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on Oct 8th 2000, 10:35:06, Groggy groove wrote the following about


The story of the HOTEL CONGRESS FIRE OF 1934 and the events leading up to the


For thirteen violent months back in the 1930's John Dillinger and his gang swept through the Middle
West – and not before or since has one criminal fascinated or frightened so many people. Dillinger has
come to symbolize PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1. The crime world of the Depression was unique – it
could rob almost at will (the Indiana State Police, for instance, had only forty one members, including
clerks and typists) and it could find haven in »open« cities whose officials bought peace with protection.
Multiple bank robberies, wild chase scenes, daring prison breaks and violent machine gun battles...all
were part of a crime wave unparalleled in our modern history. John Dillinger's brief but significant career
as an outlaw was the culmination of years of abuse, rebellion and finally
revenge. Before his first release from the Indiana state prison he was
»schooled« by its most dangerous inmates and in return, once he was free
he engineered their escapes. From an amateur whose robberies often
verged on the comic, he quickly became an accomplished criminal. His
early publicity was an attempt by police to create jealousy in the gang, but
Dillinger soon lived up to his notices. His daring escapes – single handed at
Crown Point, for instance, or through the death defying fire of FBI agents
at Little Bohemia Lodge – and his countless bank robberies made his name
a household word. He eluded the lawmen of several different states and the
growing power of the FBI until a unique set of circumstances, including the
fire at the Hotel Congress and his subsequent arrest in Tucson, led to his
death on the sidewalk in front of a Chicago movie house.


Tucson, a city of about 30,000, still had one foot in its colorful pioneer past. Iron hitching posts dotted
Congress Street. It was a friendly, free-and-easy western town with three well-run houses of prostitution
operating openly. Tucson was growing with phenomenal speed because of its climate, yet it too had been
hard hit by the Depression, and tourists were made to feel especially
welcome. This was the city the Dillinger gang chose to »lay low« in, to
escape the »heat« back east. Little did they realize how hot Tucson can


Early in the morning of January 22,1934, an oil furnace in the
basement near the elevator shaft caught fire. From that point the fire
shot rapidly up the elevator shaft and began to spread on the then
existing third floor. (The elevator was located where the present
entrance to the Tap Room is). Glued to her telephone switch box,
Mrs. Nelson, the day desk clerk, stuck to her post awakening guests
and summoning them from their rooms. As she completed her calls
on the second floor, flames reached the telephone system and cut off
communications. Soon fire workers and police hurried along the
corridors. Guests, awakened by the shouted warnings of »FIRE!«,
rushed from their rooms and escaped to the street, many of them only partly clad. Among the registered
guests, all under aliases, were John Dillinger and six of his notorious gang members: Mr. & Mrs. Frank
Sullivan – a.k.a. John Dillinger & Billie Frechette Mr. & Mrs. James Taylor – a.k.a. Harry Pierpont and
Mary Kinder Mr. & Mrs. Art Long a.k.a. Russell Clark & Opal Long J.C.Davies – a.k.a. Charles Makley
These seven took an extremely long time to get their luggage together and when they finally went to exit
the hotel, the hallways were filled with smoke, the stairs and elevators in flames; the Dillinger gang was
trapped. Not a moment too soon, an aerial ladder of the firemen swung up to the window ledges of the
third floor. With the aid of members of the fire department, the four men and three women descended
the ladders to the street. On the urgent request of Davis and Long, along with a generous $12 tip, firemen
William Benedict and Kenneth Pender went back up to the third story rooms and rescued the luggage
that had almost cost the seven their lives. In carrying the luggage down, Benedict and Pender found that
several pieces were extremely heavy. It was revealed later on, when police took charge of them, that the
expensive suitcases contained a fine collection of machine guns, pistols, ammunition and bullet proof
vests. Three days after the fire, Benedict and Pender, finishing routine duties at the station, were reading
a copy of True Detective Mysteries. On the page devoted to Line-Up, they
recognized the face of the man who had tipped them so generously to
rescue his luggage. His name was Russell Clark – wanted for bank
robbery, murder, prison escape and a member of the feared Dillinger
Gang. After notifying the police, Makley was also identified from police
photo files and the department then suspected what had previously been
unimaginable; Dillinger and his gang were in Tucson. Following the fire,
Dillinger, Frechette,Pierpont and Kinder moved into a motel on South
Sixth. Clark, Makley and Long moved into a comfortable one story house.


