Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE

6/17/1933 - Death comes to Kansas City, Missouri, in the form of a Saturday morning shootout in the parking lot of the Union Station railroad depot that leaves five men dead ... and serves as a springboard for J. Edgar Hoover expanding the powers of his Bureau of Investigation (soon to change its name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI) into the most powerful law enforcement agency in the world.

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Union Station - 1933 

The arrest of career criminal Frank "Jelly" Nash is the catalyst that sets in motion the acts that result in the massacre.  First arrested in 1913, 46-year-old Nash is a bad apple with a lengthy criminal resume that includes shooting a partner in the back for a $1,000 in loot (he receives a life sentence that is reduced to 10 years when he convinces the warden at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary that he wants to join the Army and fight in WWI ... and he does, fighting at Belleau Wood before the war ends in 1918), safe cracking using explosives, robbing banks and trains with the Al Spencer Gang, escaping from the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, (given a trustee pass to run an errand for the prison, Nash simply doesn't return once outside the walls of the facility), helping orchestrate the 1931 Leavenworth escape of seven inmates, and robbing a number of banks with Thomas Holden, Francis Keating, Harvey Bailey, Machine Gun Kelly, Verne Miller, and members of the Barker-Karpis Gang.  Fearing the heat that will result from the Barker-Karpis Gang's kidnapping of brewery mogul William Hamm, Jr., in Minneapolis in June of 1933, Nash chooses to hide under the name of Moore in the outlaw friendly city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his third wife, Frances, and her daughter.

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Nash

Tipped by an underworld informant that Nash is in Hot Springs, two Bureau of Investigation agents from Oklahoma City, Frank Smith and Joe Lackey, and Otto Reed, the police chief of McAlester, Oklahoma (brought along because he knows Nash by sight), find the rumor to be correct (despite Nash disguising himself by growing a mustache, putting on weight, and covering his bald head with a black toupee) and arrest the outlaw at a known hangout for criminals residing in the city, the White Front Cigar Store (an establishment where cigars and 3.2 beer are sold, games of pool can be played, and shady characters can usually relax with one another) run by a crook named Dick Galatas.  Caught, but can Nash be held in a region full of his friends and fellow criminal associates ... stopped by a posse of lawmen that have been told by the corrupt head of the Hot Springs police department the federal agents and Reed are actually outlaws and Nash is a kidnapped businessman (the men are allowed to proceed when they show their identification), the men decide that driving all the way back to Leavenworth Prison to return Nash to his sentence is too dangerous, they decide to instead transport their captive by train, and then in Kansas City, drive the last 30 miles to the prison with a police escort.  Catching the Missouri Pacific Flyer in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the alternate plan seems to be working as the lawmen and their prisoner ride north through the night into Missouri, unaware that a series of phone calls initiated by Galatas will result in a very unfriendly welcoming committee meeting them at the train station in the morning.

 Chief of Police Otto H. Reed | McAlester Police Department, Oklahoma
Smith & Reed

"Free Nash" the message being sent out from Hot Springs, the captured outlaw's best friend, WWI hero and former lawman turned robber and hit man for hire, Verne Miller, gets the news out of Arkansas and determines his buddy will not be returned to prison. Too big a job for just one man, he too gets on the phone and recruits two shooters to assist him in releasing Nash from custody.  The trio of gunmen, armed with Thompson sub-machine guns are all waiting in the parking lot of Union Station when Nash and his escorts arrive from Arkansas.

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Miller

Leaving Nash handcuffed to the upper berth in Drawing Room A of Car 11, Lackey leaves the train in search of the new officers who are going to assist in moving the outlaw ... and finds them immediately, waiting on the platform for the railroad station ... twenty-nine-year-old Mormon, Reed Vetterli, the Special Agent In Charge of the Bureau's Kansas City office, thirty-year-old Agent Ray Caffrey, and two Kansas City policemen, Frank Hermanson and Bill "Red" Grooms.  After briefing the men on the outlaw and the plan to get him to Leavenworth, Lackey returns to the train, and minutes later the seven men escort a handcuffed Nash (with Caffrey holding a .38 pistol to the felon's back) through the station and out to the two cars awaiting his transportation.

