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Friday, August 28, 2015

Bank Robbery Turned Gangster-Era Shootout

The Union Trust Co. Bank had a branch located on Xenia Avenue in Dayton, OH, that had been robbed three times recently. The Dayton PD was going to make sure it didn't happen a fourth.  Two officers had been assigned to the bank: Patrolman B. J. Hock and Officer W. T. Dempsey, and they were armed for the job at hand.  Hock was guarding the front, and Dempsey was watching a rear entrance.  Hock was at the rear entrance speaking with Dempsey at approximately 11:15 a.m. on May 6, 1930, when two heavily armed men walked into the branch and yelled out, "Stick 'em up!"  One of the robbers got on the ledge of the cage and was leaning down to strike Bank Manager Phillip Kloos with the rifle barrel when gun fire began pouring from the rear of the bank, stealing the thieves' attention and allowing Kloos and his colleagues to flatten themselves to the floor.

Having heard the commotion, Dempsey grabbed what Hock describes in his official statement, "a shot gun," and proceeded to the front of the bank to confront the criminals.  Hock grabbed another "shot gun" and stood guard at the rear door so that the lawmen wouldn't be potentially ambushed from behind if more robbers were involved.

Despite Hock's description of "shot guns" being used, Officer Dempsey is quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying, "Before I could bring my machine gun into action, the bandit nearest me fired at me with a pistol.  I started firing immediately through two windows that were between the robbers and myself.  I must have fired 20 shots.  I saw both of the raiders fall to the ground. One was bleeding about the face.  Hock and I ran to the door, saw the... two bandits running east on Xenia Ave and... gave chase.  Both of these men staggered from the effect of our gunfire."  Three tellers, a customer, and a manager were in the bank at that time, fearing for their lives while trapped in the intense firefight.

Lot 1597: Historic Gangster Era Colt Model 1921 Class III/NFA Thompson Submachine Gun Confiscated from a Bank Robber by Dayton, Ohio Police with Documentation, FBI Case, Drum and Stick Magazines

Later it was revealed that Dempsey had hit both robbers.  One had fallen, gotten up to fire again at Dempsey, and was promptly hit again by accurate fire.  Both the outlaws then fled.  The lawmen were waiting for the smoke to clear to see if any other bandits had rushed into the bank.  After quickly verifying the lobby was secure, Dempsey rushed the front door and was told immediately by passers-by that the men had headed toward nearby Dover St.  According to Hock's statement, Dempsey ran down a nearby alley to shortcut the criminals while Hock himself ran east down Xenia Ave toward Dover.

It was here that the bandits encountered a truck filled with cattle feed that they immediately tried to commandeer for their escape.  The driver, Urban Thope, was ordered to start the vehicle, but intentionally stalled the engine.  Thope said, "They were bleeding both of them.  I could see they were trying to make a getaway from something, so I pretended the truck wouldn't start.  They cursed me, and ordered me out."  By this time, the two officers had converged on the truck from the respective routes with an additional man in tow.  Citizen Ollie Castle had been entrusted a police weapon by Hock and was part of the final firefight.  Hock's statement says he loaned Castle the "shot gun," while he maintained possession of his .38.  Meanwhile, the Dayton Daily News states that Castle, "seized a machine gun from one of the officers at the corner of Dover St. and Xenia Ave, and gave chase..."  Whatever the arrangement of firepower was, both lawmen opened fire on the truck and the men attempting to flee in it.  That is the moment when 3-year old bystander Lorene Burton was hit in her right knee by a stray bullet that had ricocheted off the sidewalk.  The paper stated her condition as "not serious" and she was the only non-criminal casualty of the day.

Dempsey arrived first and fired a shot at a bandit outside the truck who had already been hit at least once.   The bandit got up, took another shot at Dempsey, but was hit again by the officer.  The robber immediately slumped down and was seen to put up his hands by Hock, who had just arrived on the scene with Castle. The other bandit remained in the truck, looked out the back window, and also began to fire at Dempsey.  Hock describes what happened next as, "I saw his face thru the glass in the machine and Officer Dempsey throwed his gun on this man and he shot at Officer Dempsey and Officer Dempsey shot him... At this moment, this bandit slumps down in the seat and I wasn't fully satisfied that he was shot.  I thought he might have got himself down inside in a position to shoot when we approached.  At this officer Dempsey approach [sic] the car and I hollered, "Be careful, Dempsey, that man may not be badly hurt."

The two officers tentatively approached the vehicle.  Hock saw that the man inside the truck "was laying in a slumped-up position down on the floor of the car.  I saw he was shot and in bad condition."  Soon thereafter, Chevrolet ambulances were on the scene to rush the two wounded robbers and the little girl to the Miami Valley Hospital.  One of the robbers died within minutes of arriving.  The other that had earned himself the nasty head wound in the bank lived.  No money was taken that day.

Post Robbery Action

"Within 10 minutes of the firing of the first shot police and deputy sheriffs were on the scene, questioning bank officials and the one customer who was in the bank at the time of the holdup," states the Daily News.  "The bank office was literally covered, counters, floors, tables, and desks, with chipped glass from the many bullet holes in the cage and outside windows.  Pictures on the walls, drapes, and furniture was battle scarred from machine gun fire."

These are microfiche photos obtained by the DPH.  While hazy, one can clearly make out the devastation to the bank caused by gunfire.

The original captions from the newspaper photos describe 6 photos, four of which are shown above.

Photo No. 1 - Teller's window smashed by bullets from bandits' pistols and Officer W. T. Dempsey's machine gun.

Photo No. 2 - Exterior view of the bank door after the attempted robbery, drawing the crowd when [illegible].

Photo No. 3 - Holes in the bank rear office bored by the many shots from Dempsey's machine gun as he fired out at the two bandits who entered.

