Elkhart County Sheriff's Department

The Elkhart County Sheriff's Thompson Sub Machine Gun

Dear readers:  I’m going to take a break from the question/answer format to share with you a piece of Elkhart County Sheriff history which I recently discovered and I believe you will find very interesting. 

Recently I met a man (he prefers to remain anonymous for this column) from another state that told me that he owns a 1921 Model Thompson Sub Machine Gun (TSMG) and discovered that the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department was the first owner of this firearm.   

Being a bit skeptical, I wanted to see the evidence.  So he came to Elkhart County with the TSMG and shared with me the documentation he found.  He then allowed some of my staff members and I the privilege of firing this weapon.

This amazing gun is beautiful and in, what I would describe, nearly original condition.  As I fired the TSMG it was flawless and amazingly accurate in its operation, even in fully automatic mode.  The 50 round drum of .45 ACP caliber ammunition on fully automatic fire would empty the drum in about 5 seconds, devastating any target in its path. 

Interestingly, in a spirit of collaboration, serial number 4407 was one of three TSMGs shipped to Berman's Sporting Goods Store, Elkhart IN, on an order placed by the Elkhart Police department in the Spring of 1929.  The Police Department kept two of the guns, serial numbers 6509 and 6511, and were shipped May 17, 1929.  The third gun on that order, serial number 4407, went to the "Elkhart Co. Shrf. Dept, Goshen Ind." on June 10, 1929.

According to our records, Sheriff Glenn Banks, who became sheriff in 1928, would have bought this firearm in 1929, nearly ninety years ago and that firearm is still carefully preserved and cared for.

According to the original Colt records, the 1921 Thompson submachine gun with serial number 4407 was manufactured under the Colt license by Auto Ordnance, John Thompson’s company (of which the gun is named after).  My friend bought the gun 30 years ago.  Although we don’t quite know when the Sheriff’s Department sold the firearm, it had to have been prior to 1987.

There were exactly 15,000 Model 1921 TSMGs manufactured by Colt in 1921 and 1922. Since these guns were new and sitting on the shelf when purchased in 1929, it appears that sales of the TSMG were not brisk.  However, what was happening in this era could shed light on the timing of these local purchases. 

The United States was in the middle of Prohibition and organized crime with gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran were in full action. In fact, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in Chicago on February 14, 1929, using the TSMG by Al Capone and his men to murder their victims.  Certainly, when the Elkhart City police and the Elkhart County Sheriff purchased these TSMGs, this event in Chicago, just a few months prior, had to be in the forefront of their minds.   

Some large city departments list many guns purchased but most of the hundreds of the law enforcement purchases were for a single TSMG per department.  This is not surprising as it was a significant expense in the 1920’s.  One TSMG with a 50 round drum was $225, most of the price of a new model T Ford sedan at that time.  Today, the gun previously owned by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s department is worth at least $50,000.

Some interesting listings in the Colt records for sales to civilians are Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI with serial numbers 4005 and 7253  and serial numbers 3554 and 8946 are listed as owned by John Dillinger.  Prior to the National Firearms Act of 1934, anyone could walk into a sporting goods store and buy an automatic like the TSMG with no restrictions and no questions asked!        

Thanks to my new friend for the opportunity to share this bit of history, and bringing this TSMG home for a visit with the current Sheriff of Elkhart County and giving me the opportunity to share this history with you.

Ask-the-Sheriff a question by emailing Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers at brogers@elkhartcountysheriff.com.

Photo Information:

All photos submitted by Sheriff Brad Rogers and used with permission

Photo 1 (Capt. Mike Culp, patrol commander, fires the TSMG recently at the sheriff’s firearms range)
Photo 2 (Circa 1937-38, the TSMG can be seen in front of the car on the far right with what is believed to Sheriff Edward Bourke in the middle)
Photo 3: Side view of the TSMG previously owned by the Elkhart County Sheriff Department.
Photo 4: Up close photo of the Model 1921 TSMG with the serial number of 4407 displayed.
Photo 5: Sheriff Brad Rogers holding the 1921 TSMG previously owned by the Elkhart County Sheriff.