 
Vetterli & Caffrey
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Grooms & Hermanson

Arriving at the cars, Caffrey unlocks the passenger door of his two-door Chevrolet and the men start positioning themselves for the journey to Leavenworth ... Lackey gets in the back, but when Nash starts to join him in the rear of the car, orders the outlaw to sit up front.  Nash does as told and climbs into the front seat as Smith and Reed join Lackey in the back.  Outside the car, Grooms and Hermanson stand facing each other next to the vehicle's right front tire, with Vetterli ready to get in front once Nash is settled, with Caffrey moving to the front of the car, making his way over to the driver's door.  It is at this moment that they are accosted by three men standing only fifteen feet away, holding sub-machine guns.
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Inside Union Station

"Up!  Up!  Get your hands up!" one of the gunmen calls out, but Grooms instead pulls his pistol and fires a shot at one of the intruders.  "Let 'em have it!" one of the gunners calls out and all three of the men open up on the lawmen ... and accidentally, Nash too!  Grooms and Hermanson die instantly in the fusillade, dancing like puppets being jerked about as they fall to the ground from multiple bullet strikes.  Up front, Nash screams "No!" and then his head explodes (one theory of the event is that the gunners kill Nash, thinking he is a lawman because he is sitting in the front seat ... another has Nash being killed when Reed tries to go into action and his shotgun goes off prematurely and hits the outlaw in the head), as does the head of Reed in the back seat.  A bullet grazes Vetterli in the left arm, he goes down, and then is instantly up and running back towards the station for help as bullets chase him out of the parking lot.  Lackey tries to raise his shotgun and fire, but before he can he is hit by three bullets and slumps down in the back of the car, pretending to be dead, as does an unhit Smith, his head between his knees.  Seconds later one of the gunners is beside the car and calls to his companions, "Everyone's dead in here."  Rescue botched, the killers leave the parking lot as Mike Fanning, a policeman on duty at the station, fires on the sedan they use for their exit.
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Newspaper Diagram
Swiss Cheese Chevrolet
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Moments Afterward

Four dead lawmen, one dead outlaw, one wounded killer, and two wounded officers in less than thirty seconds ... the Kansas City Massacre, as the event will come to be known, is over.  

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Dead Nash

Only the second agent death in Bureau history, in the aftermath of the killing Hoover will start having his agents carry guns and vow to bring the perpetrators of the murders to justice.  And a sort of justice does come their way ... Dick Galatas, Herbert Farmer, Louis "Doc" Stacci, and Frank Mulloy will all be found guilty of conspiracy in setting up the crime, get sentenced to two years in a Federal penitentiary, and are fined of $10,000 (the maximum allowed by the law at the time). Verne Miller, the thirty-seven-year-old leader of the gunners will avoid capture by the Bureau, but is beaten to death and left in a ditch outside of Detroit, Michigan, in 1934 by unknown members of the underworld, both for screwing up the escape, and for the massive amount of heat the government brings to bear on the criminal world of the Midwest seeking the culprits behind the massacre.  


Miller - WWI

Based on a single latent fingerprint found in the basement of Miller's Kansas City home on an empty beer bottle, the Bureau goes after Adam Richetti (source of the print) and his bank robbing partner (both known to be in Kansas City at the time after they release kidnapped Polk County Sheriff Jack Killingsworth there), Oklahoma's infamous Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd.  In October of 1934, they catch up with both men in Ohio ... thirty-year-old Floyd is gunned down in a field as he tries to escape a group of lawmen that includes the man that brought John Dillinger's career to an end, Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Floyd denies involvement in the massacre with his dying breath ... and rumors persist to this day that he is executed after he is wounded and surrenders), while Richetti surrenders, goes to trial, and found guilty, is executed on October 7, 1938 at the age of twenty-nine.

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Richetti In Custody
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Pretty Boy In Death

Guilty punished ... or were they?  While many believe the official story as told by Hoover's Bureau (because of course the government NEVER lies to its citizens), to this day there are other historians that tell a different tale ... one in which Floyd and Richetti are framed for the crime (arguing a lack of evidence, trial process errors, the fact that of the 12 witnesses that see the killers before the murders, only one identifies Floyd as being one of the shooters, witness testimony being changed as being one of the shooters, and the fact that the incident does match anything close to what Floyd did in his criminal career either before of after the massacre) by a Bureau hungry for revenge and a closed case, and that the true killers, Kansas City hoodlums Maurice Denning and William "Solly" Weissman (as identified by underworld figure Blackie Audett in his 1954 expose, Rap Sheet) get away with the crime!  All the players gone ... no one will ever know for sure who pulled the triggers beyond Miller.

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Kansas City - 6/17/1933

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