John Dillinger was the King of Depression Era Gangsters prompting J. Edgar Hoover to take the FBI to the next level for the sole purpose of capturing this elusive and resourceful bank robber who was a hero to many. Dillinger portraying himself as a Robin Hood style thief bent on wreaking revenge upon the society that had created him.

Dillinger was able to elude law enforcement for years and in a time when it was a budding, back room profession, searched for a doctor to perform face altering surgery or “plastic surgery”. It is a fact he met a man who portrayed himself as a doctor, known in the underworld as “Dr. Probasco”, a reference to the nose as his business generally involved altering it’s looks.


Dr. Probasco is actually a Chicago mobster who likes to dress up and act like he’s a doctor. The Doctor has fled to Mexico due to previous issues when he hears John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter are looking for plastic surgery. The Doctor contacts his lawyer in the United States, Louis Piquette, who contacts Dillinger. The Doctor is willing to pay a hefty $10,000 bribe in order to return from Mexico and live safely in Chicago once again. Dr. Probasco is anxious for Dillinger’s business and claims he can get the best face man in the country for the job, his name is Dr. Wilhelm Loeser. Dr. Loeser, who claims he has earned an M.D. degree from Northwestern Medical School in 1905, states he is a registered pharmacist in both Oklahoma and Illinois,  as well as licensed to practice medicine in Illinois. He practiced in Chicago for 27 years before being convicted under the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1931, was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth, but was paroled early on December 7, 1932 with the help of Mr. Piqeutte. However, he immediately violated his parole by going to Mexico during Christmas, staying there for 10 months. The  time was spent studying the effects of marijuana and mescaline. He also talks of performing facial surgery on himself and obliterated the fingerprint impressions on the tips of his fingers by the application of a caustic soda preparation. He says he also obtained a divorce from his wife in Mexico in 1933 and married Anna Patzke upon his return to the States, a woman he had been living with for 15 years prior to Mexico, and due to his parole violation, he now goes by the name of Ralph Robeind.


Dr. Wilhelm Loeser

Dillinger is satisfied with the doctor’s qualifications and remarks the story is a little more than he really needed to know, but will be at Dr. Probasco’s tomorrow at 8pm. Dr. Probasco is thrilled at the prospect of this kind of money. He calls Dr Loeser in and tells him to prepare. Dr. Loeser immediately sends Frank Daley, his “collector,” to buy some surgical instruments, “I need two hemostats, one or two hypodermic syringes, pair of scissors, gauze, ether, ether mask, some needles, catgut sutures, horsehair sutures. Don’t buy any acids or chemicals as of yet, I have plenty.”


Billie Frenchette and
John Dillinger

Dillinger is in front of Dr. Probasco’s residence waiting for his lawyer, Piquette, who arrives with a Dr. Cassidy. Dillinger is introduced to Dr. Probasco, who is tall, thin and pale. Inside the house, Piquett and Dillinger discuss the appeal of the Billy Frechette case and Dillinger wonders if he’ll ever see her again, if she’ll recognize him after the operation. It was she that took the fall that fateful day, he had made an appointment to meet an old partner. Billie sensed something was wrong and told Dillinger to wait, she will go in and check the place first. Billie was promptly arrested by FBI agents waiting for Dillinger, but she refuses to reveal Dillinger’s whereabouts and Dillinger is able to drive off unnoticed. The two would never see each other again.

Dillinger becomes serious and asks Piquette how long he has known Dr. Loeser. Piquette assures him a very long time and that he is an associate of Dr. Probasco who’s reputation for serving the illicit is unparalleled, besides, he does not have many choices, this is the best there is. Dr. Probasco and Dillinger agree on a price, $5000 for the operation and $35 a day rent for a secret recovery room. Dillinger pays $3,000, saying that the balance would be paid after the operation. Suddenly a woman comes out of the a bedroom surprising Dillinger who protests to Dr. Probasco about his security. Dr. Probasco explains that she is his housekeeper, had been with him for a year, and that she was trustworthy; however, if Dillinger objected to her being there, he would have her stay elsewhere. Dillinger asks if she is a good cook, Dr. Probasco says she is, so they decide to keep her there. Then Dillinger asks who Dr. Cassidy is, why is he here. Dr. Probasco and Mr. Piquette explain “Dr. Cassidy is our aneasthesiologist,…” He explains how Dillinger can choose a local or general aneasthetic and Dr. Cassidy is here to administer either one. They assure Dillinger they have both known Dr. Cassidy for a number of years and have worked with him on a number of cases, all successful. Dillinger seems suspicious, but satisfied.

