Ex-agent's death ends era

FBI's Connor last of squad that shot Dillinger in 1934

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Thomas J. Connor, a former FBI agent and the last surviving member of the squad that gunned down the notorious John Dillinger outside a Chicago movie theater in 1934, died of cardiac arrest April 14 at his home in Southbury, Conn. He was 91.

Connor was born and grew up in Washington. As a young man, he played third base in the Boston Braves' farm system and later attended what became the Catholic University law school while working as a clerk for the FBI. On his graduation in 1932, be was invited by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to join the bureau as an agent and also to be captain of the FBI baseball team.

Under Connor's leadership, the team won the inter-government championship that summer, and as its captain, he received warm praise in a commendation letter from Hoover. The letter cited Connor's "physical prowess ... rare intelligence and indomitable courage," and it saluted him for his "marvelous achievements."

But the next season, the FBI baseball team finished in second place, and Connor was transferred to New York, Connecticut and Chicago. His son, Thomas L. Connor, said his father always believed he was transferred for failing to win a second championship.

The move to Chicago placed Connor at the center of some of the FBI's best-known operations, and in 1934 he was assigned to the Dillinger squad, led by agents Sam Crowley and Melvin Purvis.

At the time. Dillinger was the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1, sought for the commission of more than three dozen bank robberies throughout the Midwest, the slayings of more than a dozen people and escapes from five jails. But at the depths of the Great Depression; when bankers tended to be less than universally loved, Dillinger also was something of a folk hero.

On July 22, 1934, the FBI received a tip that Dillinger would be at Chicago's Biograph Theater.

That night, Connor was among the 15 well-armed members of the FBI Dillinger squad who staked out the Biograph with a detachment of Chicago police.

The updated description of Dillinger, who was known to have altered his appearance with plastic surgery, said the outlaw was 5 feet 9 inches tail with a medium build and a pronounced cleft chin. Connor was 5 feet 8 inches tall with a medium build and a pronounced cleft chin.

According to the informant's description, Dillinger would be wearing a white suit and a straw hat Connor was wearing a white suit and a straw hat

Posted in an alley next to the theater with his service revolver drawn and a submachine gun tucked under his coat, Connor was almost mistaken for Dillinger and shot by Chicago police, but he managed to convince them of his true identity. A few minutes later, the real Dillinger went down in a hail of bullets in front of the theater.

Later, Connor participated in tracking down the likes of "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Ma Barker and the Barker gang and "Baby Face" Nelson, who shot and killed Crowley and Connor's friend Ed Hollis before dying in a shootout

Connor left the FBI in 1935.

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