Cover image for John Dillinger : the life and death of America's first celebrity criminal
John Dillinger : the life and death of America's first celebrity criminal
Matera, Dary, 1955-
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers ; [Berkeley, Calif.] : Distributed by Publishers Group West, [2004]

Physical Description:
xviii, 413 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6248.D5 M37 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Best-selling author Dary Matera sets the Dillinger record straight, seventy years after the outlaw's death. John Dillinger is an adrenaline-fueled narrative that reignites America's fascination with the suave but deadly desperado who was the FBI's first "Public Enemy." Dubbed "The Jackrabbit" because of the way he leaped over bank cages and railings, Dillinger and his bank-robbing gang cut a criminal swath yet to be equaled. They became so famous in the 1930s that throngs of excited spectators would block the route to their getaway cars. When caught, Dillinger staged the most harrowing prison escapes imaginable--only to finally be betrayed by the infamous "Lady in Red." John Dillinger brings to light new information, including bank robberies never before reported; detailed plans for major crimes that Dillinger nearly implemented; the revelation that the "Lady in Red" was actually a police plant; and the startling fact that John Dillinger was summarily executed by rogue FBI agents being manipulated by East Chicago detectives desperate to cover up widespread police corruption. With access to thousands of detailed accounts, and pages of telling photographs, Matera's definitive book describes every robbery, shoot-out, and prison escape as though he choreographed them himself.

Author Notes

Dary Matera, a veteran non-fiction writer & former book editor & reporter for "The Miami News", is the author of the "New York Times" bestseller, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", as well as "Get Me Ellis Rubin!", & "Taming the Beast: Charles Manson's Crazed Life Behind Bars", currently in development at HBO. Eight of his books have been optioned for film. He resides in Chandler, Arizona.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In this exciting, enjoyable, but rather curious book, Matera intends to debunk many of the myths surrounding Dillinger, but he seems just as determined to romanticize him while demonizing some of his pursuers. One of Matera's premises is, actually, wrong; Dillinger was certainly not our first celebrity criminal (does the name Jesse James ring a bell?). Still, as Matera recounts Dillinger's slow but steady progress from inept punk to daring bank robber, his narrative easily draws in the reader. There are bold robberies, unlikely escapes, and near misses--and, of course, the familiar selection of gun molls. Dillinger and other gang members are treated somewhat sympathetically, but some lawmen are tagged as assassins, hit men, or terminators. There are lots of interesting tidbits here, and the blow-by-blow descriptions of the battles between Dillinger's gangs and lawmen are engrossing. Although obviously far from a work of scholarship, it is a fun slice of Americana. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this overly detailed biography, true-crime veteran Matera (The FBI's Ten Most Wanted, etc.) painstakingly recounts every bullet fired by the legendary robber John Dillinger, his criminal cohorts and his law-enforcement adversaries. Starting with a car theft at the age of 20, the gangster-obsessed Dillinger rapidly descended into a busy career as a bank robber, working with such pros as Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. In the 1930s, Americans avidly followed Dillinger's crime spree and spectacular escapes from custody. Some portrayed him as a Robin Hood, while others cynically suspected that he often worked in cahoots with the very financial institutions he victimized. The book's most sensational claim is that the famous theater-alley gunfight in which Dillinger died was actually an official hit intended to cover up police corruption. The rather rigid straightforward storytelling obscures Dillinger's personality, and the countless heists and running gun battles tend to merge into one another. The epilogue, however, puts the criminal's significance in context by demonstrating his role in the creation of the FBI and new police tactics for dealing with armed robbers. Students of crime as well as those interested in the public fascination with larger-than-life figures on the other side of the law will find this useful. Agent, Gene Brissie at James Peter Associates. (May 22) FYI: After eight years in prison, Dillinger was paroled on May 22, 1933, a date that marks the start of the most storied crime spree in U.S. history. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

There has long been a fascination with outlaws, going back to Jesse James (who might well lay claim to having been a celebrity criminal long before Dillinger) and of course more recently the ever popular gangsters of the 1930s. Today, this interest is perhaps stronger than ever, as demonstrated by the success of titles like Max Allan Collins's graphic novel Road to Perdition, later made into a popular movie. Therefore, one would expect this title by former journalist Matera (FBI's Ten Most Wanted) to be a popular item in library collections. And rightly so: Matera's book is written in a light, breezy style that casual readers will enjoy. There is some new substance as well, for Matera is the first writer to make extensive use of the archives of the Dillinger Museum in Nashville, IN, a treasure trove of oral history interviews and contemporary newspaper and police reports. The notes section seems a bit weak, but this is still highly recommend for public libraries and for those academic libraries where crime biographies are in demand. Charlie Cowling, Drake Memorial Lib., Brockport, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.