|The John Dillinger Died For You Society
and its quest for
THE DEAR DEPARTED MEMBER
|The inaugural meeting of the
John Dillinger Died For You Society,
held in Austin, Texas, in 1966, and featuring
(left to right) many, ah, luminaries, some of
whom are featured in the cult classic The
Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and
Robert J. Shea, both former editors at Playboy
Over the years the Society has gone national
(probably, for no one keeps records)and
annually congregates outside the Biograph
Theatre where local celebrities (mainly Richard
Crowe and Michael Flores) drink themselves
into a state of readiness at the Lion Pub across
the street. They then address the crowd and
observe one minute of silence before a
bagpiper plays the mournful strains of
|Doctor Horace Naismith is (or was, he has since
disappeared) the undocumented founder of
The John Dillinger Died For You Society.
He ostensibly was born on July 22, 1934, possibly to Evelyn
Frechette (birth records are not clear), and has claimed to
be the bastard son of Mr. Dillinger himself. He enrolled at
The University of Texas under an assumed name--in
violation of his parole--following his unlicensed operation of
The Good Neighbor Marriage Counselling Clinic in Del Rio,
Texas, where he represented himself to be a certified EMT
(Emergency Marital Technician) who was charged with
Grand Theft Auto (despite his defense of genetic obligation)
after selling the pickup truck left as collateral by a patient,
whose father happened to be a county judge.
"In the course of researching John Dillinger for the Tommygun thesis, I kept hearing stories that Dillinger
possessed a Private Part of heroic proportions, and that this was on display at the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington, D.C. While I gave the story no credibility (or at least not much), many people I talked to early
on said that 'He had heard' or 'Is it true that...?', and knowing (from my folklore studies) that people
habitually endowed celebrities with great sexual prowess, I shrugged off the reports as nonsense. But then
one day I encountered a grad student who said his friend in D.C. actually had seen it. This was as close as I’d
come to an second-hand eye-witness, and I troubled myself to call his former U.T. roommate, whose number
he still had. Well, no, the fellow hadn’t actually seen it himself, but his good buddy there had. I got that
name and number, explained the nature of my call, and learned that he recently had been employed as a
high school teacher who had started taking his students to the Smithsonian. It turned out, sad to say, that
while he himself hadn't seen it, his collegues had, but it had been taken off display because of parental
"The Smithsonian had no problem with two-headed babies in formaldehyde, or examples of elephantiasis, or
Civil War stomachs with plastic rods showing entrance and exit bullet wounds, but Dillinger's Private Part
had been deemed too great an item of young male curiosity (not to mention the fearful wonder it inspired in
the girls) and recently had been removed. He knew exactly where it had been, however: You entered the
front door of the old brick building on the Smithsonian grounds, which happened to be the Army’s National
Medical Museum (hence the confusion with the Smithsonian), turned left to the big door marked Pathology
Exhibit, and just inside, on a high shelf to the right, was the place recently vacated by Dillinger’s prodigious
"Still dubious, I wrote carefully-worded letters to both the Smithsonian and the National Medical Museum,
receiving curt responses that neither place had or ever had any part of Dillinger’s anatomy. Just as I
thought. And it always turned out that the person who was telling the story didn't mean that he'd seen it
himself, in person, but had no reason to doubt it, because a good friend of his had seen it, and that friend
turned out to have a friend who actually had seen it, ad infinitum. Which got me to wondering how the story
started in the first place (though Dillinger was known to have been very charming, sensitive, and maybe a
tad promiscuous, especially if a particular girlfriend was in the slammer for having harbored him).
