Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Charles Arthur Floyd

Funny, I don't know much about Pretty Boy Floyd. Of course I know that he was shot down in 1934. I know that in the pantheon of A List depression era desperadoes he ranked up there with Dillinger. In fact, he might have been bigger than Dillinger (at times). So it's odd that I am only vaguely aware of the details about his criminal career.

So reading Jeffery S. King's The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd gave me an education. Truthfully, if you want to know about “Charles A. Floyd-Criminal” it's all here. From the beginning to the end, King concentrates on Floyd's criminal career in succinct prose. He discusses Floyd’s early life and early exploits and the period when “they just wouldn’t leave him alone”. As an ex-con, Floyd was subject to multiple arrests for ‘suspicion’. From what I understand suspicion was a catch all to arrest people whether they’d committed a crime or not. They looked like the type who might commit a crime or they associated with ‘known police characters’ or they just hadn’t paid the bribe money to be left alone.

It’s funny how one colossally bad decision can define the remaining periods of your life. King relies on the FBI files about the Kansas City Massacre and gives convincing evidence that yes Floyd did participate. Basically, Verne Miller and two other gunmen attempted to free Frank "Jelly" Nash from federal custody when he was being escorted back to Leavenworth. In the attempt, five men including Nash were mowed down in a torrent of gun fire. Floyd denied having anything to do with the Kansas City Massacre, an event which turned public opinion against depression era bank robbers. In his book King relates credible witnesses such as Vi Mathis (Verne Miller's woman) and James "Jimmy Needles" LaCapra (Kansas City underworld power) who detail Floyd and his sidekick Adam Richetti's participation in the massacre. Excellent evidence although Floyd's family continually denied that he participated in the killing, it looks like he was there.

I picked this book up on Saturday and was done by Sunday afternoon, not because it's short --it's not short on anything. It's excellently researched and perfectly paced. King never gets lost describing characters or events that are immaterial to Floyd. The book is an excellent narrative about Floyd's life and the chapter on his death is great. Even though I knew how Floyd's life ends, King provides a wealth of detail that made the story fresh. He also includes details about the aftermath of Floyd's death and the various reactions. There were a few people who objected to ambushing a man and shooting him in the back…but only a few.