Dillinger chooses to have the general anaesthetic, so Dr. Loeser pulls out a little book and pencil and asks Dillinger what work he wants done. Dillinger walks to a large hanging mirror and shows the doctor, who repeats as he writes: “He wants two moles removed on the right lower forehead between the eyes and one by the left eye; wants a depression of the nose filled in; a scar; a large one to the left of the median line of the upper lip excised, wants his dimples removed and wants the angle of the mouth drawn up.” Dillinger stops as he smells something putrid and asks what it is. Dr. Loeser tells him his partner, Homer Van Meter, is having his finger prints removed in the other room and part of the process requires dissolving the skin with acid. Dillinger decides he wants nothing done with his fingers.

Dr. Loeser carries his acids and chemicals mostly in his vest pocket and the instruments in his coat pocket, wrapped in a towel. He has two hemostats, one or two hypos, a pair of scissors, and one knife in his coat pocket. For this job he would not need a bone chisel. Scissors would be used, as well as a knife whenever any cutting of the facial tissues was needed. He directs Dillinger into a small room to prepare by getting undressed and washing up.

Dillinger comes out of the room and waiting for him are Dr. Probasco, Dr. Loeser and Dr. Cassidy. Dr. Probasco once again assures Dillinger their expertise and experience is unparalleled in the underworld and he is in the best hands possible. They direct him to lie on the table where Dr. Cassiday begins to administer the anaesthetic, which is simply ether. The doctors become distracted long enough for Dr. Cassidy to suddenly realize he has given Dillinger an overdose of ether. Dillinger begins convulsing and swallows his tongue, the doctors are arguing amongst each other when Dr. Loeser takes action as Dillinger is turning blue.

Dr. Loeser grabs a pair of foreceps and jumps on top of Dillinger straddling him, he pulls Dillinger’s tongue out of his throat and the jabs both his elbows into Dillinger’s ribs. Dillinger takes a huge breath and begins breathing again. The doctors finish their argument and get to work. Dr. Loeser removes several moles on Dillinger’s forehead, makes an incision in his nose and an incision in his chin and ties back both cheeks. He then uses his scissors for incisions to cut off the nevus of Dillinger.

The doctors await Dillinger in the parlor room of the old house, they’ve just removed the bandages from Dillinger and await his review in the mirror. It’s been time enough to heal. In that time both Dillinger and Van Meter have moved in, the doctors are uncomfortable as the men keep a machine gun in an open case under the piano in the parlor; and a shotgun under the parlor table. Dr. Probasco raves about the craziness of Dillinger, stating that he is always going for walks and was likely to cause the authorities to locate the place, he was afraid to have the man around.

Dillinger comes out and walks to the mirror, the doctors behind him waiting. He looks satisfied, adjusts his tie and says “I don’t like it.” The doctors shudder, Dillinger checks his gun and winces, “I’ve got this pain in both sides, hurts like Hell, what did you guys do in there?” The doctors look at each other and feign ignorance, Dr. Probosco finally mollifies Dillinger adding that “pain due to these procedures often travels to other parts of the body, I’ve seen it many times, it should pass quickly.”


Baby Face Nelson

Homer Van Meter comes into the room and Dillinger asks him what he thinks. “You look swell, they did good job, look at me,…” Van Meter shows him his hands that are now missing the scars he once had, Dillinger begrudgingly approves. A man bursts in with a drum of machine gun bullets under his arm, throws them on the couch, he looks at Dr. Probasco and speaks “Hey Doc, how’s it goin’”, Dr. Probasco politely responds “Very well Mr. Nelson, good to see you again”. Baby Face Nelson pulls Van Meter aside and begins to whisper, Van Meter stops him and motions to Dillinger and they all retreat to the kitchen.


Homer Van Meter

The doctors begin to argue amongst themselves again, they are unhappy with their guests, but the three men emerge from the kitchen, Dillinger saying “We’ll see you in a couple days Doc, you’re all paid up, but contact Piquette if there’s any problems.”  He slams the door behind them and the doctors are relieved as they hear them drive away.

Within a few days the three men have made a big score and  the Feds hot on their tail. Dillinger and Van Meter find themselves hiding at Dr. Probasco’s, they now both want more work done. Dillinger wants his hands fixed like Van Meter and Van Meter wants his face fixed like Dillinger. They both wanted their finger tips done. The price for the fingerprint procedure would be $500 per hand or $100 a finger. Loeser would us his  mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid dubbed “aqua regia”, that he kept in his vest pocket, to remove the skin.

