Wilhelm Loeser graduated from medical school in Chicago where he established himself in 1905 as a pharmacist and surgeon, sometimes referred to as a “magician with a knife”. In the early 1910s, he began dealing in narcotics to support his lifestyle before being convicted on the charge of dealing and sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1913. After serving 18 months, Loeser was paroled with the assistance of American lawyer Louis Piquett before flying to Mexico upon his release.
In 1934, Piquett brought him back to Chicago in exchange for a $10,000 bribe. To get this money, Loeser agreed to perform cosmetic surgery on American gangsters and fugitive outlaws John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter. Both wanted their faces altered and their fingerprints removed. Dillinger specifically wanted the removal of several facial scars and moles, a dimple in his chin and a depression on the end of his nose. Van Meter requested similar alterations as well as the removal of an anchor tattoo on his right arm. The outlaws paid upfront, Piquett holding the money for the bribe.
The surgery was performed at the home of Chicago mobster James Probasco in May 1934. Assisted by Dr Harold Cassidy, Loeser spent nearly 48 hours operating on Dillinger and Van Meter. Given the medical technology of the era and the lack of hospital facilities, Loeser was limited in what he could do. He tightened Dillinger’s cheeks using kangaroo tendons, however, Dillinger nearly suffocated to death during the operation when he swallowed his tongue under general anaesthetic. A caustic solution was used to burn away both men’s fingerprints; it apparently failed to erase them completely, however, as Dillinger would be shot by federal agents in Chicago identified by his fingerprints following his death two months later. At the end of the surgery, Dillinger and Van Meter were both “mutilated and in agony”. As a result, they were extremely angry with Loeser; eventually, Piquett gave him only $5,000.
Two days after Dillinger was killed in Chicago, Loeser was arrested in Oak Park, Illinois and returned to prison. He was released on September 21 1935 and died in 1953.