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Jeffrey Scalf is looking out for No. 1 — Public Enemy No. 1, that is. Scalf is fighting over the rights to the name and image of his distant relative John Dillinger, the ruthless Depression-era bank robber who was gunned down by G-men nearly 70 years ago. He has sued — or threatened to sue — those who are making money off the gangster and those who portray him as a murderer, saying he wants to protect Dillinger’s reputation as an asset for future generations. “It’s kind of like owning an automobile and then someone steals it,” said the 46-year-old employee of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. “If you don’t report it and go after it, it’s unlikely that they’re going to drive it back.” Scalf, whose grandmother was Dillinger’s half-sister, claims he inherited 75 percent of the rights to the outlaw’s name. He has employed a 1994 Indiana law that keeps the rights to a celebrity in a family for 100 years after that person’s death. Among other things, Scalf has sued a museum housing $400,000 in Dillinger memorabilia, and a gangster-theme restaurant called Dillinger’s in Hudson, Ind. He said he has spent a bundle defending Dillinger’s name, about $100,000, but has won only a few cases and has so far gotten nothing in return. “Everyone has accused me of gold-digging, but they’ve never stopped to look at themselves,” the Mooresville man said. The lawsuit against the restaurant has been resolved, though neither Scalf nor the restaurant’s owner will discuss details. “He didn’t want us to bad-mouth Dillinger, and he came in to check us out to see if we were, which we weren’t,” said owner Mark Phillips. “We had a gentlemen’s agreement and everything worked out fine.” The restaurant remains open in an old bank building believed robbed by the Dillinger gang, displaying newspaper clippings, a vault and a mannequin dressed as Dillinger. In his 2001 lawsuit against the Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which runs the John Dillinger Museum in Hammond, Ind., Scalf said his family’s reputation was tainted by displays portraying Dillinger as a murderer. Superior Court Judge James Danikolas ruled in 2002 that Scalf could collect damages from the tourism bureau, which he said illegally appropriated Dillinger’s personality to draw visitors. But Danikolas reversed his ruling last month and removed himself from the case, meaning a new trial will have to be held. Scalf would not say how much he is seeking in damages. James Tsismanakis, president of the bureau, said the museum does not take sides over Dillinger, “it only portrays history as it was then and as it is today.” But Scalf said he promised his now-deceased grandmother that he would stop people from portraying Dillinger as a killer. The Indianapolis-born Dillinger was one of America’s most notorious criminals. He and his gang pulled off a bloody string of bank robberies across the Midwest, and Dillinger was blamed for at least 16 killings. Dillinger was awaiting trial in the slaying of an East Chicago police officer when he escaped from jail with a gun carved out of wood. While on the run, he underwent plastic surgery to alter his face and was said to have tried to remove his fingerprints with acid. In 1934, he was shot to death by federal agents outside the Biograph theater in Chicago after he was betrayed by a woman who became known in the papers as the Lady in Red. Dillinger was never convicted of murder. Dillinger’s relatives are scattered across the nation, and not all side with Scalf. Dillinger’s niece, 79-year-old Thelma Hamock, has watched from her Florida home as the dispute with the museum unfolded. “As far as I’m concerned, Dillinger is still a good name,” she said. “John Dillinger will always be available for people to read about. It may not be the literature we want, but what can we do about it?” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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