail cell in the John Dillinger MuseumBut escape he did, much to the embarrassment of Indiana’s first female sheriff, Lillian Holley. To add insult to injury, Dillinger drove off in Holley’s car.

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After slipping through the FBI’s fingers several times, Dillinger met his demise. A madam, Anna Sage, had been threatened with deportation. Dillinger had been spending time with Sage, who in hopes of not being deported, tipped off the FBI that she’d be going to a movie theater with Dillinger. As they left the Biograph Theater after the movie, a gunfight ensued, and Dillinger was fatally shot.

Biograph TheaterAn interactive exhibit shows a crowd gathered around a pool of blood on the pavement. Press the button, and the scene changes to Dillinger’s lifeless body.

Exhibit at John Dillinger MuseumJohn Dillinger's bodyThere are other interactive exhibits throughout the museum as well, like one in which you turn a dial to learn gangster vocabulary and one that lets you choose how you would have judged Dillinger for his first crime, an attempted robbery at the age of 21, for which he received a sentence of ten years in prison.

gangster vocabulary exhibit, John Dillinger MuseumInteractive Exhibit at John Dillinger MuseumArtifacts include Dillinger’s original tombstone. It had to be replaced after people chipped away pieces of it as souvenirs. The pants that he wore when he was killed are on display as well, with the amount of money that was found in his pocket.

John Dillinger tombstoneJohn Dillinger's pantsSome local folks at first weren’t happy when they found out the John Dillinger Museum was opening, as they thought it was glamorizing the gangster’s life of crime. However, just the opposite is true. The story really does point out that crime doesn’t pay.

A memorial wall was constructed at the end of the museum that honors all of the Lake County, Indiana, law enforcements officers—men, women and canine—who have been killed in the line of duty since the 1910s.

If you visit the John Dillinger Museum

The John Dillinger Museum, located in the Old Lake County Courthouse at 1 Courthouse Square in Crown Point, Indiana, is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is handicapped accessible. The last admission is 4 p.m. Check the web site for admission and other details.

Disclosure: Our visit to the John Dillinger Museum was hosted by the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, and our admission was complimentary. However, all opinions in this article are my own. Photos by Skip Reed.

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18 thoughts on “John Dillinger Museum: Crime Doesn’t Pay

  • August 8, 2015 at 2:01 am
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    This kind of reminds me of the Freemantle prison in Perth that I visited as a kid. It’s probably as fascinating for adults as this one seems to be!

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  • August 8, 2015 at 2:15 am
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    I would imagine this would be an Interesting and a bit creepy visit for me 🙂

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  • August 8, 2015 at 2:24 am
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    Love museums like this, where they let you interact and get you kind of involved. It makes it more interesting and fun to get to know the history.

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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      Interactivity can make or break a museum. This one has a lot of boards to read, but you’re really reading a story from beginning to end, making it an interesting read. The interactivity adds to it.

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  • August 8, 2015 at 7:11 am
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    Glad you enjoyed your day! I agree with you, I don’t think that opening these sort of museums glamorizes the past, I think that it’s important we learn from our history, and the only way to do this is by keeping it alive through these kind of exhibits, the good and the bad. I agree, I think this really does make the point well that crime doesn’t pay!

    Thanks for the great review of your day!

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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      Thanks Meg. I completely agree.

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  • August 8, 2015 at 11:46 pm
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    What a great place to visit, interaction is the best way to make history fun. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm
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      Thanks, Lyn, for allowing me to be part of #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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  • August 9, 2015 at 1:31 am
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    How eerie! I love how this exhibit transports visitors back in time from the moment they are locked into the museum! I imagine some of these rooms, like the one displaying the pants Dillinger died in, could easily quiet a crowd.

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:48 pm
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      Seeing Dillinger actual pants that he was wearing when he was killed, still showing a slight blood stain, was kind of creepy.

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  • August 10, 2015 at 8:55 am
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    I love interactive museums. The information just seems to stick better. The exhibit that changes from a picture of a crowd to Dillinger’s lifeless body seems quite chilling. Hopefully the visitors to this museum will learn from this piece of history!

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm
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      That exhibit really is chilling. I was really impressed with the museum.

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    • August 10, 2015 at 9:38 pm
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      Yeah, getting buzzed in kind of sets the mood for the museum. I think you could get out without having to be buzzed for safety reasons.

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  • August 13, 2015 at 4:33 am
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    I really fancy this! Sounds like it’s done really well, and the buzzing in and out sounds like it adds to the occasion too!

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    • August 13, 2015 at 10:42 am
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      They really did a great job on the museum, Sarah.

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  • August 13, 2015 at 6:43 am
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    I actually recently went on a Chicago Crime tour and stood in front the Biograph Theater as well as where he took his final steps. Pretty kool seeing this and putting it all together. I reviewed the tour it was fun and something you would enjoy

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    • August 13, 2015 at 10:44 am
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      I’ve wanted to do the Chicago Crime tour but just haven’t done it yet. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll check into it.

      Reply

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