Talk about your mixed messages. The security-laden Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall Airport has just scored a historic piece of American crime memorabilia for its newly refurbished Southwest Airlines terminal — legendary bank robber John Dillinger‘s getaway car.

On loan from DC‘s National Museum of Crime & Punishment, the 1933 Essex Terraplane sedan was used briefly by the former public enemy number one for little more than a month in 1934 until federal agents located Dillinger in St. Paul, Minnesota. The ensuing shootout left the oft-romanticized Robin Hood figure with a wounded leg and the Essex still bears a pair bullet holes from the incident. The car itself was abandoned a week later after Dillinger and his brother crashed into a farm field.

Though Dillinger was able to mount an escape from Minnesota, he was shot and killed — some say without provocation — three months later as he exited Chicago‘s Biograph movie theater. In the years before the JFK assassination, the killing would remained a source of numerous urban legends. (Many of which are recounted in Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus! Trilogy”, where Dillinger is presented as having lived on well into the 1970s.)

Dillinger’s Essex will remain on display in Southwest’s Terminal A at BWI through early 2011. As far as Depression-era bank robber artifacts go, it’s no “Bonnie and Clyde Death Car” by any stretch and, even in the ranks of Dillinger-abillia, it easily ranks second to his most fabled of treasures. In the meantime, the Essex will have to suffice.

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Community BWI Offers a New Kind of Escape — JOHN DILLINGER’s Getaway Car