Photo No. 4 - The bandit car, abandoned beside the bank.

Photo No. 5 (not shown) - The Nahn residence of Dover St, into which one of the captured bandits ran when Policemen Dempsey and Hock, along with Ollie Castle, a civilian, overtook the feed truck which the robbers had been trying to start. (Note: This is the first time this home is mentioned in any of the 5 accounts being used to research this story and is likely the result of early and inaccurate information)

Photo No. 6 (not shown) - Photo showing bullet holes in the Xenia Ave fron windows of the bank, made by gunshots from within.

Initially, due to many witness accounts claiming the robbers in so many locations, four bandits were thought to have been involved in the attempted robbery.  However, by the time the Dayton Daily News was printed that evening, a clarification had been given by Police Chief Wurstner that only two bandits were believed to have taken part.

The robbers must have been in a terrible hurry to escape Officer Dempsey's fire because they were more concerned with running away than running to their own escape vehicle.  Instead of commandeering a loaded feed truck, a vehicle not well-known for its acceleration, handling, or top speed, they could have escaped in their own vehicle.  The original vehicle had been abandoned by the criminals in their panic and was later helpful in identifying the two men when it was towed to police headquarters for fingerprinting.

In the days following the robbery, the papers continued to follow developments in the story; the most notable of which was the identities of the two robbers.  The robber that had been wounded in the head gave his name as James Royal, 31, at the hospital, but refused to divulge any information on his partner other than he had met him recently in St. Louis.  By Wednesday, May 8, two days after the robbery, he was incorrectly identified as James Rowan (or Royan), who then proceeded to change his story about where he had met his accomplice, whose last name he did not know.  By May 10, Rowan's condition had stabilized to fair and the funeral of the dead bandit was delayed so that any of the thousands of viewers of the body might be able to identify it.

On May 13, headlines proudly proclaimed the identities of the two would-be robbers.  The wounded criminal was properly identified by fingerprints from police headquarters in Marion, Ind.  He was Chicagoan James Brink, and his deceased accomplice was Orral Farley, 23, who was buried the day prior at the cemetery at the Montgomery County Infirmary.  The two had met while doing time at the Indiana Reformatory.  Brink was held on a $20,000 bond and in the photo above, can be seen with his head heavily bandaged.  He had been shot near the left eye and in the shoulder, and doctors at the hospital speculated he would lose sight in both eyes.

For their heroism and what their commendation calls, "coolness and bravery in this emergency and followed the case through to the finish in a commendable manner," both Dempsey and Hock were given letters of recommendation in their files signed by the Captain of Police as well as checks for $100 each by J. H. Barringer, vice president and general manager of the National Cash Register Co.

The story you have just read is true and was assembled from various period documents.  This includes  several newspaper clippings, official commendations, and statements given by one of the policemen involved.   All that is very exciting and a sensational piece of local history, but does it tie in to this gun?  The answer is a resounding, "maybe."  There is no documenting paperwork that concretely links SN6039 to this bank robbery.  While the primary sources do describe different firearms used during the event ("shotgun" vs. "repeating rifles" vs "machine guns"), this can largely be attributed to the lack of a standardized firearms vocabulary.  The photos of the event as shown in the newspapers speak for themselves.  Machine guns were used in the battle, but was SN6039 among them?  The answer may be lost to time.  So how did this gun get its Dillinger association?  How did it get a bank robbery association at all?  The answer, as with much history, is a mix of factual origins and less-than-factual dissemination.

A Myth is Born

First things first, it is not uncommon in locales where Dillinger was present to lay claim to a "Dillinger Thompson."  Even law enforcement agencies that never had direct involvement with Dillinger may have had a Thompson that has become known over decades of lore as a "Dillinger Thompson" regardless of how much that may conflict with a distinct lack of concrete proof or documentation.

Dayton PD, on the other hand, at least has a leg up in having arrested Dillinger at one point in time.  It was on September 22, 1933, a scant 135 days after his parole, that Dillinger was arrested by the Dayton PD while trying to visit a "lady friend," one Ms. Mary Longnaker.  Unfortunately for Dillinger, cops had been tipped off to his arrival by her landlady and stormed the apartment shortly after his arrival.  A common understanding is that Dillinger was taken from Dayton to Troy, Ohio where custody was exchanged with the Allen County Sheriff Deputies at the Miami County Jail.  The event of Dillinger's transportation earned the use of the "Bank Flyer" as an escort vehicle  It's likely that the Thompsons would have also present.

The "Bank Flyer."  I know we showed this photo to you last week, but it's definitely cool enough to show again.

On the day he was arrested in Dayton, Sgt. Charles Gross entered the room armed with a Thompson.  That gun, used for the arrest, was initially identified by the Dayton PD as their "Dillinger Tommy gun."  It is believed by our friends at the DPH that over time the true meaning of the gun was lost, and the "gun that captured Dillinger" became to be wrongly understood as, "the gun that was Dillinger's."  Now, was this Thompson gun likely pulled from its rack in Dayton after Dillinger's escape?  Almost certainly.  A sheriff was murdered, a Thompson had been stolen, and fear of reprisal in Dayton for his arrest was very real!  Cop killers elicit anything but sympathy even today, so imagine the attitude to capture Dillinger by any means necessary in an era when the public was fed up with criminal violence.

Again, is there anything that concretely identifies SN6039 as the "Dillinger Tommy gun" of the Dayton PD?  No.  However, it does have a link to that provenance thanks to the line that reads "confiscated from bank robber," on its registration paperwork.  To further verify its sole claim to this title, one could request the registrations of the other Thompsons owned by the Dayton PD (SNs 4186 & 4418) and see if similar notes were made on their paperwork.  If those notes are not present on the other two Thompsons, there is an excellent chance that SN6039 is the gun recognized by the Dayton PD as the gun that captured Dillinger, even if in a single short year between his arrest and the gun's registration, the Thompson's legend was already becoming convoluted.

