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Hoover's Sooner Saviors // FBI Chief Owes Image to Oklahoma Badmen
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Hoover's Sooner Saviors // FBI Chief Owes Image to Oklahoma Badmen

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The controversial career of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI's long-time

director, probably was saved by two Oklahoma hoodlums -

George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Albert Bates, Kelly's sidekick.

In a parked black sedan on a dusty Oklahoma road in 1933,

the badmen held a debate. They were trying to decide whether

to kill or release their kidnap victim, Charles F. Urschel,

an Oklahoma City oilman worth $75 million.

During the discussion, Urschel was lying blindfolded and

gagged on the rear floorboard of Kelly's small car.

Fortunately - directly for Urschel and indirectly for Hoover

- Kelly reasoned there was no need to add murder to the

kidnapping, especially since the $200,000 ransom had been

paid.

The money had been delivered in a satchel on a dark Kansas

City street by a Tulsa oilman, the late E.E. Kirkpatrick.

He was under the gun - literally. Machine guns could be

seen sticking out of nearby cars.

The big difference for Hoover was his need for more political

clout.at the time. He decided to take personal charge of

the sensational kidnapping and, ultimately was credited

with a brilliant investigation that cracked the case.

It didn't hurt Hoover a bit that Mrs. Urschel - who inherited

$20 million as a widow of Tom Slick - called Hoover personally

and asked for his assistance. This was the day after the

kidnapping and Hoover immediately ordered federal operatives

from Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Dallas, Fort Worth and

Tulsa to concentrate on the Oklahoma sector.

Also, Mr. Urschel had an ingenious and retentive mind. He

was the key to solving his own kidnapping, but Hoover and

the FBI came out with equally sparkling images.

Urschel, though blindfolded, estimated that it took 12 hours

to reach the Texas farm house where he was held for eight

days. He never saw the faces of his kidnappers nor heard

their names.

Urschel managed to leave his fingerprints all over his room

and remembered the cracked plaster, a squeaky pump and the

number of steps from the barn to the house.

As the clincher, he carefully noted the exact time that

scheduled airplanes flew over the farm. This made it possible

for the FBI to identify the house where he had been held.

This happened, in 1933, as newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt

took over the presidency. Jim Farley, postmaster general

and Roosevelt's patronage chief, thought Hoover had "gotten

too big for his britches."

They had a mind to fire Hoover because he wouldn't accept

patronage employees. After the Urschel case, they didn't

dare.

Political historians believed it was the Oklahoma desperadoes

who tangled with the FBI that gave Hoover the colorful image

he needed to save him from getting the boot.

When Kelly was captured in Memphis for the Urschel kidnapping,

he shouted: "Don't shoot, G-men, don't shoot."

From that day, federal law enforcement officers have been

famous throughout the world as "G-men."

Those were the days when mobsters, as well as Justice Department

officials, agreed that they feared the criminals from the

Cookson Hills of Oklahoma more than the big city organized

crime gangs.

The roll call of the Oklahoma-connected desperadoes who

were targeted by the FBI in the 1930s included legends from

criminal history.

Besides Bates, "Machine Gun" Kelly and his wife, Kathrine,

there were Harvey Bailey, Ma Barker and her boys and the

members of the Barker-Karpis gang, including Alvin Karpis

and bank robber Charles Chapman, who was the nation's Public

Enemy No. 1.

In addition, there was Oklahoma's best-known contribution

to the public enemy roster - Pretty Boy Floyd, a native

of the Sallisaw vicinity. Seemingly related to - or friends

with - half the state, he was a folk hero of sorts.

During those lawless years, Floyd once lived for months

with his wife and child in a bungalow in the 500 block of

East Young Street, right under the nose of Tulsa police

who were seeking him for bank robbery and murder.

The Floyd family went to movies together. The child attended

Burroughs Elementary School.

When police did raid the house, Floyd got away.

On Oct. 22, 1934, Floyd was killed in a hail of bullets

fired by FBI agents at an isolated farm near East Liverpool,

Ohio.

Before dying, he said he had been hit a couple of times.

It was actually 14 times.

After Floyd's death, FBI agent Melvin Purvis credited Hoover

with being in constant contact with the agents in the field.

Hoover didn't always stay in Washington and he wasn't above

leading the way on raids. He was known to have been in Tulsa

at least twice.

Alvin Karpis, another T-Town tough who made his headquarters

here, challenged Hoover personally, saying the FBI chief

wasn't man enough to face him.

Hoover personally led the way when Karpis was captured in

New Orleans.

Ma Barker and one of her sons were killed in a gun battle

with the FBI in 1935 in Florida.

The Karpis-Barker gang was greatly feared all over the Midwest

during the '30s and the organization had many local boys.

They operated out of a shack on North Cincinnati Avenue

beginning around 1928.

Over the years, they pulled off kidnappings, bank robberies,

mail thefts and train robberies.

Tulsa newspaper records do not reveal what happened to Charles

Chapman, Tulsa's ex-millionaire Public Enemy No. 1. He turned

bank bandit after he escaped from the Huntsville, Texas,

prison with two companions in 1937.

The trio split after they kidnaped Baird Markham, son of

a prominent oil man. The boy was released near Sapulpa.

G-men and police raided his Tulsa hideout, missing Chapman

by five minutes.

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