visit the house at 327 N. Second Ave in tucson that John Dillinger was busted at. it looks like it is just south of that high school which is west of the U of A. and for those of you who dont know your way around tucson the hotel congress is at 4th avenue and broadway.

The day Tucson corralled Dillinger

Janet Webb Farnsworth Arizona Highways Arizona Highways Jan. 8, 2006 12:00 AM

Smoke billows from the upstairs windows of Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson as frantic firemen rescue trapped guests. No fear. No fire. It's just part of Action Unlimited Entertainment's version of the "Tucson Incident" - a k a the 1934 capture of the Dillinger gang.

Although Tucson police managed the arrests without firing a shot in '34, the actors now throw in a bank robbery complete with shotgun blasts and a police chase for excitement. The crowd loves it.

Tucson's Dillinger Days mark the capture of an American "public enemy" - the notorious gangster, bank robber and prison escapee John Dillinger. (In 1930, the Chicago Crime Commission coined the term "public enemy" and created the first list of public enemies. In 1950, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI implemented the "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" program.)

Dillinger and his gang robbed banks and evaded the law throughout the Midwest until apprehended by what they called Tucson's "hick town cops."

Tucson, then covering 7 square miles, employed 35 policemen when Dillinger and his infamous gang were captured through a series of chance events. A true media circus, Dillinger's arrest focused the spotlight on Tucson and embarrassed Hoover's vaunted Division of Investigation, as it was known then. (It became the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.)

About 71 years after the arrest, a January temperature of 74 degrees helps draw a crowd to enjoy Dillinger Days. Congress Street is blocked off so kids doing trick-roping, a bluegrass band and roaming puppeteers can mingle with the crowd. Experts give lectures on subjects that range from the sequence of the Tucson Incident to Humphrey Bogart's movie portrayal based on Dillinger (The Petrified Forest).

Some of the gang's guns, including the well-guarded Thompson submachine gun, worth more than $1 million, are displayed. Walking tours help visitors visualize the times, and the Hotel Congress celebrates with music and menu items such as Killer Apple Pie and Hit Man Omelette. Cars from the 1930s era line the street.

The onlookers enter into the spirit. Jim Beebe of Tucson, dressed to kill in a fancy suit and waving a fake machine gun, shows off his two-toned brown 1931 Model A Ford Town Sedan. A restored yellow taxi shines among the more subtly colored cars. Molls in flapper dresses and long necklaces hang on to the arms of gangster-looking characters. Even 8-year-old Marten Kooi sports a gray felt hat and a fake mustache.

The Dillinger gang, hiding from its recent East Chicago, Ind., bank robbery, might have enjoyed Tucson weather longer if a grease fire hadn't started in the basement of the Hotel Congress. Flames roared up the elevator shaft, engulfing the third floor. Hotel occupants quickly evacuated, but gang members delayed trying to collect their bags. With the hall blocked by fire and smoke, the gang members retreated to a window, where the Tucson Fire Department rescued them with an aerial ladder. As soon as he was rescued, gang member Charles Makley tipped firemen William Benedict and Kenneth Pender $12 to climb back up and retrieve his bags. That baggage would be the downfall of the Dillinger gang.

Today, the actual 1928 LaFrance firetruck involved in the rescue of the gangsters is on display. When James Timney of Flagstaff looked at an old photograph of the Hotel Congress fire, he realized the dilapidated firetruck in his back yard was the one in the photo. He donated the truck to Tucson, which is trying to raise funds to restore the truck.

After the 1934 blaze, firemen Benedict and Pender were thumbing through a copy of True Detective magazine and noticed two of the magazine's "wanted men" seemed to be the same as the ones eager to have their luggage rescued. Suspecting they had big-time criminals there, the police set up stakeouts. The work paid off. Makley was captured at Grabe Electric Co., where he was looking for a radio that monitored police calls. The local lady with him was released and cautioned to "pick her friends more carefully."

Next to be drawn into the police net were Russell "Art" Clark and his girlfriend, Opal Long, arrested at a rented house at 327 N. Second Ave. Clark and Long put up a fight until a knock on the head convinced Clark to cooperate.

Gang member Harry Pierpont and his girlfriend, Mary Kinder, actually drove to the police station, not knowing they were turning themselves in. The police had spotted Pierpont's car leaving a motor court and, thinking fast, stopped him. Ad-libbing, they politely explained that because he had out-of-state license plates, he must stop by the police station and pick up a "visitor sticker." Pierpont agreed, and one of the policemen rode with him to show him the way, pretending not to notice the machine guns under the back seat. Inside the police station, Pierpont realized he'd been duped when he spotted some of the vests and guns taken from other gang members. He reached for his gun, but policemen stopped him.

That left Dillinger and his girlfriend, Evelyn "Billie" Frechette. Again, police staked out the house on Second Avenue and surprised Dillinger as he arrived. Dumbfounded that the "hick-town cops" had caught him, he surrendered.

Dillinger and his gang resided in Tucson for only 10 days, from the time they arrived until they were extradited to Indiana, but Tucson still celebrates the capture with Dillinger Days.

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