Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills
You can see the whole story of Pretty Boy Floyd by visiting our pages about his life and death.
Here you will find some of the myths and legends that abound about this 1930's gangster from Oklahoma who became "public enemy # 1" and met his demise here in the East Liverpool, Ohio area.
Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd was born out of the trials of being a poor farmer in the times of the Great Depression. He was raised in a small farming community of Akins, Oklahoma, close to the Cookson Hills which later would become his refuge from the arm of the law.
The people throughout the area were losing their farms to the banks. The banks wanted the land for the expansion of farming and its profits. Small farms were unprofitable. The people had done everything that they could to keep their homes even holding off the bank's tractors with shot guns, daring then to take what was rightfully theirs.
Into this story comes Charles Floyd, poor, out of work, with a young family. He would take odd jobs but that did not help. Many of the younger generation would not go hungry. They became armed bandits. Floyd was one of such people. He would rob the banks that were robbing them and whilst he was in the banks taking their money he would destroy or steal the mortgages to the local farms. With no record of a mortgage how could the banks take the land? He would also use his ill gotten money by buying food and distributing it to the members of the community. In return they protected him, became his communication system, fed him and welcomed him to their homes when he "dropped by".
Of all the bandits who hung-out in the Cookson Hills, some of whom were Ford Bradshaw, Troy Love, Aussie Elliott and Ed Newt Clanton, Charles "Pretty-Boy" Floyd's name is the best known. He was never called "Pretty-Boy" by any who knew him well, most called him "Chock". In 1931 and 1932 he robbed so many banks in Oklahoma that the bank insurance rates doubled. He even robbed two banks in one day at Paden and Castle, Oklahoma on December 12, 1931. He used a submachine gun and a bullet proof vest. Most of the time he worked alone but occasionally had one companion or fellow thief. He rarely concealed his identity and often introduced himself to his victims. Often it was said that when he left the scene of a robbery he would make the bank officials ride on the running boards of his car so that he was protected.
During his crimes however he did manage to get 10 notches on his lucky piece which always carried with him. He was so well thought of by the community that he could walk around in public unmolested and even went to church in Earlsboro.
The newspapers called him the "Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills". He was pleased with this nickname and once stated that, " I have robbed no-one but moneyed men"
Charles Floyd always hated the nickname "Pretty-Boy".
The Kansas City Massacre: Was Floyd there or not?
I----Charles Floyd---- want it made known that I did not participate in the massacre of officers at Kansas City.
Captain Higgins received this message on a plain business postcard in the mail. It was post marked, Springfield, Missouri.
The debate still rages about whether or not Floyd took part in what was the event that would make him "Public Enemy # 1".
In his book "The Bad Ones" (1968) Lew Louderback writes about this major event that would change Floyd's reputation. Floyd was wanted for a possible murder in Oklahoma (it is thought that he killed John Mills, the man who was tried and then acquitted of the murder of Floyd's father.) so he set out for "Tom's Town" (Kansas City) where he quickly disappeared into the criminal underworld. He moved around the country his reputation growing as a violent criminal even though it is thought that some of the events that are attributed to him were not of his doing.
In 1933 Frank Nash, a veteran bank robber, had been arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas by FBI agents and was being transported via train through Kansas City back to Leavenworth, from where he had escaped three years earlier. Word was fast spreading through the "underworld" of what was happening. Verne Miller decided that he would try to facilitate his escape before Nash reached his destination.
Floyd and Adam "Eddie" Richetti were also traveling toward Kansas City with two hostages in the back of their car, Sherriff Killingsworth and Walter Griffith. Upon arriving in the city they stopped and Floyd confered with some people. Upon returning to the car he told Richetti to get their guns and change cars. He told the hostages to drive to Lee's Summit, eat dinner and then head home.
