Rock Island Auction Company

August 28, 2015

Bank Robbery Turned Gangster-Era Shootout

By Joel R Kolander

Share this post:

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.

Dayton Ohio Police Thompson machine gun
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.

bank robber Thompson SMG

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.”

aftermath of 1930 bacnk robbery and shootout Dayton, OH

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.

wounded James Brink with Dayton Police

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.

Dayton Police with reward checks

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.

1930 Bank Flyer
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.

Dayton, Ohio Police Department Thompson machine gun

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.

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

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.

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

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 [email protected].


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.

Thompson marking on Thompson submachine gun

SOURCES:

http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/daytonhostageparttwo.html

http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/dayton-police-firsts.html

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

Recent News

Historic Powder Horns

Historic Powder Horns

If you watch a frontier or military movie set in the mid-19th century or earlier, look at historical paintings, visit a fur trade rendezvous or reenac

Read more

Comments

Please login to post a comment.