Two weapons thought to have been confiscated after an April 13, 1933 raid on Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s hideout in Joplin, Missouri will be going on the auction block at Mayo Auction in Kansas City on January 21. One is an 1897 model 12-gauge Winchester shotgun. The other is that classic of Prohibition and Depression-era criminality: a .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun, aka the Trench Broom, the Chicago Typewriter, or most famously, the Tommy gun.
The Joplin raid was what made Bonnie and Clyde famous. Before then they were small time local thieves and murderers. When the police organized the raid, they were just following up on complaints from neighbors about their loud, drunken parties and the occasional round of fire from a Browning Automatic Rifle. A total of five officers drove up to the hideout. They were no match for the hail of automatic bullets that came their way. The gang shot their way out, killing two of the officers.
They left all their stuff behind, including an impressive cache of weapons and several rolls of film. All the pictures you’ve seen of Bonnie and Clyde clowning around pointing guns at each other, of Bonnie chewing a cigar with her foot on the bumper of their car, came from those rolls of film. They were widely printed all over the country and new criminal superstars were born.
The sellers are Mark Lairmore and his sisters, the great-grandchildren of Milton L. Lairmore, a Tulsa police detective who had been wounded in the leg during the failed raid on Pretty Boy Floyd in Bixby, Oklahoma in 1932. Lairmore, who was captain of the Tulsa PD’s pistol team and in charge of the department arsenal, received the Tommy gun and Winchester from an unnamed police officer who seized them after the Joplin raid. This connection can’t be fully authenticated because there is no direct evidence of the weapons’ ownership trail from the Joplin raid to Lairmore.
There is good circumstantial evidence, however. On January 26, 1933, in Springfield, Missouri, The Barrow Gang kidnapped Officer Thomas Persell who had pulled them over because they were idling in their car on the side of the road and he suspected they were planning to steal cars (they were). They kept him for a while as they drove around looking to steal replacement parts for their Ford V-8, then let him go. The next day Persell told his story to the press. Among other things, he revealed that Bonnie had threatened him with a Tommy gun, and that Clyde had bragged about having stolen it in Ohio. There are newspaper accounts of the theft and the serial number of the Thompson, 4208, matches the one on the sub-machine gun stolen in Ohio.
Both guns have been on display at the Springfield Missouri Police Museum from 1973 until 2011. Once their father and grandfather died, the Lairmores decided to sell as they didn’t have the same sentimental connection to the weapons. Even with the unconfirmed Bonnie and Clyde history, both guns will appeal to collectors as specimens of historical weaponry in excellent condition.
Anyone wanting to buy the Tommy gun will have to apply for a permit from the ATF. It is a fully automatic weapon and fully operational. The sellers will only turn it over once the proper paperwork has been processed. The Winchester requires a simple federal gun permit because it’s not an automatic.