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Dayton Police Ballistic Department in the 1930s



This series of articles deal with the Dayton Police Ballistic Department in the 1930s

This first article appeared in the Dayton Journal on November 19, 1933


            The Dayton police department will be equipped with a $1,000 ballistic laboratory this winter, if plans being made by Chief of Police R. F. Wurstner are completed, it was announced last night.

            Four police offers have been training for the position of ballistic expert in the department. The laboratory would be installed in the present bureau of identification where there is adequate room for the comparison microscope, photo micrographic camera, and measuring devices needed.

Funds Sought.

            Chief Wurstner has appealed to a group of local citizens to aid in securing funds for the department, and hopes that the sum can be raised within the next few months.

            Dayton would be the second city in Ohio to purchase equipment primarily designed to link bullets found at the scenes of crimes with guns found in the possession of suspected criminals. Cleveland, O., police have possessed a ballistic laboratory for more than a year.

            Patrolmen who have been training for the position of ballistic expert include Officers John Blake and W. T. Dempsey, both of the bureau of identification, Officer Leonard Marksbery, whose interest has led him to visit leading ballistic laboratories in the United States; and Felix Thompson, long a gun expert.

            In telling of just what a ballistic laboratory can accomplish, Officer Marksbery pointed out that each gun marks all of the bullets fired from it in the same manner. Thus if a bullet from the body of a murdered man tallies with a test bullet fired from the gun of a suspected criminal, officers can be certain that both pellets came from the same weapon.

            A bullet comparison microscope and photomicrograph make it possible to see and photograph the minute identifying marks on the different bullets.

Cut Grooves.

            When a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, defects of the inner surface, and grooves cut into the weapon to make the bullet twirl in its flight leave their mark.

            A test bullet fired from the suspected weapon and a bullet taken from the scene of a crime are placed end to end under the comparison microscope. Their images are fused into one, explained Officer Marksbery, and the result is a composite image, one-half of which is contributed by the fatal bullet and one-half by the test bullet.

            The operator slowly turns one bullet in seeking to find similar  markings. Should success reward his efforts, the camera is placed over the microscope eyepiece and the enlarged markings are photographed. Such pictures when presented in courts have proven to be of the utmost value.

            Officers Dempsey and Blake recalled that three bank bandits who robbed a Vandalia, O., bank of $3,300 in 1930 confessed to their participation when a ballistic expert reported that a bullet found in a wall at the scene had been fired from a gun found in their possession.

            The science of ballistics was employed when Virgil Dackin was tried for the killing of a local shoe store manager last Christmas. Dackin never denied the testimony of the expert that the fatal bullet was fired from a revolver found in his possession.

            Officer Marksbery has been studying ballistics for the past year and one-half. During his vacation he visited laboratories over the country, including the Northwestern university scientific crime detection laboratory at Chicago, Ill. He also has a complete collection of books with data on all makes of weapons, American and European.

            Through his efforts a receptacle to use in catching test bullets was built. The large steel drum, open at the top, is filled with waste cloth, which stops the bullet without damaging the barrel markings.

            Officer Blake has taken correspondence courses in ballistics and allied subjects, having started his study three years ago.

            Officer Dempsey has taken a similar course, while Officer Thompson is credited with knowing more about guns and their construction than any other man in the department.

            The officers pointed out that use of a high-powered microscope is not confined to identifying bullets, but is used in studying blood, cloth materials, handwriting and typewriting, fingerprints and other clues often overlooked in crime detection.

            Both Chief Wurstner and Inspector of Detectives Yendes state that a ballistic department would fill a long-felt need in the police department.

            All guns taken from prisoners would be examined and recorded, giving the department one more check on the criminal.



This second article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on December 31, 1933


            Scientific identification of firearms, shells and bullets which is becoming as important as the study of fingerprints soon may be utilized by Dayton police in their fight to keep the city clear of gangsters and racketeers. Eventually it is hoped to add the necessary equipment to headquarters.

            With such equipment and the suspected weapon located, a comparison microscopic examination and test can be conducted which will prove whether or not the bullet in question was fired from the gun of a suspect.

            This is possible because in the process of gun barrel manufactures tell-tale marks are born which subsequently are imprinted on the bullet when it passes through the barrel at the moment of discharge.

            The marks result from the rifling. This is a series of spiral grooves cut in the surface of the bore from end to end of the barrel. These grooves cause the bullet to spin around its longitudinal axis when fired. This rotating movement serves to stabilize the bullet in flight so that it will travel nose first.

            Although two barrels manufactured by the same firm in identical manner may appear exactly alike to the eye, under the microscope minute tell-tale marks are visible and these are passed on to bullets fired through them. No two gun barrels are exactly alike and no two groove marks are identically the same in any one barrel, authorities declare.

            The machine for identification of bullets can be described as a specially designed compound microscope fitted with a comparison eyepiece in which two bullets can be examined at the same time.

