On June 17, 1933, one of the most significant shootouts in American law enforcement history took place. The location was in front of Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. The event is known as the Union Station Massacre or the Kansas City Massacre. Four law enforcement officers were killed, along with the prisoner they were transporting. The significance of the incident derives from the fact that it resulted in the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as we now know it, along with its current powers.
Frank Nash had been at large for almost three years after escaping from the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth. He was apprehended on June 16, 1933 in Hot Springs, Arkansas by Frank Smith and Joseph Lackey, Special Agents of what was then known as the United States Bureau of Investigation. They were assisted by Otto Reed, Police Chief of McAlester, Oklahoma.
At this time, Bureau of Investigation Special Agents did not have statutory authority to carry firearms nor to make arrests, so they were frequently assisted by local law enforcement. However, Special Agents often carried firearms informally and were doing so during the incident.
In the process of transporting Nash back to Leavenworth to continue his sentence, the Massacre occurred. The prisoner was taken by train to Kansas City, where the group was being met by Special Agent in Charge of the Kansas City field office R.E. Vetterli, Special Agent R. J. Caffrey, and Detectives William Grooms and Frank Hermanson of the Kansas City Police Department. The plan was then to drive Nash to Leavenworth by car.
The lawmen and their prisoner exited Union Station and proceeded across the street to where the two BI cars were parked. As they started to take their seats in the cars, they were ambushed by criminals at close range. The intent was to free Nash from custody. At least one of the criminals was armed with a Thompson submachinegun.
To this day, there is some controversy over the sequence of events that followed. What is clear is that gunfire erupted shortly after the springing of the ambush. Detectives Grooms and Hermanson were killed instantly. Within the space of a few seconds, Chief Reed and prisoner Nash were killed, while Special Agent Caffrey was mortally wounded. With the attempt to free Nash botched, the criminals immediately fled. They were shot at by a uniformed Kansas City Policeman as they escaped but without result.
The Bureau of Investigation placed responsibility for the Massacre on three criminals; Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Vernon Miller, and Adam Richetti. A massive national manhunt was launched for them. Floyd was killed in a shootout with law enforcement the next year. Vernon Miller was found dead and mutilated later in 1933. Adam Richetti was apprehended in 1934, tried, and found guilty for the Kansas City murders. He was sentenced to death and subsequently executed on October 7, 1938.
J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings used the notoriety of the Union Station Massacre to argue for increased Federal law enforcement powers. In 1934, the year after the Massacre, Congress gave Bureau agents the authority to carry firearms and to make arrests. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was officially organized and named in 1935, thereby bringing into existence the organization we know of today.
For more detail about the Massacre and its aftermath, visit the Tactical Professor blog
Claude Werner is The Tactical Professor. He served in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces and Mechanized Infantry units in the US Army as both an enlisted man and an officer. His military assignments include being a Special Forces A-Team Commander, Intelligence Officer, and Mechanized Infantry Company Commander. Well known in the shooting community, he was formerly the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School and has won six sanctioned IDPA Championships with snub nose revolvers. In his civilian career, he was Research Director of three commercial real estate firms and was the National Director of Real Estate Research for Deloitte & Touche LLP. His blog is Tactical Professor at the Tactical Professor blog.