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Judge dismisses lawsuit in John Dillinger exhumation case

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 4, 2019

This undated photo shows Indiana Reformatory booking shots of John Dillinger, stored in the state archives. (AP)
This undated photo shows Indiana Reformatory booking shots of John Dillinger, stored in the state archives. (AP)
By Rick Callahan Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday by a nephew of 1930s gangster John Dillinger who wants to exhume the notorious criminal’s Indianapolis gravesite to prove whether he’s actually buried there, ruling that he must get the cemetery’s permission.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Timothy Oakes granted Crown Hill Cemetery’s motion to dismiss Michael Thompson’s lawsuit shortly after a hearing Wednesday, saying in his order that Indiana law requires the cemetery’s consent.

“The limited question before the Court today is whether disinterment may occur under this section of the statute without cemetery approval. Court finds that the statutory requirements for this section of the statute are clear in that disinterment requires the cemetery owner to give consent before disinterment may occur,“ Oakes wrote.

He added that Indiana law “does not require that the cemetery have a valid, rational, or meaningful reason“ for withholding its consent.

Thompson sued the cemetery after it objected to his plans to exhume the grave. Thompson has said he has evidence Dillinger’s body may not be buried there, and he may not have been the man FBI agents fatally shot outside a Chicago theater on July 22, 1934.

Attorneys for Crown Hill Cemetery call that “a decades-old conspiracy.” They oppose the exhumation, saying that Indiana’s Legislature has granted cemetery owners the right to “protect its gravesites from unwarranted disturbance.”

The FBI Issued a statement in August saying it was a “myth“ that its agents didn’t fatally shoot Dillinger outside the Chicago theater and that “a wealth of information supports Dillinger’s demise“ including fingerprint matches.

Thompson obtained a permit in October from the Indiana State Department of Health that calls for the remains to be exhumed on Dec. 31.

It wasn’t immediately clear if his attorney plans to appeal the decision or file a new lawsuit.

Attorneys for Crown Hill Cemetery argued that the state law in question specifies that a deceased person cannot be removed from a cemetery without the written consent of that cemetery, as well as a written order from the State Department authorizing the removal and the written consent of certain relatives of the deceased.

In September, The History Channel dropped out of a planned documentary on Dillinger that would have included the exhumation.

Thompson and another relative applied for the state exhumation permit after they obtained an earlier permit calling for a Sept. 16 exhumation. That exhumation did not occur after cemetery officials objected to the exhumation.

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