During the 1920s, the Purple Gang ‒ several theories exist as to the origins of this colourful name ‒ was the most successful bootlegger outfit in Detroit, Michigan. By the late 1920s, they also contracted as hit men, a business move that would lead to the gang’s downfall in the early 1930s. By the late 1930s, many of its leaders were in prison, and its remaining members had switched trades to robbing safes. However, when their principal work car ‒ a supercharged, armoured Graham-Paige sedan with revolving license plates and a ramp to roll a safe inside ‒ was confiscated in 1936, they reverted to armed robberies and assassination.
On 28-APR-1938, the police was tipped off about several gangmembers. They arrested Louis Fleisher in Albion, Michigan. When his apartment was searched, they found a unique arsenal. By examing a period police photo and a number of modern accounts of the arrest, I will try to piece together their inventory.
This public relations photo was probably taken on 28-APR-1938. The photo shows from left to right, top to bottom:
- Brass knuckles.
- Two 10-round magazines for the Colt Woodsman and one 10-round magazine for the Mauser C96 M1930.
- Luger P.08 pistol with T.M.08 32-round drum magazine.
- Mauser Selbstladepistole C96 M1930 pistol with Maxim baffle sound suppressor.
- S&W Hand Ejector revolver.
- 7-round magazine for Colt Government.
- Colt Woodsman semiautomatic pistol with Maxim baffle sound suppressor.
- Maxim baffle sound suppressor.
- Extended Monarch “Multi-Shot” magazine for Colt Government.
- 8-round magazine for Luger P.08/L.P.08.
- Colt Government pistol with Monarch grip panel to mount a Monarch “Steady Fire” shoulder stock and extended Monarch “Multi-Shot” magazine.
- Luger L.P.08 pistol with T.M.08 32-round drum magazine.
- Three Maxim baffle sound suppressors.
- Assorted ammunition, including three 50-round boxes of .45 ACP cartridges, one 50-round box of 9×19mm “Luger” cartridges, and two 50-round boxes of two other calibres.
Kavieff wrote in Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang (2008), p. 85: “On April 28, 1938, police acting on an anonymous tip stopped Louis Fleisher’s car and arrested Fleisher, Jack Sherwood, and Fleisher’s wife, Nellie. Nellie tried to pitch a .38 caliber automatic pistol. Police quickly found the gun and discovered that it had been altered to fire a full clip at once.”
Newton wrote in Mr Mob ‒ The Life and Crimes of Moe Dalitz (2009), p. 74: “Fleischer [sic] … resurfaced in April 1938, when a tipster gave Highland Park police the license number of his car. When officers stopped the vehicle, Fleischer’s [sic] wife fled to a nearby tailor’s shop, where patrolmen caught her hiding a homemade submachine gun … A search of Fleischer’s [sic] apartment revealed two more pistols converted to full-auto fire, three normal handguns, six silencers, 500 rounds of ammunition, and brass knuckles. In April 1939, jurors convicted all three prisoners of federal firearms violations.”
Smith wrote in her article “Peek Through Time: Jackson Brothers Were Prominent Members of Prohibition-era Purple Gang” (2011): “… police raided his Highland Park apartment and uncovered a huge arsenal of weapons. Included was what Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Babcock called an ʻingenious gangster gadget.’ It was a .38-caliber Colt automatic, which was converted into a vest-pocket machine gun that could fire 32 slugs with one pull of the trigger. Louis Jr. was charged with violating the National Firearms Act …”
Smith’s text, based on period articles, is both specific, indicating a converted Colt Super .38 not unlike the Lebman machine pistols used by the Dillinger-Nelson Gang, and obviously at least partially incorrect. There is no 32-round magazine on the photo except for the two T.M.08 32-round drum magazines. Kavieff confirms that the machine pistol was of .38-calibre. Newton reports that there were three machine pistols.
However, inspection of the photo reveals a distinct lack of .38-calibre ammunition. Instead most of the ammunition boxes contain .45 ACP cartridges. This must mean that the Colt pistol depicted must have been in .45 ACP, as none of the other five handguns could have fired it. It also means that the .38-calibre machine pistol must have been one of the other pistols. At the time, the German 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge was often colloquially known as a “.38-calibre” in the USA, even though strictly speaking it is a 9-mm/.355-calibre ‒ but then, so are the .38 Special, .38 ACP, and similar chamberings.
This could mean that, one or both of the two 9-mm (“.38-calibre”) Luger pistols and the .45-calibre Colt Government pistol were full-automatic machine pistols.
There is also the possibility that none of the pistols actually was a real machine pistol. The Monarch kit to convert a Colt semiautomatic pistol into a “Riot and Anti-Bandit” gun only included a shoulder stock and extended magazine, not a conversion. Similarly, adding a drum magazine did not convert a Luger to full-automatic fire, despite advertising by importer Alexander Stoeger, who claimed in his catalogs throughout the 1920s that: “An important feature of the Luger pistol is that it can be converted instantly into a sub-machine gun by using a magazine holding 32 cartridges.” This only changes its capacity, not its functioning. However, the sources cited seem certain about the full-automatic capability and describe its functioning accurately.
My best estimate for the arsenal of Louis Fleisher would thus be this:
- DWM-Luger P.08 machine pistol in 9×19mm Parabellum (GURPS High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 16; Investigator Weapons 1: The 1920s and 1930s, pp. 45-46) with one 8-round magazine and one T.M.08 32-round drum magazine (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 16). [Fires only full automatic (GURPS Tactical Shooting, p. 69); this could be an ordinary semiautomatic.]
- DWM-Luger L.P.08 machine pistol in 9×19mm Parabellum (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 16; Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 45-46) with one T.M.08 32-round drum magazine. [Fires only full automatic; this could be an ordinary semiautomatic.]
- Colt Government machine pistol in .45 ACP (11.43×23mm) (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, pp. 17-18; Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 37-38) with Monarch grip panel to mount a Monarch “Steady Fire” shoulder stock (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 18), one 7-round magazine, and one extended Monarch “Multi-Shot” 18-round magazine (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 18; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 38). [Fires only full automatic; this could be an ordinary semiautomatic.]
- Mauser Selbstladepistole C96 M1930 semiautomatic pistol in 7.63×25mm Mauser (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, pp. 13-14; Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 48-51) with two 10-round magazines and Maxim baffle sound suppressor (GURPS High-Tech, pp. 158-159; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 75).
- Colt Woodsman semiautomatic pistol in .22 LR (5.6×16mmR) (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 19; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 44) with Maxim baffle sound suppressor and three 10-round magazines.
- S&W Hand Ejector revolver in .32 S&W Long (7.9×23mmR) (High-Tech: Pulp Guns 1, p. 8).
- Four Maxim baffle sound suppressors.
- 500 rounds of ammunition, including at least 50 rounds of 9×19mm Parabellum and 150 rounds of .45 ACP.
- Brass knuckles (GURPS Basic Set, p. 271; Investigator Weapons 1, p. 104).