BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bryan Burrough, what is "Public Enemies" about?
BRYAN BURROUGH, AUTHOR, "PUBLIC ENEMIES:" "Public Enemies" is about a period during 1933 and 1934 that has been called "the war on crime," a period in which the FBI was largely born, doing battles with the likes of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd and their peers.
LAMB: Who`s this on the cover, do you know?
BURROUGH: That is -- actually, I believe that to be a gangster named Al Brady, an arrest that has nothing to do with the book. It`s an illustration.
LAMB: So of all the stories in this book, which one was the hardest one to find?
BURROUGH: Oh, none were hard to find in and of themselves. What`s often hard to find is the accurate part of it. I guess the hardest thing to find was -- one of the tasks that I set for myself was I wanted to find the origin of the term "G-men," which is what the FBI was known by as a result of this period. And the term was said to have originated with Machine Gun Kelly, who, when the FBI came to get him said, Oh, don`t -- you know, Don`t shoot, G-men, or something like that.
That story had been debunked as early as 1946 by a "Harper`s" correspondent. Subsequent generations of historians had all basically suggested that this was a term that had been made up by J. Edgar Hoover`s PR men. And I actually found out from a fairly obscure newspaper clipping from the day of Kelly`s arrest from that -- actually, that evening, that the term did originate with Machine Gun Kelly`s arrest, but it was -- the term G-men was uttered by his wife, Catherine (ph) Kelly.
LAMB: What other myths did you debunk?
BURROUGH: A number. I guess one of my favorites was the myth of the criminal genius of Ma Barker, a name who may be more familiar to those of our generation. Her infamy, her notoriety seems to have paled here in the last 20 years, but she was known during the 1930s, after her death, as the criminal mastermind of the infamous Barker gang, which was really perhaps the most successful of these criminal gangs during the Depression. A number of books, including those written by J. Edgar Hoover and a number of movies, made her this kind of -- I think one of them called her, you know, the Spiderwoman of evil, something like this. And she was a grandmother.
Turns out that there was actually no basis of truth to the stories whatsoever. Ma Barker traveled with her sons, who killed and kidnapped, lived fairly well off their ill-gotten gains. But having waded through nearly a million pages of FBI files, I`m here to tell you she never committed a crime, much less fired a gun, never walked into a bank to rob it. And basically, what happened is when the FBI surrounded the lake house in rural Florida where she and her husband -- excuse me -- her son Fred were holed up, she ended up dead. And Mr. Hoover had to go in front of the press and explain why the FBI just killed a 62-year-old grandmother. Therefore, the myth of her criminal genius.
LAMB: Why did St. Paul, Minnesota, turn out to be such an important crime town?
BURROUGH: That one stumped me for a while, too. When people think about Depression-era crime, they tend to think of Chicago. And while Chicago was important, St. Paul was the place. St. Paul became kind of the bank robbery/kidnapping center of not only the Midwest but America because of something called the O`Connor system, which was named after a long-time police chief who set a very simple policy beginning around 1908, and that is, Bad guys, if you want to come to St. Paul, I won`t bust you, so long as you don`t perform any crimes here. And he basically made St. Paul into an open city.
This was obviously a policy not popular with rural Minnesotans, who had one of the highest bank robbery rates in the land, but in St. Paul itself, and to some extent Minneapolis, it largely escaped the scourge of Depression-era crime in part because so many of the bad guys lived there or passed through trying to pick up business.
LAMB: Who lived there?
BURROUGH: At various times, the Barker gang, including Fred Barker, Dot Barker and Alvin Karpis (ph), basically were made there. John Dillinger, after his infamous escape from the Crown Point jail in March of `34, lit out straight for St. Paul, as well as a host of lesser lights. Machine Gun Kelly began his career there. Baby Face Nelson formed his first gang there. Just about everybody except Bonnie and Clyde passed through or worked in St. Paul at some point, and there was even one sighting, perhaps spurious, of Bonnie and Clyde there.
LAMB: In the acknowledgements in the back, you say this has already been an HBO series?
BURROUGH: No, it started out as an HBO miniseries. When I came up with the idea, when I realized that all these infamous criminals had been at large at the same time and that their story collectively could be told as one, I thought it was too ambitious for a book. I had two little boys that I was raising with my wife and was not eager to go spend five, six, seven years running around the Midwest, so I sold it as a miniseries to HBO. It got into development. I agreed to do research. And as so often happens, I got into the research, it was just too much fun not to do. I just loved it all too much, so I did.
LAMB: What happened to the miniseries?
BURROUGH: It`s still chugging along at the glacial pace of so many TV projects.
LAMB: Before this book, how many have you written?
BURROUGH: This is my fourth book.
LAMB: Your first book was what?
BURROUGH: It was called "Barbarians at the Gate". It appeared in 1990, and it was a story of a Wall Street leveraged buy-out.
LAMB: Which Wall Street leveraged buy-out?
BURROUGH: The leveraged buy-out in 1988 of RJR Nabisco, which at the time was the largest in history.
LAMB: And what did that -- how many books did that sell?
BURROUGH: People always ask me that. and I honestly don`t know.
LAMB: Guess. I mean, what`s the range?
BURROUGH: Oh, over half a million, I suppose. It was on "The New York Times" best-seller list for about nine months. It was -- you know, it did well.
LAMB: Now, that turned out to be -- I saw a movie somewhere. Was that an HBO movie?
BURROUGH: It was an HBO movie.
LAMB: And how long after your book did that happen?
