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The Dillinger Gang Makes Mistakes in Tucson, Arizona

Updated on March 23, 2013
Downtown Daytona Beach
Downtown Daytona Beach | Source

New Year's Eve Ushers in 1934

They celebrated New Year’s Eve there, too. At midnight, Dillinger heard firecrackers on the beach and took his submachine gun on the porch. Silent Margaret wanted to learn how to shoot the gun, but became impatient. The barrel jerked up when she hit the trigger, making Dillinger fall back, with powder burns on his shirt.

A few hours later, they heard a radio report that Dillinger and his gang raided the Beverly Gardens, a roadhouse near Chicago, and shot two policemen in a gun battle. Johnnie said that everything was going to be blamed on him now.

Billie Frechette and John Dillinger
Billie Frechette and John Dillinger | Source

Dillinger Has Second Thoughts

It was getting to be time to move on again, and it seemed to work well for everyone to go their own separate ways. In a few weeks, the gang would meet in Tucson, Arizona, then decide what they would do next.

Dillinger was sorry for what he had done to Billie Frechette, and he needed a woman with him. It was time to go to Wisconsin, find her, and see if she would come back to him. Hamilton would go along, since they had to go through Chicago and cash some of the negotiable bonds hidden there in a safe deposit box.

Dillinger Squad
Dillinger Squad | Source

Boredom Sets In

When he first got to Chicago, Dillinger called Sgt. Frank Reynolds, Chief of the night Dillinger Squad, and said that he was coming back to kill him, just for giggles. Reynolds was hoping to see him, but it never happened.

The boys weren’t able to cash the bonds, and wanted money for the Tucson trip, even though they still had plenty of money from Greencastle. They had nothing to do for two months, and Dillinger was feeling bored.

1st National Bank and Trust
1st National Bank and Trust | Source

The First National Bank of East Chicago

Dillinger and Hamilton were reckless without much planning, not even bothering to leave a guard outside the bank this time. As long as they had bulletproof vests, they’d be all right. Dillinger was cocky at this point, believing what was written about him in the newspapers. On January 15, 1934, they headed for East Chicago, Indiana, to the First National Bank. Just before closing, Dillinger walked in with a trombone case. He opened it, grabbed his submachine gun, and walked over to cashier James Dalton. He said that it was a holdup, then facing Vice-President Walter Spencer, who was on the phone with Joseph Walkowiak, of a branch bank. Dillinger told him to hang up, he whispered that it was a holdup before he did, and pressed the silent alarm.

A customer, who just cashed a check, began backing away from the counter without his money. Dillinger told him to take his money, as he wanted the bank’s money, not his. All the customers were herded into a corner, as Dillinger knew about the alarm activation. He wanted them protected if any shooting began.

Hamilton was waiting in the lobby, and Johnnie called him to get the money in the back. While Hamilton was scooping cash in a Federal Reserve sack, Dillinger saw a police officer at the front door. There were actually four of them, three plainclothesmen, as well. They figured that it was another false alarm, as was so often the case. Uniformed Officer, Hobart Wilgus, came in and was wearing his overcoat over his gun. Dillinger asked him where his weapon was, and he pointed. He was simply told to leave it where it was and to stand with the rest of the group.

It finally hit Dillinger when he looked outside that there were more officers out there, even though they were not uniformed. He realized that the only way out was to have hostages again. He took Officer Wilgus and Spencer, and Hamilton and Dillinger walked out the front door.

Officer William Patrick O'Malley
Officer William Patrick O'Malley | Source

The Getaway

Officer William Patrick O’Malley was standing outside the front door of J.J. Newberry’s, right next door, who shouted Wilgus’ name. The police hostage stepped aside, which gave O’Malley a clear shot at Dillinger, but the bullets bounced off his vest. Dillinger shoved Spencer aside, fired at O’Malley, and hit him in the leg. O’Malley shot again, and the bullets again bounced off the vest. Dillinger fired a short burst, and as O’Malley fell, one pierced his heart.

