A Public Enemy No. 1 wanted poster was displayed at the John Dillinger Museum in Crown Point. Staff photo by Joseph S. Pete
A Public Enemy No. 1 wanted poster was displayed at the John Dillinger Museum in Crown Point. Staff photo by Joseph S. Pete
HAMMOND — Lake County's tourism agency is looking to unload its John Dillinger memorabilia, potentially for a new museum downstate.

The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority maintained a collection of artifacts for a John Dillinger Museum that was originally located in the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond and later in the Crown Point Courthouse before it abruptly closed in 2017. It displayed artifacts like Dillinger's lucky rabbit foot, a Tommy Gun, a Public Enemy No. 1 wanted poster and a neon marquee sign of the Biograph Theater that Dillinger was gunned down outside of by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

The SSCVA is looking to sell artifacts tied to the Depression-era bank robber. It's been in talks with Dillinger's great-nephew Jeff Scalf, who approached the Mooresville Town Council about establishing a new Dillinger museum there.

Dillinger grew up in Mooresville but has deep ties to the Region. He served time in the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, was charged with murdering Patrolman William O'Malley during a robbery of the First National Bank of East Chicago and escaped from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, where much of the Johnny Depp movie "Public Enemies" was filmed.

Scalf has put in an offer to buy the SSCVA's Dillinger artifacts, such as a death mask, vintage newspapers and a casket used to transport Dillinger's remains. He asked the Mooresville Town Council to supply a venue for a museum and $2,000 a month to cover operating expenses.

He may bring one or two other partners in on the project and expressed interest in coming up with a visual inspection of the items, such as bloodstained clothes Dillinger wore when he died and the wooden gun he whittled to escape the "inescapable" Lake County Jail, which was modern at the time.

The Old Sheriff's House Foundation, which operates the Old Sheriff’s House and Jail that Dillinger famously escaped from in downtown Crown Point, had inquired about taking over the collection. It just drew massive crowds and was featured on national television after Sheriff Lillian Holley's car was returned there last year.

But the issue for a nonprofit is the licensing fee that has to be paid to Scalf as a living relative, SSCVA Board President Andy Qunell said.

The SSCVA had been paying $18,000 a year in licensing fees for the Dillinger artifacts, which is part of the reason why it decided to get out of the museum business.

"We have to pay $1,500 to him a month until 2033," Qunell said. "We've been paying him since the early 2000s, and we gave him a lump sum back then. We paid $400,000 for the collection and have to pay them a licensing agreement."

The licensing fees make it costly to display the artifacts in a museum, which narrows the market of prospective buyers, he said.

"Whoever takes the collection has to pay this guy," he said. "Not a lot of people want to go see the thing. I don't think it's truly a draw."
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