BURROUGH: The book was 1990, the movie, written by Larry Gelbart, was 1993. It was kind of a drawing room comedy. And it certainly, though, I have to say captured the spirit of the book.
LAMB: So what was that book in relationship to the year 2004? What`s happened in those 14 years? Did you capture something -- I remember "Bonfire of the Vanities" captured what happened to us in the country right before it happened.
BURROUGH: Well, the `80s were a period that felt of a time. There were a series of books that one would identify, saying as being identified, "Bonfire of the Vanities," Michael Lewis`s (ph) "Liar`s Poker," Jim Stewart`s (ph) "Den of Thieves," and I think happily, often "Barbarians at the Gate" would be thrown into that august company.
In 14 years, Wall Street, I think, has not changed that much. They always say that what -- Wall Street runs on two things, fear and greed. And there`s been no essential change in the human condition. However, in the 1980s, it was largely fueled by mergers and acquisitions, and Wall Street has gone on to -- while it still does those businesses, it does others that make just as much money.
LAMB: So that was 1990 for you?
BURROUGH: That was 1990.
LAMB: What were you doing then?
BURROUGH: I was a 27 -- 28-year-old reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."
LAMB: And how did it change your life?
BURROUGH: Immediately, it didn`t. I went back to work at "The Wall Street Journal" for several more years. And then ultimately, when I found that I liked writing at, candidly, longer lengths, to explore material at greater depth, decided to follow some peers and branch out into the magazine world, where you`re freer to spend large amounts of time writing books, as well, which is really my first love.
LAMB: And you say you have two boys?
BURROUGH: I have two boys.
LAMB: Live where?
BURROUGH: In Summit, New Jersey, about 20 minutes west of the Holland Tunnel.
LAMB: And your second book was what?
BURROUGH: It was called "Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra (ph)," which was the story of a smallish but at the time significant business scandal involving the American Express Company`s admission that it had planted libelous stories against one of its banking rivals, a man named Edmond Safra.
LAMB: Is there a pattern here to this, the kind of things that interest you? Is there a way to define...
BURROUGH: You know, I can`t say that it`s any particularly profound explanation for what I do. I think I`m attracted to the same subjects that so many writers are. I like a high degree of conflict, and I like a long, twisted narrative. I favor lots of characters with lots of different stages in which I can tell stories. Hopefully, you start with a number of threads, and as the book goes along, they wind tighter and tighter until it all ends on the same stage. That`s what you hope for.
LAMB: I hear a little Southern accent. Where`s it from?
BURROUGH: Central Texas.
BURROUGH: A town called Temple, which you may not have heard of, but you`ve probably heard of the nearest town to it, where I first worked, which is Waco, Texas.
LAMB: Where did you go to college?
BURROUGH: I went to the University of Missouri. And if you`re not from Missouri, the principal reason to attend the University of Missouri is the wonderful school of journalism.
LAMB: And your third book before this one?
BURROUGH: Was called "Dragonfly," and it was about the misadventures of the American astronauts aboard the Russian space station, Mir, which included a fairly dangerous -- well, the worst space fire in history, as well as a notorious incident in which the Russians crashed a spaceship into the side of it, knocked a hole in it and nearly killed two cosmonauts and an astronaut. For that, I spent a good deal of time at NASA, and to my everlasting pleasure, an awful lot of time with cosmonauts in Moscow and developed a real love for Russia. I keep thinking someday I`ll find something to send me back there and write another book there.
LAMB: That was `97-`98?
BURROUGH: The accident was `97, the book was at the end of `98. So this book, "Public Enemies," was about five-and-a-half years in the making.
LAMB: When did you know this was going to be a book? What turned you on to it?
BURROUGH: The initial -- I had always had an interest in Bonnie and Clyde. My grandfather was a deputy sheriff in northwest Arkansas in the early `30s and used to tell me stories when I was a child about manning roadblocks against them. And then I grew up in Temple, Texas, and found out that one of my best friend`s great uncles had been killed by Clyde Barrow on Christmas day, 1932, I believe it was.
And so I always had in the back of my mind that it was an interesting period, but it wasn`t until 1997, while I was doing another book, that I was watching one of these biographies or some type of documentary on the A&E cable channel. I didn`t think it was very good, but it was on the Ma Barker gang. And I found myself wondering, Well, when were they vis-a-vis Bonnie and Clyde? Went upstairs to the Internet, got on, did what everybody did, did a Google, found out that Ma Barker and Bonnie and Clyde were the same time. Well, I thought, When was Dillinger? Same time. Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, all the same time, the same -- not only the same time, the same 20-month period from, basically, the June of `33 to January of `35. I began doing preliminary research in 1997 and then decided to work on it full-time in 2000, beginning of 2000.
LAMB: Here`s a picture in here of the Kansas City massacre. What was it, and why was it so important?
BURROUGH: The Kansas City massacre was the triggering mechanism for this "war on crime" period that we`ve discussed.
LAMB: Where is this picture?
BURROUGH: That is in the parking lot at Kansas City`s Union Station. What happened there was, the morning of -- I believe it was June 17, 1933, a pair of FBI agents -- excuse me, several FBI agents and a pair of Kansas City police detectives were returning an escaped federal prisoner to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, when one of this -- the fellow they had was a bank robber named Frank Nash (ph) -- when one of his friends, named Vern Miller, and some of Miller`s compatriots appeared out of nowhere, yelled, Get up -- you know, Throw them up. A gun went off inside the car. A subsequent investigation realizes -- suggested it was probably someone`s gun misfiring or going off accidentally.