"I had written off the story as so much legend when I visited the FBI in Washington to ask about their use
of the Thompson, was given the guided tour, and on the way out I asked the main receptionist if she knew of
any other Dillinger “relics,” I believe I called them. She brightly answered that the Dillinger Arsenal I’d
seen was the FBI’s main collection, but she thought that 'most of that stuff is at the National Medical
"Holy Mackerel! I knew the FBI wouldn’t lie, so I practically ran the two or three blocks to the National
Medical Museum. It was just as described: Big front door in the middle of the aging brick building, a
pleasant older lady receptionist happy to answer questions, and down the hall to my left were the big doors
labeled overhead, 'Pathology Exhibit.' Heart pounding, I hurried into the room, looked up on the certain
shelfjust as described, and didn’t see anything related to Dillinger. Or to any other contemporary bad guy,
for that matter. Disappointed but still hopeful, I checked every nook and cranny of the exhibit hall and still
no Dillinger. On my way out I decided, what the hell, I’d ask the receptionist if the National Medical
Museum had anything at all related to Dillinger. In a pleasant voice that sounded almost robotic, she said, 'I’
"The tone of voice surprised me a little and I asked her, 'Do you get asked about that very often?' Back in
her normal voice she smiled and said, 'Oh, my! Maybe two or three times a week!'
"Since we had gotten to chuckling over the subject, she lowered her voice an octave and told of one occasion
she said she’d never forget. Seems a middle-aged couple came in with two teenage boys, all looking pretty
Midwestern, and the man said, 'Where is it?' She answered, 'It’s not here.' As they left he turned to the
boys and said, 'I know where else to look.' 'The poor woman…She didn't say a word but I could tell she was
"And that, I concluded, was that. Over the years I picked up a few additional tidbits. One was that in the
late Thirties D.C. tour-bus drivers would point out the great museum and in the course of describing its
many wonders would add, sotto voce, that one of its attractions was the pickled pecker of Johnnie Dillinger
(they probably used some euphemism), causing embarrassed chuckles among the passengers.
"As my own research continued, I examined Chicago newspapers for July 22, the night Dillinger was killed,
and several papers had rushed into print with Extras. I was especially curious about the Chicago Daily News,
whose Extra that night presented a photograph of Dillinger stretched out on slab, the sheet ominously raised
at his mid-section by at least ten inches. This almost certainly was his arm in rigor mortis, but from the
angle the photo was taken it looked like…well, it looked he had one hell of a boner. Somebody at the paper
evidently said, 'You know what that looks like?' Seemingly they stopped the presses in mid run and
slammed in a different photo, for the papers are otherwise identical, down to the inning-by-inning ball-game
scores that were hammered into little black squares to avoid replating.
"Other papers, having noticed the same thing in time to catch it, ran the same photo but flattened the sheet
and wrecked the erection. So it could well be that the legend of Dillinger’s protruding proboscis got its start
at the start, when crowds where gathered outside the Biograph Theatre that same night, many of them
“As late as the 1980s I found a book on Indiana legends that included several stories, including one stating
that Dillinger’s tallywhacker was of such proportions that he risk losing consciousness from blood loss to the
brain as it reached its full manhood.
“Alas, I already had learned from Dillinger Museum owner Joe Pinkston who said that, despite the legends,
he had talked to several people who had assured him that Dillinger was of normal size. And not longer after
that, I talked to one of the young doctors who had performed the autopsy (thought it was signed by Jerome
Kearns) and who had found nothing unusual in that department.
“In the FBI’s records I did find one document—a letter written in 1968 by two college students in California
who thought they could trick J. Edgar Hoover into denying the legend. Their excuse was that the story was
still popular among their colleagues whose inquisitive minds wanted to know; and that they would like some
denial from the Bureau so they could put an end to the story, once and for all. At the bottom of the letter,
Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s main man (if you get my drift), called the letter disgusting and not worthy of a
response. Below this comment, Hoover wrote, ‘I concur.’"
"In spite of this, The John Dillinger Died For You Society, holding that there are some truths which
transcend mere facts, continues to hold its irregular meetings, always leaving one chair empty—for either of
"An interesting side note is that Playboy editors Bob Shea and Robert Anton Wilson happened to have office
on either side of the author’s and they were writing a three-volume book that ultimately became (after
several reprintings of the originals) a big fat paperback called The Illuminatus Trilogy, published in ___ and
which was destined to become an underground classic. They wrote it with great ingenuity: Shea would do a
chapter that left the story dangling, Wilson would accommodate that and add his own chapter, then give it
back to Shea. Thus it went back and forth, neither author knowing what his coauthor would deliver, but
plunge ahead. The fact that J. Robert Nash had just published Dillinger: Dead or Alive inspired Shea and
Wilson to invent not just one doppelganger, as Nash had claimed, but a total of seven, who came and went as
the occasion required, all still alive. Naturally, they had long since become members of The John Dillinger
Died For You Society, thanks in large part to their fellow editor and Founding Member of the Society (me),
who had an office between the two."
