John Dillinger

John Dillinger Death Mask and hair from his famous moustache removed from an original mold, with a letter from Melvin Purvis

(1) John Dillinger Death Mask mold made from a plaster mold made of Dillinger’s face as he lay in the Cook County Morgue, July 22-23, 1934, measuring 10” x 5.75” x 3”.

From the Collection of Michael Webb (1950-2009). Webb joined the Vinita Park, Missouri, police force as a patrol officer in 1974 and rose through the ranks. He was Police Chief of Vinita Park, a suburb of St. Louis, from 2001 until his death. Chief Webb was a collector of crime memorabilia that he bought from relatives of criminals and law officers. He had more than 8,000 wanted posters. Some of his items have been used in movies and displayed at the National Crime and Punishment Museum in Washington.

Professor D.E. Ashworth of the Worsham College of Embalming Science and several of his students joined him at the County Morgue to make a mask explaining that Cook County Coroner Frank Walsh and former Special Agent in Charge Melvin H. Purvis of the Chicago Bureau had given him permission. He used a plaster and cotton technique, only to have his mask confiscated by Police Officer Alfred Mulvaney, assigned to the Coroner’s Office, who had quickly investigated and learned from Coroner Walsh that he had given no one permission to make a death mask. Ashworth insisted on getting a receipt for his mask and that it be stored in a secure place. Mulvaney put the death mask into a safe on an upper floor.

The Ashworth mold in the safe eventually went to the new Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, the United States’ first independent criminological laboratory, at Chicago’s Northwestern University. Colonel Calvin Goddard (1891-1955) was the key forensic expert in solving the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. His expertise led to the crime lab’s establishment. When the lab was sold to the Chicago Police Department in 1938, its chief technician kept most of the Goddard materials and helped set up the crime lab in Wisconsin. Sometime after the technician took possession of the materials, a few more death mask copies were created from the original mold. The Goddard materials were eventually purchased by a Wisconsin collector who sold the Ashworth death mask at auction in 1990 for $10,000.

The Wisconsin collector sold the death mask here offered. It was most likely struck from a mold created from that "first generation" death mask. Later generation copies tend to lose some detail but this death mask has maintained a strong sense of definition in the features of Dillinger's face, including the impression at the corner of the right eye, caused by the bullet which had entered Dillinger’s neck and had come out at that point. According to an FBI report on the Dillinger death mask made on November 12, 1935, “the impression was a perfect replica of the wound as it appeared on Dillinger’s face before his body as embalmed. This death mask is in remarkable condition, with smooth surface and no signs of wear. A photocopy of the original five-page FBI Report is present,

There is a handwritten "8" on the reverse, most probably the Goddard Crime Lab materials inventory number.

From the Collection of Police Chief Michael Webb (1950-2009).

(2) A strand of moustache hair, approximately 15mm long, removed from John Dillinger’s original and first death mask mold created in the Cook County Morgue July 22-23, 1934. The strand was stuck on the mold. Accompanied by a photocopy of an envelope with printed return address “Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory / 469 East Ohio Street / Chicago, Illinois” upon which has been noted in pencil: “Moustache Hairs / of / John Dillinger.” Handwritten note on blank stationery, 4” x 5”, dated 11/8, no year, from “Ed” to “Brother,” in part, “In going through some papers I came across the enclosed specimen. Samples of hair obtained post mortem showed presence of hair dye (under microscope), one of means used [by Dillinger] to prevent identification…”

(3) Melvin Purvis. Typed Letter Signed “Melvin Purvis,” one page, 8.5” x 11”. San Francisco, September 9, 1937. Fine condition.


Item: 57446

Price: $9,500.00
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