John I. Wilson

Image of Special Agent John Irwin Wilson
Date of Birth: 
Date of Death: 
July 22, 1931
Location of Death: 
Fort Wayne, IN
Image of the Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms badge

Circumstances of Death

Prohibition Agents John Irwin Wilson, Oliver Cetteland and Walter Gilbert had arranged to make an undercover purchase of illicit liquor from George Adams in Fort Wayne, IN.  Adams, a convicted felon, was on recent parole from prison for a previous Federal liquor violation.  Agents Wilson and Gilbert were accompanied by additional agents in separate automobiles.  They proceeded to the agreed upon meeting location, on the lower Huntington Road near Waynesdale, in Allen County.

At the meeting site, Agent Wilson approached Adams' vehicle to consummate the purchase of liquor, but Adams apparently became suspicious and drew a .45 caliber pistol and threatened to kill him.  Agent Gilbert, fearing for Wilson's safety, fired several shots through Adams' windshield slightly wounding him.  Adams returned fire killing Agent Wilson.  More gunfire was exchanged, during which Agent Gilbert was also shot and badly wounded.  Adams wounded two other agents before making his escape.

Agent Gilbert was rushed to Lutheran Hospital, but died that evening.  Adams was captured by agents and police the following day.


Agent Wilson joined the Bureau of Prohibition on June 4, 1928, with an annual salary of $2,400.  He served in Chicago and Springfield, IL, and probably knew or worked with Eliot Ness.  In 1929-1930, Agent Wilson was responsible for a number of significant criminal cases, including several undercover investigations in Detroit that involved two different smuggling syndicates.  These investigations resulted in the seizure of 6,000 cases of illicit liquor, four transportation boats, two speed boats and a large quantity of money along with the arrest of 35 suspects.

In 1929, Paul Hiller, a bootlegger, wrote a poem about Agent Wilson's exploits and how he had worked undercover loading boats with illicit liquor until one day, Hiller found himself arrested by Agent Wilson.  This poem appears as an attachment at the end of this file. In June 1931, Agent Wilson was appointed Agent in Charge of the Indianapolis, IN, field office.  Agent Wilson served in the U.S. Navy from 1917 - 1919 and the U.S. Army from 1922 - 1927.


Agent Wilson was born in Des Monies, IA.  He was survived by his wife, Nelly. He is buried in Rockwell City, IA.

Associated Artifacts: 
Image of poem titled Brainstorm, by Paul Miller
Image of Page 2 of Poem, Brainstorm by Paul Miller
Image of telegram regarding the death of John Wilson
Image of telegram relating to the shooting of John Wilson
Image of telegram regarding the apprehension of the shooter of John Wilson
Image of the Decatur Evening Herald, dated July 23, 1931, with headline: Two Dry Agents Slain in Trap Set For A Bootlegger
Image of newspaper article from The Kingsport Times, dated July 23, 1931 with headline: Rum Runner Kills Two Prohi Agents in Pistol Battle
Image of newpaper article with headline: Must Die Say Loomis, Helmke
Image of newpaper article from The Charleston Gazette, dated July 29, 1931, with headline: Two Dry Agents Slain in Fight
Image of newspaper article from The Ogden Standard Examiner, dated July 29, 1931, with headline: Trapped Rum Runner Slays Federal Men
Image from the Kingsport Times, dated July 29, 1931, with photo headline: Bootlegger Kills U.S. Agents
Last Reviewed October 1, 2015