The American Treasure Tour staff had a conversation a little while ago about our 1934 Buick, on display in the Toy Box. It has no known affiliation with any specific gangsters, although there is evidence to suggest it has had a history involving crime. Federal officers clamped down on crime in 1934, with some success actually. We want to take a brief break from discussing our collection to address the progress the law made against crime, eighty-one years ago.
In 1924, an ambitious young man named J. Edgar Hoover took over the reigns of the United States Bureau of Investigation (its name would be changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, in 1935). During the 1930's, he declared a "War on Crime," focused on some of the most notorious criminals running free around America. His capable officers did a remarkable job nabbing these men (and occasional women), and he did extremely well taking credit for their actions. Many of these bad guys breathed their last in the year 1934. Here are just a few of them:
John Dillinger, "Public Enemy Number One," was hands-down the most famous victim of the War on Crime. Gunned down behind the Biograph Theater in Chicago, the charming killer who perceived himself to be something of a Robin Hood character (even though he wasn't quite as generous as the fictional Englishman) had made the headlines many times before his death at the age of 31 on July 22nd.
Upon the death of Dillinger, Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd took over his title of "Public Enemy Number One." He enjoyed it briefly, as his own life was cut short on October 22nd, three months to the day after Dillinger's fateful movie-going experience at the Biograph. Floyd robbed banks in the Midwest. He robbed a lot of them, and often destroyed mortgage documents in the process, which freed money-pressed farmers from debts they owed to the banks. It made him something of a folk hero, despite his violent nature. He was shot outside of East Liverpool, Ohio at the age of thirty.
Before either Dillinger or Floyd died, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow saw the end of their own crime spree. Sailles, Louisiana is where it all ended for them on May 23rd, when police officers from Louisiana and their native Texas ambushed them and riddled their Ford with bullets. They had become celebrities of sorts in the years leading up to that, though. Robbing banks, stores and gas stations, they traveled throughout the Mid-West, capturing the attention of people who thrilled at the thought of an outlaw couple living wild and free and doing what they wanted, regardless of the consequences. Fortunately, they inspired very few imitators.
Lester Joseph Gillis, a.k.a. "Baby Face Nelson" was also a victim of Hoover's War on Crime (he received the moniker Public Enemy Number One after "Pretty Boy" Floyd died in October). He would be dead at the tender age of 25 by November 27th. In 1934, Al Capone had already been in prison for three years. In August, he was moved from Atlanta, George, to Alcatraz. George Francis Barnes, Jr., a.k.a. "Machine Gun Kelly," went behind bars in 1933. So, 1934 was a tough year for criminals trying to make their way in a world that didn't especially want them.
QUESTION: Who was your favorite celebrity gangster of the 1930s and why? (Sorry, this is not a multiple guess question)
QUOTE: All my life I wanted to be a bank robber. Carry a gun and wear a mask. Now that it's happened I guess I'm just about the best bank robber they ever had. And I sure am happy. - John Dillinger