The gangsters outside opened fire, killed everyone in the car -- excuse me, killed five people, including Frank Nash and an FBI agent, only the third FBI agent killed in the line of duty. At which point, a number of things happened. J. Edgar Hoover said that he`d find the people, but more significantly, his boss, the attorney general, Homer Cummings (ph), used the Kansas City massacre as a pretext to announce a wide-ranging war on crime by the new Roosevelt administration.
This actually happened -- you`ve often heard about Roosevelt`s 100 days. This happened on day 101, and it began the federal government`s program to initiate a federal police force. And that`s -- the FBI had existed to that point, but it was really a shadow of what it was to become. And it was -- the book tells the story of how the FBI, through its conflicts with these outlaws that we`ve been discussing, really becomes the modern FBI, becomes the first true national police force.
LAMB: On my way to the office today, I was listening to Scott McClellan`s briefing on C-Span radio, and he -- all of a sudden, at one point, he said the chief mission of the FBI is counterterrorism. And I wonder how -- and I was thinking of your book. How much has it changed since the FBI started?
BURROUGH: Well, one thing you can say about the FBI is that it`s always reflected its time. If you wanted to -- I`m sure a press secretary in 1934 could have said, Our chief mission is -- in other words, the FBI`s chief mission has changed as the demands on it have changed. We`re right now in what`s called the war on terror. This book addresses the first "war on," and it was the war on crime.
There are a number of parallels between the two that I`ve been asked about. One is, obviously, right now, there have been some calls for reorganizing the FBI. The "war on crime" period during the 1930s, during this 20-month period we`re discussing, there was very much the same. There was an immediate reorganization in the wake of the Kansas City massacre.
At the time, just as a quick aside, the FBI had -- its agents had neither powers to make arrests, nor were they authorized to carry firearms. So in the wake of the Kansas City massacre, there was a wholesale reorganization in which they were given guns, they were sent out for the first time looking for kidnappers and bank robbers. And as the book shows, it was a pretty ugly time. But ultimately, with the advent of a second, quieter, behind-the-scenes reorganization, the FBI was triumphant.
And I`ve suggested without probably offering profound insight into the FBI today that the FBI reorganized itself to combat a national threat effectively before, and while it`s a much more complex threat today, one would like to believe it can do so again.
LAMB: Have any idea how many agents there were in 1933?
BURROUGH: I know in 1929, there were 339. So you`re talking in the range of 300 to 500. And by the time this was over, there were, you know, north of 1,000.
LAMB: And how many now?
BURROUGH: I don`t know.
LAMB: I know I`ve seen figures like 12,000, 14,000, something -- a large number like that.
BURROUGH: That strikes a chord.
LAMB: And at this -- in 1933, Kansas City massacre, what was this man doing?
BURROUGH: This is J. Edgar Hoover, who was at that point a nobody. He was head of not the FBI, but the Justice Department`s Bureau of Investigation. If it was to be given an acronym, it was just the BI. His FBI is -- I go ahead and call it, just to avoid confusion -- was responsible for handling a grab bag of minor federal crimes, things on the order of crime on Indian reservations, crimes in Alaska, this type of thing -- basically, nothing that the public was concerned with.
What began -- what set the stage for this -- you know, the war with the likes of John Dillinger, was the passage of the Lindbergh law in 1932, which gave the FBI responsibility for tracking down interstate kidnappers. And the war on crime was initially -- the first handful of big-name criminals that they went after were kidnappers.
LAMB: And J. Edgar Hoover lasted until what year?
BURROUGH: Died in 1972, still in office, began in 1924. This book is nine years into his tenure as head of the FBI. It came at a time when he was, many people believe, about to lose his job, and the war on crime kept it for him.
LAMB: You say this man is the most famous operative in FBI history, Melvin Purvis.
BURROUGH: Probably my favorite person to write about in the book. I hasten to say "character" because these are real people. Mr. Purvis only died in 1960. Melvin Purvis was the head of the Chicago`s -- excuse me -- the FBI`s Chicago office at the time the war on crime began in 1933. He was, I think, as their personal correspondence demonstrates, probably Hoover`s favorite SAC, as they call, SAC for Special Agent in Charge.
He was also, this book argues, pretty miserable. He was a wonderful person, well-meaning, but he was very young. I think, as events show, certainly, as the FBI`s own files show, he made a lot of mistakes. This was a fellow who was kind of thrown in to lead the hunt for Dillinger and others, and you just couldn`t quibble with the fact that the FBI did a pretty miserable job. It was not until -- Purvis was not replaced, but until someone was put above him, a headquarters desk man named Sam Kelly (ph), that the FBI was able to bring in the likes of Dillinger.
LAMB: And in this picture, you have J. Edgar Hoover on the left...
LAMB: ... Melvin Purvis on the right. Is it Earl Connally (ph)?
BURROUGH: Earl Connally at the bottom right, who was...
LAMB: I`m talking about -- who`s in the middle of the picture above?
BURROUGH: That was just a Justice Department attorney who happened to show up in the middle of the picture.
LAMB: And then down here you have?
BURROUGH: That`s Earl Connally at the bottom...
LAMB: And who was he?
BURROUGH: ... right, as I look at it. He was the head of the FBI Cincinnati office. And he also ended up -- because of the death and reassignments of some FBI agents by the end of this 20-month period, ended up being the FBI`s last war-time field general.
LAMB: When was the "Bonnie and Clyde" movie made?
BURROUGH: In 1967.
