TUCSON (WPI) – It took a tragic fire at the Hotel Congress, an alert Tucson fireman, and clever Tucson policemen to accomplish something that the combined forces of several states and the FBI could not do—capture Public Enemy Number 1, John Dillinger—all without firing a shot.
Early in the morning of January 22, 1934, an oil furnace in the basement of the Hotel Congress caught fire. The flames shot up the elevator shaft and spread on the third floor. One group of seven guests had to be led to safety down a ladder to the street.
Once out of danger, the men, frantic to have their luggage retrieved, paid $12 to firemen William Benedict and Kenneth Pender to return to their room and recover their luggage (shown in photo on right), which reportedly contained guns and more than $25,000 in cash.
It was only days later that Benedict and Pender noticed the picture of one of the men they had led to safety from the fire in True Detectives magazine. They went back to the fire investigation at the Hotel and informed the police, who learned the gang’s whereabouts from the drayman who had helped the gang with their luggage.
In the course of a stake out, the police arrested Charles Mackley (right) a short distance from the house. To prevent the news of the arrest from getting out, a policeman approached the house pretending to be a salesman. Russell Clark was arrested following a brief fight.
Shortly after these arrests, police, acting on a tip, noticed a car that fit the description of Harry Pierpont’s car. They stopped the car and apologetically pointed out that it didn’t have a visitor’s inspection sticker. Suggesting that he get one at the station, Officer Eyman said, “I’ll even ride down with you” and jumped into the back seat. Pierpont walked into the police station and was arrested.
Back at the stake out at the house, a hunch that Dillinger (on the right in this photo) would show up paid off. When he arrived and saw signs of the earlier struggle, he tried to leave. He was intercepted and arrested.
Dillinger was extradited to Chicago and placed in the county jail in Crown Point, Indiana.*
This was the 16th year that Twilight Productions (whose “newspaper” provided the information contained here) has presented this re-enactment of the January capture of John Dillinger with the help of the Tucson Model A Club, and the Tucson Police and Fire Departments.
The Tucsonans themselves contribute to the re-creation of a 1930s scene around the hotel with “extras” in period clothing driving some beautiful autos.
(These last photos here have been “colorized.” The last two photos show some of the scenes in the earlier part of the re-enactment.)
*One month later Dillinger escaped from this jail with a pistol carved from an old washboard and blackened with boot polish. He died in a shootout outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934.