PRINCETON — Back in 1938, Mercer County Sheriff G.H. Crumpecker used his own money to buy a Thompson submachine gun – a weapon raising memories of gangster Al Capone and the Roaring 20s – for his department. Now his grandchildren are thinking about what to do with an antique weapon they own, but cannot legally possess.
In August, the Mercer County Commission discussed sheriff’s department surplus, which proved to be a Thompson submachine gun or “Tommy Gun” in its original case. According to a faded receipt in the carry case, Sheriff Crumpecker purchased the weapon on April 6, 1938. The submachine gun is missing is classic drum magazine, but the stick magazines and other pieces are present.
Sheriff Tommy Bailey was looking into whether the valuable weapon could be sold to help purchase equipment for the department’s new SWAT team. The commissioners decided to research the Thompson’s past before making any decision.
County Commissioner Bill Archer said he started using the courthouse’s resources to research the Thompson’s history and contacted Jeff and Anne Whittaker.
“They were able to give me some background,” Archer recalled. “They have Crumpecker’s badge and some other items at their residence.”
County Commission President Gene Buckner did additional research and tracked down court records pertaining to the Thompson and one of Crumpecker’s wills.
“I read the wills and I went to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph archives and got some additional information about Crumpecker at the time of his death in 1941,” Archer said. “He had just been appointed superintendent of the State Police and was only in office less than three weeks, I think, and died of a heart attack.”
A Mercer County Circuit Court action in 1977 brought by Gladys Crumpecker, Sheriff Crumpecker’s widow, determined that the Thompson belonged to the family. Archer said he reviewed 1938 county commission meeting minutes. Monthly sheriff’s department reports describing expenditures didn’t mention the submachine gun.
“And I couldn’t find anything that the commission made that kind of purchase,” he said. “There was no line item.”
Bailey took Crumpecker’s descendants to his office after the county commission meeting to see the Thompson. They took turns hefting the weapon and exploring the carrying case’s contents.
“I thought it was long gone,” Anne Whittaker, Crumpecker’s granddaughter, said. “We didn’t have any idea.”
The family owns the Thompson, but they cannot legally take it home. They would need a Class III federal firearms license to possess it.
“It belongs to the family,” Anne’s husband, Jeff, said. “They own it, but it’s full automatic; so they can’t possess it. It has to be in the custody of the sheriff’s department unless they sell it to somebody who can possess it.”
Bailey estimated that the Thompson was worth between $40,000 to $50,000, and $90,000 was a possibility. A Florida gun dealer once offered $45,000 for it.
Crumpecker’s descendants are deciding what they want to do with the Thompson.
“This is new to us,” Anne Whittaker said. “He (Crumpecker) bought it with his own money, but he bought it for the sheriff’s department.”
Crumpecker’s grandson, Chuck Lohr, said the family would have to discuss the Thompson’s future.
“There are four of us and we have to decide what’s going to happen to it,” he said.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org