The next day, June 7, the train, the Missouri Pacific Flyer, was to arrive at Union Station at 7:15 am. Later a Lottie West was to describe the events that would take place. She arrived for work and found a man sitting at her chair in her booth at the station. She described him as "round-faced, rather fleshy, weighing about two hundred pounds." He yielded the chair to her and was later seen loitering at the entrance as if he was waiting for someone. Outside a car carrying Special Agents Raymond Caffrey and R.E. Vetterli arrived. They would be taking Frank Nash to Leavenworth. There was also an armored police car with two city detectives, W.J. "Red" Grooms and Frank Hermanson.
Around 7:20 am the police and Nash were spotted coming up the stairs from the platform wearing a white shirt and his hands cuffed in front of him. She said, "That must be Pretty-Boy Floyd." The man who had been waiting around darted across the station ahead of the group of police. Outside the station they headed for the green Chevrolet driven by the FBI agents. Three men came by on the running boards of a car, each with a Thompson submachine gun. They opened fire on the men.
If this had been an attempt to rescue Nash it was a dismal failure as he was killed along with many of the police involved. Some have wondered whether it was not an attempt at rescue but more likely retribution in pay-back for events that had transpired throughout Nash's colorful criminal career. Agent Lackey was seriously injured, Vetterli was shot in the arm, Caffrey, Grooms, Hermanson, Chief Reed and Nash were dead and Agent Frank Smith escaped unharmed. It was called the "Kansas City Massacre" and the unidentified gunmen the "MadDog Killers of KC."
Into the investigation Sheriff Thomas B. Bash of Jackson County interjected his theory that Floyd and Richetti were involved because they had arrived in Kansas City the night before and their hostages had seen them talking with two other men and they had driven off with them. Kansas City Captain of Detectives, Thomas J. Higgins, scoffed at the idea. He had been tracking Floyd for 4 years and felt that he knew him fairly well and that this was definitely not Floyd's style.
Bash would not be deterred and during his investigation he interviewed Lottie West and showed her photograph's. She identified Floyd as the man who was sitting in her chair and whom she had seen across the street operating a machine gun. By morning every newspaper in the country was running a headline that Floyd was part of the Massacre. However much he protested Floyd was never able to shake the suspicions and accusations of his part in the event. Many historians now believe that he was not involved although he may have been in Kansas City at the time.
Blackie Audett even named the killers as Verne Miller, Maurice Denning and Solly Weisman. He stated." I knowed better, (that it wasn't Floyd and Richetti) because I seen with my own eyes who was in that car. Both of them that was in it got clean away." At another time he said, "Me and Mary McElroy watched the whole thing from less than fifty yards away." Being the right-hand man of Johnny Lazia, the man he says recruited the men for the job, he had advanced notice and was on hand to watch. Blackie also states that the mob hunted down and killed the men involved because they "botched" the job. Floyd and Richetti were left alone and able to live peacefully amongst them for at least a year after the event. Solly Weisman was built like Floyd and could have been confused with him.
Floyd and Richetti parted ways for a while but were later spotted in Wellsville, Ohio. Richetti was shot but not killed and Floyd was killed a few days later in the area of the Beaver Creek near Sprucevale. (But that's another story).
Early Life: Charles Arthur Floyd, soon to be called "Chock" Floyd, was born on February 3, 1904 in Georgia, one of seven children, but moved to a small farming community in Oklahoma, which he was to call home. His parents had a small farm, they were dirt-poor. His father spent most of his time trying to stay one step ahead of foreclosure. Droughts, plagues and dust storms brought farm production down to a crawl. In an attempt to help keep themselves fed, the family became involved in the bootlegging business.
In 1921 he married 16 year old Ruby Hargrove, they eventually had a son, Jack Dempsey Floyd. Money was scarce. Looking for a better life he left his home and traveled north looking for harvest work. Many nights were spent in hobo camps.
Charles was ready to work but there just wasn't any available. Eventually he gave up looking and brought his first gun. It wasn't long after that, at the age of 18, he pulled his first crime. He held up a post office for $350 in pennies. This was "easy money". He was arrested on suspicion of the crime but his father gave him an alibi.
