Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CHARLES ARTHUR FLOYD: 'PRETTY BOY' FROM COOKSON HILLS

With Dillinger

"Long we had rode together,
We'd ridden side by side.
I loved him as a brother,
How I wept when Utah died."

Utah Carl

In a rush to get out of the Midwest, where there wasn't a safe-house in that area of the country that would accept him, Choc left along with Richetti and the sisters Baird to the East. It is believed that he found brief and expensive sanctuary in Cleveland with the gang run by foppish Moe Davis, the well-known Jewish gangster. But, after plainclothesmen started hanging around Davis' night spots, asking even the big-timers like him about Choc's whereabouts, the bandits decided it was time to raise some dust at his heels. He already had had two bad experiences in Ohio. Three strikes you're out.

The best thing to do, Choc realized, was to avoid any contact with members of the outlaw world, of any distinction. Federal agents were crawling over anyone with a minimal record looking for "Pretty Boy," people he'd never even met! So he chose to go to a city with little criminal activity, Buffalo, New York, and settle there under an alias.

On September 16, Mr. & Mrs. George Sanders (Choc and Juanita) and Mr. & Mrs. Edward Brennan (Richetti and Rose) moved into a large furnished apartment in the Amiantus Building overlooking 18th Street. The apartment had five rooms and a bath. Rent was $45 per month.

The quartet rarely went out, kept the radio low, the Victrola low, and when they played cards (their only activity) they never argued. Choc subscribed to the local newspaper and True Detective, the women to Photoplay and Woman's Home Companion. Other than the magazines, they received no mail, not even a bill. They didn't own a telephone. Most of their meals were ordered in.

The FBI-generated Wanted poster for
The FBI-generated Wanted poster for
"Pretty Boy" Floyd (National Archives)

Choc would virtually remain indoors for more than seven months.

In the meantime, the Bureau of Investigation was growing. Hoover had played the harsh, bloody realities of the Kansas City Massacre the need for more men and equipment and the need to refocus the Bureau's attention to the demise of the nation's worst public enemies right onto the lap of a suddenly crime-fighting-conscious Congress. Congress reacted by removing the legal fences that had been corralling Hoover's ability to chase national criminals.

"The Fugitive Felon Act made escape across state lines to avoid prosecution a federal crime," Jeffery S, King explains in The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd. "Other laws gave the Bureau increased enforcement powers and protection for its agents. Severe penalties were enacted for killing or assaulting federal officers. Agents were finally given the authority to carry firearms and full arrest power for offenses against the United States. The FBI was also authorized to give up to twenty-five thousand dollars in rewards."

These enactments worried the motor bandits, justifiably. For it gave the FBI virtual power to go anywhere, shoot anywhere. And since Kansas City, the G-Men were eager to shoot anything that snarled

With the new laws came the publication of Hoover's special "Public Enemies List," and what was frightening to those people listed on it, they knew that Hoover regarded it as a morgue-list-in-the-making. After all, the Bureau Chief hadn't been too subtle with his denunciations of them. Topping the list were "Pretty Boy" Floyd and the Indiana-born bank robber John Dillinger, whose interstate crime wave had played havoc with the Great Lakes-area police for months, and who had recently left egg on the face of the law by promising, then succeeding, to escape from security-tight Crown Point Jail with a toy pistol. Following them were the likes of George "Machine Gun" Kelly, a grinning hillbilly who had kidnapped millionaire Charles Urschel; "Baby Face" Nelson, the runty bank robber whose modus operandi was to shoot anyone on his way in and out of the banks he attacked; Bonnie and Clyde, a couple of overpassionate mad dogs from Dallas who exhibited a particular hatred for the highway patrol; and the Barker Gang, hot-headed tommy-gunning brothers from the Ozarks.

But, Choc's only concerns during the summer of 1934 were himself and Richetti. The men were beginning to feel pent-up. Games of canasta has staled, radio comedies were no longer funny, and the newspaper reminded them daily that they just damn well may be corpses soon. The last thing Choc should do right now was to bust loose; he knew that; but he couldn't take the boredom of a wall-to-wall cage in Buffalo much longer.

