HISTORY'S BLOTTER

A look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

Dillinger is Killed | July 22, 1934

Photo Credit: Biograph Theater after the John Dillinger Shooting, Courtesy of the FBI

“I was standing in the entrance of the Goetz Country Club, a tavern just south of the theater when he walked by. He gave me a piercing look. Just after he went by and was midway of the next building, a National Tea Company store, I raised my hand and gave the prearranged signal.”

—Agent Melvin Purvis as quoted in The New York Times, July 22, 1934

It was a sweltering summer night in Chicago. Eager to escape the heat, people flocked to movie theaters advertising “Iced Fresh Air,” a luxury in 1934. On Lincoln Avenue, the Biograph Movie Theater had just finished screening “Manhattan Melodrama,” a film starring Clark Gable as a gangster whose life of gambling and violence leads to a death sentence.

In many ways, the plot paralleled the life of one of its viewers that night. John Dillinger had dominated newspaper headlines for months. His daring heists and jail breaks captured the imaginations of many Americans. To some, Dillinger was a hero for stealing from banks that had foreclosed on thousands of homes and livelihoods during the Great Depression. To others, especially law enforcement, Dillinger was Public Enemy Number 1. His gang had spent the last year living brazenly outside the law, killing or injuring over a dozen people.

The Chicago Field Office of the Bureau of Investigation, (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation the following year), learned from a confidant of Dillinger’s that he would be at the Biograph theater that night. Agents blended into the crowd and watched as the outlaw entered the theater. They waited for two hours until Dillinger finally exited around 10:40pm. Melvin Purvis, Special Agent in Charge, lit a cigar, a cue for his agents to make the arrest. If the outlaw resisted, the agents were ordered to “take no chances.”

Outside the theater Dillinger quickly grew suspicious, wheeled around, and darted for a nearby alley. Three agents opened fire. Moments later, Public Enemy Number 1 was dead.

John Dillinger’s death made front page news around the globe and propelled Special Agent Melvin Purvis into the national spotlight. The shooting outside the Biograph Theater acquainted many Americans for the first time with the FBI’s new crime fighting and forensic investigation capabilities. The agency soon became a household name and continued to grow in notability in the years to come.

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1857
New York City Police Riot | June 16, 1857

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Dillinger is Killed | July 22, 1934

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1950
Kefauver Investigates the Mob | May 3, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

1982
Broken Windows Theory | March 1982

1985
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Kidnapped | February 7, 1985

 

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