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Dillenger's Tommy gun is returned to DeKalb County.

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Close-up shot of the Thompson sub-machine gun stolen by John Dillinger's gang in 1933 and returned to DeKalb County on Thursday.

Dillinger gun comes home to Auburn

AUBURN – 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 on Thursday, steeped in local legend and a history of murder, and carrying 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, and returned 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 officer 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 that Dillinger and his gang killed.

The gun was most likely used in a series of bank robberies shortly after it was taken. It was recovered after Dillinger and his gang, who had taken refuge in Tucson, Ariz., had to flee from 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, where it went on display at the agency's headquarters.

About 20 years ago, 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.

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 Thompson's taken a week later in Peru.

Auburn Mayor Norman Yoder said the submachine gun is 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 currently in discussions with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum about possibly putting the gun on display there.