Public Enemy # 1 – John Dillinger

January 25, 2008

We’ve all heard of the FBI, the agents depicted in books, movies and television. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the fact from fiction.  There was a time when the FBI was just a small, unknown department of the government instead of the law enforcement entity that creeps along the edges of our civil liberties.  Here is a little history about the FBI that writers can incorporate into their next novel.  At the very least, they’ll be able to impress friends at the next dinner party. 

Based on the documentary: 18 Months of Mayhem, January 2008  

June 17 1933, convicted bank robber, Frank Nash was on his way back to prison after he escaped. He never made it. Gunmen shot down Nash at the Kansas City Union Station, along with four officers and 2 others were injured.  Newspapers called it the Kansas City Massacre.  It was just the beginning of an 18 month crime spree.   The government appeared helpless to stem the tide of crime or the depression.  Law enforcement was local, town and county, with few state agencies and no Federal law enforcement. President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned to an understaffed unit of the government, the Federal Bureau of Investigations. 

J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the FBI and he staffed the bureau with agents who had little or no law enforcement experience. John Dillinger was an experienced criminal by the time he walked into a bank in Daleville, Indiana on July 17, 1933.  He was a high school drop out and military deserter when he robbed a shopkeeper.  He received 10 years in prison and he used the time to fine tune his criminal skills. He learned to case a bank for days or weeks, gathering information on security rounds, vault systems and escape routes.  Dillinger robbed small town banks, putting many out of business.   

John Dillinger

Oklahoma City July 22, 1933, Charles Hirshel was kidnapped by George Barnes, AKA Machine Gun Kelly.  Barnes was a college educated, middle class man who got involved in boot legging during the depression.  He and his wife, Katherine, collected $200,000 for Charles Hirshel just 8 days later.  Katherine’s mother was arrested in connection with the crime, so Katherine tried to make a deal to exchange George for her mother.  Even though the deal was refused, the FBI had a lead on the couple’s whereabouts. They were captured in Memphis, on September 26, 1933. 

George (Machine Gun Kelly) and Katherine Barnes

On September 22 in Dayton Ohio police moved in on a tip to apprehend Dillinger and he was taken in without a fight.  On October 12, he was busted out of jail by friends from prison. The men took police issue weapons and bullet proof vests from the police station.  Dillinger settled in Chicago, going to nightclubs and spending money lavishly.  He continued to rob banks in surrounding towns to finance his lifestyle. 

Masses of people were out of work and homeless. Farmers fled to the West, their farms seized by banks, their crops destroyed by drought.  The public began to romanticize the criminals and Dillinger made a point of keeping the people on his side, tearing up deeds and giving patrons cash from the robbery.  Movie heroes of the day were gangsters.  In January 1934, the nation got its first look at John Dillinger in movie theater news reels. He became a rock star of the era.  He had a likeable demeanor and played to the cameras. Dillinger was taken into custody again, but like Houdini, he was master escape artist.  He was on the cover of every newspaper in America.  Hoover and his national police force became a laughing stock and enhanced Dillinger’s legendary status.  Hoover issued a kill order for Dillinger.   

Without his gang, Dillinger began robbing banks with Baby Face Nelson. George Baby Face Nelson robbed banks, using a Thompson Sub Machine Gun and he didn’t hesitate to use it.   He was born Lester Gillis and spent most of his life institutionalized.  He earned an illegal living, moving moonshine and mugging people on the street.   

The FBI’s Chicago office became the largest field office, headed by Agent Melvin Purvis.  Receiving a tip that Dillinger was Wisconsin, a dozen agents were assembled and sent to apprehend him.  Three innocent bystanders were shot by overzealous agents, which alerted Dillinger and Nelson to the FBI’s presence.  After a brief shoot out, the criminals escaped.   Gangsters tried to remove their fingerprints with acid or attempt to reconstruct their faces to hide their identities.  Dillinger had surgery, and felt confident appearing in public, despite being named Public Enemy Number One and having a $15,000 reward issued for his capture.  

 Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were notorious partners in crime.  The two robbed mom and pop establishments, killing six men along the way. Clyde had spent hard time in prison and he vowed he would never go back. On July 19, 1933, in Platte City, Missouri, Bonnie and Clyde were armed with assault rifles and plenty of ammunition during a stand off with police.  They were able to escape. A local farmer spotted the gang days later in Iowa and notified law enforcement of the gang’s whereabouts.  Once again, the high fire power allows to the gang to escape capture.  

