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Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd
February 3, 1904 – October 22, 1934
 



Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd was an American bank robber and alleged killer, romanticized by the press and by folk singer Woody Guthrie in his song "Pretty Boy Floyd".
 

 

Early life

Floyd was born in Adairsville, Georgia, on February 3, 1904, where his family lived until he was ten years old. They then moved to the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma. At the age of seventeen, Floyd married Lee Hargrove (also known as Ruth) and later had a son, Demsy. The popular history says that Floyd committed his first crime when he struck down a sheriff's deputy who had been rude to his wife, but contemporary sources agree that he simply needed a way to make ends meet.
 


Life of crime

The Time magazine of 22 October 1922, mentions a robbery of $3.50 in pennies from a local post office as his first known crime. People said that he was realy cute and funny at the time and that people were cheering for him when he did his first crime... He was eighteen years old at the time. Three years later he was arrested for a payroll robbery in St. Louis, Missouri and served five years in prison.

When paroled, he vowed that he would never see the inside of another prison. Partnering with more established criminals in the Kansas City underworld, he committed a series of bank robberies over the next several years; it was during this period that he earned the nickname "Pretty Boy." When the payroll master at one robbery first described the three perpetrators to the police, he referred to Floyd as "a mere boy — a pretty boy with apple cheeks." Like his contemporary Baby Face Nelson, Floyd hated his nickname.


Robberies and notoriety

The Floyd gang's string of crimes was interrupted in Sylvania, Ohio, where they were caught during a bank robbery. Floyd was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. However, he escaped on his way to prison and rebuilt his gang. In the years that followed, he was blamed for a long string of bank robberies and vilified as a "Public Enemy" by the FBI.

Popular legend holds that he was not, in fact, responsible for all of these, and that his name was being attached to robberies committed by others. In the words of Woody Guthrie, "Every crime in Oklahoma was added to his name."

Floyd would hide out between crimes in towns near the one in which he had grown up, protected by the locals. Popular legend says that they did this out of love for his generosity and their hatred of the banks, which were at that time foreclosing on many farms. However, the contemporary press claimed that he simply bribed them for their silence. Whether that was true or not has never been proven, but it is believed likely, as many people were unemployed at the time, and Floyd having funds and being generous would have been well received in some circles, although not in all.

With his partner George Birdwell, Floyd robbed the banks in Earlsboro, Konawa, Maud, Marble City, Morris, Shamrock, Tahlequah, and on December 12, 1931, two banks in one day at Castle and Paden, Oklahoma. Bank insurance rates doubled, and the governor of Oklahoma placed a $56,000 reward on Floyd. A task force was organized to bring Floyd down, which included not only active law enforcement, but retired personnel as well as private detectives.

On April 3, 1932, Floyd and Birdwell engaged task force lawmen in a gunfight in Bixby, Oklahoma, after the lawmen set up a surveillance which worked perfectly up to the gunfight, resulting in Floyd being wounded in both legs and the scrotum, shot by retired McIntosh County, Oklahoma Sheriff Erv Kelley, who was shot seven times himself and killed. Sheriff Kelley had hand-chosen his posse, which consisted of Agent Crockett Long of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Sheriff Jim Stormont from Okmulgee, Tulsa, detectives M.L. Lairmore and J.A. Smith, a private detective from Oklahoma City named A.B. Cooper, and former Eufaula Deputy Sheriff Will Counts. Floyd and Birdwell escaped after a gunfire exchange with the rest of the posse.

Floyd, up until that shootout, had often been viewed almost sympathetically by the public. However, Sheriff Kelley was a heroic figure in Oklahoma, having brought down many criminals during his long career. At that time, it was believed that Kelley had arrested more bank robbers than any other lawman in Oklahoma history. Whether that was actually true or not, to say the least Kelley had captured many, and his murder did not show Floyd in a good light with the public.
Vernon Miller. Photo from FBI Files.

Floyd was also accused of participating in the Kansas City Massacre, a shootout, at Union Station, that resulted in the deaths of five men, on June 17, 1933. He denied being there, but the authorities and the press were sure he was involved.[3] The FBI maintains that Floyd, Vernon Miller, and Adam Richetti, were involved. Other witnesses say that the three at Union Station were Miller, Wilbur Underhill, and Harvey Bailey.


