Q&A with Author and Organized Crime Expert Dary Matera
The Business of Crime is thrilled to share our interview with writer Dary Matera today on the blog. His writing on John Dillinger has been hugely valuable to us as we research for this blog. This post is part of an ongoing series of interviews we’re conducting with authors of biographies and historical nonfiction about organized crime. Getting to pick their brains has been a real privilege– we can’t wait to share everything we learn with you.
How did you get into writing about Organized Crime?
[Matera] I started out as a general assignment reporter for the Miami News, covering the night beat in the wild and violent 1980s, the era of The Cocaine Cowboys and the “Scarface” like Mariel, Cuba refugees. This was the Miami Vice days of Crockett and Tubbs. It was mostly crime, punishment, Law & Order type blood and guts stories every night. Murder and mayhem. As my career advanced to becoming an author, I banked on this experience to include an array of true crime and Mafia books in my subsequent repertoire.
I haven’t exclusively written crime books. I wrote an Elvis Presley love story that was an international best seller – Are You Lonesome Tonight? – a book about crooked politicians in Arizona – What’s In It For Me? – a paranormal work about children contacting their parents from the beyond – Childlight – and a project on paramedics – Angles of Emergency.
For those that are new to this…who was John Dillinger?
John Dillinger was probably the most famous of the 1930s rash of depression era bank robbers that included other noteworthy characters like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Baby Face Nelson. Dillinger had a short but sensational run that lasted little more than a year in the early 1930s.
How did you go about researching for your award winning book, John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal?
I created John Dillinger from a 1,800 page manuscript that was sent to my agent from two meticulous researchers who had worked on the project for nearly half a century. It was a goldmine of details and inside information, especially considering that most of those who were first-hand witnesses interviewed by the researchers were long death. It was a treasure chest of American history. I leaped at the opportunity to boil it down into a thrilling, 350 page hardcover book.
What stands out about Dillinger, as compared to all of the other criminals you have written about?
John Dillinger stands out as a handsome, movie-star like devil-may-care rogue who caught the public’s fancy at a time before television and the Internet dominated the public’s appetite for exciting entertainment. Newspapers and radio ruled the media back then. During Dillinger’s short run, he was as famous as any Hollywood star of the era. In fact, Dillinger’s exploits were shown in newsreels that proceeded movies in those days.
On the day of Dillinger’s death outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, July 22, 1934, Dillinger had watched a newsreel of his latest robberies before a Clark Gable mob-type movie that referenced him as well. Dillinger was shot outside the theater by military assassins the embryonic FBI had hired to hunt him down. The FBI located and identified Dillinger with the assistance of a prostitution house madam they had previously squeezed. The madam was with Dillinger and his latest girlfriend at the movie. She wore a bright orange skirt so the FBI could easily spot them. The fanciful journalists of the era rewrote the orange skirt as a red dress, and the woman became history’s famous “Lady in Red.”
Two unrelated female movie goers were also shot and injured in the process. It was a time when such collateral damage was tolerated.
What’s your favorite story about Dillinger?
That’s a tough one because that entire year was one roller coaster ride after another. Just the overall way he lived his life to the max, “living large” as they say today, even while the rest of the nation was suffering from the Great Depression. John Dillinger liked fast cars, big machine guns, beautiful women, easy money, and partying.
As for a particular story, Dillinger’s escape from the Crown Point jail in Indiana using a wooden gun he carved from a washboard – or so the main story goes – is hard to beat. He left the facility in the police captain’s vehicle.
In the spirit of The Business of Crime, what would you say Dillinger could teach aspiring entrepreneurs?
Although there is a lot to learn from Dillinger’s story in the vein of doing more with less, or meticulous planning with a military like execution of that plan, Dillinger often did things that didn’t make sense. It was all about the ‘now’ with Johnny D. Easy come, easy go. Money was spent fast and off to the next robbery to get some more. Sometimes Dillinger bought a fast and shiny new car, say for $1,500, which he would then abandon in the process of a bank robbery that might have grossed only a few thousand dollars to be split by his four or five man gang. That wasn’t fiscally responsible. But hey, it was easy come, easy go. And all such abandoned vehicles became future museum pieces.
Dillinger also boosted the private security industry tremendously, along with beefing up police forces coast to coast enriching the police supply business. Similarly, John Dillinger is credited in some circles with being the impetus behind the creation of the billion-dollar monolith that is today’s FBI.
What can organized crime at large, teach entrepreneurs?
Probably the biggest lesson organized crime can teach entrepreneurs is to have a military like corporate structure, a highly disciplined work force, stay focused on the singular goal of profits, and give the public what they want. Do that, and you can’t go wrong.
What are you working on next?
That’s up in the air at the moment. Stories tend to come to me, so I await the next adventure. In the meantime, I’ve appeared in nine episodes of the television series America: Fact vs. Fiction on the American Heroes channel, along with a dozen or more television documentaries covering my books and book subjects.
Thanks for your valuable thoughts, Dary! If you haven’t read his book John Dillinger, pick up a copy today! It’s a veritable bible on all things Dillinger.