The other officers, joined by another passing, shot at Hamilton, who was carrying the money bag. One bullet went through a weak part in his vest, and he fell. Dillinger helped him to his feet and grabbed the money with the other hand. Even though his back was not protected, Dillinger made it through the barrage of shots unharmed. The car was parked in the middle of Chicago Avenue.

The car flew across the train tracks, which the gang had the forethought to cut the power, so the train couldn’t interrupt them. They meandered all around Chicago, then counted the cash at the hideout, over 20 grand. Hamilton was taken to an underworld physician by Dillinger, and he soon learned that O’Malley was dead. He killed his first man.

Hotel Congress
Hotel Congress | Source

A Little Bad Luck in Tucson Right Away

The Dillinger Gang was in Tucson, which was not far from Mexico, surrounded by mountains, and was a friendly, easy-going town with three well-run parlors that operated openly for tourists. It had a wonderful climate and was still hit hard by the Depression,yett still growing. They couldn’t have chosen a better place.

Clark and his girl, Opal “Mack Truck” Long arrived first with Makley. They were staying at the Congress, a three-story hotel. Early morning on January 23, an oil overflow from the furnace burst into flames, and the fire spread rapidly. This was the day before firestops. Makley and Clark were seen trying to get a ladder up to the third floor. Makley said that they were trying to save their luggage, so the firemen went right to room 329 and kicked in the front door. One of the firemen grabbed a heavy, cloth covered box, took it to the window, and was about to drop it down. Makley saw this, and wouldn’t let him drop the machine guns out the window.

Period vehicle that Dillinger and the Gang Used
Period vehicle that Dillinger and the Gang Used

The Gang Trickles Into Tucson

After the clothing and box were given to Makley, he gave them $2, which was quite a bit in that day. The next day, one of the firemen saw a picture of the gang in True Detective Magazine. He called the sheriff’s department and asked if they had any pictures. When he viewed them, he saw that the good tipper was definitely Clark.

They moved to a one-story house near the University of Arizona. The landlady liked Mr. Davis, who was really Makley, but seemed certain that she had seen him before. He told her that he had never been to Tucson before, smiling.

That afternoon, Dillinger and Billie Frechette registered at a motor court in town with a Boston bull terrier pup. Out of pure luck, Pierpont and Mary Kinder showed up at the same place, and were given an adjoining cabin. They had just come from Albuquerque after visiting with Pierpont’s parents. The gang members finally realized that each other was at the same place, and Dillinger said that everyone would meet at the main highway near Veterans Hospital the next morning. Mary Kinder said that she didn’t want to stay in Arizona at the meeting, as she had a hunch.

It Starts to Hit the Proverbial Fan

Makley met a woman that he was taking downtown to get a radio at a shop that he had in for repairs. He was seen by three policemen, who got the address from someone who took their luggage from the scene of the hotel fire. They followed Makley’s Studebaker to town, and when Makley walked into Grabe Electric Company, they followed. They quietly arrested Makley and took him to the city jail.

Sgt. Frank Eyman and three others, all in street clothes, went to the Strauss place in an unmarked car. Sgt. Chet Sherman would put on a Western Union cap and deliver a fake message, while Eyman and another man would break in the back door. Dallas Ford would wait across the street and be backup for Sherman.

Clark saw Sherman and went into the bedroom, allowing Opal Long to answer the door. Sherman said that he had a letter for Mr. Long and had to deliver it personally. When Clark came for it, Sherman drew his gun, but the big gangster grabbed it, and pulled little Sherman inside. They were wrestling, and Dallas Ford went running up the front steps. Opal shut the door on his hand, breaking a finger, but he still got inside. One thing led to another, Eyman and his partner were in via the back door. Eyman tried to whack Clark with his gun, missing and hitting Sherman, instead. Sherman finally got the gun away from Clark, slugged him, and Clark crumpled.