The Myth Continues

Every Dayton Police Academy class since the very first one in  January 1946 had the honor of shooting the Thompson known as the "Dillinger Thompson."  This tradition ceased in the early 1970s for unknown reasons.  After that, facts become rather far and few between in the lives of the three Dayton Thompsons.  We do at least know that SN6039 had its registration requested in December of 1977 because of the date that appears on the bottom of the registration paperwork.

Coincidentally, 1977 is also the same year that the Dayton PD heavy weapons team and their bomb squad were placed under the umbrella of the newly formed Tactical Response Team (TRT).  Initially, this unit was not funded by the department.  Uniforms were non-existent and teams, "were initially left to their own devices to obtain better equipment and improve upon it.  Even into the 80s, for an applicant to be chosen for the TRT, he had to own a truck in order to pick up 'ready room' equipment."  However, members of the TRT began training with the FBI and by 1980 a Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) was also formed as a partnering team.

The Dayton Police Dept Tactical Response Team prior to having standard uniforms.
Photo from

By the mid-1980s, funding began to flow to the teams comprising the TRT.  Money was used to obtain official uniforms, equipment, and vehicles.  Even if the new uniforms, comprised of dark blue pants and jackets, were nicknamed "garbage man" or "Jiffy Lube" uniforms by their wearers, they could now be easily identified by the public.  Part of this funding to the TRT was also the purging of older equipment.  The Dayton Police Historical Foundation states that the three Dayton Thompsons  were sold off in 1987 by the department in order to help pay for equipment for the tactical unit.  This did not stand well with many of the officers who recognized their historic value and who had likely fired it in their academy training.

The 1st uniforms of the Dayton TRT, mid 1980s.  Notice the Steyr Augs and awesome mustaches.
Photo from

The good news is that much of the legend around SN6039 has been clarified thanks to the cooperation between RIAC and the DPH.

  1. It was NOT confiscated from John Dillinger in 1930.  Dillinger was in prison until May 1933.
  2. It was VERY LIKELY used to prevent the Union Trust Co Bank Robbery in May 1930.
  3. It MAY have been used to capture Dillinger in September 1933.
  4. It was VERY LIKELY used to escort Dillinger from Dayton to Lima.
  5. It was VERY LIKELY prepped and ready for any Dillinger appearances after the murder of Sheriff Sarber and the breakout from Allen County Jail.
  6. It MAY be the Thompson used by Dayton Police Academy classes from 1946 until the early 1970s.
Also, since the publishing of last week's article, DPH tells me that a second Dayton Thompson has come to light.  The collector who owns SN4418 was kind enough to contact them and inform them of its whereabouts.  That's two found and only one left to go: SN 4186.  If you have any information concerning the Dayton Thompsons, please feel free to email DPH directly at  

I never imagined that a single piece of paper with a Tommy gun registration would have me wading through Dillinger biographies, $400 Thompson reference books, Ohio newspapers from the 1930s, official police documents, sending dozens of emails, and searching a plethora of websites.

While certain aspects might never be known concretely about this gun, there is a ton of exciting provenance, action, and possibilities that envelope this supremely fascinating Thompson.  Just like the separation of chaff from wheat, the honing of myth from facts surrounding this American icon has left us with an extremely valuable assortment of history that should appeal to any firearms collector or investor.

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


And again, the hard work, research, and passion of the Dayton Police History Foundation

Friday, August 21, 2015

Did This Tommy Gun Rob A Bank?

When RIAC received a very fine condition Thompson submachine gun for our 2015 September Premiere Auction, it came with a pretty impressive claim to fame.  This legendary American firearm was purported to be associated with none other than notorious Prohibition-era gangster, John Dillinger.  The first I saw of this "Chicago typewriter" was the auction's Photo Preview on our website that showed the following picture.

These photos are intended as a "sneak peek" to boost interest before our catalog is ready for publication and, as such, this particular item did not yet have our usual headline or description.  If it was a Dillinger gun, I knew I had to write about it.  Classic firearm, machine gun, historic provenance; it had all the right qualities for a great article and to raise some interest on a fascinating item.  However, with little to no information available, I went in search of someone at RIAC who would be more familiar with the firearm or who may have spoken directly with the consignor and know its full story.

If you've been attending, bidding, or even just watching our auctions, you know that guns need proof if they are said to belong to famous people, have participated in certain battles, or are decorated by famous artists.  Sometimes that proof is iron clad with many documents verifying a gun's provenance through decades or even centuries, perhaps even passing through renowned collections or institutions to further lend credence.  Those guns we are able to sell with no reservations at all, and we certainly have.  Many guns have passed through Rock Island Auction Company with historic and exciting provenances!  We owe it to our buyers to verify those claims, if possible.

Then there are guns where the proof is not 100%.  Maybe there's a gap in the timeline or any number of things, small or large, that allow for doubt to enter the picture.  These items cannot be sold so simply.  A careful balance must be made to convey what the consignor is representing and also to inform potential buyers of the possible doubt and let them make up their own mind with the evidence at hand.  Such guns are often given a headline stating that it is "associated with" a certain person, "attributed to," or that an item is "reportedly" theirs.  These statements serve the purpose of satisfying responsibilities to both the consignor and the collector.

When I went looking for someone at RIAC more familiar with the item than myself, I wanted to know how we were going to be representing this Thompson.  Was it 100% John Dillinger's gun?  Did he use it or was it used by a member of his gang?  Was a connection iron clad or just "likely?"  It turns out that it had arrived so recently that nobody else had yet dived into the item's history.  If I wanted to tell this gun's story, if it indeed had one, the responsibility of research fell to me.

