Since John Dillinger's death in 1934, his reputation has been in the hands of the
people who killed him, so he is usually remembered as a dangerous criminal who
was brought down outside Chicago's Biograph Theatre by the FBI (which
naturally likes to make itself look good).
Ironically, quite a different image of Dillinger reaches us from the very person
who betrayed him--Anna Sage, "the woman in red." Especially considering her
selective use of facts.
Sage speaks to us through a little-known document obtained from the U.S.
Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act. It is her sworn
statement to Federal agent Samuel P. Cowley, taken a few days after she sold
John out to the G-men. (Cowley was later killed by the obnoxious Baby Face
Nelson, who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.) In it she gives a thumbnail
sketch of her arrival from Romania in 1909 as Ana Cumpanas, and she tends to
gloss over her work in Gary, Indiana, and Chicago, where she operated what
were euphemistically called "resorts." This profession already had earned her
four convictions and the promise of deportation, which was heavily on her mind
Meanwhile, Dillinger was earning himself a reputation as a world-class bank
robber, impudent jail breaker, and elusive fugitive who did smart-alecky things
like getting cops to take snapshots of him and a girlfriend at Chicago's Century of
Progress world's fair, and asking a policeman to help him catch another
girlfriend's puppy which had gotten loose at a park in St. Louis.
After breaking out of Indiana's Crown Point jail with a wooden pistol and setting
off the country's greatest manhunt, he decided the safest place to go would be
back to his home in Mooresville for what amounted to a family reunion.
With his favorite girlfriend, Billie, in jail for harboring a fugitive (him), Dillinger
then returned to Chicago to undergo some elective cosmetic surgery and lost his
heart to yet another young lady, Polly Hamilton. She was a comely and
hot-to-trot waitress at the S&S sandwich shop on Wilson Avenue, which
illustrates the old saying, "If you can't be with the one you love, you love the one
This, it turns out, was not a good idea, for Polly's best friend was the duplicitous
Anna Sage. Here is Sage telling Federal agent Cowley about what she claimed
was her first meeting with Dillinger:
This is the ruthless desperado John Dillinger, bandit king and now Chicago's
Public Enemy Number One?--allowing himself to be browbeaten by this Sage
woman? Note that she has the nerve not only to challenge his nom de guerre (or
whatever you'd call it) but also to demand that he show her his pistol! The
Dillinger depicted by the FBI and portrayed in movies and articles would have
shown her his gun, all right. He would have cold-cocked her with it and then
eaten all the cake and drunk all the coffee. But no; here Dillinger is a mere
mortal male who is addled by Sage's rudeness and meekly shows her his little
Colt .380 automatic. .
According to Sage, Dillinger admitted his identity to Polly later that night and
warned her that it "might cause her lots of trouble, but she told him she did not
care, as it was worth it."
The next day, while John and Polly were relaxing at the Hollywood Avenue
beach, Sage dropped a dime to Marty Zarkovich, a crooked-cop boyfriend in
Indiana. He arranged a meeting with the FBI's soon-to-be-famous G-man,
Melvin Purvis, who--after the Little Bohemia lodge gun-battle, where the feds
had shot three innocent customers before losing one of their own to the
obnoxious Baby Face Nelson--had been coming up short as a gangbuster.
Meanwhile, John was living in Sage's apartment at 2420 North Halsted, staying
up nights nursing injuries that Polly had suffered in a car accident. And since
those injuries probably precluded sex, I think we have to call that Love! Once
Polly was well, Sage tells us, the two went for romantic walks in the park and
Polly girlishly reported their every little adventure.
John and Polly were taken from each other about 10:35 on the stifling night of
July 22, 1934, thanks to the treachery of Sage, whose ticket to see the movie
"Manhattan Melodrama" John no doubt had paid for out of his own pocket. I
believe we get a sense of this bimbo's character from her superfluous insistence
later that the dress she wore that night was orange, not red.
And we can only imagine Polly's sense of betrayal upon learning that her trusted
friend was the Judas who had set Dillinger up for a $15,000 reward and the
dismissal of her deportation order.
Likewise, we can suppose that Polly later took some small satisfaction when the
government knocked the reward down to $5,000 and deported Sage anyway.
But this belated justice could hardly have compensated for Polly's feelings that
night as she lit out for home, horrified and knowing that the hands of hostile
strangers were at that very moment picking at the lifeless body of her man and
finding the private mementos of love that they would coldly inventory, including:
What John left Polly to remind her of their tender moments together we will
never know. But we might suppose that (if his prison medical records are
correct) it was a fairly common social disease.
One day Polly called me up and said to bake a cake and to make some
coffee, that she was bringing her boy friend up, whose name she gave as
Jimmy Lawrence. When she rang the bell I went to the door and let them
in.... I then asked him what was wrong with his face and he said he had
been in an automobile accident. I told him immediately that his name
might be Jimmy Lawrence, but he was John Dillinger. I made the remark in
front of Polly. I told Polly I was going to make that man, meaning Jimmy
Lawrence, admit that he was Dillinger or he could leave.... [I] told him
then that if he was John Dillinger he would have a gun on him and if he
had no gun he was not DiIlinger. He did have a gun in his pocket.
- 1 gold ring with ruby set, containing the following inscription on
the inside of the ring, "With all my love, Polly."
- 1 yellow gold 17 jewel Hamilton watch, works No. 344347, case No.
0558384. In the rear of the case of this watch was a picture of a
young woman, which has been identified as that of the girl friend
who attended the Biograph Theater with Dillinger on July 22,1934.
The name of this girl is Polly Hamilton.
- 1 pair shorts (Hanes), white in color, with blue stripes, size 34,
bearing manufacturer's identifying number 186-350SE-34....etc.
Zarkovich's revolver, wrongly claimed
to have been the gun that killed Dilliner.
The Duplicitious Anna Sage
Even the press thought Anna got a raw deal
"I don't smoke much, and I
drink very little. I guess my only
bad habit is robbing banks."
"I'd like have enough money to
enjoy life; be clear of
everything--not worry, take
care of my old man, and see a
ball game every day."
Mary Kinder: "Johnnie's just an
ordinary fellow. Of course he
goes out and holds up banks
and things, but he's really just
like any other fellow, aside