Sunday, December 03, 2006

Verne Miller


I gave myself a treat this Saturday and read Brad Smith's Lawman to Outlaw: Verne Miller and the Kansas City Massacre. I enjoyed the book because Mr. Smith provides a comprehensive look at a complex individual. Individuals who have never heard of Verne Miller should know that he was on the A list of criminals in the Mid-West crime wave during the prohibition era.

The book details Miller's lawman period and shows him to be a dedicated professional; however, the book does not shed any light on why Miller embezzled funds from Beadle County, South Dakota. It is interesting to note that Verne Miller never provided a reason to anyone for this character lapse; he plead guilty at his trial and never spoke of it again.

Although he provides no fresh insight about Miller's initial crime, Smith does provide a concise analysis of Miller's character. Smith states that Miller is a "natural soldier" a man who is excited by his mission who will kill if the mission calls for it. Natural Soldiers also place a high premium on male bonding. It's telling that killings attributed to Miller outside of a job were done to avenge a friend. Smith shows how Miller's loyalty to good friend Frank "Jelly" Nash precipitated both men's deaths. Smith also points the finger at Lepke Buchalter (another person Miller considered a friend) as the person responsible for ordering Miller's death. The attempted rescue of Nash (Kansas City Massacre) was a pivotal point in crime history because it marks the turning point for public opinion against criminals and it provides Herbert Hoover with the basis for turning the Bureau of Investigation into an armed national police force. After the massacre Hoover made sure that all criminals received so much heat that it was impossible for them to function. Buchalter ,who controlled an enforcement group commonly known as Murder, Inc., had Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss kill Miller.

Smith also relates the story of Vivian Mathis, Verne Miller's consort through his criminal period. Most interesting is the treatment she received from the Bureau of Investigation. She was kidnapped and tortured until she signed an "official" statement about the Kansas City Massacre. Hoover's G-men don't come out well in Brad Smith's book he gives proof that it was Nash's escort that killed him, not Verne Miller.

All in all a good read. For pictures on Verne Miller take a look at the Verne Miller Photo Gallery.

1 comment:

maddog said...

This is a great book! I wish it was back in print and with a bigger publisher. There was also an hour long radio program about Miller and the KC Massacre featuring interviews with Brad Smith, Ellen Poulsen, Alston Purvis, Doris Lockerman and others that aired on South Dakota Public Radio on June 17, 2003, the 70th anniversary of the KC Massacre. Later played on other Public Radio stations and is or was available as an audio CD from SDPR.