Pretty Boy Floyd

Last updated

Pretty Boy Floyd
Pretty Boy Floyd FBI.jpg
Floyd's mugshot in 1933
Born
Charles Arthur Floyd

(1904-02-03)February 3, 1904
DiedOctober 22, 1934(1934-10-22) (aged 30)
Cause of death Gunshot wounds
Occupation Gangster, bank robber
Criminal statusDeceased
Spouse(s)Ruby Floyd (divorced)
ChildrenCharles Dempsey Floyd
Criminal penalty15 years in Prison (escaped); Killed by Federal Agents

Charles Arthur Floyd (February 3, 1904 – October 22, 1934), nicknamed Pretty Boy Floyd, was an American bank robber. He operated in the West and Central states, and his criminal exploits gained widespread press coverage in the 1930s. He was seen positively by the public because it was believed that during robberies he burned mortgage documents, freeing many people from their debts. He was pursued and killed by a group of Bureau of Investigation (BOI) agents led by Melvin Purvis. Historians have speculated as to which officers were at the event, but accounts document that local officers Robert "Pete" Pyle and George Curran were present at his fatal shooting and also at his embalming. [1] Floyd has continued to be a familiar figure in American popular culture, sometimes seen as notorious, other times portrayed as a tragic figure, even a victim of the hard times of the Great Depression in the United States.

Contents

Early life

Floyd was born in Bartow County, Georgia in 1904. His family moved to Akins, Oklahoma in 1911, and he grew up there. He was arrested at age 18 after he stole $3.50 from a local post office. Three years later, he was arrested for a payroll robbery on September 16, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri and was sentenced to five years in prison. He served three and a half years before being granted parole. [2] [3] [4]

Floyd entered into partnerships with criminals in the Kansas City underworld after his parole. He committed a series of bank robberies over the next several years, and it was during this period that he acquired the nickname "Pretty Boy." Orville Drake gave him the name because he would wear a white button-up dress shirt and slacks to work in the oil fields.[ clarification needed ] The men on the rig began calling him "Pretty Boy" which was later turned into "Pretty Boy Floyd." According to one account, a payroll master whom Floyd had robbed described him as "a pretty boy with apple cheeks." Floyd despised the nickname. [2]

In 1929, Floyd was wanted in numerous cases. On March 9, he was arrested in Kansas City on investigation, and again on May 7 for vagrancy and suspicion of highway robbery, but he was released the next day. Two days later, he was arrested in Pueblo, Colorado and charged with vagrancy. He was fined $50.00 and sentenced to 60 days in jail. [4]

Floyd was arrested in Akron, Ohio on March 8, 1930 under the alias Frank Mitchell and charged with the murder of an Akron police officer [5] who had been killed during a robbery that evening. [4] He was arrested in Toledo, Ohio on suspicion[ clarification needed ] on May 20. [6] He was convicted of a Sylvania Ohio Bank Robbery and sentenced on November 24, 1930 to 12 to 15 years in Ohio State penitentiary, but he escaped. [4]

Floyd was a suspect in the deaths of Kansas City brothers Wally and Boll Ash who were rum-runners, found dead in a burning car on March 25, 1931. Members of his gang killed Patrolman R. H. Castner of Bowling Green, Ohio on April 23. [7] On July 22, Floyd killed federal agent Curtis C. Burke in Kansas City, Missouri. [8]

Former sheriff Erv Kelley of McIntosh County, Oklahoma was shot by Floyd while trying to arrest him on April 7, 1932. [9] In November, three members of Floyd's gang attempted to rob the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Boley, Oklahoma. [10] Despite his life of crime, Floyd was viewed positively by the general public. When he robbed banks, he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, but this has never been confirmed and may be myth.[ citation needed ] He was often protected by locals of Oklahoma who referred to him as "Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills". [11]

Kansas City massacre

Floyd and Adam Richetti became the primary suspects in a gunfight known as the "Kansas City massacre" on June 17, 1933 which resulted in the deaths of four law enforcement officers. [12] J. Edgar Hoover used the incident to empower the FBI to pursue Floyd, [12] although historians are divided as to whether Floyd was involved. The gunfight was an attack by Vernon Miller and accomplices on lawmen escorting robber Frank "Jelly" Nash to a car parked at the Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City detectives William Grooms [13] and Frank Hermanson, [14] Oklahoma police chief Otto Reed, [15] and FBI special agent Ray Caffrey [16] were killed. Nash was also killed while sitting in the car, shot in the head by his would-be rescuers. Two other Kansas City police officers survived by slumping forward in the back seat and feigning death. As the gunmen inspected the car, another officer responded from the station and fired at them, forcing them to flee. Miller was found dead on November 27, 1933 outside Detroit, Michigan, having been beaten and strangled. [17]

