When asked by Federal agent Melvin Purvis about the Kansas City Massacre, he snapped, “I won’t tell you anything, you son-of-a-bitch.” Depending on whose version is more accurate, these may well have been Charles Arthur Pretty Boy Floyd’s last words. Today is the 75th anniversary of the shoot-out death of the career bank robber who just three months earlier had been designated “Public Enemy No. 1″ by J. Edgar Hoover.
Believed to be returning to his home in the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma after years in hiding, Floyd and his partner, Adam Richetti, had attracted the attention of local police near Wellsville, OH. A guns-blazing chase ensued, resulting in Richetti’s capture and Floyd’s escape. Agent Purvis organized a three-day manhunt, which culminated on the Ellen Conkle farm when eight lawmen ended Floyd’s life of violence.
Much of the interest in Floyd was due to a bloody rescue attempt in Kansas City in June 1933, which had resulted in the machine gun deaths of five persons, four of them police officers. Floyd, usually not shy about his exploits, denied any involvement, but without success.
Floyd went into hiding after the so-called Union Station Massacre. However, by October of the following year, he and Richetti, and two sisters whose inconvenient husbands had been eliminated by Floyd, decided to leave their hideout in Buffalo, New York, and return to Oklahoma.
The East Liverpool Historical Society website gives a dramatic blow-by-blow account of the gang’s desperate final attempts to outrun the law in Ohio:
“In mid-afternoon on Monday, October 22, he emerged from the woods near an area known as Sprucevale, eight miles southeast of his last sighting, where he approached the farmhouse of Mrs. Ellen Conkle, a widow. A disheveled Floyd explained to her that he had gotten lost while hunting and had spent the previous night wandering through the woods. He was hungry, and Mrs. Conkle prepared a meal of spareribs, potatoes, rice pudding, and pumpkin pie, which Pretty Boy consumed rapidly and termed ‘fit for a king’. He offered Mrs. Conkle a dollar for her trouble and asked to see any recent newspapers.
“Unknown to Floyd, he had been observed walking in the area by a farmer who telephoned township Constable Clyde Birch who, in turn, relayed the report to the East Liverpool City Police. Acting on the tip, one of several already received, East Liverpool Police Chief High J. McDermott rounded up Patrolmen Chester C. Smith, Glenn Montgomery, and Herman Roth and set out. Purvis and four agents followed in a second vehicle.
“Meanwhile, having concluded his review of the papers, which detailed the capture of Richetti and the ongoing manhunt, Floyd asked for Mrs. Conkle’s assistance in getting to Youngstown. She suggested that Floyd wait until her brother, Stewart Dyke, finished his work in the fields. Floyd sat in the front seat of Dyke’s Model A until his return.
“When Pretty Boy explained that he wanted transportation to Youngstown or the nearest bus line, Dyke promised to take him part of the way, and they started to pull out of the farmyard. At that crucial moment, two cars came speeding down the Sprucevale Road toward the Conkle farm. Floyd, sensing danger, ordered Dyke to pull the car behind an adjacent corncrib, and saw a pair of blue-trousered legs get out of the car. As the police and federal agents approached the corncrib, Floyd made a break for the woods, holding a Colt automatic in his right hand.
“Nine officers, variously armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, blazed away as Floyd zigzagged across the field. Ninety-three shots were directed at the outlaw; for once, he did not shoot back. Hit, Floyd fell to his knees, then got up and continued his race for life. A second bullet knocked him down to stay.
“Not surprisingly, the accounts of the participants differ widely. Purvis later claimed that Floyd was hit by an agent armed with a Tommy gun. Patrolman Chester Smith asserted that it was his shots with a .32-20 Winchester that had dropped Floyd and, further, that the federal agents were armed only with pistols and ‘couldn’t have hit anything at that distance with their handguns.’
“Floyd was alive when the lawmen came up to where he lay. The Colt was removed from his right hand, which had been paralyzed by a wound. A backup gun was found in the waistband of his trousers.
“When Purvis asked the criminal if he was Pretty Boy Floyd, he received the curt response, ‘I’m Floyd’. He then asked the police, ‘Where’s Etti?’ — presumably a reference to his captured associate. The three Liverpool patrolmen carried him to the shelter of a large apple tree where Public Enemy No. 1 died.”