CHICAGO — John H. Dillinger, the notoriously elusive bank robber who was gunned down by federal agents outside a movie theater in Chicago in 1934, is expected to be exhumed from an Indiana cemetery in September.
The reason is mysterious, in keeping with Mr. Dillinger’s reputation as a gangster who once slipped out of an Indiana jail and evaded capture despite a monthslong manhunt across the Midwest.
According to a permit issued by the Indiana State Department of Health July 3, Mr. Dillinger’s body will be removed from its grave in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis Sept. 16 and apparently reinterred in the same cemetery on the same day. The applicant for the permit is Michael C. Thompson, identified as Mr. Dillinger’s nephew.
The Indianapolis Star reported on Tuesday that the exhumation is related to a History Channel documentary.
“We have no information, absolutely none,” a woman who answered the phone at the cemetery said on Tuesday. She allowed that Dillinger fans regularly stop by the cemetery office to inquire where his grave is. Once they find it, they like to pay homage and decorate it with various items, including carnations, coins and bullet shells, then post their photos online.
Mr. Dillinger’s body is still there — for the moment, anyway. It lies beneath a simple slab of gray granite known as a pillow marker, so named for its slightly elevated, puffed appearance and gentle slope toward the ground. It is engraved with raised block letters that spell out Mr. Dillinger’s name and the dates “1903-1934.”
In an unusual twist, the grave has been fortified with a thick layer of concrete, apparently to deter robbers. According to a report in The New York Times in 1964, “A showman in Wisconsin offered Dillinger’s father $10,000 to ‘borrow’ the body for a while, and eventually the Dillinger family had to pour three feet of concrete into the grave to prevent the body from being stolen.”
Jennifer O’Malley, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Health, said she did not know the exact plans for Mr. Dillinger’s body, but that a single date listed on the permit suggested that “all actions related to this event will occur the same day.”
Savanah S. Light, a funeral director whose name was listed on the permit as a witness, did not respond to a message.
After pulling off an audacious escape from an Indiana jail in spring 1934, where he was held on a charge of killing a policeman, Mr. Dillinger managed to avoid swarms of law enforcement agents who pursued him from Indiana to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Federal agents followed a tip and tracked him down during a Sunday dinner at Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wis., and opened fire on a car of three innocent men — killing the driver — while Mr. Dillinger and his friends escaped through a back door. Bullet holes from the shootout remain embedded in the walls of the lodge, a popular tourist attraction.
Mr. Dillinger eventually made his way back to Chicago and went to great lengths to remain inconspicuous. According to legend, he had a face-lift, colored his brown hair black and altered his fingerprints with acid.
A companion — descriptions from the time said she was a madam at an Indiana brothel — tipped off federal agents that she would be with Mr. Dillinger at a Clark Gable movie one evening in July 1934, and as they left the theater, he was surrounded and fatally shot. He was 31.
Extremely unproven theories abound that the body in the grave is not Mr. Dillinger’s, but that of a body double who was also at the theater that night.