CHICAGO (STMW) – Chicago businessman Ed Hirschland coveted the face of a gangster.
On Thursday, he got it by buying John Dillinger’s “death mask,” the cast of the infamous bank robber’s face. It was made after Dillinger was gunned down in an FBI ambush outside the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park in 1934.
Hirschland bought it for $3,000 — plus $660 in fees — at an auction by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 1338 W. Lake.
“I’m a Chicago aficionado,” said Hirschland, president of the Landhart Corp. consulting firm. “One of the areas that’s so interesting about Chicago is crime. This is such an incredible crime item.”
The mask was created by amateur criminologist Kenneth “Doc” Coffman, who got past Cook County morgue guards and poured plaster on Dillinger’s face to make the cast.
Coffman also created masks of Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Lester J. Gillis, widely known as “Baby Face” Nelson. But Coffman’s wife disliked those masks and destroyed them after his 1983 death.
She kept the one of Dillinger, however, figuring it would be worth something someday, said collector Jim Conway. Conway bought the Dillinger mask at an earlier auction in Wisconsin.
Dillinger’s mask was among about 65 items related to Chicago history that were on the block Thursday.
Other items included a first-edition copy of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago that went for $1,800, rare maps of the city before the Great Fire of 1871, and prints and lithographs of Chicago street-corner scenes.
Among items that didn’t sell were a clipped signature of Al Capone and his monogrammed scarf, which were expected to fetch between $2,000 and $4,000 each.
The mask will join other Chicago historical memorabilia that Hirschland owns. But he probably won’t put it on display. “It’s so creepy,” he said. “It’s more likely to stay in the box.”
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)