Floyd and Richetti were allegedly Miller's accomplices. Factors weighing against them included their apparent presence in Kansas City at the time, eyewitness identifications (which have been contested), Richetti's fingerprint recovered from a beer bottle at Miller's hideout, an underworld account naming Floyd and Richetti as the gunmen, and Hoover's firm advocacy of their guilt. Fellow bank robber Alvin Karpis claimed that Floyd confessed involvement. On the other side of the issue, the bandit alleged to have been Floyd was supposed to have been wounded by a gunshot to the shoulder in the attack, and Floyd's body showed no sign of this injury when examined later. The underworld account identifying Floyd and Richetti as the killers was offset by equally unreliable underworld accounts proclaiming their innocence. The Floyd family has maintained that Floyd admitted to many other crimes but vehemently denied involvement in this one, as did Richetti.

Kansas City police received a postcard dated June 30, 1933 from Springfield, Missouri which read: "Dear Sirs - I - Charles Floyd - want it made known that I did not participate in the massacre of officers at Kansas City. Charles Floyd". The police department believed the note to be genuine. Floyd also reportedly denied involvement in the massacre to the FBI agents who had fatally wounded him. In addition, a recent book on the massacre attributes at least some of the killing to friendly fire by a lawman who was unfamiliar with his weapon, based on ballistic tests. [18]

Death

The FBI named Floyd "Public Enemy No. 1" on July 23, 1934, following the death of John Dillinger. Local police and FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis shot Floyd on October 22, 1934 in a corn field in East Liverpool, Ohio. [12] [17] [19] Accounts differ on who shot him and the manner in which he was killed.

Floyd and Richetti had left Buffalo, New York on October 18, and their vehicle slid into a telephone pole in heavy fog. No one was injured, but the car was disabled, so they sent two female companions to get a tow truck. They planned to have the women accompany the tow truck driver into town and have the vehicle repaired while they waited by the roadside. [20]

After dawn on October 19, motorist Joe Fryman and his son-in-law David O'Hanlon passed by, observing two men dressed in suits lying by the roadside. They thought it suspicious and informed Wellsville, Ohio police chief John H. Fultz. Fultz investigated with officers Grover Potts and William Erwin. Richetti saw the lawmen and fled into the woods, pursued by two officers, while Fultz went towards Floyd. Floyd immediately drew his gun and fired, and he and Fultz engaged one another in a gunfight, during which Fultz was wounded in the foot and Potts was wounded in the right shoulder, and Floyd then fled into the forest. The other two officers enlisted the help of local police officer Chester C. Smith (February 14, 1895 – October 23, 1984), who had been a sniper during World War I, and they captured Richetti. Floyd remained on the run.

At least three accounts exist of the following events, one given by the FBI, one by other people in the area, and one by local law enforcement. The accounts agree that Floyd hitched a ride in an East Liverpool neighborhood on October 22, 1934 after obtaining some food at a pool hall owned by his friend Charles Joy. He was spotted by the team of lawmen, at which point he broke from the vehicle and fled towards a tree line. Officer Chester Smith fired first, hitting Floyd in the right arm and knocking him to the ground. At this point, the three accounts diverge; the FBI agents claimed all the credit, denying that local law enforcement were even present at the shooting. [21] According to the local police account, Floyd regained his footing and continued to run, at which point the entire team opened fire, knocking him to the ground.[ citation needed ] Floyd died from his wounds shortly after.

According to the FBI, three FBI agents (Samuel K. McKee, Jr., David E. Hall, and Winfred E. Hopton) led by Purvis and three members of the East Liverpool Police Department (Herman H. Roth, Jr., Chester C. Smith, and Glenn G. Montgomery) led by Chief Hugh McDermott were searching the area south of Clarkson, Ohio in two cars. They spotted a car move from behind a corn crib and then move back. Floyd then emerged from the car and drew a .45 caliber pistol, and the FBI agents opened fire. Floyd reportedly said, "I'm done for. You've hit me twice." [17] According to a contemporary news account, Floyd crawled out of the corncrib toward the Dyke automobile and then changed direction toward a wooded ridge. Purvis yelled “Halt” but Floyd ran. Puris called out “Fire” and Floyd was mortally wounded by four bullets. Handcuffs were placed on his wrists. Floyd asked: “Who the hell tipped you?”. He refused to answer Purvis questions on the Kansas City Massacre but did say “I am Floyd… Where is Eddie?” [referring to Adam Richetti].Thinking he had been shot twice he remarked “You got me twice”. Purvis did not disclose Floyd's last words. Allegedly four days before Floyd and two accomplices had robbed a bank of $500; Floyd’s share of his last bank robbery was $120.00. [22] Among Floyd's effects found on him was a watch and a fob each had ten notches-allegedly for ten persons Floyd had killed. [17]

