Infamous Dillinger escape vehicle up for auction at Witherell's in Sacramento

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Infamous Dillinger escape vehicle up for auction at Witherell's in Sacramento
Currently on display at the California Automobile Museum, the 1930’s police car is the most famous escape vehicle in American History.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.- Witherell’s Auction House presents The Infamous Dillinger Escape Vehicle, an online auction featuring the most famous escape vehicle in American history. The 1933 Ford V8 belonged to Sheriff Lillian Holley when it was stolen by Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger in a daring jail escape that made sensational headlines around the globe.

“The Dillinger escape vehicle has been featured in parades and displayed in museums because it is one of the most iconic cars in history,” said Brian Witherell, cofounder of Witherell’s and guest appraisal expert on PBS’s popular series, “Antiques Roadshow.” “John Dillinger was a brazen bank robber, yet he was cheered on as a hero by average Americans who were struggling during the Great Depression. The riveting story of the Dillinger escape vehicle also tells the story of that tumultuous period in our history and this is an opportunity to own a piece of it.”

Declared “public enemy number one” by the FBI, John Dillinger made news around the world for his string of bank robberies and daring jail breaks. Just as famous as the movie stars of the era, Dillinger was known as a sharply dressed gentleman bandit who inspired numerous books and Hollywood movies, including a portrayal by Johnny Depp in the 2009 film Public Enemies.

In 1934, Dillinger was behind bars in Crown Point, Indiana awaiting trial for the alleged murder of a Chicago police officer. Authorities touted the jail as “escape proof” and posted additional guards due to Dillinger’s notoriety and tendency to escape. According to reports at the time, he used a fake gun that he whittled in his cell to corral the guards and take off in Sheriff Holley’s Ford V-8. The car theft was a federal crime and fatal mistake, causing the FBI to join the manhunt.

Auction highlights include:

• Dillinger Escape Vehicle: 1933 Ford V8 police car, meticulously restored to its original splendor. Estimated value: $100-250K

• Wooden Gun: Whittled by Dillinger in his cell, the fake gun he reportedly used to fool the guards and break out of jail in Crown Point, Indiana.

• Dillinger’s Hat: Recovered from a shootout in Wisconsin, the straw boat hat was made by Knox Fifth Ave Premier with silk satin lining and a black leather band.

• Bullet Proof Vest: Reportedly worn by Dillinger during numerous bank robberies, the navy-blue wool vest was produced by Dunright Detective Pub Company of Chicago.

• Vintage photos, newspapers, police department bulletins and wanted posters from the 1930’s.

John Dillinger

Born in Indianapolis in 1903, John Dillinger was an infamous Depression-era bank robber known for his daring jail breaks throughout the Midwest. Shot and killed by special agents in Chicago at age 34, he was the leader of the Dillinger Gang, accused of stealing more than $300,000 – the equivalent of roughly $6 million today. Dillinger was pursued by media and regarded as a hero by the public due to bank closures and foreclosures during the Great Depression. After his escape from jail in Crown Point, where he awaited trial for the murder of a Chicago police officer, the FBI labeled him “public enemy number one” and offered a $10,000 reward for his capture, dead or alive. Wanted posters featured Dillinger’s photo along with an image of Sheriff Holley’s Ford V-8, and the Vehicle Identification Number.

The Dillinger Escape Vehicle

The Dillinger escape vehicle belonged to Lake County, Indiana Sheriff Lillian Holley. On March 3, 1934, it was stolen by John Dillinger and Herbert Youngblood when they broke out of jail in Crown Point, a facility that authorities touted as “escape proof.” According to reports at the time, Dillinger used a wooden gun that he whittled in his jail cell to round up deputies and escape.

Stealing Sheriff Holley’s car was Dillinger’s fatal mistake. By driving across the state line to Chicago, he violated the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act and the FBI became actively involved in the manhunt. The Ford V-8 was found abandoned in Chicago. Dillinger was on the run and continued his crime spree for a few more months until he was shot by the FBI.

The escape vehicle is a 1933 four-door Ford V-8 finished in black with a green velour interior. It is still drivable, powered by a 221-cu-in flathead V-8 engine originally rated at 65 horsepower. VIN #256447 is stamped in three places on the vehicle, which is the same number printed on his wanted posters. It has the original wheels with hubcaps, a rear-mounted spare wheel, a red police lamp, police siren and historic Indiana Sheriff license plates.

The car is owned by a collector who is fascinated by the Dillinger crime story. He searched for the police car for years, discovering the Vehicle Identification Number in the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles database. Under his ownership, the vehicle underwent a meticulous restoration, using almost all original parts, to restore it to its original glory.

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