Bonnie and Clyde took on legendary status when photos of the two were leaked to the press. Tired of running, Bonnie and Clyde settled down, hoping for a new start.  Instead, a former gang member set a trap for Bonnie and Clyde in exchange for parole.  The two were killed in an ambush on May 23, 1934. 

Bonnie and Clyde

 Dillinger was shot execution style on July 22, 1934, by an agent coming out of a movie theater.  His death marked the end of the 18 month crime spree that swept through the nation.  The FBI became a recognized force in America. Only Machine Kelly wasn’t killed by law enforcement. 

Melvin Purvis resigned from the FBI after Dillinger’s death.        


Spree Killers

January 23, 2008

Spree killers target innocent bystanders, thrilling in the destruction of the public’s well being. Their acts of violence are motivated by revenge or a misguided need to be noticed.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire at a popular café.  He killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in a single day.  Bryant was a troubled and tormented youth, lashing out in anger.   He lashed out in defense against bullying and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild retardation.  As a young adult he became isolated and desperate sought companionship, striking up conversations with random women.  His attempts were thwarted and he became angry at society in general and planned revenge.    After the shootings, Bryant fled to a nearby inn and was surrounded by police.  He set the inn on fire and was badly burned.  He recovered from his injuries and was sentenced to 35 life sentences after pleading guilty to murder.  

Martin Bryant

Social exclusion seems to be a common indicator in spree killers. Test subjects were tested to see the impact of social isolation and rejection.   After being rejected, subjects were asked to fill in blanks on several words.  Rejected subjects repeatedly choose violent words. 

On August 1st 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then packed a footlocker full of weapons and drove to the University of Austin.  From a clock tower on the college’s campus Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.  Whitman was raised in a physically abusive home. He left home at 15, joining the Army and was sent to the University of Texas on scholarship.  He married but struggled to overcome the violence of this past.   He was court martialed after a violent public outburst and his scholarship revoked.  He is ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control them. He wrote about his struggles in his journal and confessed his desire to kill bystanders from the clock tower to a psychiatrist.  After the attack, an autopsy was performed and a tumor was discovered.  

Charles Whitman

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can cause impulsive behaviors, fits of rage or inappropriate emotions.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates fear and anger.  Those with borderline personality disorder have heightened activity in the amygdala, which may inhibit an individual’s ability to control their rage.


19 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old accomplice, Carol Fugate embarked on a killing spree after Starkweather killed Carol’s parents.  They claimed 10 victims, lashing out at any one who crossed their path.  Starkweather was an outcast at school, bullied and teased, he fantasized about revenge. Carol and Charles had a passionate affair and planned to marry, but her family stood in their way, so they were eliminated.  Starkweather shot Carol’s mother, stepfather and 2 year old sister then took their blood lust on the road.   They killed seven more people before they were apprehended. Carol Fugate claimed she was a hostage but both were convicted.

Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate

Spree killers are becoming more deadly and methodical, attacking at schools, malls or other crowded public places.  Understanding the motives and traits will hopefully help law enforcement prevent tragic blood shed in the future.  

Mind of Manson

January 14, 2008

“Mr. and Mrs. America–you are wrong.  I am not the King of the Jews nor am I a hippie cult leader.  I am what you have made me and the mad dog devil killer fiend leper is a reflection of your society. . .Whatever the outcome of this madness that you call a fair trial or Christian justice, you can know this: In my mind’s eye my thoughts light fires in your cities.”  (1)

Charles Manson’s statement after his conviction 

Manson didn’t weld the weapons in murders of Sharon Tate, her unborn child or six other victims; however, it was at his instigation these innocent people lost their lives. Charles Manson has remained unapologetic of his crimes.  He has no guilt or remorse for his actions, instead he condemns society.  

 “The children that come at you with knives are your children.  You taught them.  I didn’t teach them.  I just tried to help them stand up….”  

Manson claims he never had followers, they were only friends. Manson encouraged the use of mind altering drugs with Family members in order to warp reality and manipulate.  He would stand on a pulpit, preaching about the end of days brought about by a race war. Manson planned the Tate and LaBianca murders to ignite the war, supposedly prophesied in the lyrics of Helter Skelter.  

