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Dakota Datebook

Polly Hamilton and Dillinger


North Dakota native Polly Hamilton died on this date in 1969 under the name Edythe Black. Since 1934, Polly’s name had been linked to the notorious gangster John Dillinger. 

By 1934, Dillinger was Public Enemy Number One. It was about that time that he met 26-year-old Polly Hamilton, who had moved from Fargo to Chicago. When she wasn’t waiting tables, she worked the streets for brothel owner Anna Sage, who was facing deportation to Romania for being an undesirable alien of “low moral character.”

Polly met Dillinger at Chicago’s Barrel of Fun nightclub in early June. Dillinger introduced himself as Jimmy Lawrence, and they went dancing, to the movies, and to the amusement park. A few weeks later, they celebrated Dillinger’s 31st birthday at the French Casino nightclub.

Polly introduced him to Sage and, from a picture in the paper, Sage recognized him as Dillinger. She cut a deal to turn Dillinger over for a $10,000 reward and no deportation.

Three nights later, Polly and Anna walked out of Chicago’s Biograph Theater with the man Polly knew as Jimmy Lawrence. Sage was wearing a bright orange skirt to identify herself, and moments later, Dillinger was gunned down in the street.

Hamilton went into hiding. When the FBI tried to find her, Sage told them Polly had gone back to Fargo. When they couldn’t find her there, they speculated that she committed suicide.

A theory offered by writer Jay Robert Nash suggested that Polly’s boyfriend actually was Jimmy Lawrence, and his death was part of a brilliant scheme that allowed Dillinger to skip town and evaded capture. Nash argued that Anna Sage worked with a crooked cop, who helped her lead Jimmy Lawrence into the FBI ambush, with the idea they could split the reward.

In his book Bloodletters and Badmen, Nash states that when people saw pictures of the corpse, they questioned the likeness to Dillinger. The FBI explained that by saying Dillinger had plastic surgery. While most accounts state that Dillinger did, indeed, have plastic surgery, Nash says the autopsy report – which had gone missing for 30 years – revealed no such scars. The autopsy also revealed the corpse had brown eyes. Dillinger’s eyes were blue.

If there was a coverup, Polly Hamilton was the person who paid. Living under aliases for the rest of her life, she went back to Chicago, waited tables, got married and lived quietly until her death.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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