Lot 1597: Historic Gangster Era Colt Model 1921 Class III/NFA Thompson Submachine Gun Confiscated from a Bank Robber by Dayton, Ohio Police with Documentation, FBI Case, Drum and Stick Magazines

I started by examining the paperwork that had come with the firearm.  It had arrived with many documents, period newspapers, and even some arrest records (these are all still included with the lot).  While much of this research was historically accurate about John Dillinger, his deeds, and his death, none of the sources mentioned a Tommy gun.  Correction: none of them mentioned a specific Tommy gun.  Most of them did describe his crimes and murders with the Thompson machine guns he had taken from various police arsenals, but that's still a long way from identifying a specific serial number.

There was one document that was different.  That was the notarized copy of the "Form 10" that registered the fully automatic weapon per the National Firearms Act of 1934.  It gave some very concrete information such as the serial number of the gun (a match to ours) and where it was registered.  Most interesting on this form was line 4, which likely gave rise to the gun's claim to infamy.

When I read, "confiscated from bank robber," I'll admit to thinking, "That's pretty cool."  Plus, it gave me a great starting point from a research perspective.  All I needed to do initially was check Dillinger's history to see if this bank robbery matched his location at that time.  I began looking online through various Dillinger sources and things came into focus rather quickly, but it wasn't what I wanted to see.

A brief internet search reveals that on September 6, 1924, Dillinger and local pool shark Ed Singleton had robbed Frank Morgan, a grocer in nearby Mooresville, Indiana.  They were caught in no time.  Singleton pled not guilty and received a sentence of two years.  Dillinger, on his father's advice, plead guilty and received a plague of charges for his honesty resulting in two sentences of 2-14 years and 10-20 years.  To say that Dillinger didn't do so well with that is a gross understatement, and he became a hardened, bitter man in prison.  He used the time to study other bank robbers, plan heists with his new acquaintances, and in a statement laced with foreshadowing Dillinger is quoted as saying, "I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here."

On May 10, 1933, Dillinger was paroled thanks to a petition championed by his father, so that John might see his dying step-mother.  Unfortunately, she passed shortly before his return home.  Ever the opportunist, Dillinger put his prison-planned heists and robberies into action almost immediately in a stretch of terror that lasted until his death on July 22, 1934.  For those paying attention to dates, you'll notice that Dillinger was a guest of the state of Indiana from 1924 - 1933.  Translation: there's no way the Dayton, Ohio Police Department could have confiscated that Thompson submachine gun from John Dillinger in May 1930.

So what's the real story?  Why was "confiscated from bank robber" typed on that line?  If it wasn't Dillinger, then who was it?  Was the document even real?  Now the real digging could begin.

I began with the document that started it all - the registration paperwork.  Frankly, it all seemed to be in order.  Sure there are some handwritten notes on there, but they are easily discerned from the period typing that originally appeared on the document.  Also, the phrase "Confiscated from bank robber," appeared to be original, having the same gentle tilt to the right that appeared on every other typed line of the document.  To me, that meant it was period type and not something added in subsequent years for glory or "bragging rights."

As I was scouring the internet looking for any possible leads into Dillinger associated Tommy guns, I came across one name several times: Herigstad.  Many people were referencing his book in discussions online, so I naturally began to investigate it to see if it could also help solve the mystery behind this Thompson.  It wasn't difficult to locate, Amazon has copies available, but those copies were $369.95!  I lamented this price for a moment, but then I looked at the "image previews" on the Amazon listing.  The last photo was opened to the page that specifically discusses the Thompsons used by John Dillinger.  What luck!  Knowing that this book would definitively confirm or deny any association with Dillinger, I requested that the book be purchased by RIAC.  Now $370, sounds like a lot for a book, but if it prevents a situation where tens of thousands of dollars are at stake AND it's something that can be used for all subsequent Thompsons that come through our building, it's a small investment to make.  The purchase was approved immediately.

The "photo preview" that appears on the book's Amazon listing.  Jackpot.

Upon receiving it, I discovered why it was considered such an important book.  Gordon Herigstad's Colt Thompson Submachine Gun: Serial Numbers & Histories is a handsome, two volume set with a matching slipcase, and each installment contains over 1,100 pages.  These two books represent decades of dedication, intense research, countless follow-ups, hours of driving, weeks in front of a computer, many dollars spent, and I'm sure more than one or two sleepless nights.  The first volume discusses some of the prototype models, descriptions of the various models, but is mostly a cataloging of every single Thompson submachine gun by serial number.  Yes, every single one.  Sure, there are a few blank spaces, including a large range after SN10000 representing pending information on Thompsons that were exported, but the information that remains is a treasure of data, history, and research.  Herigstad's research began in 1991, and he produced the sixth edition of this book (the one used for this article) in 2014.  That's over two decades of research for a single book!  Thompson collectors the world over owe Herigstad a huge debt of thanks for his work, patience, and passion.

While waiting for the book to arrive, I began looking into other sources to see if there was a degree of truth to this claim.  Basically every life story of Dillinger references Thompson machine guns, so could this gun be associated with him on a date later than what was stated on the registration form?

After being paroled (May 10, 1933) and immediately resuming his life of crime, Dillinger was pinched again just as fast.  On September 22 he was arrested by the Dayton, Ohio police, but interred at the Allen County Jail in nearby Lima, OH.  This small fact is especially exciting because the original registration paperwork registers the gun to the Dayton PD.  A connection between the two seemed close but still lacked a final coup de grâce.