Retired East Liverpool police captain Chester Smith described events differently in a 1979 issue of TIME magazine. He was credited with shooting Floyd first, and he stated that he had deliberately wounded Floyd but not killed him. "I knew Purvis couldn't hit him, so I dropped him with two shots from my .32 Winchester rifle." According to Smith's account, Floyd fell and did not regain his footing, and Smith then disarmed him. At that point, Purvis ran up and ordered, "Back away from that man. I want to talk to him." Purvis questioned Floyd briefly and received curses in reply, so he ordered agent Herman Hollis to "fire into him." Hollis then shot Floyd at point-blank range with a sub-machine gun, killing him. The interviewer asked if there was a cover-up by the FBI, and Smith responded: "Sure was, because they didn't want it to get out that he'd been killed that way." [23]

FBI agent Winfred E. Hopton disputed Smith's claim in a letter to the editors of TIME, published in the November 19, 1979 issue. He stated that he was one of four FBI agents present when Floyd was killed on a farm several miles from East Liverpool, Ohio. According to Hopton, members of the East Liverpool police department arrived only after Floyd was already mortally wounded. He also claimed that, when the four agents confronted Floyd, he turned to fire on them, and two of the four killed him almost instantly. Smith's account said that Herman Hollis shot the wounded Floyd on Purvis's order, but Hopton claimed that Hollis was not even present. [24] At least one other source discredits Smith's version, stating that although Smith's story received wide currency, Hollis was not at the orchard that afternoon. [20] Hollis' FBI profile does not mention his participation in this incident. [25] Hopton also stated that Floyd's body was transported back to East Liverpool in Hopton's own car. [21]

Floyd's body was embalmed and briefly viewed at the Sturgis Funeral Home in East Liverpool, Ohio before being sent on to Oklahoma. His body was placed on public display in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. His funeral was attended by between 20,000 and 40,000 people and remains the largest funeral in Oklahoma history. He was buried in Akins, Oklahoma. [26]

Video clips of Depression era gangsters, including Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly

Woody Guthrie wrote a protest song romanticizing Floyd's life in 1939 called "Pretty Boy Floyd" [27] which recounted Floyd's supposed generosity to the poor. It compared foreclosing bankers to outlaws, calling both actions robbery. Guthrie's song has been subsequently covered by many recording artists.

Dick Tracy's adversary Flattop Jones was based on Pretty Boy Floyd. [28] Flattop claims to be a freelancer from the "Crookston Hills", a parody of Cookson Hills in Oklahoma, and the comic strip refers to Flattop's involvement in the Kansas City Massacre. [12] [ failed verification ]

Several movies have been made about Floyd:

Pretty Boy Floyd (1995) is a fictionalized account of Floyd's life by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. [29]

Floyd is (along with Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly) one of the main characters of the comic book series Pretty, Baby, Machine.

See also

Related Research Articles

Baby Face Nelson American bank robber

Lester Joseph Gillis, known by the alias George Nelson and Baby Face Nelson, was an American bank robber. He became partners with John Dillinger, helping him escape from prison in Crown Point, Indiana. Nelson and the remaining gang members were labelled as public enemy number one. He was given the nickname Baby Face Nelson due to his small stature and somewhat youthful appearance, although few dared call him that to his face. Criminal associates instead called him "Jimmy".

Melvin Purvis Federal Bureau of Investigation agent

Melvin Horace Purvis II was an American law enforcement official and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent. Given the nickname "Little Mel" because of his short, 5 ft 4 in (163 cm) frame, Purvis became noted for leading the manhunts that captured or killed bank robbers such as Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd, but his high public profile was resented by local law enforcement. Purvis asserted he had killed Floyd single-handed, others variously claimed that Floyd had been already wounded, or even that Purvis had ordered Floyd summarily shot dead for refusing to provide information.

