In 1933, America was in the midst of the “Public Enemy” era. Outlaws and gangsters like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, the Barker Gang, and Pretty Boy Floyd robbed banks and shot and killed anyone who got in their way. Though some hailed them as heroes of the common man, fighting big banks and big business during the trying years of the Great Depression, most viewed these men and women as menaces to society.
Eventually, most of the FBI’s Public Enemies were brought to justice, some taken out in a hail of bullets, and others put behind bars for life. And, in one headline-grabbing incident monikered the Kansas City Massacre, a Public Enemy was taken out in a hail of bullets on his way to being put behind bars for life.
On the morning of June 17, 1933, notorious bank robber Frank Nash was due to arrive by train at Kansas City’s Union Station under police protection. The previous day, the 46-year-old Nash had been arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a well-known gangster hideout. Law enforcement had been on Nash’s trail for quite a while, and his arrest was a major victory for the FBI. On the night of June 16, Nash, two FBI agents named Joe Lackey and Frank Smith, and Otto Reed, the police chief of McAlester, Oklahoma, took a train from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Kansas City. The train was scheduled to arrive at Union Station at 7:15 a.m.
Meanwhile, Nash’s criminal associates had caught wind of his capture in Hot Springs, and a plan was being put together to spring Nash from the authorities’ clutches when he arrived in Kansas City. Bootlegger/bank robber Vernon Miller was called upon to free Nash at Union Station, and Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and his partner Adam Richetti came along to help Vernon with his rescue attempt.
According to the FBI, on the morning of June 17, Miller, Floyd, and Richetti took their positions at Union Station, waiting for the train carrying Nash and his captors to arrive. When it stopped, the lawmen and their charge disembarked and headed to the front of Union Station, where a car was waiting for the handcuffed Frank Nash. After Nash and the other men were seated in the car, the three gunmen opened fire on the vehicle.
Over 30 seconds, dozens and dozens of rounds pierced the car. When the firing finally stopped, four men were dead: the three law enforcement agents and, unfortunately for the hired gunmen, Frank Nash. One of the three gunmen was overheard saying, “They’re all dead. Let’s get out of here,” and the men fled the scene. The FBI immediately vowed to hunt down the men they believed were responsible for the attack.
Vernon Miller’s dead body was found five months later on the outskirts of Detroit. He had been strangled and beaten with a clawhammer, possibly by other gangsters for his role in the botched job in Kansas City. Pretty Boy Floyd remained at large until over a year later, when, on October 22, 1934, law enforcement members killed him in a shootout on a farm in Ohio. As Floyd lay dying, he denied any role in the Kansas City Massacre. Adam Richetti, the third accomplice in the attack, was captured alive by police in Ohio in 1934. He was tried and convicted of the Kansas City murders, and he was executed in 1938. Four other conspirators were charged, fined, and sentenced to two years in prison each.
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