The two men prepared for their procedures together, they shake hands and the Doctors begin. Dillinger and Van Meter changed off. The work that could be done while the patient was sitting up, that patient was in the sitting-room. The work that had to be done while the man was lying down, that patient was on the couch in the bedroom. They were changed back and forth according to the work to be done. Assisted by Dr. Cassidy, Dr. Loeser spends nearly 48-hours operating on Dillinger and Van Meter. Given the medical technology of the era and lack of hospital facilities, Loeser is limited in what he could do. He tightenes Dillinger’s cheeks using kangaroo tendons,

To change the hands, they are first sterilized, made aseptic, thoroughly washed with soap and water. Next, a knife was used to expose the lower skin…in other words, take off the epidermis and expose the derma, then alternately the acid and the alkaloid was applied as was necessary to produce the desired results. The burning flesh creates a noxious odor Dr. Probasco finds annoying. He and his girlfriend are attending to business in another part of the house.

When finished, both men look like the Bride of Frankenstein before her bandages were removed. Both men are mutilated and in agony at the end of the surgery. As a result, the outlaws were extremely angry with Dr. Loeser. Van Meter threatens Dr. Loeser with his Tommy gun clutched in bandaged hand, but is eventually persuaded to spare the doctor’s life. With the surgery considered a failure, Dr. Loeser receives only $5,000, he pretends to act upset, but is very happy with the money. Despite their horrible condition, both Dillinger and Van Meter are determined to beat the Feds who have created a special task force just for sake of catching them. They make a few snide remarks as to the other’s condition, then begin to plan their next robbery.



Division of Investigations chief J. Edgar Hoover has created a special task force to locate Dillinger. On July 21, 1934, a madam from a brothel in Gary, Indiana, Ana Cumpănaș, also known as Anna Sage, contacts the FBI. She’s  a Romanian immigrant threatened with deportation for “low moral character and offers agents information on Dillinger in exchange to prevent it. The FBI agrees to her terms, (she is later deported). Cumpănaş reveales that Dillinger is spending his time with another prostitute, Polly Hamilton, and that she and the couple would be going to see a movie together on the following day. She wears an orange dress so that police can easily identify her.

Agent Melvin Purvis stands outside the theatre, as Dillinger emerges with his two women companions, time seems to stand still as he walks past and recognizes the big man with the cigar, moves ahead and runs around the corner where he is shot from behind. He falls face down without a word. One of the agents that shot him turns him over to reveal the newest version of his face, some of the people gathering question if it is John Dillinger. A woman kneels and dips the edge of her skirt in his blood, she stands up slowly, as she does others begin search for items to dip in his blood for a keepsake. His body is put on display, the undertakers are admiring their work, a bullet hole under the eye has been neatly concealed. The undertaker recognizes the work as that of Dr. Probasco. On Friday, July 27, Dr. Probasco “accidentally” falls to his death from the 19th floor of the Bankers’ Building in Chicago while in custody.

The undertaker also believes Dr. Probasco has done the same work on Dillinger’s partner, Homer, who is still on the run. Homer has a quarrel with Baby Face Nelson who sets him up and on Thursday, August 23, Homer Van Meter is shot and killed in a dead-end alley, same as Dillinger, in St. Paul by a corrupt Tom Brown, former St. Paul Chief of Police, and then-current chief Frank Cullen in a flurry of bullets with a shot gun and Thompson Submachine gun. They continue to blast him even as he lay on the ground. Tom Brown remarks on the quality of Homer’s facial surgery and jokes “I hit him in the face, Dr. Probasco does good work, hate to ruin it” and then lays claim to the $10,000 in Homer’s pocket.

Dillinger’s undertaker then admits that it is Dr. Loeser who is the real master of these transformations. Two days after Dillinger is shot and killed by federal agents in Chicago, Loeser is arrested in Oak Park, Illinois. FBI agents brutally beat him and smash his face. He is tossed in jail, but set free, as Dr. Loeser was actually the one who ratted out Homer after Homer threatened him with the Tommy Gun. Dr. Loeser moves to Oklahoma City and begins a quiet life with a wife and family.

One day, he and his neighbor are admiring their farm animals, all except one calf, it has a bump on it’s muzzle, otherwise it would be perfect for a championship by the time it was grown. The Dr. looks at the calf for a moment and says, “You know, I can fix that.”

The End




© 2023 Jim Caron

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