Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alvin Karpis: Pursuit of the Last Public Enemy

Other Versions

The Toughest Mob We Ever Cracked by J.Edgar Hoover with Ken Jones, from The FBI In Action.

Originally published as a magazine article in the 1950s, this colorful chronicle may have value because it claims to tell the story from Hoovers viewpoint,

...Karpis, the prototype of the cold and ruthless killer, had sworn he would not be taken alive. We did not expect to take him easily and we planned the raid carefully. It was approximately five-fifteen oclock in the afternoon of May 1, 1936.  Four assistants and I were to enter the front door. The other squads were deployed in the rear and on both sides of the building. The signal for action was about to be given but it had to be delayed when a man on a horse moved leisurely into the lane beside the through traffic.

We waited, eager to avoid attention, until he had passed on down the street and then moved forward. As we did so, two men stepped from the doorway and walked briskly down the steps. We recognized Alvin Karpis. Again our timing was thrown off. As the fugitives walked toward their car, a small boy on a bicycle scooted between the pair and our vantage place. Fearful that the child would be caught in the crossfire if any shooting started, we moved out and hurried forward, demanding their surrender as the two men were entering the car.

The last thing in the world that Alvin Karpis expected to see was the head G-man and a squad of what he had called sissy agents! The tough hoodlum turned ashen. His expression was a curious mixture of amazement and fright. Neither he nor his shaking companion made an effort to resist. There was no gunplay. Like their entire breed, their courage was the kind derived from getting the drop on their victim. It oozed away when they were on the other end of the gun.

We placed Karpis, who told me that he never thought the Bureau would take him alive, and his companion under arrest...

Lending slight credence to this account is the man on a horse interlude (which also appears in other renditions) because it places them in the lane beside the through traffic. This clearly represents a knowledge of Jefferson Davis Parkway.

Hoovers multiple usage of the pronoun We could easily be interpreted as all the raiding agents rather than just himself, and the passage, when read carefully, does not explicitly insist that Hoover was among the very first agents to seize Karpis and Hunter-even if it seems to give that impression.

The deployment of the FBI squads here basically agrees to the Connelley outline, although lacking an explanation of Hoovers transition from car to foot.

J. Edgar Hoover, The Man and the Secrets, by Kurt Gentry, 1991.

...Agents had already staked out the apartment, on Canal Street, where theyd been informed Karpis was staying, and Inspector E.J. Connelley, who now headed the specials squad, diagrammed the building and nearby streets on a blackboard in the New Orleans field office, assigning agents to the roof, fire escape, and every possible exit. When the team assembled at the scene, however, the unexpected happened: Karpis and Hunter sauntered out of the apartment, crossed the street, and got into their automobile.

According to the official FBI version - recounted in dozens of articles and books-as soon as Karpis slipped into the drivers seat, Hoover ran to his side of the car, and Connelley ran to the other side, where Hunter was sitting. There was a rifle on the backseat. Before Karpis could reach for it, Hoover lunged through the open window and grabbed the fugitive by the collar. Stammering, stuttering, shaking as though he had palsy, Hoover would recall, the man upon whom was bestowed the title of Public Enemy Number One folded up... Although those special agents who participated in the capture were well aware that the Directors version wasnt exactly the way it happened, none ever publicly disputed the official account.

There are classic features of arrest lore contained here, which were disputed by Karpis. On the matter of the rifle in the back seat, he wrote, We were in a 1936 Plymouth coupe that had no back seat. We had two rifles, but they were wrapped in a blanket and locked away in the luggage compartment.

He asked, rhetorically, How could Connelley have dived through the passenger side of the car when my friend Freddie Hunter was sitting beside me?  He surely would have blocked Connelleys way. (Other versions have Connelley diving in from the passenger side.)

A potential resolution to the Connelley entry is found in Karpiss same memoirs, wherein he described Hunter as sliding out of the car and walking slowly away...this might have cleared the right (passenger) side for Connelley - or someone else-to enter. An eyewitness account printed in the Newspapers verifies Karpiss story of Fred Hunter walking further down a sidewalk in an escape attempt. A resident in the building saw Hunter being marched back to the corner by two agents with long guns.  

 

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