LAMB: Who was in it?
BURROUGH: Warren Beatty as Clyde, Bonnie -- Fay Dunaway as Bonnie.
LAMB: Was it accurate?
BURROUGH: Interesting -- that`s a wonderful question to ask. You can look at some of the incidents, and the facts are almost accurate. As a whole, the spirit is wholly inaccurate. That movie portrayed Bonnie and Clyde as kind of fun-loving, sexually frustrated rebels. In fact, they were nothing of the sort, as the book shows. Clyde was a burglar who turned into a serial murderer. Bonnie, the movie may have gotten somewhat closer. She was basically a deluded housewife, had been abandoned by her layabout husband and was laying around the house in Dallas, doing the likes of babysitting, when she ran into Clyde and became fixated on him, that he had an adventurous life that she longed for.
Bonnie herself never -- as far as we can tell, never robbed a bank, never did anything more criminal than sit in getaway cars. But Clyde killed an awful lot of people, something on the order of, I forget, 9, 10, 11, 12 lawmen. He was a murderer.
LAMB: Where were they from?
BURROUGH: Bonnie and Clyde were from Dallas. Both their parents had come from rural Texas and settled in tough areas of Dallas in the 1920s. They went out and kind of became Bonnie and Clyde just about late 1932, and they ended up -- you know, Bonnie and Clyde had no -- they had no base of operations. Their story, in fact, has no discernible arc. They just wandered. They just ran around, criss-crossing an area loosely defined, probably, I would say, by Mississippi, Minnesota on the north, New Mexico on the west, with most of their time spent in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana.
Basically, they just drove and drove and drove. They`d rob a drugstore or gas station when they ran out of money. They were awful small-time. If you look at, say, the Barker gang, which managed to get six-figure ransoms in some cases, $200,000 during the Depression, the best testament of Clyde Barrow`s biggest haul in one day was a bank he managed to rob where he got the princely sum of $3,800.
They were not even terribly famous during their time. They were famous in Dallas, where they were page one news. Outside Texas, into Lesserston (ph), Oklahoma, they might be a sidebar in a story that a northern paper might do on Dillinger. But it was not until their deaths, which actually happened at the height of the hysteria over John Dillinger, that they made the front page of "The New York Times."
LAMB: How did they die?
BURROUGH: They died when the FBI expressed no interest in going after them because they were so small. At -- one of the turning points in their career came when, in January, 1934, Clyde was running out of people he could trust and he needed a partner to rob banks with. He wanted to become a bank man, finally. He was tired of drug stores.
He and another fellow staged a raid on a prison farm in east Texas to spring one of his old partners, named Raymond Hamilton. And during the escape, one of the guards was shot and killed. As a result, the head of the Texas prison system went out and found a recently retired Texas legend, a Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer (ph), who in the course of three, four months, I guess it was, tracked them down, and along with four other local lawmen, shot them.
BURROUGH: Northwest Louisiana.
LAMB: Why did it make front page of "The New York Times"?
BURROUGH: Interesting story. I suggest in the book -- in fact, I say in the book that at the time, if you look at this universe of bad guys that we`re talking about -- Dillinger, Floyd and Nelson, names that people know -- I would ascribe -- ascribing a celebrity level of all of these is like, let`s say, 3 out of 10. Dillinger was a 9. Everybody else was a 3. Dillinger was -- almost all the rest can be seen as a satellite of Dillinger.
And I believe that the evidence shows that Bonnie and Clyde`s posthumous notoriety was almost solely a result of Dillinger`s at the time. They were shot and killed at the height of Dillinger mania. And it`s pretty clear that, you know, newspaper editors were looking for a trend, and they knew that people were very interested in this type of thing right now. Nobody had even heard of Bonnie, really, at the time. Her fame was almost all posthumous. This was -- at the time, it was called the Barrow gang. This whole notion of Bonnie and Clyde really came up later.
LAMB: Why do movies change the facts?
BURROUGH: Because moviemakers have stories that they want to tell. If you want to tell the facts, you make something called a documentary.
LAMB: So they don`t have a responsibility to the truth?
BURROUGH: It`s great when you get -- if you get movie people in that discussion, they will inevitably come around to the explanation that they believe that their idea serves as the spirit of the truth. One of the great examples would be the movie -- an FBI movie, "Mississippi Burning," which showed the deaths of the three Civil Rights workers in Mississippi. The facts were not correct. But I remember listening to the director say that it serviced -- it was true to the spirit of the story. And I think that`s inevitably what you find. When people want to tell the truth, it`s called a documentary.
LAMB: How did HBO do with your "Barbarians at the Gate"?
BURROUGH: There were so many lawyers on that that it came out accurate. There were two or three scenes in which things were encapsulated. They created a fanciful square dance scene of all the major characters at a Wall Street party to show the types of romancing that was going on financially. But I remember -- because I had -- my partner, John Hillier (ph), and I had so little involvement in the making of the movie, I can remember actually sitting in the opening that was had for the financial press -- all our peers and friends at "The New York Times" -- we were both reporters at "The Wall Street Journal" then -- saying -- just leaning over to John and saying, You know, if this is bad, we`re going to be really embarrassed! And it was not bad.
LAMB: By the way, John Hillier wrote just one book with you?
BURROUGH: We wrote one book together, and he is now a writer at "Fortune" and writes his own books. And he`s really good.
LAMB: "Barbarians at the Gate," again, for those that may not remember, revolved around what real-life characters?
