Over time, prosecutions grew. In 1920, Bureau agents investigated
1,480 cases of car theft, leading to 1,056 arrests. By 1940, FBI
investigations resulted in 4,153 stolen vehicle recoveries and 2,340
In the first two decades of the Dyer Act, the FBI recovered more than 56,000 motor vehicles valued at $32 million.
law proved useful in other ways. Many captured car thieves were
military deserters or fugitives from justice. Others were engaging in
human trafficking. Breaking organized auto theft rings also helped put
dangerous thugs and mobsters behind bars.
The work was not without risks. On October 11, 1925, Special Agent Edwin C. Shanahan
was shot and killed in a Chicago garage by a professional car thief
named Martin Durkin. It was the first murder of a Bureau agent in the
line of duty. Durkin was eventually captured with the help of an
insurance company detective.
The Dyer Act was especially vital in
the 1930s, enabling the FBI to join the hunt for notorious gangsters
such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde and
leading to some of the Bureau’s most significant and memorable cases.
March 1934, for example, Dillinger broke out of a jail in Crown Point,
Indiana. Following his escape, he stole the sheriff’s car and drove it
across state lines to Chicago, violating the Dyer Act. That made
Dillinger a federal fugitive and an FBI subject. Bureau investigators
began tracking him closely. Agents cornered and killed Dillinger less
than five months later.
At the same time, the Bureau began
developing scientific and technical tools to aid in curbing car thefts.
When the FBI Laboratory was created in 1932, for instance, car tire
treads and auto paint samples were two of the first collections
initiated. These collections have proven invaluable in identifying cars
involved in criminal activity and solving a countless number of cases
over the years.
And today? The FBI’s most recent crime statistics
show that an estimated 748,841 motor vehicles were stolen nationwide in
2018, resulting in more than $6 billion in losses. With the help of
legislative tools like the Dyer Act, the FBI and its partners remain
fully committed to countering this pervasive crime threat and bringing
thieves to justice.