According to prosecutors, “Manson saw verse 15 as a prophecy of the imminent Helter Skelter in which a revolt by blacks would result in a killing of one-third of the population.   “And the four angels were loosed, that had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.”  Manson may have believed that he was setting this revolt in motion in August of 1969 when he loosed from Spahn ranch his Family members with instructions to kill.” (1)  

Manson has been institutionalized most of his life.  He was born, No Name Maddox to a 16 year old prostitute.  Manson was repeatedly given away by his mother – once he was even “sold” for a six pack of beer.  He spent his childhood on the street, fighting for survival. He was a petty thief.  “School officials described young Manson as moody and suffering a persecution complex–but “likable” during those periods he was feeling happy.” (2) 

Manson is a psychopath, a personality disorder characterized by amoral and antisocial behavior. He is delusional, believing himself entitled and exempt from society’s laws because society has perpetuated evil upon him. 

 1. Book of Revelation (Chapter 9) and the Ideology of Charles Manson 2. Charles Manson (Tate-LaBianca Murder) Trial: The Defendants

Traces in Blood

January 3, 2008

Con men are able to insinuate themselves into the lives of their marks by catering to individual’s needs, hopes and desires. Consider the following true crime story highlighted in an recent episode of Notorious, December 2007. 

Albuquerque NM, a land rich with legends of the supernatural, including UFOs.  Linda Henning had a passing interest in UFO until she met Diazien Hossencofft, and her casual interest turned to obsession.  Hossencofft convinced Henning that he was an alien, and somehow manipulated her to murder his wife.   In 1999, 36 year old Girly Chew Hossencofft failed to show up for work. Her boss and coworkers were immediately concerned for Girly’s safety, because Girly had told them of repeated threats she received from her estranged husband, Diazien.  

Detective Michael Fox checked her home for any evidence of wrong doing and noticed the overwhelming smell of bleach, often used to cover up blood.  Investigators used Luminal, which emits a glowing light when it comes in contact with blood. The results were frightening obvious; stains on the floor lit up “like a Christmas tree.” 

Diazien had disappeared, but police were able to question Henning, who showed up as personal reference on papers belonging to Diazien. Henning claimed she didn’t know him well, and she believed he was a doctor, suffering from leukemia.  Days later, a hundred miles from Albuquerque, a road worker found bloody clothes and a tarp. 

Diazien Hossencofft was born Armand Chavez in Houston Texas. He graduated college in California and doctored his transcripts to attend medical school. When his deception was discovered, he was expelled from school.  He changed his name and told people he was a geneticist and sold fake cancer treatments. He also claimed he had suffered from cancer to gain sympathy.  He married Girly Chew in 1993.  Girly didn’t know that Hossencofft was a fraud.  Police tracked Hossencofft down, but were unable to charge him with murder, because no body had been found.  They were able to arrest him for making threatening phone calls to potential witnesses.   


The police removed the carpet from Girly’s apartment so forensic investigators combed the fibers for DNA evidence.  Miniscule samples were used to create a DNA profile which was compared to known samples taken from Girly and Linda Henning.  The carpet also had a large number of cat hairs, which were also linked back to Henning, who owned several cats.  Police believed Henning was covering for Diazien.  Trace evidence found on the bloody clothing yielded DNA from both Girly and Diazien. Henning was arrested and both she and Diazien were charged with murder, though police still weren’t sure of Henning’s full involvement. They believed she was an accomplice, brainwashed to act with Diazien. Friends noticed a change in Henning’s manner: she was hostile, threatening and unpleasant, where once she had been kind, sensitive and friendly. 

Bill Miller was also arrested when he was linked to Henning, Hossencofft and Girly’s apartment.  Blood evidence indicates a fight occurred between Girly and Linda. At some point Miller entered the scene, subdued Girly and took her to another location to kill her.  Hossencofft pled guilty in exchange for life in prison.  Prosecutors made the deal because a body still hadn’t been found.  Hossencofft admitted he masterminded the plan and blamed Miller for the murder, but said Henning had no involvement.  He claimed he planted Henning’s blood on the scene.

Despite Hossencofft’s denials, prosecutors moved forward with Henning’s trial.  Witnesses testified that Henning was acting strangely and forensic investigators presented their evidence. The defense called Diazien to contradict the testimony of prosecution witnesses.  Hossencofft’s testimony was violent, callous and psychopathic.  The jurors disregarded Hossencofft’s testimony entirely because his behavior was so bizarre. Based on forensic evidence and witness testimony, Henning was found guilty and sentenced to 73 years in prison.  She continues to maintain she is innocent. Bill Miller was not charged with murder, but was charged with tampering with evidence. He received one year of probation.  

Girly Chew has still not been found.