BURROUGH: The main characters were the CEO of the company, Ross Johnson (ph), the CEO of RJR Nabisco. His principal antagonist was Henry Kravis, who was kind of the king of leveraged buy-outs at that point.
LAMB: Kohlberg (ph) Kravis?
BURROUGH: Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Company, it was called at the time. I believe they`ve since changed their names to KKR. And then Johnson`s two partners were a very combative sort named Peter Cohen (ph) and Peter Cohen`s boss, the CEO of American Express, Jim Robinson (ph), and his wife, Linda (ph), who was a PR person.
LAMB: What happened to -- is it Ross Johnson?
LAMB: What happened to him?
BURROUGH: Retired very wealthy.
LAMB: And what happened to the company?
BURROUGH: Retired not so wealthy. The company was ultimately -- has been ultimately cut into pieces by KKR, as it`s tended to make money by selling the pieces over the last 15 years.
LAMB: Here`s another face and another name that I know I`ve heard all my life, Machine Gun Kelly and his wife, Catherine (ph).
BURROUGH: That`s right. Real name, George F. Barnes (ph), born in Memphis, never -- nothing like his nickname. You know...
LAMB: He looks pretty spiffy here.
BURROUGH: You hit -- well, he did manage to put on a coat and tie for the trial that sent him away. But Machine Gun Kelly, I say in the book, was probably the most inept of the six or eight major criminals that we`re talking about. The nickname just does not do his personality justice.
This was a guy who was much more -- he was a bootlegger, a society bootlegger, who basically saw how much money some of his friends -- he had just gotten out of Leavenworth in 1930 -- were making, so he decided to become a bank robber. Tried some kidnappings. He was pretty bad at it. In one case, he kidnapped a gentleman in South Bend, Indiana, supposedly found his name out of a phone book. Unfortunately, the gentleman`s family didn`t have any money, so Machine Gun Kelly had to let the guy go and let him go home.
He was a bundle of nerves, so nervous before some bank jobs, it`s said, that he gave himself extra time so he could go to the side and vomit.
LAMB: Catherine Kelly -- what role did she play?
BURROUGH: Not quite so clear. This being Machine Gun Kelly`s wife. She became a real favorite of J. Edgar Hoover`s -- in other words, a favorite of -- to demonize. Hoover, after the fact, painted a picture of Catherine Kelly as Machine Gun Kelly`s Svengali, his -- kind of underground press agent, the woman who created the Machine Gun Kelly myth. That may be. I really can`t prove or disprove it. Catherine did like to brag about him, especially when she drank, and she was a hopeless alcoholic.
But you know, she was no more a Svengali here than Ma Barker was. She was just very happy with her husband. And the FBI was very lucky that of the major criminals that came to -- that came to notoriety in `33 and `34 he was the first one that they came into conflict with and ended up by far being the easiest to track down and defeat.
LAMB: What happened to him in the end?
BURROUGH: In the end, he was captured, along with Catherine, at dawn one morning at a house in Memphis, Tennessee, shipped off to a quick trial in Oklahoma City, went to Leavenworth, ultimately went to Alcatraz, died of a heart attack in 1954.
LAMB: Now, you start this book with a prologue datelined 1979 in Tormalino (ph), Spain.
LAMB: You don`t tell us who it is.
BURROUGH: No. The book starts off by telling you the story of an old gangster, someone who is living on the coast of Spain in 1979. And I wanted to do, obviously, two things with this. It`s a very short prologue. It`s only three or four pages. I wanted to show two things, one was to link this period to the present, to show people that this is not the Wild West.
This is -- you know, at the time these events were happening, Ronald Reagan was 22 years old. George Bush and Jimmy Carter were in elementary school. This is not 100 years ago. This was 70 years ago. And by starting the book in 1979, I wanted to show that people alive in `79 were active players in 1933.
The other thing I wanted to achieve by not telling you who this person is, is to make you read to the end of the book to find out who he is. And you find out just at the very end.
LAMB: And we`re not about to tell them now.
BURROUGH: It`s your show, sir.
LAMB: Did you talk to this person?
BURROUGH: This person is now dead.
LAMB: Where did you get this dialogue, this narrative?
BURROUGH: This person, before his death, ghost-wrote two books. Both of them, it turned out, were -- they were not told chronologically, they were kind of impressionistic memoirs. At the time, they were not bestsellers or anything. They kind of came out and were ignored, and one of the first things I did back in 2000 when I started my research was on a hunch I tracked down the ghost writer. He was dead. I tracked down his wife, who lived in rural Canada and asked her, are there -- were their tape-recordings, were there transcripts of the tape-recordings? Yes. Over, I think, on the order of 2,000 pages, which had, as we used to say in the newspaper trade, tons of new stuff.
LAMB: Five and a half years on this book.
LAMB: How do you live? How do you raise -- you know, how do you afford to raise your family and all that in the middle of all this?
BURROUGH: My day job, thankfully, is with "Vanity Fair" magazine, which is a wonderful place to work, both in terms of the freedom they give you and the freedom they give you to pursue articles you like and books you like. So you know, you work as much as you need to, to fulfill your requirements to your primary employer, and every spare minute that is -- that does not go into being a husband or raising two little boys, you put into research for a book that you love. And you have to love it, because you cannot -- you know, the recipe for disaster is you go lock yourself in a room, figuratively, for five and a half years and find out you don`t love the material, you`re in a lot of trouble.
LAMB: And this is a private question, you don`t have to answer it, but can you live on the money you make out of "Vanity Fair" in case you don`t have a book going?