Alvin Karpis American gangster

Alvin Francis Karpis, a Depression-era gangster nicknamed "Creepy" for his sinister smile and called "Ray" by his gang members, was a Canadian-born criminal of Lithuanian descent known for being a leader of the Barker–Karpis gang in the 1930s. Karpis led the gang along with Fred Barker and Arthur "Doc" Barker. There were only four "public enemies" ever given the title of "Public Enemy #1" by the FBI and he was the only one to be taken alive. The other three, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson, were all killed before being captured. He also spent the longest time as a federal prisoner at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, serving twenty-six years.

Machine Gun Kelly American gangster (1895–1954)

George Kelly Barnes, better known by his pseudonym "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster from Memphis, Tennessee, during the prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun. He is best known for the kidnapping of the oil tycoon and businessman Charles F. Urschel in July 1933, from which he and his gang collected a $200,000 ransom. Urschel had collected and left considerable evidence that assisted the subsequent FBI investigation, which eventually led to Kelly's arrest in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 26, 1933. His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.

Shootout Gun battle or firefight

A shootout, also called a firefight or gunfight, is a gun battle between armed groups. A shootout often, but not always, pits law enforcement against criminal groups; it can also involve two groups outside of law enforcement, such as rival groups. A military term for a shootout in a combat situation would always be considered a battle, rather than a shootout. Shootouts are often portrayed in action films and Western films.

<i>Dillinger</i> (1973 film) 1973 film by John Milius

Dillinger is a 1973 American gangster film about the life and criminal exploits of notorious bank robber John Dillinger. It stars Warren Oates as Dillinger, Ben Johnson as his pursuer, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and Cloris Leachman as the "Lady in Red" who made it possible for Purvis to kill Dillinger. It also features the first film performance by the singer Michelle Phillips as Dillinger's moll Billie Frechette. The film, narrated by Purvis, chronicles the last few years of Dillinger's life as the FBI and law enforcement closed in. The setting is Depression era America, from 1933 to 1934, with largely unromanticized depictions of the principal characters. It was written and directed by John Milius for Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures.

Kansas City massacre June 1933 shootout in Kansas City, Missouri, United States

The Kansas City massacre was the shootout and murder of four law enforcement officers and a criminal fugitive at the Union Station railroad depot in Kansas City, Missouri, on the morning of June 17, 1933. It occurred as part of the attempt by a gang led by Vernon Miller to free Frank "Jelly" Nash, a federal prisoner. At the time, Nash was in the custody of several law enforcement officers who were returning him to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, from which he had escaped three years earlier.

Aussie Elliott was a Depression-era outlaw and associate of bank robbers George Birdwell and Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd. Born in Oklahoma, Elliott was convicted of bank robbery in 1932 and sentenced to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, eventually escaping on August 14, 1932. Soon after joining Birdwell and Floyd, the three robbed a bank in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, of $2,530. Although identified by witnesses raiding a bank in Henryetta of $11,352 only six days later, several reports attributed the robbery to the Ford Bradshaw gang.

Vernon C. Miller

Vernon C. Miller was a freelance Prohibition gunman, bootlegger, bank robber and former sheriff in Huron, South Dakota, who, as the only identified gunman in the Kansas City massacre, was found beaten and strangled to death shortly after the incident.

<i>Public Enemies</i> (2009 film) 2009 American film directed by Michael Mann

Public Enemies is a 2009 American biographical crime drama film directed by Michael Mann, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman. It is an adaptation of Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34. Set during the Great Depression, the film chronicles the final years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger as he is pursued by FBI agent Melvin Purvis, Dillinger's relationship with Billie Frechette, as well as Purvis' pursuit of Dillinger's associates and fellow criminals Homer Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson.

Homer Van Meter

Homer Virgil Van Meter was an American criminal and bank robber active in the early 20th century, most notably as a criminal associate of John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson.

Frank Nash has been called "the most successful bank robber in U.S. history," but he is most noted for his violent death in the Kansas City Massacre. Nash spent part of his childhood in Paragould, Arkansas and was arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas the day before his death.

Samuel Parkinson Cowley was an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who was killed in the line of duty in a gunfight with Baby Face Nelson in 1934 on Route 14 in Barrington, Illinois.

Robert G. "Big Bob" Brady was an American bank robber and Depression-era outlaw. A well-known Oklahoma bandit during the 1920s and 1930s, Brady was associated with Wilbur Underhill, Harvey Bailey and Jim Clark.