Death

Floyd narrowly escaped ambush by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies several times. On October 18, 1934, Floyd and some companions left Buffalo, New York, and as a stroke of bad luck slid their vehicle into a telephone pole during a heavy fog. No one was injured, but the car was disabled. Floyd was accompanied by two female companions and Adam Richetti. Fearing they would be recognized, the men sent the girls to retrieve a wrecker, then gave them money to accompany the wrecker driver into a town and have the vehicle repaired, while the two men waited by the roadside.

After dawn on October 19, civilian Joe Fryman and his son-in-law passed by, observing two men dressed in suits lying by the roadside. Feeling it was suspicious, he informed Wellsville, Ohio Police Chief John H. Fultz. Three officers, including Chief Fultz, investigated. When Richetti saw the lawmen, he fled into the woods, pursued by two officers, while Fultz went toward 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. After wounding Fultz, Floyd fled into the forest. Richetti was captured by the other two officers.

FBI Agent Melvin Purvis was notified, responding from Cincinnati, Ohio, in the company of his three best agents, D.K. Hall, Winfred E. Hopton, and S.K. McKee, and in the company of his aid, Herman Hollis. He arrived by private plane, met by local Sheriff Ray Long. Purvis also enlisted the help of local retired police officer Chester K. Smith, a former sniper during World War I. Floyd in the mean time was living on fruit, traveling on foot, quickly becoming exhausted.

There are at least three accounts of what happened next, one given by the FBI, one by other people in the area, and one by local law enforcement. After obtaining some food at a local pool hall, owned by Charles Joy, a friend of Floyd's, Floyd hitched a ride in an East Liverpool, Ohio neighborhood on October 22nd, 1934. He was spotted by the team of lawmen, at which point he broke from the vehicle and fled toward the treeline. Local officer Chester Smith fired first, hitting Floyd in the right arm, knocking him to the ground. Up until that point, the accounts mostly match, although the FBI agents would later attempt to claim all the credit, denying local law enforcement were even present at the actual shooting. 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, with Floyd dying shortly thereafter, and with Purvis having the chance to speak to him briefly.

According to the FBI, four FBI agents, led by Purvis, and four members of the East Liverpool Police Department, led by Chief Hugh McDermott, were searching the area south of Clarkson, Ohio, in two separate 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." Floyd died about fifteen minutes after he had been shot.

However, Chester Smith, the retired East Liverpool Police Captain, and the sharpshooter who all seemed to agree shot Floyd first, stated in a 1979 interview, that he had deliberately wounded, but not killed, Floyd. He then added;

"I knew Purvis couldn't hit him, so I dropped him with two shots from my .32 Winchester rifle."

Smith claimed that Floyd did not regain his footing after he had shot him, and that he then disarmed Floyd, and that Melvin Purvis, the agent in charge, ran up and ordered: "Back away from that man. I want to talk to him." Purvis questioned him briefly and then ordered him shot at point-blank range, telling agent Herman Hollis to "Fire into him."

The interviewer asked if there was a coverup by the FBI, and Smith responded: "Sure was, because they didn't want it to get out that he'd been killed that way." This account is extremely controversial. If true, Purvis effectively executed Floyd without benefit of judge or jury.

FBI agent Winfred E. Hopton disputes Chester Smith's claim in a letter to the editors of Time Magazine, that appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19, 1979 issue, in response to the Time article "Blasting a G-Man Myth". In his letter he states that he was one of four FBI agents present when Floyd was killed, on a farm several miles from East Liverpool, Ohio. He also states that no members of the East Liverpool Police Department were present. The members of the East Liverpool police department arrived after Floyd was already mortally wounded. He also says that when the four agents confronted Floyd, Floyd turned to fire on them, and two of the four killed Floyd almost instantly. Smith said that Herman Hollis gave the final shot to Floyd on the order of Purvis, but Hopton says Hollis was not present. Hopton also states Floyd's body was transported back to East Liverpool in his [Hopton's] personal car.

There are numerous articles on the incident, most supporting Smith's claim that the local officers were present. In an ironic twist, Agent Hollis was later killed in a shoot-out with famed bandit Baby Face Nelson.

Floyd's body was embalmed and briefly viewed at the Sturgis Funeral Home, in East Liverpool, Ohio before being sent on to Oklahoma. The Sturgis Funeral Home is now a bed-and-breakfast. Floyd's body was placed on public display in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. His funeral was attended by between twenty and forty thousand people, and remains the largest funeral in Oklahoma history. He was buried in Akins, Oklahoma.


Legacy

Floyd got his nickname from the paymaster's description of him at his first major robbery: "a pretty boy." Though he hated the name, it had staying power.


 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 23 December, 2008