Bangor In Focus

The Brady Gang

Al Brady became the FBI's most wanted man after the death of John Dillinger.
Central Street in downtown Bangor is a two-lane, one-way street that shuttles cars from both ends of Harlow Street into the heart of the city's downtown. Small shops and eateries line both sides of the thoroughfare. Motorists and pedestrians probably don't think anything of the street; it's just like any other in a small city.

But in fall 1937, Central Street was the scene of the bloodiest shoot-out in Maine history, complete with big-time gangsters and federal agents.

When federal agents killed Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger in Chicago in 1934, gangster Al Brady claimed the title of the United States' most-wanted man.

Brady and his small band of gangsters committed 200 robberies, countless assaults, and four murders beginning in 1935. One of the gang's victims was an Indiana state trooper who died May 27, 1937.

Authorities captured Brady and his men, but they soon escaped from prison, fleeing to Bridgeport, Conn., where they disappeared. Brady and his men thought Maine would be the perfect hiding place with its back roads, large wooded areas, and naive laid-back residents. And because hunting season was nearing, Brady didn't think anybody would become suspicious when he sent his men into Bangor to buy guns and ammunition.

On Sept. 21, 1937, two of Brady's men walked into Dakin's Sporting Goods on Central Street. They bought two Colt .45 semi-automatic pistols, ammunition, and a rifle. They also ordered a third Colt .45. They told the clerk, Louis Clark, they were hunters.

Clark didn't buy the men's story. Hunters don't use pistols, much less semi-automatic ones.

The bodies of Al Brady and two of his cohorts lie in the middle of Central Street after a four-minute fire fight with the FBI.
When the men left, Clark told his boss, shop owner Everett Hurd, about the odd sale and order. Remembering that the FBI had tracked Brady and his men to New England, Hurd told Bangor police Chief Thomas Crowley about the two men. Crowley said there was nothing he could do because the men hadn't broken any laws. He was skeptical the Brady Gang would hide out in Maine. Besides, Hurd had no evidence the two men belonged to Brady's gang.

The next day, the two men returned to Bangor and went to Rice and Miller, another sporting goods store, on Broad Street. Rice and Miller clerk C.E. Silsbury also became suspicious when the men bought three .32-caliber pistols.

Silsbury contacted Crowley and told him about the odd sale. Crowley realized something was wrong. The two men were obviously from away, they were packing serious firepower, and their hunting story didn't cut it, so he contacted the FBI.

Thinking their hunting story was foolproof, the Brady Gang returned to Dakin's four days after shopping at Rice and Miller. This time the two men bought another rifle and went over the top: They asked Hurd if he stocked Tommy guns.

Any doubts Hurd may have had that the two peculiar men were not thugs quickly disappeared. He realized he was dealing with the most sought-after gang in the country. But rather than break a sweat at the Tommy gun request, Hurd told the two he didn't stock the type but he thought he could get one within a few days.

Central Street today.
Anxious and perhaps sensing they were pushing their luck even with the backwoods Mainers, another man from the Brady gang went to Dakin's on Oct. 9. He asked Hurd when the Tommy gun would arrive. Hurd told him to check back later in the week.

Later that day, 15 FBI agents arrived in Bangor, along with 15 Indiana and Maine state troopers. They staked out downtown Bangor and positioned themselves on roofs and in windows at Market Square. FBI agent Walter Walsh, the operation's leader, posed as a clerk at Dakin's.

Three days later, the Brady Gang again returned to Dakin's. Their black Buick stopped on the street in front of Dakin's. The two familiar men got out of the car. One of them stood outside the store on the sidewalk while the other went inside.

The gang member who went inside approached the counter and asked Hurd whether he had received the Tommy gun yet. Before Hurd answered, Agent Walsh came up from behind the man and held him at gunpoint with two pistols. Walsh ordered him to surrender.

A monument embedded in the sidewalk near a comic book store marks the spot near Brady's shooting.
When the man swung around to fight, Walsh knocked him to the floor. The man standing outside the store saw the scuffle through the window and drew his gun. Walsh dashed out the front door. The man outside shot him in the shoulder.

Agents and officers atop nearby roofs fired their machine guns, cutting the outside man down. Agents on the ground rushed the Buick and threw open its doors. They ordered Brady and the driver to get out. But Brady wasn't willing to surrender so easily. He drew a gun and shot at the agents, inviting a similar fate as the dead man on the sidewalk.

In all, the gunfight lasted about four minutes. The Brady men had been hit more than 60 times. Rivers of blood oozed down Central Street, some of it collecting in the trolley tracks. The fire department had to wash the street.

The only Brady man to survive was the one Walsh had knocked down in the store. He went to a holding cell in the basement of City Hall, only a block away. Brady and his two other cohorts went to the morgue. Relatives of the cohorts claimed their bodies, but nobody claimed Brady's. Today, it rests in an unmarked grave at Mount Hope Cemetery on State Street.

1995-2012, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.

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