When he was searched at Lima, plans for what seemed to be a prison break were found on Dillinger, who of course had no idea what those documents were.  A mere four days later eight of Dillinger's prison buddies cut their stay short at the Indiana State Prison using several shotguns and rifles that had been smuggled into the facility.  They killed two guards in the ensuing fracas and used a plan with uncanny similarity to the one found on Dillinger.

On October 12, three of these men and a recent parolee posing as lawmen came to the Allen County Jail in Lima where Dillinger was being held stating that they were going to transport Dillinger back to the prison for violating parole.  They were talking to Sheriff Jess Sarber, who lived on the upper floor of the jail with his wife.  The couple had just finished eating dinner when the knock at the door came.  When Sarber asked to see the men's credentials to release Dillinger, they brandished their guns, prompting Sarber to go for his own weapon.  One of the criminals pulled his pistol faster and shot the sheriff two times before beating him unconscious with the firearm.  His wife gave them the keys to the cell, where they quickly released Dillinger, and made a hasty departure back to Indiana.  Before they left, they stole the sole Thompson belonging to the Allen County Sheriff's Office, a 1921AC serial number 6099.  Sheriff Sarber died within hours.

With the gang all back together again, they began to put into action all the robberies they had planned while incarcerated.  To do this, they needed the deadly tools of their trade: bullet proof vests, more firepower, and lots of ammunition.  On October 14, two days after his escape, the Dillinger Gang burst into the police arsenal in Auburn, Indiana, overpowered the guards, and made off with the following, according to a local newspaper:

"1 Thompson submachine gun (SN 8946), a .401 Winchester self-loading rifle, a .44-40 Winchester carbine, a .30 Calibre Springfield Army Rifle, three bulletproof vests and several pistols which include, a .45 Colt Automatic, .44 Smith & Wesson Revolver, .38 Smith & Wesson Revolver, 9mm German Lugar and a .25 Spanish Auto Pistol."

Still not satisfied with their growing stockpile of weapons, they held up the police station in Peru, Indiana, stealing several pistols, bulletproof vests, and another Thompson, SN 5878.  Finally meeting some arbitrary criminal guideline for being adequately armed, they robbed the Central National Bank in Greencastle, Indiana, on October 23, absconding with nearly $75,000.  All these acts were early in Dillinger's blessedly short career.  He went on to rob several more banks, break out of one more jail (famously using a wooden gun), steal even more Thompsons, and take the lives of several more law enforcement officers.

When the book finally arrived I, of course, turned immediately to the Dillinger section and began pouring over the information to see if the Thompson in the upcoming auction, SN 6039, was mentioned as having a Dillinger provenance.  It wasn't.  Granted, there were some possibilities that still existed, like that of Dillinger possessing Thompsons classified as "missing" to this day that were in the same shipment as those he was known to have, but it was a long shot. With no reason to believe otherwise, I needed to investigate other avenues.  If it wasn't Dillinger's, then whose was it?

Thankfully Herigstad's book already had the answers for me.  Volume I of the two book set is the chronicling of the majority of Thompson serial numbers.  When I turned to find SN 6039 there was some rather unexpected information awaiting me.  SN 6039 was one of three Thompsons originally purchased by the Dayton PD.

It was initially disappointing news and seemed to be the nail in the coffin for any sort of Dillinger provenance.  But while it answered one question, it gave rise to new ones.  If Dayton PD is the original purchaser, why does the registration form conflict with that?  The book went on further to say that SN 6039 was shipped on January 21, 1930, while the registration form lists its "Date of acquisition" as May 1930.  Why the date discrepancy?  Were there two different guns being attributed to the same serial number?  What was going on?  I had two very reliable sources, a period government document and an authoritative book with decades of research behind it, but things still weren't matching up.  With that, I decided to go to the source: the Dayton, OH Police Department.

After a few phone calls where I tried not to sound like some out-of-state weirdo seeking firearms records from the 1930s, I left a few messages and within a week had a call from a Sergeant Jeff Yaney in the Dayton PD Records Dept.  He would not have been out of line to just tell me that those records weren't available or had been destroyed, it's what I would've expected happens to documents that are over 80 years old, but he surprised me by being extremely helpful and volunteering to search for the information I was seeking.  What exactly was I seeking?  I told him about the possible, but at this point very unlikely, Dillinger connection and that I was looking for anything on the Thompsons owned by the Dayton PD: purchase records, transfer records, bills of sale, other registration paperwork, or anything that might give me another chance to find out the real, documented history behind these guns.  Little did I know that as I was contacting Dayton for information, Dayton would also soon be contacting me.

 By the time I had called the Dayton PD, I had been looking into this Thompson for about a month in between other job responsibilities and projects.  Within days of contacting the Dayton PD and Sgt. Yaney, the Rock Island Auction Company received an interesting email.  It was from the Dayton Police History Foundation (DPH).  A Dillinger aficionado and friend of the organization had seen the image and knew that the DPH was interested in discovering the whereabouts of Thompsons owned by the Dayton PD.  He then contacted the DPH, who took up the lead, then somehow deciphered the nearly microscopic print on the image of the registration forms, noticed it referenced Dayton, and emailed RIAC to request more information.  Keep in mind, that the RIAC catalog was not yet available online.  The item listing was not yet up which shows the document much more clearly.  Gun collectors and historians are an eagle-eyed bunch.

The man who emailed me was Stephen Grismer, a retired sergeant of the Dayton PD with 25 years of service to his name who now served as a trustee of the DPH.  He had no idea I had recently been in contact with the Dayton PD; it was a random coincidence that his email arrived within mere days of that phone call.  It was one week after I had received the Herigstad book, emailed my superiors that the Thompson had been originally purchased by the Dayton PD, and only days since I had contacted the Dayton PD.  I was more than happy to send Mr. Grismer the document, but I had a few questions of my own and this extremely serendipitous email came from a group that could not have been more perfectly poised to answer my questions.  I sent him the document, told him of my calls to Dayton, and asked if I might call him as well since it could be more quickly explained over the phone.  A fellow history enthusiast, Mr. Grismer quickly agreed, and we set an appointment to delve into Dayton's surprising history.

