Kansas City Massacre, 1933
In the 1920s and early 1930s, before the devastating effects of the Great Depression really took the country by storm, the United States was going through a “golden period.” Alcohol may have been prohibited, but the national fervor was widely apparent. Along with Prohibition, however, organized crime in New York and Chicago put millions of dollars in the hands of criminals and murderers, and well into the 1930s, organized crime often resulted in several grueling, bloody events. On the morning of June 17th, 1933, infamous gangster Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd and two other constituents, Vernon Miller and Adam Richetti, murdered four police officers and a prisoner in front of the Union Railway Station in Kansas City. This mass murder shocked the nation and drew significant exposure to the nature of organized crime, and this act thereafter changed many of the standard procedures of the FBI.
Backstory and Context
The Kansas City Massacre
The foundation of the Kansas City Massacre involved an attempt by Floyd, Miller, and Richetti to free the federal prisoner Frank Nash from the hands of the FBI. Nash’s previous convictions included a life sentence for murder in 1913 (pardoned), a 25-year sentence for burglary with explosives in 1920 (pardoned), and a 25-year sentence for assaulting a mail custodian in 1924 (escaped with seven other prisoners in 1931).
On June 16th, 1933, and based on information from two captured bank robbers who were associates with Nash, two FBI agents and an Oklahoma Police Chief captured Frank Nash in Hot Springs, Arkansas. At 8:30pm on June 16th, the officers and Nash boarded a train to Kansas City, which would arrive at 7:15 a.m. Before leaving, the three officers arranged for the agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City office to meet them at the Union Railway Station.
News of Nash’s capture spread through the underworld quickly, and so did the time of the FBI’s arrival in Kansas City. Four men organized a conspiracy to free Nash, and they gave Vernon Miller the task. Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam Richietti agreed to aid the mission. On the morning of June 17th, the three gunmen took positions outside the Union Railway Station and awaited the FBI’s arrival.
A total of seven officers were leaving the Union Railway Station with Frank Nash. Two of them had shotguns, while the other officers carried pistols. Walking outside the station, the officers didn’t find anything suspicious, and moved Nash to the transport car (a Chevrolet). Some officers were inside the car with Nash, with others outside, when two of the armed gunmen ran up to the car. One FBI officer noted that at least one of them had a machine gun. At first, a gunman told the officers to put their hands up, but a few seconds later, a command came forth saying, “Let ‘em have it!”
While the two gunmen approached the Chevrolet, the third snuck up behind the radiator of another car and opened fire with a machine gun. Two officers immediately fell to the ground, another FBI officer (the agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City Office) fell with a fatal wound in the head, and both Nash and the Oklahoma Police Chief were killed from inside the car. The three gunmen successfully escaped, and in total, the assault lasted about 30 seconds.
On November 33rd, 1933, Vernon Miller’s mutilated corpse was found in a ditch on the outskirts of Detroit.
Floyd and Richetti went on the run together for over a year, and Richetti was captured near Wellsville, Ohio, on October 20th in 1934. A gunfight ensued in this capture, and Pretty Boy Floyd escaped, possibly wounded. Two days later, officers found Floyd outside Clarkson, Ohio, and another gunfight ensued. Floyd was hit twice, captured, and taken to a hospital. He died 15 minutes after being shot.
The four other men who had engineered the conspiracy to free Floyd were indicted by a Grand Jury in Kansas City two days after Floyd was killed. A year later, all four men were found guilty.1
Inscription on the Marker
RAYMOND J. CAFFREY Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation
OTTO REED Chief of Police, McAlester, Oklahoma
WILLIAM J. GROOMS Detective, Kansas City Missouri Police Department
FRANK HERMANSON Detective, Kansas City Missouri Police Department
Near this location the above named officers were slain and FBI Agents Francis J. Lackey and Reed E. Vetterli were wounded while transferring Federal prisoner Frank Nash, who had been apprehended the previous day, to the Federal Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas.
While in the parking lot at Union Station these officers were attacked by Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Vernon Miller and Adam Richetti, who intended to free Nash. Nash was unintentionally killed in the hail of Tommygun and shotgun fire.
This incident so outraged the American public that new Federal legislation was enacted the following year. Such crimes as bank robbery and extortion became Federal offenses and FBI Agents were authorized to carry firearms.