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Real Live Machinegun Crime: Roger Waller and his Full Auto .380ACP MAC-11 by WILL DABBS

If movies are to be believed (they shouldn’t), then every street corner youth gang is tearing about the neighborhood armed with state of the art military weaponry. Reality is that actual criminal use of machineguns in America is and always has been vanishingly rare.

If you shape your worldview at the local cineplex, and, distressingly, many do, then you might expect gangs of bank robbers wielding full auto HK G36 assault rifles to be lurking behind every parking meter in whatever little metropolis you call home. However, I have it on reliable information that movies are not technically real. The reality, by contrast, paints a very different picture.

Rare professional criminals like John Dillinger with his Thompson and Clyde Barrow with his BAR had an outsized influence on American culture.

Automatic weapons (not to be confused with “semiautomatic assault weapons,” whatever they actually are) have been heavily regulated in the United States since 1934. Thompson submachine guns and Browning Automatic Rifles were really the only automatic weapons in circulation back then, and they were used precious few times in actual crimes. However, then as now blood and sex sell newspapers, so the public became convinced that machinegun-related crime was an existential threat to our American way of life.

The Constitution is actually fairly specific about the limited powers granted to the US Congress.

As a result, legislators did what legislators do. Interestingly, back in 1934 lawmakers actually read the document they were sworn to support and defend. They appreciated that they lacked the constitutional power to ban anything. What they subsequently did was to simply tax machineguns out of existence. As $200 in 1934 is about $3,000 today, levying a $200 tax on the transfer of machineguns effectively shut down commerce in these items.

Transferable machineguns are now insanely expensive. This cherry example of a Colt M16A1 is listed at $28k.

Now fast forward to the 1980s and $200 was not the lofty sum it once was. Private ownership of automatic weapons, therefore, began to accumulate a proper following. In 1986 a Democratically-controlled congress slipped the Hughes Amendment into the ironically-titled Firearms Owners Protection Act. President Reagan daftly signed the thing, and the new production of automatic weapons for sale to civilians was gone never to return. Resulting market forces pushed prices of transferable automatic weapons into the stratosphere. The M16 I bought for $600 in 1987 would cost twenty grand to replace today.

There was a time in America when legal machineguns were both plentiful and cheap.

As of 2016, the BATF reported that there were 175,977 transferable automatic weapons in the National Firearms Registry and Transfer Record. A few of these guns are still in Law Enforcement arms rooms or museums, but most of them are owned by folks like us. Since 1934 there have been two cases wherein the legal owner of a registered machinegun committed a crime with his weapon. Only one is well documented.

The Shooter

Officer Roger Waller ran a gun shop, served with the Dayton Police Department, and was a fixture among the local paintball set.

In 1988 Roger Waller was a thirteen-year veteran of the Dayton, Ohio, police department. He also owned a gun shop and was active in paintball. His Law Enforcement job was to manage the Drug Hotline Volunteer Program. His duties included training and scheduling volunteers to man a telephone hotline wherein local citizens could call in tips about suspected drug dealers. Officer Waller would correlate the information and occasionally travel to the locations reported to observe for evidence of trafficking.

The war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

If Officer Waller saw something suspicious his mandate was to report it for further investigation. Waller was not to speak with anyone at these locations or attempt to buy drugs. Though he carried a 9mm handgun, Officer Waller’s duties were administrative in nature.

Wow, Just Wow

This sordid episode began with the installation of a new furnace in a police officer’s home.

On September 15th 1988, Officer Waller was spending his day off having a new furnace installed by an HVAC specialist named Dennis Michael. Waller told Michael that he was a police officer who investigated drug dealers. Michael informed Waller that there was a house in his neighborhood that he suspected of harboring drug activity. Once the furnace was installed Waller and Michael drove to Michael’s neighborhood for a look-see.

For whatever reason, Officer Waller was packing his legally-registered MAC-11 submachine gun on the day he and a buddy embarked on his little off-duty counter-drug operation.

Despite being off duty, Waller carried his 9mm service pistol and badge along with his legally registered .380ACP MAC-11 submachine gun in a shoulder holster. His new buddy the furnace installer also brought along a shotgun. Once Michael identified the dwelling the two men kept it under surveillance for about half an hour. Observing nothing out of the ordinary Officer Waller announced that he had “decided to go down and try to make a buy at the door.”

Officer Waller identified himself as Law Enforcement as he approached the suspected drug dealer’s home.

As he approached the home a young girl emerged. Waller flashed his badge and advised her to leave as he “was going to bust this house.” Waller then walked to the screen door and addressed the two men inside.

Crack cocaine was a scourge across the country in the 1980s.

Lawrence Eugene Hileman and Jerry L. Smith were inside the home. When Officer Waller announced that he was there to buy crack cocaine Hileman and Smith laughed. They then invited Waller and Michael inside stating that they didn’t sell crack cocaine. Waller and Michael entered the house and Waller identified himself as “drug enforcement.” Officer Waller then announced, “You know, somebody is going to go to jail here if we don’t find out where the drugs are.”

At close range, the MAC-series submachine guns are undeniably effective.