In May, 1934, he took Richetti back with him to Oklahoma, where they visited both Adam's and Choc's families. While there, Choc read in the newspapers that Bonnie and Clyde were blown to smithereens by a posse of Texas Rangers with Browning Automatic Rifles. Stark photos of the aftermath filled the pages their car filled with hundreds of bullet holes, their bodies on the slab. It was all too vivid, especially since the same article quoted the Justice Department as saying that John Dillinger and "Pretty Boy" Floyd were already slated for extinction. True, there were threats before, but suddenly there was a sense of reality in the air that was almost smothering.

J. Edgar Hoover (right) with popular Chicago FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (National Archives)
J. Edgar Hoover (right) with popular
Chicago FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (National
Archives)

He met his mother on May 13 on a lonely country road because the FBI had put constant surveillance on the Floyd homestead. With her came a few cousins and nephews who all had, as it was admitted later, a premonition. Choc had had one, too. When he got his mother aside, he told her he probably would not see her again. He kissed her goodbye.

Nephew Glendon Floyd recalled his last visit with "Uncle Charley" on Biography. Choking back tears, he remembered, "The last time I saw my uncle he was coming down an old dirt road, and I was probably about 8 years old. I got close to him and I was looking at him. He was grinning. He was in an old straw hat and overalls and a silk undershirt. That was my uncle."

It is believed that the two top desperadoes on Hoover's wanted list Floyd and Dillinger actually met and pulled a bank job together not long before their deaths. On the way back towards Buffalo, it appears that at least Choc if not Richetti also, joined the Dillinger Gang when they held up the Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana on June 30, 1934. A cashier and the bank director both identified Choc afterwards.

The other members of Dillinger's wild bunch supposedly present that day were Harry Pierpont, Homer Van Meter and Raymond "Fatso" Negri, prison fugitives all and, except for Negri, landmarks of the outlaw trail.

At about 11:30 a.m. on the bright Saturday morning, the gang's brown Hudson parked curbside in front of the bank's impressive wooden doors. Four men alighted, three of them Dillinger, Floyd and Negri pushed into the lobby while the fourth Van Meter stood shotgun on the sidewalk. Pierpont waited in the car at the wheel.

"This is a holdup!" Dillinger shouted as he entered the foyer. Choc pumped off a few shots of his Thompson gun into the ceiling. The customers fanned into a corner and away from the teller cages. Dillinger and Floyd pushed through the swinging gate to behind the counter where they immediately began loading bags full of money. Negri forced the guards into a back room where he could watch them.

John Dillinger (AP)
John Dillinger (AP)

Outside, a patroleman named Wagner who had been directing traffic thought he heard what sounded like shots coming from inside Merchants Bank. As he trotted forth in its direction, Van Meter brought his automatic rifle into the open and fired. The policeman stumbled onto his face dead.

Hearing the report of the rifle, the men inside the bank knew trouble was brewing in the streets; Van Meter was shouting for them to hurry. The robbers hastened, grabbing only a few sacks of treasure (what would turn out to be only $4,800). Suddenly, there came another exchange of shots from outside; peering out the window Floyd could see that a nosey storeowner from across the street was trading shots with Van Meter and Pierpont. The latter was laying on the horn and whining the engine of their getaway car, anxious to exit. Dillinger yanked a hostage from among the lined-up customers to discourage any ambush from interfering parties; Floyd did likewise.

Shoving their hostages before them, the robbers scurried onto the pavements. A pair of plainclothesman in the meantime had taken position from opposite ends of the street and were volleying shots toward the escaping bandits. One of the hostages took a bullet in his leg and another in the foot. Van Meter, the last to enter the gang car, had been a little too slow. As he leaned over to slide in, a missile grazed his skull. Dillinger collared him and tugged him back onto the seat. Van Meter's legs protruding from an open door, two hostages still clinging onto its frame from the running boards, the Hudson peeled off around a gathering crowd and rounded the nearest corner, out of sight.

Away from town, the gang let its hostages go before disappearing from South Bend, never to return.

Dillinger would be dead in three weeks, killed by the FBI in Chicago.

Floyd would outlive him by a mere three months.

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