The Real Lady in Red

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.

It’s Freaky Friday at Full-Tilt Backwoods Boogie. Today’s topic is the identity of the lady who was with John Dillinger the night he died. Freaky enough for you? Let’s get started.

I’m going into this assuming you’ve heard of John Dillinger.  Surely you watched the film Public Enemies.  I mean, it’s Johnny Depp, right?

[For fun, click this link to see some of the real faces alongside the actors who played them in Public Enemy.]

You haven’t seen it?  John Dillinger was an American gangster and bank robber.  In 1934, he was gunned down by federal agents in front the Biograph theater in Chicago.  If you’re interested in his life and crimes, try Wikipedia or TruTV.com (extensive). If you just want a quick overview, watch the three minute video below.

Long before Mr. Depp played Dillinger, I saw a film called The Lady in Red (1979).  Click here to watch the preview on You Tube. Be warned: this was an exploitation flick, and the preview is seriously Rated R.

Lady in Red (1979) paints a compelling portrait of Polly Franklin–played by Pamela Sue Martin–, who becomes a prostitute for lack of any other way to support herself.  As the title indicates, the film is less about Dillinger and more about Polly.

Polly Franklin meets a man, has a romance with him, and watches him get shot to death right in front of her.  She later learns the man was John Dillinger.  Sick of being taken advantage of, Polly plots revenge.  I won’t tell any more, just in case you want to see it.

My muse lives for stuff like this. I wondered what really happened to the lady who was with Dillinger that hot summer night at the Biograph. Y’all know I don’t let stuff like that go.

Dillinger’s date the night he died was a twenty-six year old waitress named Polly Hamilton–not Franklin.  The real Polly Hamilton was quite a bit different than Polly Franklin in The Lady in Red.

(I don’t remember how/if she was portrayed in Public Enemies, so I’m not going to comment on that.)

Polly was born Edythe Gertrude Hamilton in Fargo, North Dakota in the year 1908 to John and Edith Hamilton.  By 1930, Polly was a nursing student in Chicago, Illinois.  She married a police officer named Roy Keele in Gary Indiana.  The marriage, however, ended.  Keele divorced Polly on grounds of “neglect.”

Polly found herself jobless and without a husband to support her.  In the 1930s, this was a difficult spot for a woman.  Enter  Anna Cumpănaş (AKA Anna Sage), who ran a brothel out of the Kostur Hotel in Gary, Indiana.

Anna was interested in Polly because of her nursing training.  She offered Polly a position taking care of her “girls,” which included bookkeeping and housekeeping duties.  Polly could earn extra cash working in the saloon at the Kostur.  Anna and Polly became friends and went to parties together.

Anna’s larger brothel operation was in Chicago.  She eventually convinced Polly to join her there to perform similar duties as she did at the Kostur.

As she had in Gary, Polly earned extra money waitressing.  She worked at the S & S Sandwich shop.  In June of 1934, she met a man calling himself Jimmy Lawrence (AKA John Dillinger).

The two went dancing, to an amusement park, and to movies.  Lawrence/Dillinger enjoyed the shooting range at the amusement park.  According to Polly, people always crowded around to watch him shoot.

Polly described Dillinger as a guy who drank very little alcohol, a guy who didn’t even swear.  She had a good time with him, but said she doubted he was in love with her.

Polly introduced her new boyfriend to her good buddy Anna Sage.  Despite Dillinger’s recent plastic surgery, Anna knew exactly who he was.

Anna, originally from the Hungarian Kingdom (or possibly Romania), was in trouble with immigration.  They wanted to send her hiney back home for running brothels in Chicago, Illinois, and Gary, Indiana.

Anna needed something to trade for her continued citizenship in the US.  She traded John Dillinger.  And she didn’t wear red.  She told agents she’d be wearing a white shirt and and orange skirt.

After Dillinger was lying dead in a pool of his own blood in front of the Biograph, Polly ran for her life.  Agents arrested Anna, who agreed to track Polly down and get her to surrender to the police.

[Click here for a very cool website that tells the story of where Polly ran the night Dillinger was shot. Click through some of the links.  The research here is awesome.]

Polly and Anna were put into protective custody and sent to Detroit. While in protective custody, Polly used the alias Kay Sullivan.

Ten days after Dillinger’s death, Polly returned to Chicago and reclaimed her identity.  She married a salesman named William Black and lived in North Chicago as Edythe Black until her death in 1969.

Anna wasn’t so lucky.  She was given a $5000 reward, exactly half of what she’d been promised, for her part in the killing of John Dillinger.  Despite her efforts, Anna was forced to return to her home country in 1936.  She died in 1947 of liver failure.