He took the train to St. Louis where he robbed a Kroger store of approximately $16,000. The money kept them for a few weeks but after spending it on expensive clothes and big meals they were broke again. He was arrested because local police found it suspicious that he had new clothes and a new Ford. When they searched his house they found some of the money still in it's wrapper. He was sentenced to 5 years in the Jefferson City Penitentiary. During his incarceration his wife gave birth to their son, Jackie, and divorced him. He was released after 3 years and vowed never to be locked up again.
Later life and criminal history: On a visit to his parents farm he discovered that his father had been shot to death in a family feud with J. Mills. The accused was acquitted of the crime. Charles took his father's rifle went into the hills and J. Mills was never seen again.
In the mid 1920's Floyd lived and operated in the East Liverpool, Ohio area as a hired gun for the bootleggers and rum-runners along the Midland, PA and Steubenville, OH stretch of the Ohio River.
He became most notorious after he left the East Liverpool area. He headed west and found refuge in "Tom's Town" ( now Kansas City ), a town run by Tom Pendegast. Hired guns, murderer's and successful gangsters hung out here. It was here that he learned to use a machine gun and acquired the nickname "Pretty Boy". It was a name given him by a madam, Beulah Baird Ash, in a brothel and he hated it. However, it stuck and made him into a colorful criminal. Floyd is reputed to have maintained relationships with both Ruby and Beulah throughout the rest of his life even posing as their husbands under assumed names.
During the next 12 years he robbed as many as 30 banks, killing 10 men. During his crime sprees in Oklahoma the bank insurance rates doubled. He filed a notch in his pocket-watch for everyone he killed. His first bank robbery is reported to have been the Farmers and Merchants bank in Sylvania, Ohio. Floyd was arrested at his Akron, Ohio hideout for this crime. He was tried and convicted but escaped by jumping out of the train window near Kenton, Ohio while on his way to the Ohio Penitentiary.
The first person he killed was a police officer, Ralph Castner, who stopped him from robbing a Bowling Green, Ohio bank on April 16, 1931.
At this time Floyd was accompanied by William (Willis) Miller, known as "Billy the Killer", Beulah and her sister Rose. A clerk in a store recognized them when they were purchasing dresses for the women. The clerk alerted the police who arrived as the group were walking down the street. As they ordered the group to stop, Floyd and Miller opened fire. Castner was killed, Chief Carl Galliher dropped to the ground, killing Miller and injuring Beulah, 21. Rose Baird, 23 was captured but Floyd escaped in a car.
On June 17, 1933 Floyd and an associate, Adam Richetti were reported as the culprits behind the " Union Station Massacre " in Kansas City where 5 men including FBI agent, Raymond Caffrey were gunned down in an attempt to free Frank "Gentleman" Nash a notorious underworld figure. Floyd maintained to his death that he was never involved in this crime.
During the next 17 months Floyd and Richetti were hunted by every law enforcement officer in the country. After the capture and death of John Dillinger, Floyd was named as Public Enemy No.1 with a $23,000 dollar dead or alive reward on his head.
Floyd's reign of terror brought him back to the East Liverpool area.
Folk Stories and Quotes about his life:
Jack Floyd, although he saw his father infrequently, said in an article for the San Francisco Examiner June 20, 1982, "He was a fun guy to be around. He was like a regular father. He always had some puppies or other presents for me. What I knew about him didn't keep me from loving him."
He was a folk hero to the people of Oklahoma who perceived him as a "Sagebrush Robin Hood" or the "Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills", stealing from the rich banks to help the poor eat by buying them groceries and tearing up their mortgages during the robberies.
He has been written into legend through song, in Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
He was never part of a gang. He worked with a few trusted accomplices. Boldly entering banks in broad daylight and never wearing a mask. He was a gentleman even in his crimes, always well groomed, immaculately dressed and courteous to his victims.
Final Days: On October 19, 1934 he was spotted after three men dressed as hunters and carrying shotguns robbed the Tiltonsville Peoples Bank. Both Adam Richetti and "Pretty Boy" Floyd were positively identified as two of the men involved. Police and FBI were put on alert throughout Ohio for the suspects. The following day a shoot-out between two criminals and the Wellsville, Ohio Police ended in the capture of Richetti. Floyd escaped, kidnapping a Wellsville florist and stealing his car.