First off, Steve alerted me that my search was starting in the incorrect place.  The Dayton PD Records Section have housed their archived arrest records at the Wright State University Archive Center since 1989, and usually questions such as mine are forwarded to the DPH.  Grismer's association with both the PD and the historical foundation made him incredibly valuable to this mystery.  He also immediately brought to my attention the date discrepancy (Dillinger was in prison) and we agreed that any Dillinger association was extremely unlikely.  He also sent a photo (below) of the seized items when Dillinger was arrested in Dayton and no Thompsons appear in that photo.

Money, guns, & shells?  Sounds like a checklist for an awesome weekend.
Also, I love the expression that says, "Can you believe this?"

The exchange of information continued.  Steve sent me things as he found them, and I sent him the information and documents on our Thompson since it was unquestionably linked to the Dayton PD.  DPH searched the Dillinger files at Wright State University and found no records to the Dayton Tommy guns.  I scoured Herigstad's books for more information, but without a way to cross-reference or Google search a book, that would have resulted in reading each individual page and then perhaps doing it again if the information was missed in the first pass.  RIAC did have some information with the gun on the Dayton house in which Dillinger was captured, that had since been razed, but that was about it.  DPH sent me a photo of a Cadillac "Bank Flyer" with some prominent Dayton policemen in front of it with some serious firepower, but ultimately, it felt like we were now grasping at straws.  Communication had slowed.  We needed a fresh piece of information to chase.

For me, there was little push beyond curiosity.  I figured that, at best, I would be able to pass along some historically verifiable information on to whatever collector would be lucky enough to purchase the gun.  If I got really lucky, the resulting research might even result in an extra bid or two.  DPH, on the other hand, had a more external form of motivation.  Never saying as much, and always exceptionally gracious with whatever information was received, one email revealed that a Dayton Police History Museum was in the infancy stages of becoming established.  The Dillinger story being important to that history meant that anything newly discovered would have a significant role in the museum.  The passion for local history and the pending museum was visible in their effort.

The Cadillac "Bank Flyer" (c. 1930) and the men of the "Flying Squadron."  The customized vehicle was outfitted with reinforced bumpers, impenetrable tires, radiator shield, bullet-proof windows, and custom racks on the inside to hold shotguns, Thompsons, gas grenades, bullet-proof vests, and other items.
 It was the escort vehicle when transporting Dillinger from Dayton to Allen County.

L to R: Dayton Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, Capt. Harvey Siferd, Officers, John Blake, Howard Reed, Brenton Collins, and Walter Geisler.

With information slowing two weeks into our search, DPH volunteered to look through some newspaper archives and other material to see what information could be found on any bank robbery that would've taken place in Dayton in May 1930.  At the same time, now knowing the serial number of one of the Dayton PD Tommy guns, they were seeking any additional information on it.  In the course of one weekend, we had our new lead.

DPH had found the serial numbers of two Thompsons that were ordered for the Montgomery County Sheriffs Office and was hoping I could offer some more information on the guns using the Herigstad text (Note: Dayton is located in Montgomery County).  They had also found newspaper articles dated May 6, 1930 detailing a bank robbery that had taken place!  We could almost smell the answers and our excitement was renewed.  My first step was to investigate the Thompson serial numbers given to me, 2621 and 4556.

A quick flip through the book revealed that these two guns were part of a larger, 5-gun shipment on April 7, 1927.  Thankfully Herigstad had already documented the serials of the guns in that shipment as 2621, 4186, 4418, 4556, and 4582.  The five guns were all ordered by the same person and were divvied up as such:

SN 2621: Model 1921AC   Sent to Montgomery County Sheriffs Office, Dayton, OH (1 of 2 owned)
SN 4186: Model 1921A      Sent to Dayton PD (1 of 3 owned)
SN 4418: Model 1921A      Sent to Dayton PD (2 of 3 owned)
SN 4556: Model 1921AC   Sent to Montgomery County Sheriffs Office, Dayton, OH (2 of 2 owned)
SN 4582: Model 1921A      Sent to Toledo, OH PD (1 of 13 owned)

The Thompson at Rock Island Auction Company was its own shipment on 1/21/1930
SN 6039: Model 1921AC   Sent to Dayton PD (3 of 3 owned)

This was very exciting data!  We had now uncovered all three of the Dayton PD Thompsons - information the DPH had been specifically seeking.  Based on those shipment records, several reasonable conclusions can be reached.

1.  If the "Bank Flyer" Cadillac in the photo is indeed from their 1930 model year, then the Thompsons shown in the photo with the "Bank Flyer" Cadillac were likely the first of the two Thompsons sent and not the Thompson available in our upcoming sale (SN6039).  Though admittedly, the photo could have been taken at a later date, even if it is unlikely.

2.  Since SN6039 was shipped on 1/21/1930 we can surmise a few things.  The first is that this photo was taken in the summer months of 1929.  Had it been taken in the summer months of 1930 (based on the foliage in the background) why would they omit their newly acquired third Thompson?  Also if this was taken in 1929, then we know that the Cadillac is either a) of model year 1929 or earlier or b) that car companies release model years of cars prior to the start of calendar years much as they do today.  Perhaps someone much more familiar with antique cars and the sales thereof can clarify in the comment section.

