Since 1934, there have been numerous accounts written about Dillinger and the fateful night at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Our own review in 2008 of the FBI file on Dillinger, consisting of some thirty thousand pages, provided the official record shown here to alleviate the many distortions that have appeared over the decades. Many of these errors happened within days of the shooting and reporters at the time were not prone to the editor's review, or a sloppy one at best, prior to going to print.
Over the decades, Hollywood and others added to the distortion of the facts by taking liberties that should not have been taken if historical accuracy was of any concern. But having said this, libraries and bookstores are also repleat with some very accurate and unbiased accounts of the historical record.
Highlights Of The Official Accounts As To What Happened
First and foremost, it's pertinent to alleviate any mis-information that Purvis shot Dillinger himself, or even fired his gun that night at the Biograph. Evidence he DID NOT shoot his weapon is found in the Dillinger file relative to a phone call record that Clyde Tolson made in a conversation with Purvis on exactly this matter, and the shooting of Pretty Boy Floyd.
Below is the initial sketch by either Cowley or Purvis or both depicting where everyone was that night just prior to the shooting. It was submitted to FBIHQ within a couple of days of the shooting.
Several days later a "second" sketch was submitted by Cowley/Purvis incorporating info, and locations left out of the first. There does not appear to be any major significant changes. One item added is the auto driven by SA R. D. Brown, right near the shooting location, as is the position of SA Mike Glynn.
The Original "Game Plan" On Taking Dillinger
In about August, 1935 the Bureau conducted an internal inquiry with Agents present that night in view of media and other allegations that a "shoot to kill", "shoot on sight" etc. order had been given by either Purvis or Cowley prior to the Biograph incident. Although not all statements are included here, a review of them reveals the original plan was to "take Dillinger bodily" by Hurt, Hollis, and Stretch & Sopsic of the PD.
Putting his best shots in this area was probably a wise decision based upon his belief Dillinger would exit in the direction he came. At the immediate scene, Winstead was injected into the immediate doorway exit out of the Biograph. There's no doubt that although the plan was basically to take Dillinger bodily, Purvis was not taking any chances there would NOT be a possible gun fight.
There is an ironic "twist" to the planning stages as reported by Agent Hurt in 1935 during the inquiry. Many of course purposely overlook this in an effort to rewrite history. As you'll notice, Hurt had mentioned that someone in the group of the arresting Agents/Police actually brought up the possibility of the Agents "taking no guns at all." In his statement, Hurt does indicate the idea wasn't acted upon by Purvis or Cowley. There's no doubt that based on what happened at the immediate time to apprehend Dillinger outside the Theater, and no guns were taken by Agents, there would be another name or two added to Mr. Hoover's memorial plaque!
The Cowley Summary Memorandum & Independent Statements Of Agents:
Inspector Samuel Cowley, FBI was the ranking officer on the scene at the Chicago, FBI Office in July, 1934. Cowley came from a very strict and religious Morman background that is mentioned in other areas of this site. Cowley did advise Mr. Hoover in a later call that night that he was in the area of the theater, but DID NOT observe the shooting as it occurred. As the usual case, often times the ranking officer is the one who must obtain the immediate relevant facts of the incident and report them to superiors. There is no doubt Mr. Hoover wanted to know immediately what happened.
It should be taken into account that usually these "post shooting" reports, whether FBI or other departments even to this day, usually contain minor errors of what actually transpired until ALL statements are reviewed and EACH PARTICIPANT presents his recollection. Depending on the incident, and how many people and departments are present, this "sifting process" of obtaining exact details could take days to accomplish.
You can view the 6 page memorandum sent to Mr. Hoover by Cowley here. It's a summary document, commonly used by the FBI, to report the incident at the Biograph. You can see specifics of Agents statements and more on the incident BELOW.
Cowley's 6 page Summary of the event is here:
Independent Statements Of Agents Present Who Observed Significant Events/Items:
Without clouding the issue with the role of the local police who were present that night, the simple facts were compiled from Agent statements, Cowley to Hoover memos, other internal memos from ranking Hoover personnel, and the report from the Coroner. It is to be noted that an original “sketch” supplied by Cowley and Purvis to Headquarters reveals where each Agent and Officer was at the time of the incident. The "sketch" and the revised one can be seen above.
Had Dillinger run into the alley, he would have run right into Agents Suran, Connor, and Woltz. From initial reports, one can tell that Cowley either does not know, or is unclear, about the shots fired by Hurt and Hollis. This confusion is not unusual in a "post shooting" immediate review of the facts.
It is apparent from examination and statements that, as mentioned, Officers Sopsic and Stretch are to the right of the exit way to the Theater, and they are speaking to a pedestrian. They miss the Purvis signal to close in and Zarkovich is running to tell them he came out since he realizes they missed the signal.
By the time Zarkovich and the two officers are coming up on the rear of Purvis and others, there's bystanders in between them, Purivs and the Agents and Dillinger. Within seconds it's over.
- Winstead, Purvis, Brown, Hurt, and Hollis appear to be first, or close to it, to the body and Winstead’s statement reveals Purvis tells him that Purvis removed a .380 Colt auto from Dillinger’s hand. The Agents search the body and a loaded clip is found in the pocket, its left there, and is inventoried at the morgue later.
- It may be worth a note here that in his book, “American Agent,” Purvis also mentions he took the .380 from Dillinger’s hand on the sidewalk. He indicates in the book he was only several steps behind Dillinger on the approach.
- SA Clarence Hurt also fired at Dillinger along with Winstead and Hollis.
- The statements of SA R. D. Brown reveals he too observed the gun in Dillinger’s hand apparently almost simultaneously with Winstead.
- The statement of Agent Herman Hollis, (later killed by Baby Face Nelson) reveals Hollis seeing Dillinger draw a gun. The Hollis statement also provides additional detail as to who went to the hospital, morgue etc.
- The gun, the clip and other items are inventoried properly in the statement of SA Sullivan later and where shown in the statement, the .380 mentioned DOES NOT reflect any serial number. There is NO MENTION in the statement that the serial number appears to have been removed.
- At the inquest, Inspector Cowley testifies that a .380 Colt auto and the clip were found on Dillinger and that the SERIAL NUMBER was removed from the gun. Cowley DID NOT bring the gun to the inquest and from an examination, no one really questioned him as to why. (Not bringing the gun is not necessarily unusual). Obviously the coroner DID NOT feel the gun was evidence of any crime.
- Based upon the circumstances and chain of events, its obvious Purvis takes the gun back to the Chicago Office and it is subsequently photographed by media reps over the next approximate 48 or so hours thus providing today the retrieved photos taken. It should be noted at this juncture that its SA Val Zimmer’s statement that at the scene, Inspector Cowley hands Zimmer Dillinger’s cigar, glasses and hat and that Zimmer takes these back to the Chicago Office.
- Because it surfaces from time to time, questions arise about the "valuables" found with Dillinger and what happened to them. Since it's been located during the file review, I've inserted a memo found which explains some of it.