BURROUGH: Yes, it pays the mortgage.
LAMB: Here`s another name. I know I`ve heard this name all my life, Babyface Nelson.
BURROUGH: Actually that`s Pretty Boy Floyd.
LAMB: I`m sorry.
LAMB: I can`t keep track of them.
BURROUGH: More people get those two confused, because of the similarity of their nicknames.
LAMB: Pretty Boy Floyd.
BURROUGH: Pretty Boy Floyd, at the time that the war on crime begins in June of 1933 is really the only one of these figures that we`re discussing that was at all famous, and then only in his home state of Oklahoma. He had been an active bank robber there for about a year. And he became the primary suspect in the Kansas City massacre, the killings that initiated the war on crime.
He was -- the most notable thing about Floyd you`d say was the real profound sense of victimization that he harbored, and that his family, extended family there in eastern Oklahoma, were always ready to trot out. I mean, Pretty Boy Floyd was a first class whiner. Type of guy who is always saying, I`m a criminal because I just wasn`t given a chance, you know? I made a mistake when I was a kid, they sent me to prison. In his case he robbed a Kroger store in St. Louis and sent him to the pen at Jeff City, Missouri, and when he came out, the police just wouldn`t leave me alone. You know...
LAMB: Pretty Boy Floyd.
BURROUGH: Yes. Given the nickname, the best information is by a girlfriend`s mother.
LAMB: And what happened to him?
BURROUGH: Ultimately, a really good story. Pretty Boy Floyd spends most of the book and most of the war on crime off stage. After the Kansas City massacre, in which he slowly emerges as one of the principal suspects, he disappears so utterly that the FBI does not field any usable information on him for well over a year. It is only when Hoover, in the fall of 1934 in what becomes the waning months of the war on crime, announces that this outlaw that no one in the East had ever heard of, Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, was responsible for the Kansas City massacre, does Floyd leave his place of hiding.
As luck would have it, in this case pretty bad luck, he had been hiding in a garage apartment in Buffalo, New York for over a year. Leaves there one morning for -- before daylight, with his partner and their two girlfriends, and within nine hours has a car wreck that leaves him marooned in a little town in Ohio, where he is ultimately flushed out by the local sheriff, and within 72 hours the FBI arrives, chases him down, kills him.
BURROUGH: There are -- there is -- he and his partner, Adam Richetti, after they have car trouble, are sitting there on the hillside waiting for some mechanics to fix the car. A local sheriff becomes suspicious of them, tries to take him in to the jail for questioning. Floyd pulls a gun. There`s a brief gun fight. That leads to a 72-hour manhunt, during which witnesses identify Floyd, FBI agents fly in from around the country. They ultimately, by going door to door on these farm roads, they ultimately spot him outside a farmhouse, literally jump out of the car yelling "stop, FBI, Floyd," you know, stop, classic gangster type movie. It`s the one -- it`s probably the one scene in Pretty Boy Floyd movies they get right. He takes off running across the cornfield. They shoot him.
LAMB: Is that why we know all these names, or at least somebody like me knows all these names, because they`ve all had movies made after them?
BURROUGH: I think that`s the greatest reason are the movies. Also, three or four of them had pretty good nicknames. I mean, I think 19 out of 20 people you and I might talk to on the street don`t have any sense who Pretty Boy Floyd is or who Babyface Nelson is, but they`ve heard the name. They may not even know what time period.
I would say that the biggest one of them all by far at the time was John Dillinger. Yet Dillinger`s notoriety has, I think, diminished over the years, in part because he never came up with a good nickname.
LAMB: Now, you`ve got Pretty Boy Floyd`s picture, but no Babyface Nelson`s picture.
BURROUGH: There is a -- there is a Nelson in the front of the book. I was concerned that there are so many characters in the book, so many outlaws...
LAMB: Oh, I know what you`re talking about, yes.
BURROUGH: ... we`re talking about five or six storylines, that I actually did something that I`ve never -- that I`ve not seen in the book before, and that is, I not only wanted a cast of characters, I wanted a picture near each of the cast of characters. And because Nelson`s photos weren`t particularly good, we ended up putting a photo of him there, but I`m not sure there is one in the other photo section of the book.
LAMB: Yes, and he`s on the left here in this group. And you can just see, you`ve done this for all others. There`s the Dillinger gang, the whole group of them, and then on the other page over here, you`ve got the Barrow gang.
BURROUGH: The Barker-Karpis gang, and I pretty much -- I think we`ve got something like 52 photos there, and it`s attached to about six maps.
LAMB: Now, the name I was most unfamiliar with was Karpis. Who was Al Karpis?
BURROUGH: Alvin Karpis was -- is the major gangster from the `30s, that is, I think by far the least known. And yet I would judge him to be the smartest of all of the, let`s say, 10 major figures that we`re talking about. He was one of two burglars from rural Oklahoma and Kansas.
LAMB: Is this him on the left?
BURROUGH: That`s him on the right -- or excuse me, on the left, I guess, is the person who`s looking -- he`s in the hat.
LAMB: In the hat, on the right then?
BURROUGH: The right...
LAMB: He`s on the right-hand side. Who is the fellow with the hand up to his face?
BURROUGH: A U.S. marshal, I believe, taking him into a courtroom.
LAMB: And this is Alvin Karpis.
BURROUGH: K-a-r-p-i-s. He was one of, as I say, two burglars who ran the Barker gang, or as Karpis liked to call it, the Barker-Karpis gang, and they probably brought in more money than any other of this group of criminals that comprised the war on crime. They were the ones who pulled off not one but two separate six-figure kidnappings at the height of the Depression. They were the last -- they were the last ones to fall. They were the last ones the FBI brought in.