Adam Richetti

Adam "Eddie" Richetti was an American criminal and Depression-era bank robber. He was associated with Aussie Elliott and later Pretty Boy Floyd in the early-1930s, both he and Floyd later being implicated in the Kansas City Massacre in 1933.

Herbert Allen Farmer

Herbert Allen Farmer, was an American criminal who, with his wife Esther, operated a safe house for underworld fugitives from the mid-1920s to 1933.

Herman Hollis FBI agent

Herman Edward "Ed" Hollis was an American law enforcement official and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent. As an FBI special agent in the 1930s, Hollis worked with agents Melvin Purvis, Samuel P. Cowley and others fighting bank robbers, gangsters and organized crime in the Chicago area during the Great Depression. Hollis is best known for having been killed in the line of duty during an intense shootout with Chicago-area bank robber Lester Gillis, a.k.a. Baby Face Nelson, at the Battle of Barrington in 1934. Hollis was also one of the three FBI special agents who shot John Dillinger near the Biograph Theater earlier that year, resulting in Dillinger's death. One controversial account also implicates Hollis in the death of Pretty Boy Floyd. Hollis served as a special agent for the FBI's field offices in Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Chicago for over seven years; at the time of his death, he was 31 years old.

Travelers Hotel United States historic place

The Travelers Hotel, in East Liverpool, Ohio, was built in 1907 and had 105 rooms. Located at 117 East Fourth Street, on the banks of the Ohio River, it is one of the few remaining river town hotels that faces the river. The original name of the hotel is the Landora.

<i>The Kansas City Massacre</i>

The Kansas City Massacre is a 1975 American television film about Melvin Purvis. It is the second spin-off of the 1973 film Dillinger, following Melvin Purvis: G-Man in 1974, also directed by Dan Curtis and starring Dale Robertson as Purvis.

References

  1. "End of the trail for desperado Floyd". Library of Congress. October 22, 1934.
  2. 1 2 Fisher, Jeffery S. (1998). The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. ISBN   978-0-87338-650-0.
  3. "Charley Arthur 'Pretty Boy' Floyd wanted poster- criminal history record or 'rap sheet' __img452". February 1, 2011 via Flickr.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Pretty Boy Floyd Wanted Poster June 12, 1933". Archived from the original on April 29, 2014.
  5. "Officer Harland F. Manes". The Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  6. "Criminal record card". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016.
  7. "Patrolman Ralph Hiram Castner". The Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  8. "Special Agent Curtis C. Burke". The Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  9. "E. Kelley". Find A Grave.
  10. McRae, Bernie J. "Attempted Bank Robbery In Boley, Oklahoma". Lest We Forget. Hampton University. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  11. "Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd". Biography.com.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Wallis, Michael. "Floyd, Charles Arthur (1904–1934)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  13. "Detective William J. Grooms". Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  14. "Detective Frank E. Hermanson". Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  15. "Chief of Police Otto H. Reed". Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  16. "Special Agent Raymond J. Caffrey". Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  17. 1 2 3 4 "Kansas City Massacre—Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd". Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Government. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
  18. Newton, Michael (2002). The Encyclopedia of Kidnappings. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 158. ISBN   0816044872.
  19. "Death of Pretty Boy Floyd Historical Marker". www.hmdb.org.
  20. 1 2 Bryan Burrough (2004). Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934. Penguin. pp. 468–469. ISBN   1-59420-021-1.
  21. 1 2 "Letters, Nov. 19, 1979". TIME. Time Inc. November 19, 1979. Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  22. "'Pretty Boy' Floyd Slain by Sleuths in Ohio Cornfield". The Bismarck Tribune. October 23, 1934. pp. 1–2.
  23. "Nation: Blasting a G-Man Myth". TIME magazine. September 24, 1979.
  24. TIME Magazine (November 19, 1979). "Letters to the Editor". TIME. Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
  25. Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Herman Hollis". fbi.gov. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
  26. Ingram, Dale (October 18, 2009). "Family plot: Pretty Boy Floyd relative recalls his infamous uncle". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on March 12, 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  27. Guthrie, Woody (1947). "Pretty Boy Floyd". American Folksong. p. 27. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  28. Roberts, Garyn G. (August 28, 2003). Dick Tracy and American Culture: Morality and Mythology, Text and Context. McFarland. p. 98. ISBN   978-0-7864-1698-1.
  29. McMurtry, Larry; Ossana, Diana (1995). Pretty Boy Floyd. ISBN   0671891650.

Further reading