While I was tracing down the origins of the "Trench Brooms" purchased by the local Ohio agencies, DPH had been hard at work finding not only newspaper articles on the robbery, but also the first-hand accounts of officers involved in the action that day!  The connection with Dillinger long since discounted, now we could find out some of the things this Tommy gun had really seen during its life.  Newspaper accounts differ from the official police statements in some of the details, but the incredible story was coming together in exciting fashion.

Stay tuned for next week's article that details the action-packed, gangster era, bank robbery shootout!

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Herigstad, Gordon. Colt Thompson Submachine Gun Serial Numbers & Histories. 6th ed. Vol. I & II, Ridgecrest, CA: G. Herigstad, 2014. Print.

and of course the hard work of Stephen Grismer & the Dayton Police Historical Foundation

Friday, August 14, 2015

5 Guns That Belong In the Met

If you have an interest in gun or art collecting, you know that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has an extensive collection of firearms.  Their Arms & Armor Department, founded in 1912, houses hundreds of spectacular pieces from various nations, eras, and masters of their craft.  Not just for firearms, the area is also filled with historic edged weapons and various types of armor and helmets.  It is no exaggeration to call it an encyclopedia of its subject matter and one of the finest groupings in the entire world.

In an effort to display some of the more spectacular items that have arrived relatively recently at the Met, they've even displayed a new exhibit, Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 2003 - 2014, a noble commitment to these gorgeous and historic pieces, the firearms of which often find themselves under popular attack.  They are even rotating many of the items every several weeks!  This exhibit began on November 14, 2014 and will continue to run through December 6, 2015, so if you find yourself in the "City that Never Sleeps," there's still time to view a good number of the amazing recent additions.

Keeping in mind the beautiful and historic items displayed at the Met, Rock Island Auction Company would like to show you five outstanding pieces that would easily find their place at the lauded art museum.  All the pieces shown will be appearing in the 2015 September Premiere Firearms Auction, the catalog for which can be found here.  If you would like to see additional photos or know more of the history behind any of the items shown in this article, such information is contained in said online catalog.  Without further ado, here are the Top Five Items that Deserve to Be In the Met.

1.  Elaborate 1839 Exhibition Award Winning Joseph Falloise Signed, "Danse Macabre" Engraved and Gold and Silver Inlaid De Petigny Percussion Target Rifle

This is a rifle that must be seen to be believed.  Clicking on the first photo will enlarge it and show the absolutely stunning briarwood stock that acts as the foundation for this breathtaking French carbine.  With a profile that would not appear out of place in modern science fiction, the De Petigny target rifle served as an exhibition piece for the gunsmith at L'Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie Francaise (The Exhibition of French Industry Products) held in Paris during the early summer months of 1839.

The high points of the rifle are easier to list than to show a picture of each one, so please click the link above to see all the high-resolution, detailed photos of this masterpiece.  The lockplate and hammer still show touches of their gold plating, and the rest of the gun wears it profusely.

The entire length of the heavy, Damascus steel barrel, forged by Parisian master gunsmith Louis Pincon, is smothered by the work of engraver Joseph Fallois.  It is a mixture of panel scenes, etching, and floral scrollwork.  The theme of the embellishments on this rifle is that of "danse macabre," illustrated in even the tiniest of details.  A skull and cross bones appear on top of the receiver, and the upper right and left barrel flats together depict 30 engraved scenes bearing the likeness of death.  Small Latin phrases also appear on the gun to reinforce the motif, such as "Post mortem nihil est," (After death, there is nothing) on the barrel, and the text "Memento mori," (Remember you must die) curls around the muzzle along with two crossed bones.

Even the bottom of the forearm is exquisitely engraved with large overlays depicting Napoleon I with an eagle featuring gold inlaid accents, as well as a soldier in military uniform.  Not a single centimeter was ignored in the creation of this expertly crafted and stunning carbine.  It truly epitomizes the phrase, "steel canvas," and is readily one of the most significant true pieces of art we are ever offered.

Before touching on this pistol's aesthetics, discussing its extreme rarity would be prudent.  For even in all its beauty and craftsmanship, it remains even more rare thanks to the firing mechanism.  The petronel is the rarest form of all 16th century wheel locks.  The last petronel to be offered for sale was in 2008 and prior to that was 1983.

Petronels fit between arquebuses and pistols, being distinct from the two by being similar to a pistol, but differing with a wider butt as well as its overall shape.  They were distinctly larger than pistols, this example points a lengthy 22 1/4" barrel, and fired a larger round. Having a wider butt made it easier to fire by bracing it against the chest - earning the gun its name from the French poitrine (chest).  Due to the weight inherent in a larger gun, it was frequently carried by a baudrick (shoulder sling).  It was often used by horsemen, making it a derivation of the harquebuss, and would be carried on a sling with the gun resting on the chest for ease of access.  Consider it the "saddle ring carbine" of the 1500s.

It is a head turning piece with its dramatically curved fruitwood stock inlaid almost entirely with white stag horn that has been polished and engraved with scenes of gods and goddesses from antiquity, grotesque masks, geometric designs, mythical dragons, and large scrollwork.  As if that weren't enough, selected portions of the ivory-like bone inlay have been stained a vibrant green producing an enamel effect known as polychrome.  Such verdant accents immediately catch the eye and draw the viewer in for a closer look at this petronel's incredible detail.

Once this arm held a place of honor in the collection of Baron Frederic Spitzer.  Spitzer was the most important dealer in medieval and Renaissance art during the late 19th century, with clients including the Baron Adolphe de Rothschild and Sir Richard Wallace.  When he passed in 1890, his collection was a museum in itself, and one of the largest of its kind in Europe.  After being sold once, the majority of the collection was donated to several renowned English museums.  There being virtually no petronels in private American collections, this piece represents a fine and rare opportunity rife with provenance that is sure to offer pride of ownership for decades to come.

