- NAME: Melvin Purvis
- OCCUPATION: Civil Servant
- BIRTH DATE: October 24, 1903
- DEATH DATE: February 29, 1960
- EDUCATION: University of South Carolina
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Timmonsville, South Carolina
- PLACE OF DEATH: Florence, South Carolina
- AKA: Melvin Horace Purvis
- AKA: Melvin Purvis
- Full Name: Melvin Horace Purvis Jr.
Best Known For
Melvin Purvis was the FBI agent responsible for bringing several notorious criminals to justice, among them outlaws John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
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Dillinger was deemed "Public Enemy No. 1," and the manhunt was on.
On April 23, 1934, Melvin Purvis received a tip that John Dillinger was hiding out at a resort lodge known as "Little Bohemia" in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Sometime after midnight, Purvis and several agents drove to the lodge and parked their cars some distance away. They walked into the woods, but without a map or firsthand knowledge of the surroundings. As they got closer,
they could see the lodge was occupied. A dog barked as three men walked out of the lodge and got in a car. Alarmed and agitated, the agents opened fire on the car, thinking the men were members of Dillinger's gang. The lodge exploded with gunfire. The agents killed one of the men in the parking lot and wounded the other two. FBI agent W.C. Baum also died in the shootout, and two other agents were wounded. In the confusion, the Dillinger gang slipped out of the lodge via a carefully planned escape route. Reports differ on whether Dillinger was even at the lodge at the time; however FBI records state that he was. It was later discovered that the man killed in the car and the two wounded individuals were local Civilian Conservation Corps workers who had stopped in at the lodge for a beer.
For a time, Dillinger went into hiding. Melvin Purvis was shaken by the disaster at Little Bohemia, but even more determined. He secured a contact with one of Dillinger's friends, Anna Sage, who would later become known in the press as "the woman in red." Sage cooperated with the FBI in order to avoid deportation to her native Romania. (Despite the tacit arrangement, she was deported nonetheless.) On July 22, 1934, following a setup arranged by Sage, Purvis and his group of agents waited outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago until Dillinger emerged. Although Purvis never fired a single shot, it was his signal—he identified Dillinger to his men by lighting a cigar—which led to the shootout that killed the gangster and made Purvis an overnight hero. But Purvis refused to accept any direct credit, and shielded his agents from possible reprisal by describing the operation in military terms, where each man had a job to do and contributed equally. Nonetheless, Purvis became famous as "The Man Who Got Dillinger."
Among his other credits, Purvis was also responsible for bringing about the conviction of Kansas City gangster Adam Richetti by serving as a key witness at his trial in the Union Station Massacre of 1933. He also spearheaded the raid that led to the capture of Vern Sankley, another "Public Enemy No. 1" who faced charges of abduction, but who killed himself before he could be brought to trial. Beyond Dillinger, the most notorious gangster to be overthrown was Lester M. Gillis, a.k.a. "Baby Face Nelson," who died in a Purvis-led shootout in Chicago on November 27, 1934.
Beyond Dillinger, one of the most notorious gangsters to be brought to justice by Melvin Purvis was "Pretty Boy Floyd," a.k.a. Charles Arthur Floyd. According to FBI records, on October 22, 1934, four FBI agents and four East Liverpool (Ohio) Police Department officers were searching an East Liverpool neighborhood in two separate cars for Pretty Boy Floyd.
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