(September 4, 2018) Today’s post does not involve the Civil War but pertains to my most recent book, The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era.
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On June 17, 1933 four lawmen and their prisoner were gunned down in broad daylight at Kansas City’s Union train station. The news shocked the nation and prompted President Franklin Roosevelt’s attorney general to launch a “war” on organized crime. Soon new legislation empowered FBI agents to make arrests more freely and gave them authority to carry firearms, including machine guns. Although the outrage happened in Kansas City, as the four-minute video below indicates, the story began in Hot Springs, Arkansas a day earlier when FBI agents captured bank robber Frank Nash while he was on the lam between robberies. His captors planned to take him to the federal penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
While the lawmen were holding Nash captive on the loading platform at the Fort Smith, Arkansas train station, a nearby Associated Press reporter became curious because he noticed that Nash was in handcuffs. When the reporter inquired about the situation, one of the captors—nobody knows whom—explained that Nash was a notorious bank robber that was being taken to Kansas City before proceeding to Fort Leavenworth. The wire story enabled the Kansas City mob to organize a group of two or three gunmen, ostensibly to rescue Nash, when his train arrived at 7:15 AM on 17 June.
The identities of all the gunmen are unknown. Former sheriff-turned-gangster Verne Miller appears to have been the leader. Notwithstanding that he was in town the same day, it is doubtful that Pretty Boy Floyd participated even though the publicity-hungry FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover believed that he did as still indicated at the FBI website.
Finally, the massacre motive is debatable. Instead of rescuing Nash, Miller and his henchmen might have intended to murder Nash in order to prevent him from betraying other criminals in a plea bargain. Nash had, for example, participated with other criminals in various bank robberies and other illegal activities. Nash was, in fact, killed during the shootout. After an apparent gangland execution, Miller’s mutilated body would be discovered in a roadside ditch near Detroit before the end of the year.
In 1975 Hollywood released a full length scripted version of the Kansas City Massacre. It starred Dale Robertson and Bo Hopkins and is currently available for free on YouTube.