Instantly visible in this royal set of wheel lock pistols are fantastic inlaid bone plaques set into the fruitwood stock.  Evenly spaced throughout the wood, grotesque sea serpents are carved and engraved into the bone as are foliage and floral patterns.  Another feat of artistry on the pistols are the seven-sided, fluted, pear shaped "pommels," each side with bone inlay of its own.

When firearms are made for royalty, one can safely assume that only the utmost in care was given to their creation.  Not only is bone used in the many inlays that adorn the warm-toned wood, but it is also used in several rosettes, two ramrod ends, the fore-end caps, and surrounding the breech tang.  As the headline indicates, this pistol set was created for Prince Christian II, Elector of Saxony and has been in world class collections since its creation.  They were once part of the Collection of Saxon Electoral Armories in Dresden, also known as the Dresden Armory.  It is one of the world's largest collections of ceremonial weapons & armor, and to see the museum is to know that it takes a well-preserved, historical masterpiece to earn a place in such an institution (Click on that link.  The exhibits are jaw-dropping and you won't regret it).  These pistols were also in the collection of one Mr. Stephen V. Grancsay, who, appropriately enough for this article, was the one-time curator of the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They have also been displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1933 and at the Allentown Museum in 1964.  While this article has selected guns that deserve to be in one of the world's most prestigious art museums, these pistols have the provenance to earn it.  They are only the third pair of Stockmann pistols to have been sold in America in 1968.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime.

4. A Magnificent and Superb Royal Cased Pair of Lavishly Gold Inlaid Percussion Pistols by Manceaux of Paris Presented to Captain Thomas, Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, by Louis Philippe, King of France

While this cased set of incredible presentation pistols are certainly worthy of their own write-up, they were investigated thoroughly in last week's article, The Admiral, The King, & the Inventor, and will not be covered again here.

5.  An Extremely Rare Gold Mounted Flintlock Pocket Pistol By Nicolas Noël Boutet Circa 1805

This diminutive pistol was created by arguably one of the greatest manufacturers of high art firearms of all time, Nicolas Noël Boutet.  The Parisian was the Director Artiste of Versailles, the gunsmith to King Louis XVI, and even to Emperor Napoleon.  Boutet's resume and generally recognized mastery would be adequate to earn it a place in any museum, and the Met has already recognized this by featuring several of the artisan's works of pistols, longarms, and even design drawings.  France's Musée de l'Armée is also well known to proudly display Boutet works.

Rock Island Auction Company has sold Boutet pistols before with great success and it's not difficult to see why.  This particular pocket pistol is engraved on the barrel and muzzle with decorative bands that are so tiny, they must be seen to appreciate the excruciating detail.  The frame is finely engraved with a bull on the right side and a pair of stallions on the left.  The life-like appearance and expertise in these engravings is unmatched during that era and holds its own to this day.  Even the underside of the frame has a tiny farmhouse seen, a stag in a field, while the underside of the 1 3/8" round barrel depicts a woman in period clothing carrying a basket.  To perform these engravings so far ahead of their time and on such a Lilliputian scale is simply astounding.  For arms so small, they certainly require a great deal of space to describe them.  Not yet discussed are the engraved safety switch, the engraved swan neck hammer, frizzen, and top-jaw, as well as the extravagant ebony grip gold inlaid with images of floral vines, leaves, dragons, and gryphons,

Truth be told, there are more than five items in our upcoming 2015 September Premiere Firearms Auction that deserve to be in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  There just isn't time to list them all, but here are a few that certainly warrant an Honorable Mention.

Lot 1157: Superb and Richly Adorned Cased Pair of Anton Vinzent Lebeda of Prague Gold Inlaid and Engraved Percussion Target Pistols

A classic choice for any high end collection or museum, this pistol set has all the essentials: a renowned craftsman, intricate engraving, beautiful inlays, expert and delicate stock carving, Damascus barrels, precious metals, a compliment of exceptional accessories, and a striking case.

Lot 1114: Very Rare Fine Italian Cinquedea Short Sword with Elaborate Engraving

The name cinquedea (cinque diti) translates to "five fingers" - a reference to the blade's width.  Its large flat surface provided a natural canvas for artists.  Why would the Met be interested in this?  They may already have one or two (as does the Louvre) and the engraving on this particular example depicts numerous mythical beasts, several religious texts in Latin, and two faded circular equestrian scenes.  The intentionally visible iron tang also features its own text on a mounted bronze panel.  The grip is black horn overlaid with antique ivory.

Lot 160: Exceptional Michael Has Signed and 1663 Dated Flintlock Jaeger Rifle with Extraordinary Raised Relief Carved Stock and Oil Painted Beulwitz Coat of Arms

We'll just let the relief carved stock do the talking for this rifle.  Which is easy when said carving depicts a man being trampled to death by a cavalry charge alongside a tiny oil panting of the maker's family coat of arms.

Many of these guns are out from behind museum glass relatively recently considering their long lives.  Blades and arms in general, often only belonged to the well-to-do, and weapons adorned so lavishly would certainly have been made only for royalty and other elite classes.  The Met states it succinctly on their web page when they say,

"Arms and armor have been a vital part of virtually all cultures for thousands of years, pivotal not only in conquest and defense, but also in court pageantry and ceremonial events. Throughout time the best armor and weapons have represented the highest artistic and technical capabilities of the society and period in which they were made, forming a unique aspect of both art history and material culture."
These arms appearing in the September Premiere Firearms Auction are certainly evidence of that, exuding the very best of period artistry, technology, and wealth.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Fosbroke, Thomas Dudley, M.A., F.S.A. Encyclopaedia of Antiquities and Elements of Archaeology, Classical and Mediaeval, Volume 2. Vol. II. Web.