Close Encounters: David Douglas Duncan & John Dillinger
[Don’t Adjust Your Screens. There is No Picture Here]
The story goes like this: for his 18th birthday, David Douglas Duncan, who would later grow up to be one of the most celebrated photographers of his day, was given a 39-cent Bakelite plastic camera. He was then studying archeology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
On January 22nd 1934, at around 7:30 a.m., he heard on the radio that the Congress Hotel–the biggest hotel in Tucson–was burning. Having no classes that day, he ran down to the city from his fraternity house. There amidst the chaos, he saw a man in suspenders, “middle-aged, half-dressed, rather meek-looking fellow” who was convincing a fireman to let him reenter the hotel to retrieve his suitcase, which he dropped in one of the sections that hadn’t burned down yet.
The next day, Duncan saw headlines that America’s Public Enemy No. 1, the bank robber John Dillinger and gang were arrested at the Congress Hotel. The meek-looking fellow he photographed was John Dillinger, on whose request two firemen retrieved their luggage, thereby identifying who the gang was.
However, the photos Duncan shot that day were never published. He turned the film over to the Tuscon Citizen, which lost the film.