Lost Tommy gun returned to town 80 years after Dillinger grabbed it

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Ah the Tommy Gun, that oh so iconic piece of .45ACP hardware. It has graced innumerable cops and robbers movies, war flicks, and sparked the imagination of millions over its nearly 100-year existence. Which is even more reason why a small town in Indiana is happy to be getting its gun back from the FBI, via one John Dillinger

The incident

Auburn, Indiana is a quiet place of just 12,000 located in DeKalb County. Its serenity was shattered late night on Oct. 14, 1933 when the notorious Dillinger gang came to town and helped themselves to the state police arsenal and local police department there. Once inside the locked station, they made away with a pair of steel-plated bulletproof vests, three rifles, six pistols, over 1000 rounds of ammunition and one M1921 Colt Thompson submachine gun complete with a 50-round "L" drum magazine.

(Dillinger in action by Mort Knustler. Note historically inaccurate M1 Thompson)

Just a week later the gang knocked over the Central National Bank And Trust Co., in Greencastle, Indiana, on October 23, 1933, a heist that garnered them some $74,802-- with the Auburn PD's guns in their hands. Two weeks after that, the gang knocked over the Peru, Indiana PD arsenal and grabbed another two Tommy guns.

The Gun's journey

The Dillinger gang was too hot in Indiana so they took off for places a little less frequented. One of these was Tucson Arizona, which the gang landed in by 1934. There, they were nabbed after local police were given a tip from someone who recognized the gangster's mug from a cover of a True Detective magazine. When the cordon came together, police captured a number of guns, including three Tommy guns of different origins, from their current abode.

This is where Dillinger and the Auburn PD's gun parted ways. Dillinger himself was extradited back to the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, from which he released himself on his own recognizance with the help of a wooden gun. His escape was short lived and he died in a one-sided gunfight outside of a Chicago, Illinois, movie theatre just a few months later.

Well the gun remained in Tucson for a while. Like about thirty years, passed along from chief to chief, sometimes exhibited, but often just locked away. In 1966, it was transferred to the FBI, still in its original condition, but with a yellow Tucson PD property tag affixed to the butt.

The FBI took it into their collection as a pre-NFA Class III C&R and exhibited the gun often. While on display, a Dillinger buff wrote down the serial numbers and around 1998 contacted the Auburn Police Department, who verified the gun's lineage through the original purchase receipt (dont throw those away!)

Now after some 80-ish years, the gun is finally going back home.


This week three FBI special agents presented the gun to the Auburn Police Department.

"It's just amazing to think that Indiana's most notorious gangster may have held that in his hands," Chief McCoy said to WANE news. "Honestly we don't know, but it could be responsible for the deaths of law enforcement officers. So it's kind of bittersweet."

The KPC news covered the handover ceremony and summed it up well saying:

As a crowd slowly faded out of the rotunda of the DeKalb County Courthouse midday Thursday just after noon, Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones of the Indianapolis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation strolled over to Auburn Police Chief Martin McCoy and said plainly, "All right, Chief, it's yours."

The APD mentioned late retired Auburn Sgt. Edward McDonald who helped to locate and secure the return of the Thompson for special recognition at the ceremony. Town officials plan to put the weapon on display at the Auburn Cord Duisenberg Museum in town.

--Mr. Dillinger could not be reached for comment.

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March 14, 2014  •  10:56 PM
not only is it "wrong Thompson" but it's got a drum magazine in it which won't fit an M-1 SMG.

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