SIDNEY — History buffs, fans of gangster lore and gun enthusiasts will have the opportunity to see a couple of iconic weapons when Tactical Solutions Firearms and Accessories, of Pasco, teams with the Shelby County Historical Society, Jan. 14.
The partners will exhibit the two Thompson submachine guns that were used in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago in 1929.
Lt. Mike Kline, of St. Joseph, Michigan, will talk about the massacre, how the guns were authenticated by a then-new science, ballistic forensics, and how they became the property of the Berrian County, Michigan, sheriff’s office. He’ll present two programs, one at 10 a.m. and one at 3 p.m., in the American Legion, 1265 Fourth Ave., where an extensive exhibit about the crime and the guns will be displayed. Admission will be free; however, donations will be accepted and divided between the American Legion and the historical society.
The 1929 shooting spree resulted in the deaths of seven members of a Chicago gang led by Bugs Moran. They were supposedly killed by members of a rival gang, led by Al Capone. No one was ever charged with the crime and the act has become the stuff of legend. The Tommy guns were later confiscated in Michigan during a raid by sheriff’s deputies following the shooting of a police officer who was trying to serve a traffic ticket.
Kline, who recently retired from the Berrian County Sheriff’s Office, has been traveling the country to present the historical program since 2004.
“Back in the year 2000, I was transferred to the quartermaster’s office. Our armory is located within the quartermaster’s office. I had to make sure things were secured,” Kline said in explaining how the project became his focus. “I had a little knowledge of the Thompson machine guns. I knew half-truths and wives’ tales. A prior armorer had done TV shows.”
A retired Oak Park, Illinois, police officer who collected Thompson guns called Kline in 2004 and asked if he could see the massacre weapons.
“He came over. He took pictures and he talked. He’s got a wealth of knowledge (about the massacre). I started taking notes. We talked for two hours,” Kline said. Through the officer, Kline learned of the American Thompson Association (TATA), which stages an annual conference. Kline exhibited the guns at a conference. Response was overwhelming and Kline’s presentation was born.
“I’ve done up to 50 programs a year,” he said. He also has been interviewed for television documentaries by National Geographic, the Discovery and History channels and CBS “Sunday Morning.” He makes an annual presentation on Valentine’s Day in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. In order to fly there with the guns, he has had to jump through dozens of hoops for special permits.
The weapons, along with the displays, will travel by car to the Sidney programs.
“I fill eight conference tables with stuff,” Kline said. All of it will be exhibited here.
It was at a gun collectors’ trade show in Wilmington that Mark Henman, owner of Tactical Solutions Firearms, met Kline and first heard the story of the Tommy guns.
“I thought this would really be neat to bring to Shelby County,” Henman said. “There are a lot of people who would be interested. We have a connection to the gangster world. (John) Dillinger was held in our jail.”
Henman is raffling a reproduction Tommy gun to publicize the program. Raffle tickets cost $10 each or three for $20. The semi-automatic weapon comes in its own violin case with a 50-round magazine. It is on display now at Henman’s shop, 5887 State Route 29 E., Pasco. The raffle winner must pass a thorough background check to take possession of the gun.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.