LAMB: You have a picture of Doc Barker, and you say he was a moron?
BURROUGH: Yes, he was a borderline moron. Estimated IQ -- I know I`m going to get pressed on this, but I want to say around 95. The Barker gang was Karpis, the brothers Fred and Doc Barker, and about a half dozen of their friends from Tulsa. They entered the big time when in late 1931, having inadvertently killed a sheriff in southern Missouri, they got scared and they ran to the crime capital of the Midwest, St. Paul, Minnesota.
LAMB: And this is Alvin Karpis on the right?
BURROUGH: That`s right. And it was in St. Paul that their ambitions turned them into first-rate criminals.
LAMB: Did they kill anybody?
BURROUGH: They killed -- Alvin Karpis is believed to kill one person. He always denied it, because there was no statute of limitation for murder. His two partners -- the Barker brothers were far less discriminating, and they killed over a half dozen people.
LAMB: What happened to Alvin Karpis in the end?
BURROUGH: He died during the 1970s. Oh, he ultimately was convicted of kidnapping, went to Alcatraz. He was, in fact, I believe the longest serving prisoner in the history of Alcatraz. And was ultimately released from prison, just about the time of the "Bonnie and Clyde" movie in `67, `68, `69, right in there. And there were these funny stories of him coming out of prison, kind of eyes blinking and people yelling, hey, you are going to go see "Bonnie and Clyde?" And you half expected him to say no, I thought they were dead. And he ultimately died in the `70s in retirement.
LAMB: By the way, these folks are buried around the country. Is there any -- did they make any special effort to show them in any way?
BURROUGH: No. In fact, their graves are easy to find and hard to find. Bonnie Parker`s is easy to find. It sits at a major intersection in the north part of Dallas. She`s got a Hollywood Video to the left, an H&R Block to the right. Machine Gun Kelly, it took me most of a day searching around northern Texas to find a small rural cemetery. When I finally found the cemetery, he had a brick -- just a brick, with his name misspelled. The grave sites are as varied as the people themselves.
The only one with really any flourish, any sense of a-ha, I`m here, is Dillinger`s gravesite, which is -- it`s in Indianapolis` Crown Hill National Cemetery, a vast cemetery, and it`s a four-foot obelisk with the name "Dillinger" and two ivy-like decorative flourishes.
LAMB: And literally just a stone`s throw from Benjamin Harrison?
BURROUGH: I don`t know how close -- I believe Harrison is in the next -- just across the street, yes.
LAMB: But I mention this because you have a story about in the acknowledgements a story about a woman who is buried not too far away from John Dillinger. I want to get into the Dillinger story. Why is she buried there and why did you mention it?
BURROUGH: Just a funny little story I heard when I went to visit the grave. I was talking about, well, is the -- I had asked the people that ran the cemetery, is this -- is this a tourist attraction, do people come? And the answer was, come? People clamor to be buried near him. I said, oh, come on. And they said, no, and they called up the records of this woman, I believe her last name was Grubb -- g-r-u-b-b -- and she had clamored for years to get the nearest open gravesite to Dillinger`s, just to be near him in death, even though she had done nothing more than read about him over the years. And there she -- I found her, she`s buried 20 graves away, with her name, you know, beloved mother, all the normal stuff, and at the very bottom it has the initials J.D., just someone who was part of the unofficial John Dillinger fan club.
LAMB: Who was John Dillinger -- and here`s a picture from where?
BURROUGH: That is from Dillinger`s arrest and pending trial in Crown Point, Indiana, in February 1934.
LAMB: While you`re mentioning Crown Point, he escaped.
BURROUGH: He did.
LAMB: How? From the Crown Point jail.
BURROUGH: He did. He, having been captured in Tucson, Arizona, and brought back to Indiana for a trial of the only man he probably ever killed, a detective, in a bank robbery there that January, Dillinger had an awful lot of schemes, including dynamiting his way out of the jail, all sorts of things. Ultimately, it appears that a man that worked for his lawyer had someone whittle a wooden gun, smuggled it in to him, just a little fake little gun, and Dillinger used it to take one of the guards prisoner, used that guard to take some other guards prisoner, and then got their guns. And ultimately got away.
LAMB: Now, even the fact that the wooden gun -- I mean, you have a footnote that goes to further explain the wooden gun. It`s still in dispute?
BURROUGH: Yes, and I`m not quite sure why, because it`s very clear that it happened. It`s one of these stories that I think people always believe was too good to be true. There are a number of I think decent accounts of Dillinger`s that just refused to believe that he got out with a wooden gun.
Now, the FBI file on all this are available. You can tell very clearly that`s what it was. There were people that, you know, that, while he was using it, who saw it, the people who had it pressed into their back. You know, and actually after Dillinger succeeded -- I believe the day was March 3, 1934, with taking seven or eight guards hostage and locking them into cells, he put -- he took the gun out, tapped it up against the cell doors and said, "here`s how tough your jail is, I did it all with this."
LAMB: Who was he?
BURROUGH: John Dillinger was, like a lot of these people we`re talking about, Pretty Boy Floyd, Clyde Barrow, was a layabout. In Dillinger`s case, in the small town of Mooresville, Indiana.
LAMB: And he`s here on the right.
BURROUGH: That`s correct.
LAMB: And this picture, you say, irritated J. Edgar Hoover.