Next Comes Pierpont

An hour later, Pierpont and Mary Kinder returned to the cabin. When he saw blood on the front porch, they got back in the car, and went to their cabin, packed, and found a local attorney. A neighbor reported seeing Pierpont at Clark’s cabin, and an officer recalled having a chat with Pierpont at a cabin on South Sixth.

Sgt. Eyman and Officer Nolan passed Pierpont and Mary Kinder going in the opposite direction as they neared the tourist camp. Nolan recognized the Buick, made a u-turn, and effected a chase. After several blocks, the police caught the Buick and sounded the horn. The Buick pulled over, and Eyman asked for Pierpont’s license. Pierpont had a gun in his left hand, but decided to bluff, as the officer seemed decent enough. He hid the gun, and showed a fictitious license. Eyman said that they didn’t have a visitor’s inspection sticker, telling him that every officer in town would stop him without it. He got in the crowded back seat, sitting on the suitcase that contained several revolvers, a machine gun, bulletproof vest, and ammo.

Still unworried, Pierpont drove to the station, and all three got out of the car, walking downstairs to the police station. It was too late, as Pierpont saw Clark and Makley’s luggage, realizing that he was trapped. He grabbed for the gun that he hid under his left arm. Eyman was faster, and told him to drop it, but Pierpont’s right hand went for another gun stuck in his belt. By then, another officer was there to help, and Pierpont stuck a piece of paper in his mouth. An iron claw was put on his arm and tightened. He spat out the paper, which was 1304 East 5th, the address of the house that Dillinger rented that day. Eyman saw another piece of paper in Pierpont’s hand. Again the come-a-longs were used, and Pierpont gave up an Indiana driver’s license made out to John Donovan, a Dillinger alias.

Next Comes Dillinger

While Eyman checked out the house on 5th, Plainclothesman James Herron, suggested that the Strauss home be staked out. One of the two men picked by Herron was Swede Walker, who thought that Pierpont spoke like a professor. It was dusk when the police got to the house, and Herron parked the car across the street. By then, Dillinger and Billie Frechette drove past, made a u-turn, and stopped in front of the house. They had no idea that the rest of the gang had been jailed. He told Billie to make sure that they had the right address, and at that point, Herron was coming up behind them.

Just as Herron drew his .38, Walker kicked open the screen door and told them to stick ‘em up. Dillinger was led off the porch onto the sidewalk, and Billie, who was still in the car, was arrested. Walker held a shotgun on Dillinger while he was searched by Herron. Dillinger’s hands began to drop slowly, and Walker pulled the hammer back on the gun, and ordered Dillinger’s hands up.

In five hours, without firing a shot and only a broken finger, the police of little Tucson did what a number of states couldn’t in a long time. The gang’s own false sense of security caused those arrests.

Arizona Daily Star Headline
Arizona Daily Star Headline | Source
Dillinger Gang at Arraignment after Tucson Capture
Dillinger Gang at Arraignment after Tucson Capture | Source

The Dillinger ID and the Arraignment

Dillinger kept insisting that he was Frank Sullivan at the station. William Mathews of the Arizona Daily Star followed Dillinger into the ID room, where Sgt. Robbins examined a number of photos. He unequivocally ID’d John Dillinger, right down to his scars. Mathews whispered to his reporter outside the door that Dillinger was under arrest. The gang was removed to Pima County Jail in the county courthouse, as the local jail was too small. When searched, they found over $23,000 on the gang.

When Matt Leach heard the news, he wanted custody of all four of the men. Ohio claimed that they had a stronger case, due to the murder of Sheriff Sarber. Pima County Attorney, Clarence Houston, made a phone call, and said that Indiana agreed that Ohio was where Dillinger would be heading.

Leach and five aides were on the way to Tucson with $325 in reward money, $100 for each escaped man, and $25 for Dillinger as a parole violator. Leach expected that the men be turned over to him, due to the amount of time that he spent on the case.

The next morning, the gang and their women were arraigned. The gang’s attorney, John L. van Buskirk, argued for reasonable bail, as Houston wanted them held without any. They were held on $100,000 each. Bail for Mary Kinder and the other two women was set at $5,000 each.

