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A killer tale of guns and gum

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Yesterday afternoon, Richard M. Wiedhopf, assistant dean in the College of Pharmacy and curator of the UA's History of Pharmacy Museum, displays the collection of John Dillinger's chewing gum. After Dillinger's capture in 1934, the chewing gum was collected from the bottom of table where he usually sat at the Owl Drug Store.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 23, 2004
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Dead mobster's gum on display at UA's History of Pharmacy Museum

In the College of Pharmacy, up a winding flight of stairs and past a hallway lined with old photographs, there is a room rich with historical objects.

The artifacts, enclosed in glass, range from apothecary jars to a jar with more than 30 pieces of 70-year-old gum that were once chewed by "Public Enemy No. 1," John Herbert Dillinger, a famous mobster from the 1930s.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the capture of John Dillinger by the Tucson Police Department and Tucson Fire Department outside Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

John Dillinger's days of crime began when he was a 19-year-old newlywed in Indianapolis, Ind., who was down on his luck, according to the Web site for the FBI.

In search of work, Dillinger got involved with Ed Singleton, the town pool shark.

Singleton convinced Dillinger to rob a grocery store, but both were quickly apprehended. Singleton pleaded not guilty, stood trial and was sentenced to two years in jail.

Choosing to be honest, Dillinger confessed, but ended up in the Indiana State Prison for 8 1/2 years. Shocked by the severe punishment, Dillinger grew distant and resentful.

When released from prison, he helped his friends escape from the Indiana State Prison and began a series of bank robberies with them. During their reign, the violent gang killed 10 men, including a sheriff, and injured several others.

In 1934, Dillinger and his mob took residence under false identities at Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. On Jan. 23, 1934, a fire broke out in the Hotel Congress elevator, quickly spreading to the third floor, where Dillinger and his gang were staying. Tucson firefighters noticed the men were reluctant to leave their rooms.

"After they were flushed out of the hotel, they prevailed upon some firemen to retrieve their bags," said Curtis McCrary, the club booker for Hotel Congress.

Even more unusual was the $12 tip they left for the firemen.

Later in the evening, a member of TFD recognized Dillinger from True Detective magazine and notified TPD. Led by Police Chief C.A. "Gus" Wollard, TPD arrested the gang and discovered three Thompson submachine guns, two Winchester rifles, five bulletproof vests and $25,000 in cash.

David Slutes, manager of Hotel Congress, said he believes that many people don't realize the importance of Dillinger's arrest in Tucson.

"The Tucson community's role in the Dillinger capture is largely underreported. Firemen were quick to notice Dillinger," he said. "We are also happy that the Tucson Police Department captured Dillinger without bloodshed, unlike in the various other states he was caught."

Although Dillinger was caught without violence, there's still a sticky side to the Dillinger drama.

Jess Hurlbut, the man who donated Dillinger's gum to the UA's History of Pharmacy Museum, worked as a pharmacist at the Owl Drug Store in the 1930s, filling prescriptions and serving lunch to patrons.

In early 1934, he noticed that one of his newer customers dressed like an Easterner and had a habit of chewing Black Jack gum.

The man would dine on a 35-cent Triple Decker Sandwich at lunchtime.

As Hurlbut would bring out the customer's order, the patron would stick his gum underneath the counter. Unbeknownst to Hurlbut, the man was mobster John Dillinger.

After Dillinger's capture, Hurlbut noticed the gangster's picture in the newspaper. He went to Dillinger's usual seat at the Owl Drug Store, searched under the table and collected the mobster's chewed Black Jack gum in a small jar.

Richard M. Wiedhopf, assistant dean in the College of Pharmacy and curator of the History of Pharmacy Museum, fondly remembers Hurlbut and his quirky collections.

"Jess was a good friend of mine," he said. "He was the ultimate saver of everything."

Hurlbut donated his extensive collections to the College of Pharmacy. The chewed gum, along with other strange objects, can be viewed in the History of Pharmacy Museum at the college, open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and free to the public.

"His collections were extraordinarily bizarre, but they have added a unique touch to the College of Pharmacy," Wiedhopf said. "They are educational and entertaining, but mostly they provide UA students with Tucson's rich history, which we should all be proud of."

Hotel Congress is holding celebrations this weekend to commemorate Dillinger's capture. The festivities include a raffle to benefit the Tucson Police Foundation, a theatrical re-enactment of the capture of Dillinger and a formal Dillinger Ball.

There are also reports that George Clooney will be visiting Tucson because he is the producer of the film "John Dillinger Biopic."

"Yes, I have heard those rumors," Slutes said. "However, I cannot confirm or deny them."

Those interested in the Hotel Congress celebrations should visit

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