Americans eagerly embraced the automobile in the 1920s as mass-production made them more available at lower costs. The number of registered cars increased from 8 million in 1920 to almost 18 million in 1925. Indiana specifically saw one car for every 4.85 people in 1925, up from a total of just 6,221 cars in the state two years earlier.
The explosion in the availability of cars didn’t just encourage owners to travel farther, faster. It also worked in the favor of organized crime. Distance was no longer an issue to robbers, as getaway cars could swiftly remove them from the scene of the crime before the police arrived. By stealing cars and selling them after a robbery, criminals were able to increase their profits while covering their tracks at the same time. The standardized appearance of early automobiles and the lack of sufficient locking mechanisms made auto theft easy and difficult to track. This use of stolen getaway cars was employed during a raid on the Auburn City Jail, organized by members of the Dillinger gang.
John Dillinger was a notorious gangster known for robbing banks and police stations as well as committing other acts of theft across the midwest over a ten year period from 1924 to 1934. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and got into trouble with the law from an early age. He reportedly robbed whiskey from box cars in his teens and was stealing vehicles as a young adult. He joined the Navy in 1923 to escape auto theft charges, but quickly deserted his station without permission. He was arrested in 1924 for assaulting and attempting to rob a Mooresville grocer. He was convicted and received joint sentences of 2 to 14 years and 10 to 20 years at the Indiana State Reformatory at Pendleton and the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. He was released after eight and a half years.
After his release, Dillinger joined an Indianapolis gang called the “White Caps” and robbed a number of grocery stores. Grocery stores were perfect robbery targets as most Americans purchased goods in cash and stores had little to no security. He then moved on to robbing banks, which offered more money. Dillinger worked with a group of criminals he met at the Indiana State Prison that is believed to have hit banks in Daleville, Rockville, Montpelier, Bluffton, Ohio, and Indianapolis in the summer and fall of 1933. Dillinger was arrested for the Bluffton robbery on September 22, 1933. On October 12, he was broken out of the Allen County Jail by members of his gang, some of whom had escaped from an Indiana prison themselves a few weeks earlier.
Three days later the Auburn City Jail was raided by three armed men. Two were identified in local newspapers as Walter Deitrich and Harry Copeland, known Dillinger associates. The third man, who remained unidentified, acted as a lookout. Dietrich and Copeland forced officers Fred Kruger and Henry West to surrender their weapons and keys to the gun cabinet before locking them into a cell. About a thousand dollars worth of guns and ammunition were taken, as well as three bullet-proof vests.
A Thompson machine gun with serial number 409T364 was one of the guns taken in the raid. It was later recovered in a home in Tucson, Arizona when Dillinger and other members of his gang were arrested in January 1934. Dillinger was returned in custody to Indiana where he was held in the Crown Point jail, which he again escaped from. A few months later John died in a shootout with FBI agents outside a Chicago theatre on July 22, 1934. The machine gun that was stolen in the raid is now back in Auburn, Indiana on display in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.