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Biography of Gangsters Charles Arthur Pretty Boy Floyd

About the famous gangster Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, biography and history of her crimes, victims and death.

THE GANGSTERS

CHARLES ARTHUR "PRETTY BOY" FLOYD (1901-1934)

Person: Floyd was born on a farm in northern Georgia but spent his earliest years in Oklahoma. Tall, heavyset, and handsome in a rugged, scowling sort of way, Floyd was long saddled with a nickname he despised. In Sallisaw, Okla., where he grew up, the hill folk were duly impressed by the fact he was never without a pocket comb. They studied his slick-as-axle-grease pompadour and dubbed him "Pretty Boy." Years later when he was deep in criminality, the nickname resurfaced even though he had tried to keep it secret. The name irritated Floyd right up to the moment he lay dying in an Ohio cornfield. Famed FBI agent Melvin Purvis stood over him and said, "You're Pretty Boy Floyd." The dying gangster flared, "I'm Charles Arthur Floyd."

Activities: Known as the Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills--an area with a long history of honoring the old western outlaws--Floyd, when not busy robbing banks and killing people (at least 10, half of them lawmen), really did give to the poor. He would often sprinkle money out of a car window for the Okies as he and his gang left the scene of a robbery. Unlike his counterparts--Dillinger, the Barker boys, Creepy Karpis, and "Baby Face" nelson--Floyd had been a hard-working youth and probably never would have become a "public enemy" had he found work in the hard-pressed farm country of Oklahoma, which felt the Depression long before 1929. In the mid-1920s, with a pregnant wife to support, Floyd held up a bank, got caught, and went to prison for three years. When he got out, he gravitated to crime circles in Kansas City and took part in a number of robberies. A machine gun became his trademark. He eventually went "on the road" with a partner, a vicious gangster named Bill "the Killer" Miller. Miller died in a shoot-out in which Floyd killed one officer, wounded another, and escaped. He then hooked up with 40-year-old George Birdwell, an ex-church deacon turned outlaw. They committed a long string of robberies and killings. Today in large parts of Oklahoma Floyd is still revered as a hero. The bad things that happened, including cold-blooded murder, are always attributed to Birdwell. Part of the reason for this adulation of Floyd is that he was an Okie who helped other Okies. When robbing a bank, Floyd tore up all the first mortgages he could find, hoping they had not yet been recorded.

Leading Crimes: Floyd gained fame, not so much from his bank robberies, as for his ability to fight his way out of police traps. In 1930, while en route to the penitentiary by train, he escaped from his guards by plunging through a window and down an embankment.

Major Victims: The FBI always insisted Floyd was one of the machine gunners in the infamous Kansas City Massacre, in which four officers and a prisoner--Frank "Jelly" Nash--were killed. Floyd denied it and even wrote the newspapers protesting his innocence. His favorite victims were Oklahoma lawmen. He once wrote the sheriff in Sallisaw: "I'm coming to see my mother. If you're smart you won't try to stop me." The sheriff was smart.

How Died: On the run, Floyd was cornered by FBI agents in a cornfield near East Liverpool, O., on Oct. 22, 1934, and went down in a hail of gunfire. Asked about the Kansas City Massacre, he said, "I won't tell you nothing." He shut his mouth and died, one of the last men cast in the mold of "the American tradition of the social bandit," according to Prof. Richard Maxwell Brown.

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