Only in Indiana: Peru Police Department wants gun stolen by Dillinger returned

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He is one of the most recognizable names in American history. Just say the name Dillinger and everyone knows who you are talking about. He was as brazen as they come and one of his most daring crimes was committed in Peru, Indiana. In fact, Peru is still trying to make things right more than 80 years after the heist took place.

More than 80 years have passed since John Herbert Dillinger was shot and killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago in July of 1934.

At age 31, he was engaging, fearless, public enemy number one and on October 20th, 1933 he was in the Peru, Indiana Police Department.

As we strolled through the small downtown, Peru city attorney Pat Roberts pointed out the building - a three-story brick structure with the words "City Hall" at the top.

But Dillinger was not a prisoner. 

"They had it all planned out and they knew where all the guns were," Roberts continued as we walked toward the old City Building in downtown Peru.

His gang had the gall to rob the place. Pat Roberts' father was on duty that day, sitting at the front desk.

"On the other side, you will find a window.  That is where another gang member, I don't know who it was, was supposedly standing there with a Tommy Gun," he explained.

It's the stuff of legend. The daring heist cleaned out everything except a Tommy Gun which was jammed into a drawer because it had literally jammed earlier in the day. The gang herded three people into the front lobby and then, according to witnesses, said "and don't make a false move or we'll plug you before you can bat an eye."

"That is when Dillinger took my dad's badge off.  That is one of the things they found out in Arizona," Roberts recollected from what his father told him. 

We asked if he'd tried to get it back.

"Well, we don't know where it is," he said.

But they do know where the "Tommy Gun" Dillinger stole from Peru now is.  It's on display in the Tucson, Arizona Police Department as the centerpiece for "Dillinger Days." The only problem is it doesn't belong there.

"It's ours. The bottom line is, it's our gun," Peru Police Chief Mike Meeks declared.

Records obtained by Eyewitness News show two Thompson machine guns ordered from Auto-Ordinance Corporation November 8, 1929 to be shipped to the Peru Chief of Police.  FBI records from May 27, 1936 obtained by a collector show Peru received two Tommy Guns with the serial numbers 7117 which Peru still has and is shown here, and 5878 which is clearly visible on the gun currently on display in Tucson.

"It seems like their argument is possession is nine-tenths of the law," Josh Sigler, an administrative assistant for the mayor, said.

Under that rationale, have they ever considered stealing it back? 

"Funny you say that. Someone brought that up to me today, that we all just go out there like gangsters and steal our gun back," Chief Meeks joked.

Sigler is the man  who sifted through the cities files and discovered Peru had been long been tracing the wrong serial number.  Now that that is corrected, the city is taking action.

"Apparently they parked down here. Just pulled up right here and away they went," Roberts said as he pointed toward the curb out front of the old City Building. 

The entire operation, according to Roberts, took about ten minutes.  It is ironic that the city's next step might very well be up to him. The man whose Dad had his own gun and badge stolen by Dillinger that night over 80 years ago is now the man designated to try to get that stolen property back.

A certified letter which points out, among other things, that there is no statute of limitations on stolen merchandise, was sent to the Tucson, Arizona Police Department on Monday.

"The heritage of the thing is in Peru, Indiana you know.  It's not out in Arizona," Roberts stated.

Does it seem odd we are even having this discussion? we asked Chief Meeks and Sigler.

"After all these years, we are a country of laws.  It seems pretty simple so we have an argument between law enforcement people. If we can't get along, who can, right?" Meeks observed.

The real problem may be financial. 

"The gun they have is worth anywhere from a million to a quarter million dollars because of who it is connected to," and Sigler added, because it is believed the be the Tommy gun used by Dillinger during the East Chicago robbery.

"Great great majority of people want the gun back. It's our gun. There is no reason Tucson should have our gun," Meeks continued.

Dillinger stole it. Tucson kept it and now Peru wants it back. 

Adding insult to injury here, back in that time officers at the Peru Police Department had to pay for their own guns.  So never getting them back meant they had to pay to replace them out of their own pockets. That certified letter should arrive in Tucson this week or early next week.

We'll keep you posted.

See more Only in Indiana stories from Kevin Rader.