Wednesday, August 12, 2015

True Stories of Former G-men

This month, Museum staff was excited to delve into some of the rich stories that exist in our FBI Oral History Collection. In honor of the upcoming release of our Executive Director, Joe Urschel’ s book, The Year of Fear: Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt that Changed the Nation, we thought it would be fun to highlight some stories from FBI Agents who worked during that era. That is – the era of gangsters like Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, the Barker-Karpis gang, and all the other’s that J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men sought to bring down.

Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, 2010.11

Excerpts from Interview with Charles E. Kleinkauf  (Agent from 1931-1963) 

At headquarters after the Urschel Kidnapping ...

CK:   I think on Labor Day in September of 1933, as another example of calls we received on holidays, Frank Blake, who was the Agent in Charge of the Dallas FBI Office, called and said, “Is Mr. Hoover there?” And I said, “No.” “Well, ya better get in touch with him because Harvey Bailey escaped from the Dallas County Jail today.” Harvey Bailey was one of the kidnappers arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Charles Ersal [sic] of Oklahoma City. So the Director immediately came down to the office and I started making calls to all the various Field Offices, advising them that Bailey escaped. However, we subsequently received a call from Blake that they had apprehended him about six hours later. But that is typical of the types of calls that we received over weekends, holidays, or at nighttime.

Interviewer: Excuse me, Charles. Now, you said when you received one of these calls that this person escaped from jail, you were then going to call up other Field Offices by telephone and advise them to be on the lookout?

CK: That is correct.

Purvis Press Conference… 


CK: …Well, now that you’ve mentioned Miss Gandy [Director Hoover’s personal secretary], let’s go forward a little bit. In July of 1934, on a Sunday evening, I received a telephone call from Melvin Purvis that they had succeeded in killing John Dillinger. So I immediately telephoned the Director. He came down to the office; while he was coming to the office, I called a number of the news reporters who covered the Department of Justice, and the Director held a press conference that evening, in his office, about the capture of John Dillinger. So follow that up, a month or so later, Melvin Purvis came to Washington for a conference with the Director, which began sometime in the late afternoon. It got to be about 5:20, which was 20 minutes beyond when the Director and everybody usually went home. So Helen Gandy came to the door of the file room, which was directly across from the Director’s door, and said, “Can’t we do something to break up this conference?” Howard Kennedy, another night clerk, and I were working at that time, and Howard got up outside the Director’s door and yelled, “Fire! Fire!” And the door opened and Purvis came out in the hall and the Director said, “Where is the fire, boys?” And we said, “We’re sorry Mr. Hoover, we didn’t hear anything but we’ll check for you right away.” That broke up the conference.

Well he immediately knew what had happened, so the next day, while he was out to lunch, he stopped by someplace and bought a little toy red fire engine and gave it to Helen Gandy and said, “This is for future emergencies, Helen.”

Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, 2010.11

Excerpt from Interview with Jeanne S. Willcut, daughter of Raymond Suran (Agent from 1930-1955)


The night Dillinger was shot…


JW: Well, I remember the night that Dillinger was killed.

Interviewer: Uh huh, that was when you were in Chicago?

JW: Chicago. Daddy was in the alley to shoot, but Dillinger didn’t make it but it was daddy’s turn next to try…And I remember that because he came home; we had a luxurious one bedroom apartment (laughing). They slept in the living room on, you know, a hide-a-bed then and I could remember him coming home and saying, “We shot that son of a bitch.”

Interviewer: Uh huh.

JW: “He” was Dillinger.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Well that was a, that was a long running duel there over, over the years. So he was actually there and he was in the, you said he was in an alley?

JW: Yeah in the theater alley…When they shot him.

Interviewer: …Right and the lady in red and there’s about seventeen people who’ve claimed that shot Dillinger.

JW: (Laughing)

Interviewer: But your father didn’t?

JW: No (laughing).

Find stories like this from over 200 FBI agents on our website. Check them out here:

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