By John Hartmann
Racine, Wisconsin gets cold in November, and November 20, 1933 was no exception. But, it was soon to heat up with the excitement caused by the arrival the Dillinger Gang. John Dillinger, noted bank robber and public enemy, had cased Racine’s American Bank and Trust Company as his next target.
At approximately 2:30 p.m., the robbers entered the bank. Barney Cowan, a customer attempting to make a deposit, was manhandled and had a pistol stuck in his ribs. Harold Graham, the head teller, was counting a stack of bills. He had just put his “next window please” sign in place, when he heard someone yell, “Stick ‘em up!” Graham, his back to the widow, ignored the order, thinking someone was joking. When he heard the command again, he replied with a curt, “Next window, please.” Without a word, gang member Charles Makley shot him. The bullet entered Graham’s right arm and lodged in his hip. Although he was seriously injured, he was able to press the alarm button.
At police headquarters, Officer Chester Boyard heard the alarm, grabbed two men and headed for the bank. Boyard was the first to enter the bank, and was immediately taken prisoner by gang member Russell Clark. Sergeant Wilbur Hansen was next through the door, armed with Colt Thompson serial #3363. But, with the Thompson pointed at the floor, he was taken by surprise. Charles Makley fired and a bullet grazed Sergeant Hansen’s right hand. He dropped the Thompson, which was recovered by Makley. The third officer, who was still outside the bank, ran for help.
The bank alarm and the police presence soon drew a crowd of onlookers, there by blocking the exit from the bank. Dillinger, scooping up the loot ($27,700), realized there was a large crowd out front, and he ordered his men to grab hostages. As the gang and hostages moved through the crowd, two detectives came around a corner twenty yards away. Makley turned and fired a burst from his newly acquired “Tommy Gun,” chasing the detectives into Wylie’s Hat Shop to seek cover.
Three hostages were taken by the gang: bank president Grover Weyland, teller Ursula Patzke and police officer Chester Boyard. At the getaway car, the hostages were forced to stand on the car’s running boards, with Officer Boyard on one side, Weyland and Patzke on the other. Hotrodding through town and running two red lights, Dillinger soon realized he couldn’t get away with people on the running boards. He slowed momentarily and forced Boyard off, while pulling the other two hostages inside the car. Ursula Patzke later recalled that she was forced to sit on a pile of guns and money. When she complained that she was cold, Harry Pierpont, another gang member, gave her his coat.
Dillinger and the gang continued along the back roads of Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Approximately thirty-five miles from Racine, the hostages were tied to a tree with a shoelace and left otherwise unharmed. The gang turned around and headed for Chicago, taking Thompson submachine gun #3363 with them.
The Dillinger gang worked their way south through the fall and early winter of 1933, ultimately spending Christmas in Florida. Early January, 1934 found them back in the midwest in East Chicago, Indiana, where they robbed the First National Bank. As he had done in Racine two months before, Dillinger took hostages and used them as a human shield. Outside the bank awaited a heavily armed force of seven East Chicago police. Officer Hobarts Wilgus was one of the hostages, having been captured early in the robbery while on routine patrol in front of the bank. As Dillinger and the hostages moved down the street, he locked eyes with one of the police detectives at a range of twenty-five feet. Just a few feet away from the getaway car, Dillinger, thinking he had made it, relaxed for just a second, and Detective Patrick O’Malley shouted, “Wilgus!”
Wilgus turned, giving O’Malley a clear shot at Dillinger. O’Malley fired his pistol four times, hitting Dillinger once in his bullet-proof vest. Dillinger, shocked, lost his temper, shoved Officer Wilgus aside and shouted, “I’ll get that son of a bitch.” He raised his Thompson and fired a burst directly into Detective O’Malley. The officer, a father of three, died with eight bulletholes in his chest.
Dillinger, making his escape, again headed south through St. Louis, ending up in Tucson, Arizona. The Dillinger Gang, relaxing and enjoying the western hospitality, was taken by surprise and arrested by the Tucson police. Among the items captured were two Thompsons; one of them, #3363, was the one taken in the Racine robbery. Dillinger, now in the Pima County Jail, and awaiting extradition toIndiana, had some time on his hands, and the Tucson police allowed him to carve his name in the detachable buttstock of his Tommy Gun #3363.
During the time the gun was in the possession of the Dillinger Gang, they committed several robberies; but there is no proof that the gun was used by the robbers. However, the fact that gun #3363 was in the gang’s possession at the time of their arrest in Tucson leads one to assume it was carried, if not fired, in some of these escapades.
Racine Police Chief Grover C. Lutter traveled to Tucson and arrived at the Pima County Jail. He had requested the return of Thompson #3363, a weapon originally belonging to the Racine Police Department. Chief Lutter returned with the gun in 1934, shortly after Dillinger had been extradited to Indiana. #3363 has been in the Racine Police Arms Room since then. While doing historical research on the Dillinger Gun, Sgt. David M. Beranis, of the Racine Police Academy, sent a request to the Pima County Jail in 1971 to confirm information about the return of #3363. A reply from Sgt. Jack Wollard, of the Pima County Sheriff’s Records Department, dated September 27, 1971, confirms the return of #3363 to Chief Lutter. It is interesting to note that Sgt. Wollard had to contact his mother to confirm this information,as she was there in 1934 when Chief Lutter of Racine picked up the gun.
Like most Thompsons bought by police, #3363 spent most of its duty time locked in the police arms room. It was bought as “preventive medicine,” just in case a group of “motorized bandits” of the time should come to town. An invoice dated September 10, 1932, shows the original purchase of a 1928 AC Model Thompson submachine gun with accessories as listed below. Chief Grover C. Lutter of the Racine Police Department was the customer and ordered the following items:
- 1 – 1928 AC Thompson submachine gun $225
- 2 – 20-round magazines $6
- 1 – 18-round shot cartridge magazine $3
- 1 – 50-round drum magazine $21
- 2 – bullet-proof vests $160
- 1 – extra fore grip $2.75
The gun and accessories were bought from Federal Laboratories, Inc. of Pittsburgh, PA., a major police equipment sales company. During the Depression era, $225 was a lot of money. Today, collectors pay as much as $35,000 for an original Coltmade Thompson in good condition. It’s clear that “Tommy Guns” have never been cheap.
Occasionally used for training and demonstration, #3363 was rarely pressed into active service. The May 14, 1972 issue of the Racine Journal Times reported that the venerable Colt Thompson submachine gun #3363 was to be retired from active duty.
An article in the November 8, 1995 issue of the Racine Journal Times reported that a photo opportunity was arranged to raise money for a display about the “Dillinger Thompson” and the 1933 bank robbery. For the sum of $25, you could pose with Thompson #3363 and receive an 8×10 color print. Only four people showed up.
Today, the “Dillinger Thompson” is carefully preserved, cleaned, oiled and cared for by Officer Joseph Villalobos, senior training officer, Racine Police Department.
Our sincere thanks to Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen and Officer Joe Villalobos for their kind hospitality and assistance in examining and photographing this historic weapon.
Make: Colt Patent Firearms Mfg. Co.
Model: 1928 US Navy
Caliber: .45 ACP
Weight: 9 lbs. 13 ounces
Barrel Length: 12-1/2 inches with compensator
O.A. Length: 33 inches
Sights: Lyman Adjustable
Magazines: 20-round box; 50-round drum
Cyclic rate of fire: 600 rpm
Date of manufacture: Sometime between July 29 and August 27, 1921
Distinguishing marks: Signature carved by John Dillinger on left side of buttstock
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N6 (March 2008)