            With such a microscope the fatal bullet and a test bullet fired from the suspected gun are mounted under the lens. Their images are fused into one by the arrangement of the prisms. The result is a composite image, one half of which is contributed by the fatal bullet and one half by the test bullet. The bullets can be rotated independently or simultaneously through a mechanical arrangement.

            One bullet is held stationary and the other is rotated so as to make various areas of its surface join against the area of the bullet which remains fixed in view. If the bullets are from the same gun, grooves, angles and fine scratches fuse. Having located this position, the bullets are revolved together whereupon fusion of all markings will take place all around the circumference. Photos are taken of both test and fatal specimens with a microscopic camera and so arranged that the court and jury clearly can comprehend the result.

            Dayton police recall that in the Dare murder trial last year, a ballistics expert was called from Cleveland to testify that the bullet which killed A. W. Dare was fired from a revolver found in the possession of Virgil Dackin, the defendant.



This third article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 3, 1934

            Officer Walter T. Dempsey, 30, of 1201 Epworth av., will head the ballistics department of the division of police, which is to be established from the funds recently donated by business men of the city.

            Chief R. F. Wurstner announced the appointment Tuesday morning. Dempsey will leave for Hartford, Conn., Friday night to begin a 10-day or two-weeks stay at the Colt Arms Co., where he will study in the laboratory.

            His education will consist of a study of the manufacture of guns and a thorough training in ballistics, which deals with the motion and impact of bullets and the forces involved.

            After a course in Hartford, Dempsey will go to Cleveland for further training in the ballistics department of the police department there. On his return he will take complete charge of the microscopes, cameras and files which are to be purchased.

            Authorities believe that the science of ballistics soon will be as important as the fingerprint system in the fight against criminals. The ballistics expert is able to determine, through compound microscopes and other equipment, from which gun a bullet has been fired, and by the aid of cameras, is able to present this evidence to juries.

            Dempsey, one of the younger members of the department, joined the force Dec. 27, 1927. For more than four years he has been assigned to the identification bureau, where under the tutelage of Capt. Harvey Siferd, now decreased, and Officer John R. Blake, he became a fingerprint expert.

            His industry and attentiveness to his duties attracted attention of his superiors and this, combined with a favorable record in high school and college, brought him under serious consideration when Wurstner began checking to select a ballistics man.

            Dempsey’s record as a policeman has been sensational. In 1930 he was stationed to guard the Xenia av. branch of the Union Trust Co., which had been held up several times in the previous few months.

            On May 6, two bandits entered. They leveled revolvers, began grabbing money. The employees, pre-warned, threw themselves on the floor.

            Dempsey stepped from a back room and began firing. He wounded both bandits and the robbers fled to the street where they commandeered a truck and forced the driver to speed away.

            Dempsey jumped into another auto, followed, and captured both after a sensational gun battle. One bandit died in Miami Valley hospital a few minutes later. The other died several weeks later.

            Officer E. E. Busch has been detailed to fill Dempsey’s place in the identification bureau.

            Originally, the funds donated to the department were to establish a gymnasium for policemen. However, Elmer Rauh, who solicited the money, obtained $2100, considerably more than was expected, and it was decided to use the surplus to buy the ballistic equipment. Several riot guns were also added to the equipment from the funds.


This fourth article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 5, 1934


            A check for $2204.50, donated by Dayton business men and citizens for the equipment of a gymnasium for training of police officers and for the purchase of a ballistics machine, riot guns and other articles, was presented to Police Chief R. F. Wurstner Friday by Elmer Rauh, vice president of the Egry Register Co.

            Authorities feel that the funds will enable them to equip the department to a point where it will be on a level with any in the country.

            Rauh, who solicited the funds on his own initiative after he became aware of the needs of the force, at first intended to obtain only enough money to equip a gymnasium. So readily did citizens respond, however, he explained, that when he ended his solicitations, he had collected $2204.50. This will enable police to buy the ballistics outfit, send a man to a school for training in that science and to purchase other needed equipment.

            Rauh presented the check to Wurstner in the latter’s office. Present were City Manager Fred O. Eichelberger, Mayor Charles J. Brennan, Inspector of Detectives S. E. Yendes, Capt. Daniel Wetzel, Inspector O. E. Greger and Inspector T. C. Grundish.

            Ballistics deals with the microscopic study and photography of bullets, blood and minute objects found at scenes of crimes. Through the machine authorities can determine whether a bullet was fired from the gun of a suspect, photograph the bullet and present the pictures to a jury. Police believe ballistics soon will be as important to law enforcing bodies as are finger prints.

            About $628 is required for the ballistics machine and $184 for an enlarger, lenses, bulbs, etc. Twelve riot guns will be purchased at a cost of about $300; 208 lockers, at a cost of $525, and $250 will be expended for the training of an officer in ballistics.