Coincidentally, on the night preceeding the hotel fire, Mr. Long (Russell Clark) ran into two other hotel
guests at a local Tucson night spot. These men, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Russalsaw claimed that Long greeted
them like long lost friends. He was a bit tight, and more than a bit talkative. His talk – and very
convincing talk – ran to easy money...and how it could be made with a machine gun. The story of easy
money, machine guns and robbed banks remained vivid in the minds of Rosen
and Russalsaw. They had also seen Long and his party spend money freely
and had noticed one other significant fact: Every male member of the party
was armed. The same day that the firemen discovered »Mr. Long« in a True
Detective Line-Up, Rosen and Russalsaw approached patrolman Harry Lesly
as he was walking his beat and told him about the armed men and robbery
talk they had encountered a few nights before. Lesly, half convinced that the
men he was told about were bent on robbery, stepped into a nearby call box
and rang the station. This information, combined with the firemens
identification of Clark, convinced the chief of police that they had struck pay
dirt. Not only pay dirt; Rosen and Russalsaw knew the address of Clark,
Makley and Long. At the house near the University (the house still stands at
927 Second Avenue North) a stake out ensued. A new Studebaker sedan was parked near the house.
Someone was in residence and the police did not have long to wait. A short, stocky man, neatly dressed,
came out accompanied by a woman. They stepped into the Studebaker and drove off toward downtown.
The police followed. When the Studebaker stopped at an electrical store where both the man and the
woman entered, it was noted that the man limped. The officers followed them in and told the man that he
was under arrest as a fugitive from justice. This man, who claimed to be J.C.Davies, was brought into the
police department and, through fingerprinting, identified as Charles Makley. The woman was an
»aquaintance« he had met the night before. She was released. It was decided to »force« the stake out
further by sending an officer Sherman up to the house as a stranger or salesman in search of an address.
With envelope in hand, he stepped up on the porch and rang the bell. The door swung open and a
woman asked what he wanted. Sherman, half extending the letter, said that he wanted to see a "Mr.
Clark". At the same he stepped forward and swung the door fully open and, to his surprise, Clark was
just inside! Drawing his pistol, he told the startled Clark to throw up his hands. But instead, Clark
grabbed the cylinder of the pistol and a fight ensued. The two men whirled each other about the room
while the woman tried to grab and kick the officer. Clark dragged Sherman into the bedroom where
under the pillow lay his own .38 automatic. Suddenly officers Ford and Eyman sprang through the
doorway and Ford, pistol in hand, struck twice, accurately, against Clark's head. Clark, dazed by the
blows, reeled to one side and dropped his grip on Sherman's gun. The subdued gangster and the woman
were handcuffed and loaded into the police car. They were soon identified as Russell Clark and Opal
Long. Shortly after the arrest of Clark and Long, officers Nolan and Eyeman were driving down South
Sixth on a tip that Pierpont and Dillinger were staying at a motel there. As they were driving, Nolan
recognized a Buick going the opposite direction that fit the description of Pierpont's car. The officers
made a U turn, caught up to the car and sounded their horn. The Buick pulled over. Eyeman approached
the vehicle and apologetically pointed out that Pierpont didn't have a visitor's inspection sticker,
suggesting he get one or he'd be stopped by every other officer in town. »I'll even ride down with you
he said, getting into the back seat. It was filled with luggage and he had to sit on a suitcase. Little did he
know that it contained a machine gun, several revolvers and ammunition. Fooled by Eyeman's easy
manner, and not knowing the fate of his partners in crime, Pierpont decided to bluff it out. Eyeman rode
downtown with a pistol pointed at Pierpont's back. Pierpont walked right into the trap, not suspecting a
thing until he saw the luggage of Makley and Clark in Chief Wollard's office. He whirled and grabbed for
the gun under his left arm. Eyeman drew faster. »Drop it.« Pierpont obeyed, but his right hand went for
a second gun in his belt. Eyeman rammed his gun in Pierpont's ribs while another officer grasped his
arms. Dillinger's »trigger man« was put behind bars. It was dusk when a new stake out team arrived at
the house on Second Avenue North where, it had been decided, Dillinger might show up. Everyone's
timing couldn't have been better coordinated. As officer Walker went around to the broken-down back
door and officer Herron was parking the car, Dillinger and Billie Frechette drove by, made a U turn and
stopped in front of the house. They had just returned from a sight- seeing trip and, of course, had no
idea that their companions were in jail. Billie waited in the car while Dillinger approached the house to
see if it was the right address. Hearing footsteps, he turned and saw a short, stocky man. In the dim
twilight he thought it was Makley, but it was Herron coming up behind him. Just as Herron drew his .38,
Walker kicked open the screen door and shouted »Stick em' up!« Dillinger slowly put up his hands and
marched off the porch to the sidewalk. Billie was ordered out of the car and told to put her hands on her
head. As Dillinger was searched his hands began to slowly drop. Walker, noticing his moves, pulled the
hammer back on his gun. »Reach for the moon!«, he said. »Or I'll cut you in two.« Dillinger obeyed,
muttering, »Well I'll be damned.« In the space of five hours, without firing a single shot, the police of
small town Tucson had done what the combined forces of several states and the city of Chicago had tried
so long and unsuccessfully to do. Dillinger was extradited by plane to Chicago where he was placed in the
county jail at Crown Point. A month later he stunned the nation by
single-handedly escaping prison with a pistol carved fron an old washboard
and blackened with boot polish.


On July 22, 1934, five months after his bold prison break, Dillinger was
exiting the Biograph Theater in Chicago with two women. One of them was
Anna Sage wearing a signal red dress. Threatened with deportation by FBI
agent Marvin Pervis, Anna, a Romanian brothel runner and long time friend
of the gang's, had been forced to inform them of Dillinger's whereabouts.
Never given a chance to surrender, John Dillinger was gunned down by
Pervis and other FBI agents in front of the theater. His street execution was
witnessed by throngs of bystanders, many of which dipped their skirts and
handkerchiefs in Dillinger's blood. For months after the shooting, pieces of
blood soaked cloth and vials of blood could be purchased on the streets of Chicago. Anna was given
$5,000 reward money and promptly deported to Romania.

Information for this article was taken from »The Dillinger Days«, by John Toland; »Bloodletters and Badmen«, by Jay
Robert Nash; »True Detective Mysteries«, 1934, cover story by Tucson Chief of Police C.A.Wollard. Compiled and edited
by Gary Patch, 1995.

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