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) 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, waving an irrelevant letter from forensics expert Calvin Goddard,
and simply poured plaster over the corpse's face. (By one account, he may have managed to make two molds.) After that,
Harold May of the Dental Reliance Company and a dentist colleague, Dr. 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. Coffman later 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
About the same time, Professor A. E. Ashworth of the Worsham College of Embalming Science called several of his
students who joined 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 their 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 insisted on accompanying 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, concealed in a smock, and smuggled out by another student, but it
seems to have disappeared.
The mask preserved by Mulvaney evidently made its way to the Northwestern University crime lab originally opened
by Major (or Colonel, his war-time rank) 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 and his brother
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 with its mold--and these eventually were purchased by a Wisconsin collector who sold
the Goddard mask and its mold at auction in 1990 for $10,000.
The John Dillinger
J. Edgar Hoover probably had given little thought to the
matter of death masks once John Dillinger's body had been
thoroughly ID'd and left to the mercies of the Cook County
Morgue...at least until a plaster copy of one mask landed on his
desk, courtesy the Dental Reliance Company, which hoped that Mr.
Hoover would immediately recognize the potential of "Reprolastic"
in duplicating footprints, tire tracks and the like.
But Hoover's immediate reaction was to launch an
investigation into the mask-making, for staring back at him was the
image of John Dillinger, Bureau's most famous catch, and he
wanted to make sure the FBI was not being suckered into
something that could cause the fledgling Bureau, still recovering
from its Little Bohemia fiasco, more embarrassment.
He was aware that death masks predated photography, and
once he established that no "crime" had been committed, he
began cranking out death masks for any law enforcement agency
that requested one--until his own lab complained that it had other
matters more pressing--causing some consternation in the
wanted-poster collecting community by supplying each with a
reprint of the Bureau's Indentification Order (I.O., as they still are
called), the backside bearing the address of the new FBI offices at
the Justice Department, into which the FBI had just moved,
instead of the earlier Hurley-Wright Building.
Which is neither here nor there, except to collectors trying to
figure out the I.O. card printings that bore different addresses.
Before Neal Trickel, a
lab technician, disposed
of this death-mask mold,
he found it THREE
EYEBROW HAIRS which
he kindly provided to
Your Benefactor, who
shared a piece of one
with Dillinger fanatic
Dr. Conway with "Doc"