by Brian Gustafson
Thompson Submachine Gun serial number 7301 was manufactured by Colt between May 22 and May 31, 1922 and left the factory January 23, 1929. A bill from Auto Ordnance to Peter Von Frantzius, dated January 24, 1929 covering the purchase of two Thompson machine guns (numbers 7301 and 7703) and two 100-round magazine drums, was presented at the sixth session of the Cook County Coroners inquest on May 1, 1929 into the deaths of Albert Kachellek, et al, otherwise known as the St. Valentines Day Massacre. Von Frantzius operated a sporting goods supply store located at 608 Diversey Pkwy, Chicago, Illinois and was purportedly one of the chief suppliers of Thompsons to the criminal element in Chicago with the other being V L & A (Von Lengerke & Antoine). It is interesting to note that one of the Thompsons used in the February 14, 1929 shooting at 2122 North Clark Street, Thompson serial no. 7580 (serial number also removed) came from Von Frantzius. The other Thompson, serial no. 2347, came from Leslie Farmer, of Marion, Ill. During the inquest, Von Frantzius went on to testify that these two Thompsons (nos. 7301 and 7703) and the drums had their numbers removed at a cost of four dollars each by his gunsmith Valentine Guch. As I read the sessions of the Coroners Inquest, it became quite apparent that Von Frantzius was very reluctant to provide any information, lying on several occasions and caught by the testimony of others, about the sale of Thompsons to people without question and the removal of serial numbers. The next sale is dated January 28, 1929 when Von Frantzius sold the two Thompsons and drums to salesman Frank V. Thompson of Kirkland, Ill. A “dummy” package was sent January 29, 1929 to F. Thompson to cover up the over-the-counter sale of the guns as stated in the fourth session of the inquest on April 30, 1929. Frank Thompson turned out to be nothing more than an underworld errand boy. Frank V. Thompson testified before the Coroners Inquest in secret. The inquest convened in the private office of Coroner Dr. Herman N. Bundsen where Thompson testified that he sold these two Thompsons (numbers 7301 and 7703) and drums to a Joe Howard of Detroit. When asked who Joe Howard was, Thompson stated “Mr. Howard I never got to know, Coroner, just what he was. He claimed to be a business man in Detroit.” Thompson then went on to testify that these guns and drums were delivered to Howard at the Broadway Hotel in Gary Indiana.
It was also quite obvious, while reading the transcripts, that Thompson was very nervous about testifying; asking for police protection and, as it would turn out, not without good reason. On June 30, 1930, machine gun salesman Frank V. Thompson was shot in the chest, but refused to reveal who shot him. Joe Howard turned out to be slightly more of a mystery. While doing research with Gordon Herigstad, Colt Thompson serial number researcher, we weren’t quite sure if Joe Howard was an actual person or an alias. Nevertheless, we were able to find some references made about Mr. Howard that seemed to fit. First, in the book Public Enemies by W. Helmer and R. Mattix, Joe Howard is listed as a member of the Barker-Karpis Gang. Later, the book states, “On June 10, 1931, Tulsa police arrested Fred Barker, Alvin Karpis, Sam Coker and Joe Howard…Howard was released on bond and disappeared.” Second, at the Cook County Coroners inquest, sixth session, May 1, 1929, Peter Von Frantzius testified that he questioned salesman Frank Thompson about the sale (of machine guns) to Howard and he replied, “I sold it in Detroit to a bootlegger.” Thompson sold at least eight machine guns to Howard. In Helmer & Bilex’s book The St. Valentines Day Massacre, it reads: “After the February 14 massacre, one of Thompson’s regular customers, who called himself Joseph Howard, was unfazed by the uproar the murders had caused and wanted four more machine guns.” Finally, in Alvin Karpis’ book Public Enemy Number One, The Alvin Karpis Story, he refers to a Joe “Dago” Howard as one of his “associates”. Now this could all be the same person, or not. I have no way of knowing for sure at this time, as there was another individual by the name of James “Bozo” Shupe who purchased Thompsons from Von Frantzius and could have used Howard as an alias. This is where we leave the paper trail of 7301 in 1929. The next time number 7301 surfaced was in 1968 when it was amnesty registered with XO1934 having been stamped on the receiver and the trigger frame. The stampings that were used to stamp XO1934 into the metal were of an old type set, meaning that the numbers were almost script in nature. All the guns that I have seen that were amnesty registered, and did not have a serial number, were issued an IRS number, usually the number began with IRS and was long, unlike the simple XO1934 assigned to this gun. In the 1930’s the newly formed FBI was cracking down on crime gangs, especially the Barker-Karpis gang and FBI raids were netting criminals and their weapons. XO1934 (7301) was amnesty registered by Arthur Godfrey, Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Presidential Protective Division, U.S. Secret Service. Art Godfrey was a very interesting part of this gun’s history. Art Godfrey was a native of Farmington, Michigan and began his career with the Secret Service in 1951 with appointment to the Detroit, and then the Washington, D.C. field offices.
