Sunday, August 07, 2005

Self-serving snitch at center of John Dillinger capture

I've always thought snitches mostly worked drug cases, but I'm coming to realize that in nearly every unsolved criminal case, snitches provide most of the information that actually leads to arrests and convictions, from the lowest level drug busts all the way up to Public Enemy Number One.

The Dallas News published a feature yesterday detailing the little-known career of Texan Charles Winstead, the FBI agent credited by J. Edgar Hoover with killing gangster John Dillinger. Dillinger was shot in the back while fleeing in 1934 as he left a Chicago movie theater with his girlfriend and the snitch who turned him in.
Check out the story of the Grayson County native who gunned the outlaw down.

The Dallas News article said the snitch, a whorehouse madam named Anna Sage, turned Dillinger in for the reward money and help with her immigration problems (which she did not receive; she was ultimately deported to Romania). But coincidentally, a book I'm reading right now -- a law enforcement textbook,
Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement's Most Valuable Tool -- posits in a case study a darker possible motive for Anna Sage's betrayal:
John Dillinger stole a lot of money in his relatively short career, not much of which was ever recovered. At the time of his death he had about $7.70 in his pocket. The large roll of $100 bills -- what Dillinger called his "get" money" that the robber carried everywhere with him in case of emergency -- was never found. There was speculation at the time that [Chicago Police] Sergeant [Martin] Zarkovich had lifted the money from Dillinger's dying body. In any event, at least some of the money was likely kept at Dillinger's last hideout. But where was this place? Sage told [FBI Agent Melvin] Purvis she did not know where Dillinger was staying. The secret may have died with Dillinger, but two keys were recovered from his person. One was found to fit the door of Anna Sage's house, the other fit a locked closet in one of the rooms. When opened by police, the closet was empty.

Did police informant Anna Sage plot Dillinger's death or capture in order to gain sole control of the stolen loot she knew was under her own roof? It is possible that she did, or that she merely took advantage of the situation to claim more than the government's reward money. ...

The Indiana State Police (ISP) advised the FBI on July 27, 1934, five days after the shooting, that Sage, [Dillinger's girlfriend Polly] Hamilton, and Zarkovich had conspired to "put Dillinger on the spot in order that they might gain possession of Dillinger's wealth." In something of an ironic twist, this information came to the ISP by way of a confidential informant.
So a snitch snitched on the snitch who snitched on John Dillinger. Allegations later surfaced that Sgt. Zarkovich had been a regular customer at Sage's brothel, plus she'd lied to police saying Dillinger had never been to her home. We'll never know for sure, but Sage apparently stole the outlaw's money herself, or else conspired to do so with the police. At least, that's what authorities believed when they finally ordered her deportation in spite of her informant's agreement.

Fascinating backstory to a pivotal moment in American law enforcement history that's captured the public's fancy for seven decades.

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