The details are fuzzy, but at this point apparently something bad happened. Officer Waller shot Hileman in the chest with a long burst from his submachine gun. Waller later claimed it was an accident, but I read that the guy was hit thirty times. Dennis Michael, the furnace repairman, then shot Jerry Smith twice with his shotgun. Hileman died in short order. Smith was grievously wounded.

The Gun

Gordon Ingram (center) mastered the art of combining modern mass-production techniques with a simple and reliable submachine gun design.

Gordon Ingram was born in California in 1924. A World War 2 veteran, he returned home from the war and began the design of his first submachine gun.

The M6 was Gordon Ingram’s first successful SMG.

The result, the Ingram Model 6, was a .45ACP weapon built around a tubular receiver. The Model 6 was designed as an inexpensive replacement for the Thompson that was both heavy and spendy to produce. The Model 6 was available with either a horizontal or vertical foregrip and included a novel fire selector in the trigger, not unlike that of the Steyr AUG. A short pull produced semiauto fire, while a long pull produced full auto. Alas, in 1949 the world was awash in submachine guns, so after a run of 20,000 copies, the Model 6 died a natural death.

The M10 was Gordon Ingram’s most popular design. This one is chambered for 9mm Parabellum.

In 1964 Ingram designed his masterpiece. The M10 submachine gun was available in either 9mm or .45ACP chamberings and was produced predominantly via steel stampings. These guns were less than a foot long with their flimsy wire stocks retracted and weighed 6.26 pounds. However, the M10’s diminutive dimensions produced an abbreviated bolt travel and subsequent breathtaking rate of fire in excess of 1,000 rpm.

Mitch WerBell III was an undeniably larger than life character.

In 1969 Ingram joined SIONICS, an American arms-producing company founded by the flamboyant former OSS/CIA officer Mitch Werbell III.

The M10 was designed from the outset to be used with a sound suppressor.

SIONICS stood for “Studies in the Operational Negation of Insurgents and Counter-Subversion.” This has got to be the coolest acronym ever contrived by man.

WerBell’s innovative two-stage suppressor design actually used tennis shoe eyelets in the first stage to help mitigate the gun’s racket.

Ingram joined his tiny subgun to a novel two-stage sound suppressor designed by WerBell and proceeded to try to sell the combination to everybody in the free world.

The .380ACP M11 (right) is a scaled-down version of the larger 9mm M10.

In 1972 Ingram and WerBell, now under the mantle of the Military Armaments Corporation (MAC, the second coolest acronym in human history) released the M11. This was a scaled-down version of the M10 chambered in .380ACP. The M11 was not much larger than a 1911 pistol and weighed a paltry 3.5 pounds. This spunky little bullet hose cycled at between 1,200 and 1,600 rpm and fed from either 16 or 32-round magazines. This was the weapon Officer Waller used to kill the unfortunate Mr. Hileman. Though both guns are frequently referred to as either the MAC-10 or MAC-11, this designation was never formally endorsed by the company.

How Do They Run?

The tiny little 9mm M10 actually weighs about as much as an M16A1 rifle.

The M10 weighs almost as much as an M16A1, but it is undeniably compact. With a sound suppressor installed and the stock extended I can keep my bursts from a 9mm M10 inside a paper plate at fifteen meters. Without the can and with the stock collapsed the gun looks undeniably cool but becomes an area weapon system.

The .380ACP M11 isn’t much larger than a 1911 pistol.

The M11 is more controllable, though trigger discipline becomes an even greater issue given the profligate rate of fire. You can actually hold a tuned M11 sideways at head height, squeeze the trigger, and empty the gun before the first case hits the ground. That’s a dandy parlor trick but doesn’t have much practical application. Great care must be exercised with both guns in the absence of a sound suppressor to avoid the errant inadvertent defingering.

The Rest of the Story

WerBell and Ingram tried to sell their little submachine guns to the US Army as a replacement for the 1911 pistol.

Ingram and WerBell wanted desperately to convince Uncle Sam to replace all of his 1911 pistols with MAC submachine guns. The mind boggles at the number of shot-off digits that might litter military firing ranges today had they been successful. As it was they did sell a smattering around the globe at about $120 apiece back in the seventies but eventually gave up and quit. Semiauto variants of Ingram’s guns are still in production today.

MAC submachine guns are designed for just such close-range across-the-room engagements. John Wayne debuted the diminutive little gun in his 1970’s cop thriller McQ. Mind that trigger finger, Duke.

Officer Waller and his furnace-installing civilian deputy Dennis Michael both pled guilty and were sentenced to eighteen years in prison. The deceased Mr. Hileman had served as a past police drug informant and was indeed apparently a pretty vile guy. There were even rumors that Waller had killed him intentionally, perhaps as a contract hit. The details are lost to time.

Converting semiauto weapons to full auto was legal in America before 1986. The tools required for such an enterprise are fairly simple.

Prior to 1986, anybody with $200 and a Dremel tool could file a BATF Form 1 and legally build a machinegun in their basement. 175,977 machineguns ended up in private hands under this system. With the exception of Officer Waller and one other guy, in 86 years nobody criminally misused any of those weapons.

The MAC submachine guns were studies in mechanical simplicity.

About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains.

Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

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