Governor Benjamin Baker Moeur
Governor Benjamin Baker Moeur | Source

The Party Starts

Jack Weadock of the Star reminded Makley back at the jail that they had been friends in St. Marys, Ohio. Makley had once shoed horses for his father, a blacksmith. Makley told Weadock that Pierpont was the dangerous one in the gang. He said that they all trusted Dillinger, and talked about Makley’s honest, hard working family.

Reporters and photographers were coming in from all over the country, and Dillinger was getting most of the attention, as he was thought to be the leader. His fame was now nationwide, and it was his capture, not his crimes, that brought this all about. Even the Arizona Governor, B.B. Moeur visted the jail. Dillinger wouldn’t visit with the Governor, he was only worried about the Boston bull pup. One of the regulars at the jail, Mike McGuire, said that he’d take the puppy, and Dillinger asked the jailer to give it to him. Makley and Pierpont were more than happy to chat with the Governor.

John Hamilton was the only gang member that had not been arrested. There was a rumor circulating that Hamilton was going to break out the gang, so the Sheriff utilized Border Patrol guards as a precaution. Hundreds of civilians also answered the call for assistance.

Well, here we go again. Don't worry about us, mom, we'll be all right, and it won't be long before we're out of the slammer. You'll see. It's happened before, hasn't it? Stay turned for the good parts, my friends, and keep the lights on for me. I'll be home soon.


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, CoffeeKlatch. After a while, all the gangsters seem to get bored.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Another great chapter in the life of John Dillinger. It's so exciting and fun to read this. It soundss like their boredom led to carelessness.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Jim, they did. Also, Tucson was small enough at that time to have astute police. They were a tourist town, and still growing, but small enough to know their neighborhoods, too.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Those Tucson cops were both careful and lucky that the gang was so careless. They must have stuck out like sore thumbs in that little town.

      Good story, Deb!

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      hey, Rolly! I bet you have seen some great birds out your way, eh? That is amazing that I had something going where you have prior knowledge.

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 

      6 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi aviannovice... a timely read, just last year at this time I sat in the Congress Hotel while touring Tucson. The Dillinger story became a fascination as I walked through the many haunts of the hotel. Wall lined with stories held me captive.

      One thing that stood out in my mind was what the hotel had done on the floor of the lounge. A huge room covered completely in pennies and covered over in resin...

      Great write hear and glad to have had the visit.

      Hugs from Canada

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Alicia, they despised the government and did a lot of things to a lot of people, but they also did a lot of silly, stupid things, too.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Although they are violent criminals, the characters that you are describing are very interesting and intriguing, Deb!

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Eddy! These have been a blast to write and add pictures for. I even have a few e-mails out to soe of the police departments for pictures. Hope they are able to provide something.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Oh what another great chapter and here's to the next one ;I am so gripped and hoping I won't have to wait too long; hahaha!!.

      Have a great day Deb.


    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Martin! I'm so glad that you're enjoying this. They were quite a group of characters in our history, which is what they really wanted to be. Sometimes I think they're over my shoulder as I write, for I can see those gun battles and robberies as I et them down. Especially those asides at the end...

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Don't worry, Chris, there's more...

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      She was a big woman. They never called her that to her face. She was wonderful and such a caring person.

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Well, yeah... It gets wilder and wilder, Billy.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Good job as always. And as always I thank you

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

      Hi Deb, What a way to live. Always on the run and looking over his shoulder. Great job putting all this information together.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      6 years ago from United States

      I'm enjoying these hubs just for the names alone. Opal “Mack Truck” Long. Wonderful!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, what's next? I mean come on, Deb, this "leave us hanging" thing is getting old. :) Good they escape?

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Hey, Cindy! There are a few others on Dillinger, too, that I hope you got to see. All is well, I trust?

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      What a comprehensive hub. It was fun learning about all this. Great to see you, by the way. :)


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