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Dillenger's Tommy gun is returned to DeKalb County.

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The FBI has returned the Thompson submachine gun stolen John by Dillinger’s gang in 1933.

Dillinger legend finds its mark

Gun stolen from Auburn police in 1933 finally makes it home

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Auburn Mayor Norm Yoder holds the Thompson submachine gun that was stolen by John Dillinger’s gang in 1933 and returned Thursday by FBI Special Agent Robert Allen Jones, right.

– More than 80 years after John Dillinger’s gang walked into the Auburn police headquarters, locked up the only officer on duty, a Sgt. Fred Kreuger, and stole a small arsenal of guns, including a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun, the city has gotten the gun back.

The gun arrived in Auburn just before noon Thursday, steeped in local legend and a history of murder, with an estimated value of $50,000 to $1 million.

The gun was formally presented to the city by FBI Special Agent Robert Allen Jones of Indianapolis, who returned it to what he called “the rightful owner.”

The story behind the gun is that Dillinger, who was being held in jail in Lima, Ohio, was freed by three members of his gang, who killed the sheriff.

Two days later, they traveled to Auburn, where Dillinger and two other gang members locked up the only officer on duty and took hundreds of rounds of ammunition and several guns, including the submachine gun.

A week later, they also robbed the Peru police station of a number of guns, including two other Thompson submachine guns.

Jones said Auburn’s gun was almost certainly used by Dillinger himself in shootouts with police, and Auburn Police Chief Marty McCoy said the gun might have been responsible for the deaths of some of the 13 police officers killed by Dillinger and his gang.

The gun was most likely used in a series of bank robberies soon after it was taken. It was recovered when Dillinger and his gang, who had taken refuge in Tucson, Ariz., had to flee a fire in the hotel where they were staying. They bribed two firemen to go into the hotel and recover their luggage, which contained nearly $24,000 in cash and a small arsenal. Later, the firemen recognized the gang from an article in True Detective magazine, and Dillinger and others were captured.

Dillinger eventually got away – again – but the submachine gun remained with the Tucson police until 1966, when they presented it to J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, and it went on display at the agency’s headquarters.

About 20 years ago, though, a retired Auburn police officer and history buff started investigating the whereabouts of the gun. The city still had the purchase order for the gun and its serial number.

That officer, Sgt. Edward McDonald, died last year, “before getting the opportunity to see the Thompson returned to the police department he served for so many years,” a statement from McCoy said.

It wasn’t until 2010 when a caller who McCoy said wanted to remain anonymous told him the serial number of the Thompson on display at the FBI headquarters, and police in Auburn realized it matched their records.

Still, it took four years for the gun to come back home.

Meanwhile, no one has any idea what happened to the two Thompsons taken a week later in Peru.

Auburn Mayor Norman Yoder said the submachine gun was part of the folklore of Auburn, and he’d heard tales even as a child but never knew if they were true.

Thursday, he held the real gun, which has been disabled, and saw for himself that the tales were all true.

The city is talking with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum about possibly putting the gun on display there.

fgray@jg.net

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