Blasting a Gmen Myth
Oct. 22, 1934, G-Man Melvin Purvis cornered Bank Robber Charles ("Pretty Boy") Floyd in a farmhouse near East Liverpool, Ohio. When Floyd, armed with two .45-cal. pistols, fled across a stubbled cornfield toward the woods, Purvis and his men shot him to death. It was one of the most celebrated exploits of the G-men, forerunners of the present-day FBI agents, and enhanced Purvis' reputation as one of the country's ablest crime fighters. The story of Floyd's death stood unchallenged for almost 45 years.
Last week, however, retired East Liverpool Police Captain Chester C. Smith, now 84, came forward with a far different account of Floyd's death. One of six officers who accompanied Purvis that day, Smith was the first to spot Floyd trying to escape. Said Smith: "I knew Purvis couldn't hit him, so I dropped him with two shots from my .32 Winchester rifle." Stunned but not seriously wounded, Floyd sat up and was immediately disarmed by Smith.
Then, said Smith, Purvis ran up and ordered: "Back away from that man. I want to talk to him."Pretty Boy glared and cursed. At which point, said Smith, Purvis turned to G-Man Herman Hollis and said: "Fire into him." Hollis obeyed, said Smith, killing Floyd with a burst from a tommy gun.
Was there a coverup? "Sure was," said Smith, "because they didn't want it to get out that he'd been killed that way." Smith, who was promoted to captain following Floyd's killing, said he decided it was proper to set the record straight now because, of the seven men involved, only he remains alive — and the truth can no longer hurt anyone.