PERU – It’s been 82 years since the notorious gangster John Dillinger brazenly robbed the Peru Police Department and stole a Colt Thompson submachine gun.
Now, Peru officials hope to finally get the gun back.
Josh Sigler, the assistant to Peru Mayor Gabe Greer, said new documentation proves that the gun was confiscated by the Tucson Police Department when they arrested Dillinger there in 1934.
But the stolen firearm, commonly known as a Tommy gun, was never returned to Peru. Instead, it was kept by the Tucson Police Department, where it’s now on display in the police station lobby, he said.
Peru officials hope that it won’t be there much longer.
On Wednesday, City Attorney Pat Roberts sent a letter to the Tucson police chief officially asking the department to return the gun to Peru.
The formal request came after the city received an unexpected phone call last week from a museum curator in Ohio.
The call came from Tracie Hill, the gun curator at The Works Ohio Center for History, Art and Technology, and the author of “The Ultimate Thompson Book,” which details the history of the famous gun company.
Hill told officials that he had the original purchase request and shipping receipt showing that Peru purchased two Tommy guns in 1929. He also had a copy of a document published by the FBI in 1936 listing all the Colt Thompson machine guns that had been sold in Indiana between 1928 and 1934. The document listed two guns purchased by Peru, along with their serial numbers.
“We were incredibly lucky to get these," Sigler said.
He said Hill learned about the city’s efforts to get the gun back after a story published in The Kokomo Tribune reporting on the tussle between Peru and Tucson gained national attention.
Sigler has researched the Dillinger robbery and the stolen Tommy gun since February, during which time he became convinced the gun ended up in Tucson and was never returned.
The proof? He said it was the serial number on the gun, which is 5878. According to a notice issued by the Peru police chief after the robbery, that was the serial number on the weapon stolen by Dillinger.
Sigler said he found a picture of the gun on display in Tucson, and the serial number is listed on the stock is 5878.
That was confirmed by research completed by Gordon Herigstad, who published a book called “Colt Thompson Submachine Gun Serial Numbers & Histories.” The book details the narrative of every submachine gun that was ever manufactured outside of wartime production – all 15,000 of them.
The FBI document is the third and most undeniable confirmation of the guns’ serial number.
The documentation provided by Hill last week was the final piece of the puzzle proving that the Tommy gun belongs to Peru, Sigler said.
“This is unequivocal proof that gun is ours – bought and paid for – and we never intended it to leave our city,” he said. “I think we’ve proved beyond any doubt that gun belongs in Peru.”
Dillinger and his gang robbed the police station in October 1933. They stole the Tommy gun, along with other weapons and police equipment, and then used it to hold up the First National Bank of East Chicago on Jan. 15, 1934, according to Herigstad’s book. The gun was captured with Dillinger in Tucson on Jan. 25, 1934.
City Attorney Roberts said the city has now gained enough documentation to make a solid case that the gun belongs to Peru.
“I don’t see how they’re in a position to deny this,” Roberts said. “This issue has been on the table and now it’s been pushed under the table for a long time. It’s time to bring this out in the open and get the gun back.”
The request letter sent Wednesday says in part “Our City Administration and community wants the Thompson returned to its legal owner,” and includes copies of all the documentation defending the city’s claim.
And if Tucson doesn’t cooperate? Roberts said the city will respond in kind.
“Depending on what their reply is will determine how tough we will get,” he said.