|AS FOR THE DILLINGER DEATH MASKS
John Dillinger still showed signs of life in the minutes after he was shot, and a police ambulance rushed him to the
Alexian Brothers Hospital. He died on the way, and the hospital, verifying DOA, sent the ambulance to the Chicago city
morgue. A crowd already was gathering, and with Dr. Jerome Kearns not yet in the building, a young resident doctor
named Jim Pilot was nabbed and told to begin cutting as the cops and everyone else wanted to know the location and
nature of the wounds. Pilot felt a little overwhelmed by such a task and he, in turn, grabbed onto a friend of his, a
intern named David Fisher.
The post mortem proceeded accordingly, and afterwards Jim Pilot, having removed Dillinger's brain and not sure what
to do with it, put it in a container of preservative and sent it Kearn's office. It was still believed at the time that a
notorious criminal might show signs of brain abnormality, as phrenologists and others had long believed. If Dillinger
had any brain abnormalities, they were not apparent to medical science of the day, but the brain was sliced and diced
anyway. And this was discovered by an undertaker at McCready's Funeral Home, which notified Dillinger's father as
soon as he and Dillinger's half-brother Herbert arrived. The elder Dillinger already had received and angrily rejected an
offer of $10,000 by a carnival company, and fearing his son's brain was headed in that direction he immediately filed
suit against the City of Chicago.
At first, Coroner Walsh denied the brain had been tampered with at all, but its absence could hardly be disputed and
medical examiner Kearns acknowledged the removal of "an ounce or two" of gray matter for testing. Apparently
unaware of of Kearns's statmement, the coroner's toxicologist, Dr. Clarence Muehlberger, said that he had half the
brain and thought the other half had been placed in the corpse's stomach cavity to avoid reopening the head.
Before that statement reached Dr. Kearrns, he suddenly remembered having sent Dr. Muehlberger two-thirds of
the brain and keeping one-third in a separate laboratory. On August 3, the Chicago Daily Times totaled the fractions
that kept coming in and waggishly complimented the coroner's office with finally accounting for "seven-sixths" of the
brain--one-sixth more than John Dillinger himself could have claimed.
Concluding that the brain had not been removed maliciously or for commercial purposes, the Dillinger family let the
matter drop, at which time the coroner's office quickly announced that the brain, or the several parts of it, all had been
destroyed in the testing--without discovering any abnormalities that would account for Dillinger's criminality.
The day after Dillinger was killed, a thousand or more people queued up outside the Chicago city morgue to view
the mortal remains of the century's most notorious desperado. Given the heat wave, the flies, and the odors inside
the morgue, the event must have rivaled what the city now promotes as "A Taste of Chicago."
At least four death masks were made of Dillinger's face. The first (and poorest) probably was obtained by Kenneth
"Doctor" Coffman (whose resume would have described him as a photographer, sculptor, illustrator, publicist, sign
painter and criminologist) who bluffed his way past police early on and simply poured plaster over the corpse's face.
After that, Harold May of the Dental Reliance Company and dentist collegue, Jerome F. Nachtman, probably with
help from a police friend, used a fast-drying rubbery compound call Reprolastic to spread on Dillinger's face, after
which plaster was poured over it and the combination soon removed. He sent a copy of the mask to J. Edgar Hoover
hoping to demonstrate the value of this technique in preserving anything from tire tracks to footprints. His cop
buddy had the less noble idea of peddling copies of the mask at the Century of Progress world's fair then
entertaining the city. That idea had to be abandoned because it would have required permission of the Dillinger
family, and after several copies were made, the original plaster mold was used for backyard target practice. (Hoover,
after determining that no particular laws had been broken, had his technicians fabricate a similar rubbery compound
and soon was providing death masks to any law-enforcement agency requesting one--at least until his own lab men
complained that their skills were needed for other projects.
