Death of Pretty Boy Floyd



Having narrowly escaped an ambush by FBI agents several times after the Kansas City Massacre, Floyd and Adam Richetti (on October 18, 1933), left Buffalo, New York and wrecked their vehicle into a telephone pole during heavy fog.  No one was injured, but the car was too badly damaged to use.  Floyd and Richetti sent their two female companions, Rose and Beulah Baird, to retrieve a tow truck.  The women then accompanied the car and the two truck driver to town so the car could be repaired.  Floyd and Richetti hid in nearby woods.

On October 19, 1933, Joe Fryman, a passing motorist, accompanied by his son-in-law, noticed two men dressed in suits lying on the side of the road.  Fryman informed Wellsville, Ohio, Police Chief John H. Fultz about the suspicious men.  Three officers, including Fultz, responded to the scene.  When Richetti noticed the lawmen he fled into the woods, pursued by two of the officers.  Meanwhile, Fultz approached Floyd.  Floyd drew his gun and fired.  Fultz and Floyd engaged in a gunfight until Fultz was wounded in the foot.  At this point, Floyd fled into the woods.

The other two officers enlisted the help of a local retired police officer Chester K. Smith, a former sniper during World War I.  They subsequently captured Richetti.  Floyd remained on the run, living on fruit and traveling by foot.

There are at least three accounts that diverge at this point.

Account 1:  Given by the FBI.  

Account 2:  Given by people in the area.

Account 3:  Given by local law enforcement.

The accounts do agree that after obtaining food at a local pool hall owned by Charles Joy, a friend of Floyd's, Floyd hitched a ride in an East Liverpool neighborhood on October 22, 1934.  He was spotted by the team of lawmen, at which point he broke from the vehicle and fled toward a treeline.  Local retired officer Chester Smith fired at Floyd, hitting him in his right arm.  Floyd was knocked to the ground.  At this point the accounts diverge.

Account 1:  According to the FBI, four agents led by Melvin Purvis, and four members of the East Liverpool Police Department led by Chief Hugh McDermott, were searching the area south of Clarkson, Ohio in separate vehicles.  They spotted a car in a cornfield.  Floyd then emerged and drew a .45 caliber pistol and the FBI agents opened fire.  Floyd reportedly said:  "I'm done for.  You've hit me twice."    [The FBI later denied that local law enforcement were present.]  

Account 3:  The local law enforcement later stated that Floyd regained his footing and continued running, at which point the entire team opened fire on him.  Floyd died from his wounds shortly thereafter.

Chester Smith, retired East Liverpool Police Captain and World War I Sharpshooter described events differently in a 1979 Time magazine:  Smith stated that he deliberately wounded Floyd instead of killing him.  "I knew Purvis couldn't hit him, so I dropped him with two shots from my .32 Winchester rifle."  According to Smith, Floyd fell and did not regain footing.  Smith then disarmed Floyd.  At which point, Purvis ran up and ordered:  "Back away from that man.  I want to talk to him."  Purvis then proceeded to question Floyd briefly.  After receiving some cursed replies Purvis ordered Agent Herman "Ed" Hollis to "Fire into him."  Hollis then obeyed, firing into Floyd at point-blank range with a submachine gun, killing him.  The interviewer asked if there was a cover-up by the FBI, and Smith answered:  "Sure was, because they didn't want it to get out that he'd been killed that way."  This account has become very controversial.  If true, Purvis essentially executed an unarmed Floyd.  

FBI Agent Winfred E. Hopton disputed Chester Smith in a letter to Time Magazine, which appeared in the November 19, 1979 Issue.  In response to the article, "Blasting a G-Man Myth", his letter stated that he was one of the four FBI agents present at the time Floyd died.  According to Hopton, members of the East Liverpool Police Department arrived only after Floyd was already mortally wounded.  He also claimed that when the four agents confronted Floyd, Floyd fired on them, and two of the four agents fired back, killing Floyd almost instantly.  Hopton also claimed that Hopton was not present at all.  Hopton also stated that Floyd's body was transported to East Liverpool in his own personal car.

Floyd's body was autopsied and embalmed as well as briefly viewed in the Sturgis Funeral Home, East Liverpool, Ohio.  Afterwards, it was sent to Oklahoma.  His body was then placed on public display in Sallisaw, Oklahoma.  HIs funeral was attended by between 20,000 and 40,000 people.  The largest funeral in Oklahoma history.  He was buried with family in Akins, Oklahoma.