Two cars traveled down a country road towards the Conkle farm, two miles south of a small town named Clarkson on the eastern edge of Ohio. It was 4:10 on the afternoon of October 22, 1934, and history was about to unfold.
In one car were four Bureau agents, led by Chicago Special Agent in Charge Melvin Purvis. In the other were four local law enforcement officers, headed by East Liverpool Chief of Police Hugh McDermott.
The group was searching for Charles Arthur Floyd—known far and wide as “Pretty Boy,” a nickname he hated and refused to answer to, preferring “Choc”—and they quickly realized they’d found him. Wearing a navy blue suit, Floyd jumped from a car he was riding in and bolted across a rolling field, pistol in hand.
Within minutes, Floyd would breathe his last.
Law enforcement had been closing in on Floyd over the past two days. Floyd, just 30 years old, had been in trouble with the law for about a dozen years. He’d stolen money, robbed banks, and reportedly killed some 10 people. But it was his participation in the so-called Kansas City Massacre—a brazen attack in June 1933 that killed four lawmen, including a Bureau agent—that brought the FBI into the chase.
Floyd had been traveling across the country in the fall of 1934 with another conspirator in the Kansas City attack—Adam Richetti, an ex-sheriff turned bad—and their two girlfriends when the net tightened. On the wet, foggy evening of October 20, not long after the foursome had crossed into Ohio, Floyd ran their car into a telephone poll. Floyd and Richetti camped out nearby as the women went to have the car repaired. The men were eventually spotted, and law enforcement was called.
Richetti was soon captured, but Floyd ran off on foot. Hungry and tired, the fugitive ended up on the Conkle place on the afternoon of October 22 and tried to hitch a ride. That’s when the FBI and law enforcement finally caught up with him.
Fleeing the pursuing officers, Floyd zigzagged across the farm towards a group of trees. All eight law enforcement officers followed, calling on him to stop. As Floyd looked over his shoulder to see the pursuit, gunfire rang out. Floyd fell. “I’m done for, you’ve hit me twice,” he said after officers approached.
As he lay dying, Floyd was questioned. He admitted his identity, but little else. He slipped into unconsciousness and died soon after.
After his death, the legend of “Pretty Boy” just continued to grow. His myth even sparked a revisionist ballad by folk singer Woodie Guthrie, suggesting Floyd saved “many a starving farmer” from losing their homes. While Floyd reportedly destroyed mortgage notes from a bank or two that he robbed in hopes of saving a few farmers from foreclosure, his reputation as a humanitarian or a “Robin Hood” is undeserved. He robbed and stole to support a lifestyle of flash and ease and didn’t hesitate to shoot and kill when it suited him.
For the FBI, Floyd’s death was another key victory in the war against gangsters.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
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