About the same time, Professor A. E. Ashworth of the Worsham College of Embalming Science asked several of his
students to meet him at the morgue to also make a mask. With photographers taking pictures, he used a plaster and
cotton technique, only to have his mask confiscated by one Sergeant Alfred Mulvaney--probably the same cop who
had shepherded the Dental Reliance man through the crowds, and who didn't want any masks competing with his
copies at the world's fair. Professor Ashworth insisted on getting a receipt for his mask, and that it be stored in a
secure place. At this point an attractive young embalming student named Marj McDougal stepped in, "made eyes" at
Officer Mulvaney, and said she would like to accompany him to a safe on an upper floor so Professor Ashworth
could feel assured that the mask was properly secured. Officer Mulvaney allowed as how that would be quite all
right with him. By the time Marj and the cop returned, another mask had been quickly made, was concealed in a
smock, smuggled out by another student, but has disappeared.
The mask preserved by Mulvaney evidently made its way to the Northwestern University crime lab originally opened
by forensics expert Calvin Goddard following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. When the lab was sold to the
Chicago Police Department in 1938, its chief technician kept most of the Goddard materials but helped set up the
state crime lab in Wisconsin. Upon the technician's death, he left most of the Goddard collection to his
brother--including the death mask--and these eventually were purchased by a Wisconsin collector who sold the
Goddard mask and its mold at auction in 1990 for $10,000.
So says Dr. Horace Naismith after he founded The John Dillinger Died For You Society at The
University of Texas at Austin in 1966. What began as a spoof on Elvis Pressley-style fan clubs
instantly became an active organization of about thirty members who had heard him, that very day,
read the more thrilling parts of his MA thesis on the history of the Thompson submachine gun,
written under the pseudonym William J. Helmer. Following that particular American Studies class,
the students commonly congregated at Scholz' Garten, a popular indoor-outdoor tavern and
restaurant a few blocks south of the University.
In the group was Dr. William Goetzmann, a prize-winning historian who thought (after several beers)
that the delivery was exceptionally good and immediately proposed the founding of The John
Dillinger Died For You Society. (A previous student had delivered of herself an exceedingly boring
paper on comparative religions.)
He went on to proclaim that the Society needed a Founder, and who else should that be but Horace
Naismith--an undocumented individual whose name (everyone quickly realized) would seem vaguely
familiar for having done something or invented something, some time or another. A paper was drawn
up on the back of a Scholz's menu, proclaiming that everyone in the Society would automatically be
an Assistant Treasurer authorized to recruit new members for whatever amount of cash they had on
them at the time--and keep it, Because John Would Have Wanted It That Way.
Within a week the Society, using a small, very old flat-bed press for printing handbills, had turned out
its two official membership cards:
About this time Dr. Goetzmann, worried because his reckless idea had caught on so quickly, wrote a
very formal and officious letter to the Society resigning his membership, believing that would be the
end of it. He was wrong. Not only is Dr. Goetzmann still celebrated as the inspiration for the Society,
but he provided its members with their Perpetual All-Purpose Excuse: "Dr. Goetzmann said it would
It should probably be mentioned that as an assistant treasurer, anyone at any time and anywhere,
can call an official meeting of the John Dillinger Died For You Society. The only requirement is that
one chair be left empty out of respect for the Dear Departed Member.
What member? Which member? There may be some confusion here, and of course it is
deliberate. Perhaps Mr. Helmer will help us sort these things out--in his own way:
THAT'S THE FUN PART OF THE STORY. WHAT HAPPENED TO
DILLINGER'S BRAIN IS ANOTHER MATTER THAT OCCUPIED
THE NEWSPAPERS FOR MANY DAYS.
Not this fellow. This is Doctor Naismith
Doctor Naismith probably took this picture
"A cross born willingly is a burden nonetheless."
Dr. James Conway with death
mask made by "Doc" Coffman.
And now, what everyone's been waiting for!