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Polly Hamilton and Dillinger, Part 2


Yesterday, we brought you part one in the story of how Fargo native, Polly Hamilton, became the girlfriend of John Dillinger and was with him when the FBI gunned him down outside a Chicago movie theater. Hamilton claimed she knew the man only as Jimmy Lawrence and went into hiding.

In April 1934 – 3 months before Dillinger’s death – J. Edgar Hoover had been humiliated by a failed attempt to capture Dillinger at a Wisconsin fishing resort, where a civilian and an FBI agent were killed. Hoover issued a shoot-to-kill order on Dillinger, plus a $10,000 reward.

Polly Hamilton met Dillinger – or Jimmy Lawrence – in June. In the previous three months, at least half a dozen men who looked like Dillinger had been arrested or nearly shot.

Polly’s boss, Anna Sage was fighting deportation back to Romania for running a brothel; it was she who told the FBI Polly’s boyfriend was Dillinger and that she would give him up if they’d help her stay in America. And, of course, she wanted the reward. A few nights later, Polly’s boyfriend was dead, that he was really Dillinger, and she went into hiding.

In recent years, author Jay Robert Nash has found evidence that Polly’s boyfriend was actually who he said he was -- Jimmy Lawrence -- and that a brilliant underworld scheme allowed Dillinger to skip town and evaded capture. Nash belives that Anna Sage worked with a crooked cop, Martin Zarkovich, who helped her to lead Jimmy Lawrence into the FBI ambush the night he was killed. Lawrence looked a lot like Dillinger, Sage and Zarkovich could collect the reward, Dillinger could have his permanent escape, and the FBI would believe they had their notorious gangster on a marble slab. It was a win-win situation for everybody but Polly and Jimmy.

In Bloodletters and Badmen, Nash states that when people saw pictures of the corpse, they questioned the likeness to Dillinger. The FBI explained it away, saying Dillinger had plastic surgery. While most accounts state that Dillinger did, indeed, have plastic surgery, Nash says that 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. Lawrence’s were brown.

Nash wrote, “The dead man possessed a rheumatic heart condition chronic since childhood, Dillinger did not... Lawrence was shorter and heavier than Dillinger would have been. He also lacked all of Dillinger’s scars, wounds and birthmarks.

“The fingerprint card offered up by the FBI alleging that Dillinger’s and the dead man’s fingerprints were one in the same was obviously ‘planted’ in the Cook County Morgue days before the killing. The FBI was simply duped into believing the dead man was Dillinger and then had to cover up their error after the shooting.”

The rest of Dillinger’s gang went down within the next few months. When Handsome Harry Pierpont sat down in the electric chair, he grinned and said, “Today I am the only man who knows the ‘who’s and how’s’ and as my end comes very shortly, I’ll take this little story with me.”

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