Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Alvin Karpis: Pursuit of the Last Public Enemy

Hoover's Role

There are several discrepancies between the various sources such as the number of agents at the scene (at least five different totals were stated); or the exact time of the capture; whether or not the fugitives were armed; and if they were inside the car, or walking to it. As is common with eyewitness testimony, conflicts may have arisen due to perceptive contrasts and the quickness of the entire denouement.

Furthermore, the two primary sources, Karpis and the FBI, were masters at deception and manipulating the truth, which makes speculation based on their statements risky guesswork.

One secure element of the story is the identity of the first agent to move in on Karpis; the man with the . 351 rifle at the drivers window. He was Clarence Hurt. This information supposedly originated from the FBI agents, and is supported by Jack Hurt, Clarences son. When queried in 1999 about the voice at my window passage in Karpiss autobiography, he exclaimed, That was my Dad...and we still have the rifle.

The next agents credited with also being instrumental during the custody moments are E.J. Connelley and/or Dwight Brantley. All three agents in this first wave, plus Hoover, came out of the two blocking cars. There is a disagreement between Karpis and Connelley about the FBI car that blocked the front of the Plymouth: Connelley wrote that only he and Clarence Hurt were in it, but Karpis said, five men climbed out very quickly.

The debate about the exact whereabouts of J. Edgar Hoover commenced the next morning when newspapers featured it in their coverage. The New York Times May 2nd headline told the Nation:

KARPIS CAPTURED IN NEW ORLEANS BY HOOVER HIMSELF

Tribune frontpage headlines
Tribune frontpage headlines

It is unclear how the New York Times, or other papers, determined the Himself part. Both the Associated Press and United Press reports said that Hoover had flown down from Washington to direct or lead the capture. These two verbs, or the synonym supervise, were used in other headlines and articles when referring to Hoover. But there are no quotes from Hoover or anyone else - in a sampling of the daily papers suggesting that Hoover had been among the first to actually take the bad men into custody. In fact, the reports did not even include the details that emerged later in books, magazines, and in Agent Connelleys official memo of May 18, 1936. The headline term Hoover Himself seems to be a semantic stretch.

It may be argued that, similar to a high-ranking military general leading a charge, but not physically positioned in the front line; it was inadvisable for Hoover to be among the initial group of agents moving in on Karpis. But that principle simply did not apply to this case. People wanted to know Hoovers proximity to the point of custody.

Karpis wrote, Over the years in prison, a lot of people questioned me about my arrest. U.S. attorney generals, senators, congressmen, and prison officials visited me and every last one of them asked the same question. Did Hoover really arrest me personally? My only reply to them was, Why dont you ask Mr. Hoover?

Then, with the publication in 1971 of the Karpis book contending that the FBI chief was absent the specific arrest spot on the street, but rather was hiding behind the building, it became Hoover vs. Karpis all over again.

There is little doubt that Karpis believed his own story to be true. After he was paroled, he wrote private letters to Fred Hunter in the 1970s in which he complained about Hoover taking credit for the arrest.

Fred Hunter also said Hoovers involvement was phony and that Hoover was nowhere nearby. Hunters friends said he was upset over Hoovers pictures in the newspapers regarding the capture.

Most of the quoted comments Hoover made to reporters in the following days emphasized the we effort:

They were in an apartment on the first floor of the building and were leaving to enter an automobile when the agents surrounded them...the agents called upon them to surrender and they were taken without the firing of a shot.

we nabbed them after they entered their car, there was a rifle in the back seat but Karpis or Hunter didnt have a chance to reach for it...neither carried pistols.

they had no opportunity to resist, our men who were concealed about the entrance to the place, were upon them before they could get into action. Six of the agents pointed sawed off shotguns at the pair and they gave up at once.

Upon his return to Washington, Hoover was asked by a reporter waiting outside his office, You led the raid in New Orleans, didnt you?

I did, he answered, but it was a we job and not an I job.

The E.J. Connelley version had a synopsis in which he condenses the taking into custody sequence in a long run-on sentence that is capable of being interpreted ambiguously regarding Hoovers role at the exact moments of seizure:

...On 5/1/36 Connie Morris and Fred Hunter were observed at this place and later they were joined by Karpis. Thereafter raid was conducted upon these premises, exclusively by Bureau personnel and Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, Special Agents In Charge Connelley and Brantley and Agents C.O. Hurt and W.L. Buchanan, at approximately 5:30 p.m., 5/1/36, took into custody Alvin Karpis and Fred Hunter as they left 3343 Canal St., to enter an automobile on Jeff Davis Parkway, in front of the apartment....

Connelleys synopsis can be read as both pro-Hoover, or non-Hoover depending on whether the punctuation mark after his name should be a period or a comma. (A very tenuous piece of evidence.)

Another speculation: if Hoover was indeed in the second car which Connelley said blocked the fugitives car in the rear, Karpis may not have noticed him, because he could have been pre-occupied with Clarence Hurts rifle pressing on his temple.

A contrary scenario might be that after blocking the Karpis-Hunter car, and while Brantley and Buchanan stepped out ready for action, Hoover raced for shelter behind the building...

Or it could have happened some other way.

What is the certain, absolute truth?

You had to be there.

 

 

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