Beryl Hovious was a young and innocent girl who married John Dillinger, one of the most notorious gangsters in American history. She was only 17 years old when she tied the knot with him in 1924, unaware of the dark and dangerous path he would take. Their marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce, but Beryl Hovious never escaped the shadow of her infamous ex-husband. She lived a quiet and lonely life until her death in 1987. This is her story.
How Beryl Hovious Met John Dillinger
Beryl Hovious was born in Stinesville, Indiana, on August 6, 1906. She was the daughter of Stephen Hovious and his second wife, Cora Vandeventer Hovious. She had a younger sister named Mary. The Hovious family moved to Martinsville, Indiana, in the early 1920s, where Stephen worked as a farmer and hunter.
Beryl Hovious was a smart and friendly student who attended school in Martinsville. She met John Dillinger at a party hosted by one of her friends in late 1923. John Dillinger was a 20-year-old petty criminal who had recently returned from the Navy after a dishonorable discharge. He was born in Indianapolis on June 22, 1903, to John Wilson Dillinger and Mollie Lancaster Dillinger. He had an older sister named Audrey. His mother died when he was four years old, and his father remarried in 1912. John Dillinger had a troubled childhood and was frequently in trouble with the law. His father moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana, in 1921, hoping to reform his son, but to no avail.
Beryl Hovious was attracted to John Dillinger’s charm and manners. He was polite and attentive to her, and made her laugh. He also seemed to have a sense of adventure and excitement that appealed to her. According to her great-nephew, Tony Stewart, Beryl Hovious described John Dillinger as “a perfect gentleman who made her feel special” (All That’s Interesting).
The Short and Turbulent Marriage of Beryl Hovious and John Dillinger
Beryl Hovious and John Dillinger got married on April 12, 1924, in a small ceremony in Martinsville. They had the approval of Beryl’s family, who considered John a kind and dedicated young man. They moved into a small bedroom at the Dillinger farm, but later moved into the Hovious home after the space became too cramped.
Their marriage was not a happy one. John Dillinger was restless and bored with the domestic life. He was also abusive and unfaithful to Beryl Hovious. He often left her alone for days or weeks, and sometimes beat her when he returned. He also had affairs with other women, including a prostitute named Mary Longnaker, who later became pregnant with his child.
John Dillinger’s criminal career also escalated during his marriage. He joined a gang of robbers led by an ex-convict named Ed Singleton. On September 6, 1924, they attempted to rob a grocery store in Mooresville, but were caught by the owner, Frank Morgan, who fought back. John Dillinger hit Morgan with a bolt wrapped in a cloth, and fled with Singleton. They were soon arrested by the police, and charged with assault and battery with intent to rob.
John Dillinger could not afford a lawyer, and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. Singleton, who had a lawyer, got only two years. Beryl Hovious was shocked and devastated by her husband’s arrest. She visited him in prison, and wrote him letters, but he became distant and cold. He blamed her for his misfortune, and told her to forget him. He also asked her to divorce him, so he could marry Mary Longnaker, who had given birth to his son, Johnnie.
Beryl Hovious reluctantly agreed to divorce John Dillinger, and filed the papers in 1929. She never saw him again. John Dillinger was released from prison in May 1933, after his father and sister petitioned for his parole. He immediately resumed his life of crime, and became the leader of a notorious gang of bank robbers and killers. He was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” by the FBI, and was hunted by the law across several states. He was finally shot and killed by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934. He was 31 years old.
The Lonely and Forgotten Life of Beryl Hovious
Beryl Hovious never remarried after her divorce from John Dillinger. She lived a quiet and modest life, working as a waitress, a seamstress, and a housekeeper. She rarely spoke about her ex-husband, and avoided the media attention that surrounded him. She changed her name several times, and moved to different places, including Florida, California, and Arizona. She suffered from depression, alcoholism, and health problems. She had no children of her own, and was estranged from most of her relatives.
Beryl Hovious died on November 16, 1987, in Tucson, Arizona. She was 81 years old. She was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson, under the name of Beryl Ethel Hovious. Her grave was unmarked until 2009, when a group of John Dillinger enthusiasts raised money to buy her a headstone. The headstone reads: “Beryl Ethel Hovious, 1906-1987, Beloved Sister”.
Beryl Hovious was a victim of John Dillinger’s fame and infamy. She was a young and innocent girl who fell in love with a man who turned out to be a monster. She was a loyal and faithful wife who was betrayed and abandoned by her husband. She was a forgotten and lonely woman who died in obscurity. She deserves to be remembered as more than just the first wife of John Dillinger. She deserves to be remembered as Beryl Hovious.