On October 22, 1934 things would finally come to a fatal end for "Pretty Boy" Floyd. The local police were called out, including Chief McDermott and patrolman Chester Smith. Firearms were issued, but Smith refused a weapon, instead, he kept his 32-20 Winchester Rifle. He told everyone that if they found Floyd he would be running. They checked all the back-roads in the area that Floyd had been reported. Finally they came to the Conkle farm on Sprucevale Rd.
Floyd had knocked on the Conkle farm door posing as a lost hunter and had asked for a ride to the bus line. Ellen Conkle took pity on him and welcomed him into her home, feeding him a meal for which he paid $1. After eating, Mrs. Conkle volunteered her brother, Stewart Dyke, to drive Floyd to the bus station. The Dyke's and Floyd were getting into the car when two police cars were spotted speeding along the narrow dirt road. Floyd jumped from the car to hide behind a corn crib.
As the police approached the farm they spotted a man behind the corn crib. Chester Smith recognized the face. Floyd started to flee. After being told to halt and not doing so Smith fired a shot from his rifle hitting Floyd in the arm. Floyd dropped his gun, grabbed his right forearm where he had been hit, but still jumped up and continued to run, darting for cover in the wooded area nearby. After another call to halt which also went unheeded Floyd was shot again, in his back right shoulder. The federal agents and local police all started firing at this time. Floyd fell to the ground, his gun by his side.
Smith checked the body, he was not yet dead, and noticed that Floyd had another weapon in his belt. He had two Colt .45 automatics but never fire a single shot. Patrolmen Smith, Roth and Montgomery carried Floyd to the shade of an apple tree. "He was alive when we carried him to the apple tree. But he died then within minutes." Smith said. A call was placed to J. Edgar Hoover. Smith recalls, "Floyd was dead before Purvis returned (about 4:25 p.m.). We put Floyd's body in the back seat of the local police car, propping him up between me and Curly. That's how we hauled him to East Liverpool and turned him over to the Sturgis Funeral Home." Floyd had $120 in his pockets.
There is much speculation about the actual events of the fateful day. One report states that Agent Purvis of the FBI ordered Floyd shot whilst he was sitting under the apple tree because he refused to answer when asked if he was involved in the Kansas City Massacre.
Smith's daughter said that Smith took the days events in a matter-of-fact way, coming home late for supper and just stating that he didn't have time to eat because he had just shot "Pretty Boy" Floyd. He washed up, changed and went back to work.
At the Funeral Home: Although Floyd's mother did not want her son's body viewed by the public, by the time Chief McDermott had received her wire there were thousands of people wanting to view the notorious criminal. He would be later shipped back to Oklahoma but in the mean time over 10,000 people passed by the body from 8:30 p.m. and 11:15 p.m., about 50 per minute. The mob had stormed the Funeral home and in the space of three hours, the porch railing had been torn off, shrubbery trampled and the lawn completely ruined.
Final resting place: At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday October 23, 1934 Charles Arthur " Pretty Boy " Floyd's body left East Liverpool in a baggage car. One year before at the Akins Cemetery in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Floyd had told his mother,
"Right here is where you can put me. I expect to go down soon with lead in me. Maybe the sooner the better. Bury me deep. " 20,000 people attended his funeral. His head stone has been desecrated by souvenir hunters and was stolen in 1985. A new headstone now marks his grave.
Marker Erected: A marker along Sprucevale Road between East Liverpool and Rogers, Ohio has been erected in the location of the Conkle farm to mark for all time the place where America's Public Enemy No.1 was shot. This marker, erected in 1993 by the East Liverpool Historical Society and the Ohio Historical Society was stolen in August, 1995 and recovered about two weeks later in a wooded lot on Bank Street, East Liverpool. It was later re-erected on the same site.
Resources: Most of the material for this page are from existing old papers and microfilm on record at the Carnegie Public Library of East Liverpool and from Records and Photographs in the possession of the Dawson Funeral Home. Michael Wallis has also written a very good in depth book called "Pretty Boy" if you would like more reading.