AUBURN, Ind. (WANE) – A rare piece of gangster folklore arrived in Auburn Thursday. The FBI officially returned a Tommy gun that John Dillinger’s gang stole from the Auburn Police Department in 1933.
The weapon currently doesn’t work, still experts think the .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun could be worth anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million. The value is partly thanks to it being connected to the most notorious gangster in Indiana history, but Auburn officials have no plans to sell it.
According to special agents with the FBI, Dillinger’s gang members broke him out of a Lima, Ohio jail by posing as Indiana State troopers in October of 1933. On October 14, his gang members robbed the Auburn Police Department. They got away with bullet proof vests, ammunition, and several firearms. Their loot included the Tommy gun, which was made in 1921.
After robbing several banks, surviving police shootouts, and another jail break, Dillinger was killed in a famous police shootout at a Chicago movie theater.
Auburn Police Chief Martin McCoy and other officials received the Tommy gun at the DeKalb County courthouse Thursday morning.
“It’s just amazing to think that Indiana’s most notorious gangster may have held that in his hands,” Chief McCoy said. “Honestly we don’t know, but it could be responsible for the deaths of law enforcement officers. So it’s kind of bittersweet.”
Decades passed, but officers Edward McDonald of Auburn and Tim Baker of DeKalb County didn’t forget the Tommy gun. After years of looking for it, an anonymous tipster in California led the self-proclaimed history buffs to the weapon, which was located in an FBI showroom in Washington D.C.
“[The tipster] says, ‘I need to run a serial number past you,’ and he read off that serial number,” Baker said. “I was able to look it up through our clerk’s office on the original purchase order and I was like, ‘Hey, that’s it.’”
Sergeant McDonald died in 2013 and didn’t get to see the result of his 15-year investigation. But leaders say because of his work, they hope to display the Tommy gun in the Auburn Cord Duesenburg Museum.