            Manager Eichelberger appointed a citizens’ police equipment committee, consisting of Rauh, as chairman; Wurstner, as secretary, and Russell Tomeprt, as treasurer, to take charge of the fund.

            Present  plans call for the expenditure of about $1900. The rest of the money probably will be spent to equip further the gymnasium while will be established in the Wayne av. Market house.

            “It is with great satisfaction and pleasure that I hand you this check for $2204.50.” Rauh told Wurstner.


This fifth article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on September 3, 1934

            Dayton detectives are becoming “scientific minded” like the ones in detective novels who, by means of a single hair, bit of torn clothing or a death bullet, run criminals to earth and convict them. And, by means of recently purchased equipment, the Dayton officers may enact some of the antics of the fiction in solving mysteries on seemingly worthless clews.

            The new equipment includes a compound ballistics microscope; powerful lens to magnify fingerprints; expensive cameras and enlargers to produce many times enlarged photos of bullets, finger smudges and other objects for display in the courtroom; more accurate equipment to photograph prisoners, and cabinets in which pictures and records of criminals are filed according to their modus operandi.

            Chief R. F. Wurstner illustrated the value of small clews by citing the case of a woman murdered in Dayton several years ago. Bits of a brick by which she was beaten to death were found on the floor and when a suspect was arrested, powder from the same brick was found in his pocket. The new equipment provides means of developing all clews, however small, to their full worth.

            The ballistics microscope is used to examine bullets. An expert can readily determine form which gun a bullet has been fired.

            Value of this machine was shown in the Dare murder case a year ago, when police appealed to the Cleveland police department to determine if a bullet fired from the revolver found on Virgil Dackin, the defendant, matched the one which killed Dare.

            A special tank has been provided, filled with water, into which bullets are fired. The water stops the bullet without marring the marks left by the rifling.

            The modus operandi file permits photos to be filed according to the type of crime and manner of operation ordinarily pursued.

            Thus, detectives investigating a crime have at their finger tips records of criminals who habitually commit crimes of that particular nature in that particular way. And victims of holdups can view in a group of photos of criminals, who ordinarily perform such deeds in the manner to which the citizen has been subjected.

            Addition of the equipment makes the Dayton department one of the most completely equipped in the country. A public subscription, managed by Elmer Rauh of the Egry Register Co., provided the funds for the purchases.

            Officer W. T. Dempsey was given an extensive course in ballistics and he, with Officers John R. Blake and Everett Busch, operate the identification bureau. All are fingerprints experts.


This sixth article appeared in the Journal Herald on August 30, 1935

            With the expenditure of little more than $800, the Dayton police department bureau of identification and pistol range could be equipped in a manner comparable in many ways with the federal bureau of investigation laboratory and range, illustrated above.

            This is the opinion of Officer W. T. Dempsey, head of the local bureau of identification, who a year ago visited the scenes depicted in the above pictures, which illustrates equipment needed in Dayton.

            Dempsey points out that the use of a chemical laboratory in crime detection is increasing in popularity in the United States and foreign countries.

            “A few years ago a blood stain or dust in the pockets of a prisoner meant little to the investigator. Today by means of chemical tests crimes are often solved on clues such as these,” he says.

            The ballistics expert figures the cost of primary equipment to start a crime laboratory at $100 with the probability that other equipment would be needed later. Were such purchases of beakers, Bunsen burners, a hydrogen sulphide generator, and other equipment, made the problem would be to find space for the laboratory. At present, the bureau of identification is using all the space allotted to it in the city building.

            Officer Dempsey has suggested that empty space in the U. B. annex, which now houses numerous city offices, could be utilized.

            The helixometer shown in the upper left picture is used to get exact measurements of the inside of a gun barrel which may have figured in a serious crime. It aids in telling an expert whether a gun has been fired, how long before the examination, and the kind of bullets and powder used.

            Police officers estimate that $100 would be needed to lengthen the local police pistol range, located in the basement of the city building. Offices at the end where the men stand to fire would have to be moved to increase the range from 50 feet to the standard length of 60 feet.

            Dempsey cited another piece of equipment needed here. It is a handwriting and typewriting comparator, costing $200. It projects enlarged outlines of the two fingerprints being compared on a screen which does away with hours of close scrutiny with a small magnifying glass.

            The officer also reported the Dayton department could use an ultra-violet ray machine designed especially for detecting forgeries and erasure in writing. Such a machine would cost $240.

            Such is a brief outline of plans which Chief of Police R. F. Wurstner is thinking about for the Dayton police department. When the equipment can be purchased is another question, the chief says. “We need such a laboratory and such equipment - but it all takes money.” is his comment.

            Equipment such as is needed by the Dayton police department is shown in the above pictures being used at the federal bureau of investigation in Washington, D. C. The upper left photo shows a “G” man using an instrument to determine whether or not a gun has been fired. The upper right picture shows an officer firing a sub-machine gun in the federal rifle range, while the lower picture shows the federal crime laboratory.