Mr. Godfrey would later serve on the White House Detail providing protection to Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. He retired from the Secret Service in July 1974. He would then become assistant press secretary for Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller. At the age of 81, Arthur Godfrey died May 12, 2002 at Maryland Hospital Center of kidney failure. Arthur Godfrey was the last surviving Advanced Team Special Agent in Charge (ATSAIC) of John F. Kennedy’s White House detail. Agent Godfrey guarded Kennedy on November 21, 1963 in Fort Worth. Godfrey guarded JFK at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth on the evening of November 21, 1963 and was waiting for the president in Austin when the assassination occurred.
Now for the Thompson connection to the Secret Service. Art Godfrey was the ATSAIC for the 12 midnight to 8 a.m. shift and Agent Stewart G. Stout had the 4 p.m. to midnight detail. Agent Stout was involved in the protection of President Truman at Blair House on November 1, 1950, when Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman. Agent Stout was manning a Thompson submachine gun inside the house as Agent Floyd Boring and Agent Vincent Mroz were involved in the gun battle outside with the would-be assassins. Agent Godfrey was also a decorated war hero. Serving in Europe in WW II, he received the Silver Star for rescuing a soldier and carrying him back to friendly lines in Italy while under enemy fire. He also received the Purple Heart, American Theatre Ribbon, European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon, and the Bronze Star. When Arthur Godfrey passed away in 2002, his family sold his gun collection. The individual entrusted with selling the collection apparently must have had a few too many one night and sold most of the collection at a bar for pennies on the dollar, including the class III guns. However, because class III firearms must be transferred by the ATF, these guns were returned to the family for proper transfer. Dave Larue of Phoenix, Arizona purchased Agent Godfrey’s class III guns. At this time Dave did not know the history of this gun. All he knew was that he had a Colt Thompson with XO1934 stamped on it. Adding to the confusion, the gun had been parkerized and had a Savage barrel on it. Dave contacted Chuck Olsen, a Colt Thompson collector in Phoenix, and Chuck removed the barrel to reveal the original serial number of 7301. Dave contacted Gordon Herigstad and he immediately recognized this number from his research into the St. Valentines Day guns and he provided Dave with what information he had at the time. I purchased 7301 along with a Thompson M1A1 that also belonged to Agent Godfrey (Serial no.757781 U.S. Property marked) in November of 2003.
Since then I have done extensive research on the previous owners of 7301. The only thing that I can come up with on the parkerization is when I contacted the Gun Vault at the FBI Academy. They told me that if the gun had been confiscated by the FBI it probably sat somewhere until they wanted to use it (either the FBI or the Secret Service). Presently, it only takes one form to be filled out to move a firearm for use between government agencies. The Agent that I spoke with advised that there were no forms needed to transfer guns between agencies prior to the 1980’s. If, and this is a big if as I am currently unable to substantiate this, the gun was to be used it would have been sent to the Government Armory (now called The Gun Vault) to be checked and repaired if necessary. The Agent at the Gun Vault did state that they used to parkerize firearms for service, mostly shotguns, and they would repair a barrel if necessary or whatever was needed to make the firearm safe for use. This is pure speculation if 7301 was ever used by the Government or not. Nevertheless, somehow it ended up parkerized and with a Savage barrel. If I can connect 7301 to use by the Secret Service, then this single gun would embody both what was good and bad about the Thompson.
Now for some interesting side notes. While checking to see if the butt plate and butt stock matched, I removed the butt plate and discovered that the serial number had been ground off. Wondering if I had stumbled onto something new, I contacted Lt. Keith Hafer of the Berrien Co. Michigan Sheriffs Department (They have the two St. Valentines Day guns). I asked him to check Thompson 7580 which came from Von Frantzius and whose numbers were removed exactly the same as 7301, to see if the butt plate number was ground off. Keith called about 4 days later and stated that the number on the butt plate had been removed. Von Frantzius probably thought these were recorded, not knowing they had no relation to the gun itself. Now, this next one somewhat cements all this together. Along with 7301 came a nice parkerized Colt production C drum, with the numbers filed off the front and back covers. Could this be one of the two original C drums that were sold with the gun over 75 years ago? We may never know for sure but the investigative process of trying to discover the past of these historical weapons and accessories is an intriguing exercise.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N2 (November 2004)|