Last Words Spoken by John Dillinger

An infamous bank robber, a killer and a thief, finally mowed down by FBI agents outside a movie theatre — that's who John Dillinger was. Were the last words spoken by John Dillinger really the dramatic “You got me” that he supposedly uttered? Or are the John Dillinger last words you think you know wrong. Does anyone really know?

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John Dillinger: Depression-Era Criminal

During the bleak, dreary years of the Great Depression, which lasted from 1929-1933, many criminals captured headlines and the interest of people beaten down by financial setbacks. Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson and other desperadoes ran authorities into circles trying to stop them from mayhem and murder.

Of all of these, perhaps John Dillinger was the most brazen, and probably the most brutal. The Dillinger gang killed at least a dozen people during their bank-robbing rampage, many of them in cold blood. However, it is unknown how many of these were killed by John Dillinger himself. Even Dillinger’s mugshot bespeaks a cruel, sneering man out to get what he could get. But is that the sole truth of how a man gets to be so evil?

wanted poster for john dillinger

Speculation: Last Words Spoken by John Dillinger

In 1933, after being paroled from prison, Dillinger began a rampage over the state of Indiana, stealing thousands through bank robberies with his gang murdering as many as a dozen people. He was so notorious, the relatively new Federal Bureau of Investigation learned much of their means of capturing criminals by trying to nab Dillinger.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was aided by a local madam, who knew that Dillinger would be at a movie theatre at a certain time. She reported it to the FBI, who was waiting when he emerged. Dillinger was killed in a hail of gunfire. What were his last words? No one really knows.

  • The most credible rumor is that the last words spoken by John Dillinger were “You got me," but that’s mere speculation.
  • In the movie Public Enemies, the actor playing Dillinger (Johnny Depp) utters the phrase "bye-bye blackbird," but that is merely fiction.
  • Police who were at the scene at the time of John Dillinger's death indicated that he died instantly and never had a moment to say a thing.

A Painful Childhood: Dillinger's Early Days

Not that what happens to a person early in life is an excuse for criminal behavior later in life, but John Dillinger had a very hard life as a child. His loving mother died when he was only four years old. His father, known to be brutally cruel to him, would whip him for infractions of his rules, and then try to make it up to him with lavish gifts.

  • The poor young boy was completely devastated when his mother passed away, and it was too much to be left in the hands of an unfeeling father. Dillinger’s elder sister had by then married; she and her husband took young John.
  • Dillinger's sister focused on raising him in a way that would be less painful than what he experienced under his father’s heartless reign. Young John, though, had a difficult time fitting in. He was always in scrapes, and his sister was always bailing him out.
  • When Dillinger was a teenager, his father remarried and took the boy back to his home. One might think the stepmother would be the stuff of legend, cruel and unkind, and that’s what Dillinger initially thought. But the woman was good to him. Eventually, he began to love her like a mother.
  • During one of Dillinger’s stints in prison, his stepmother passed away after a long illness, and Dillinger was heartbroken that he wasn’t able to see her or attend her funeral.

Criminal Intent: On Becoming a Thief

Dillinger’s stay with his father was for naught. The father had moved the family out of Indianapolis, fearing the effects of the city on his son, to a small town where he hoped they could get a new start. It didn’t work.

  • The young man, who had established quite a career as a petty thief, moved up to stealing a car. Dillinger was nabbed by police, and his father was ready to wash his hands of the youth.
  • By 1929, the year of the Great Depression when Dillinger was 26 years old, he had already been married and divorced. He had enlisted in the Navy, only to desert and be dishonorably discharged.
  • Unable to get a job, Dillinger and a friend robbed a grocery store for a mere $50. They were spotted by a local minister, who reported them to the police.
  • Dillinger’s father urged his son to give himself up, thinking that it was the right thing to do and that the sentence would be light.
  • Dillinger did as his father asked, but was shocked to be remanded to the state prison for a sentence of up to 20 years. He served 8.5 years of his sentence before he was paroled.
  • The incipient criminal made up his mind he would be “the worst” thief that existed, and he learned lessons on thievery from his fellow inmates.
  • After Dillinger's parole, his criminal activity escalated, leading to the formation of his gang and the string of bank robberies and murders that ultimately led to his death at the hands of the FBI.

Beyond Dillinger's Death and Last Words

Questions will forever remain about John Dillinger's last words. Now that you're familiar with what John Dillinger's last words might have been, get a sense of how he might have talked by exploring some gangster slang from the 1920s.