- 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.
- Nickname: Little Mel
Best Known For
Melvin Purvis was the FBI agent responsible for bringing several notorious criminals to justice, among them were outlaws John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
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The team of FBI agents spotted a vehicle behind a corn crib. Floyd emerged from the car with a drawn .45 caliber pistol and the agents opened fire. Struck by bullets, Floyd reportedly said "I'm done for; you've hit me twice," and died 15 minutes later.
According to accounts by the East Liverpool Police—and most specifically Chester Smith, a retired East Liverpool police captain and sharpshooter—Floyd's capture and killing went down much differently. According to Smith,
who claims he was also at the scene, he, and not the FBI, fired the two shots that brought Floyd down in a deliberate attempt to wound and not kill the fugitive. Smith went on to claim that, after shooting Floyd, he ran over to where he lay on the ground and disarmed him. At this point, Purvis ran up and ordered Smith to back away. Purvis questioned Floyd briefly and then ordered agent Herman Hollis to shoot Floyd. According to Smith, Hollis followed orders and fired at point-blank range, fatally wounding Floyd.
FBI agent Winfred E. Hopton disputed Chester Smith's claim in a November 1979 issue of Time magazine, stating that he was one of four FBI agents on the scene when Floyd was killed. He said that no East Liverpool officers were present at the time, but that they arrived shortly after Floyd was mortally wounded. He also said Herman Hollis was not present when Purvis questioned Floyd.
Regardless of this controversy, none of Purvis's celebrity status for capturing gangsters sat too well with Hoover. He had an unspoken policy that "no one employee of this Division can be responsible for the successful termination of any one case..." Though Hoover had stood behind his favored agent after the Little Bohemia debacle, once the press tried to idolize Purvis, Hoover turned on his protégé. Hoover attacked Purvis with petty criticisms on the neatness of his office, chastised his administrative job performance, and disparaged the way he managed his agents. It was reported that Hoover even went so far as to assign Purvis "bad cases" to help ensure his failure.
Purvis resigned from the FBI on July 10, 1935, less than one year after his victory over John Dillinger. The reaction in the press and public was confusion and some outrage. As several other agents resigned, many speculated their reasons centered on their dissatisfaction with Hoover's leadership. Hoover is reported to have called Purvis, telling him that he should do what he could to stop the rumors, as they weren't good for Purvis or the Bureau. In characteristic fashion, Purvis complied; refusing to think ill of Hoover.
After his resignation, Melvin Purvis returned to the practice of law. He also reluctantly agreed to be a spokesperson for several companies, an experience which he found distasteful. He signed up for military duty during World War II, serving as a lieutenant colonel. He married Marie Rosanne Willcox, the daughter of his former law partner, and had three sons: Melvin, Alston and Christopher. For a time he owned a radio station, WOLS, in Florence, South Carolina.
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