BURROUGH: Oh, it irritated a generation of lawmen, none more than J. Edgar Hoover, because the man on his left was named Estill -- e-s-t-i-l-l -- and he was scheduled to prosecute Mr. Dillinger for murder. Never got the case. But that level of familiarization and fraternization just enraged Hoover.
LAMB: How old would John Dillinger have been in this picture?
BURROUGH: Just before his 30th birthday. Looks older.
LAMB: And where was he -- what was he doing at this point?
BURROUGH: At this point he had just been captured, along with his entire gang, in Tucson, Arizona. Part of the reason for Dillinger`s fame, not only had to do with his personality, and that was he was a charming, easy-going guy who liked to crack jokes in the middle of his -- his robberies, but the fact that he was, unlike all of the others that we`re talking about, the Pretty Boy Floyds and the Babyface Nelsons, in the middle of all this, near the height of his fame, Dillinger was captured. He was brought in. For three or four weeks, reporters were able to talk to him, take his picture, take news reels.
It introduced him to a way where northern audiences, in fact, shoot, the whole world was able to feel like they knew him, as opposed to people like Floyd and Nelson who were just funny names. Nobody in pictures. People never got a chance to see them until they saw their corpse.
Dillinger, one of the things that really made him special to people was, not only an underdog quality at a time where a lot of people felt he was just fighting authority -- at the time, people across the country were angry at authority -- I think the fact that he was captured and interviewed, you know, people were able to see him and get a sense that they knew him.
LAMB: A man sat in that chair a number of years ago who you quote often in this book. He is now deceased, John Toland, the famous historian, and you say in `63 he wrote a book that was very important to this whole story of John Dillinger.
BURROUGH: John Toland`s book, and you know, I think in the litany of Toland books, it might even be considered a minor book, considering how important some of his others were, but in the world of, you know, 20th century criminal history, Toland`s 1963 "Dillinger`s Days" I think is singular.
At a time where most of what was written about these figures, the Nelsons and the Kellys, was pulp stuff, wholly unreliable, Toland tended to introduce rigor and some discipline to this. He actually was able to parachute in and interview some FBI agents who were still alive. Alas, they were not for me. The last member of the Dillinger squad died in 1996. And Toland`s book is probably 90 percent focused on Dillinger, and it deals with the others glancingly. And I was inspired seeing Toland`s book, because I realized that in the ensuing 40 years, there have been an awful lot -- an awful lot of new information, including the FBI`s case files, that have been released, where you could take -- what -- Toland`s was really -- I don`t want to say bare bones, but there are just so many layers of detail that enveloped -- that you`re able to envelope the story with now, that I saw this as kind of -- not a sequel to "Dillinger Days," but an updating.
LAMB: A Little Bohemia, what`s the story?
BURROUGH: Little Bohemia was probably the dramatic climax of the narrative of the war on crime. At the height of the Dillinger hysteria in April 1934, Dillinger and his gang, including Pretty Boy -- excuse me, including Babyface Nelson, three others and their girlfriends, took refuge at a remote lodge in far northern Wisconsin called Little Bohemia. They basically were going to stay for a weekend. On Sunday morning, the owners and their family, realizing that it was Dillinger, they recognized them from photos, called the FBI in Chicago. The FBI said it would get there as soon as it could. It got there that night.
LAMB: By the way, how did it get there?
BURROUGH: It got there -- different agents got there in different ways. The largest contingent flew up from Chicago, flown by a pilot who was using a road map to get them there. It was kind of scary, but about half the agents were scared to fly. They had never flown. They were scared to go up in one of those.
LAMB: This was `34.
BURROUGH: Yes, it was. It was `34. And about half of them were scared to fly, and so they drove up from St. Paul. And unfortunately, it was that group that took the tear gas guns and the bulletproof vests, which was to have a significant effect on the evening`s outcome.
BURROUGH: Well, what happened was -- the context of this, you have to remember the FBI had -- these guys had just been carrying guns for barely six months. The handful of occasions where they had attempted to use them in open combat with criminals had each gone very bad, very badly, and this was a case in which 22 FBI agents were showing up at a remote Wisconsin lodge, pitch dark, in which there were five heavily armed criminals. Criminals, you know, armed with Thompson guns, et cetera. They -- and it was a debacle.
To make a very long and I think terribly entertaining story short, the FBI attempted to surround the lodge. It was unable to before Dillinger and the rest were able to jump out of the back of the lodge and make their way into the woods.
The problem was, the FBI didn`t think anybody got out of the lodge. And so they sat there and surrounded it for a better part -- well, until dawn. At which point Dillinger and everyone else got away. But during the evening -- you know, it just went from worse to worse. I mean, at one point, a group of people -- at the very outset, a group of people who had been at the lodge to eat dinner tried to leave. The FBI thought they were gangsters. They opened fire, they killed one of them, wounded another. And another time FBI agents had gone to nearby homes to call for reinforcements, to call for bulletproof vests, this type of thing. At one point, a car full of lawmen, including FBI agents, showed up at one of these neighboring homes, at which point a young man ran out, raised a submachine gun and opened fire on them, and that turned out to be Babyface Nelson.
It ended up with one FBI man killed, one civilian killed, and all the bad guys got away.
LAMB: Anna Sage in this picture on the right. Who is she?
BURROUGH: You would know her best as the Lady in Red. That`s what history knows her. I think we show that, in fact, she was -- I guess you would call her the lady in orange skirt, would have been more accurate. She was the woman who was a madam in northern Indiana and later in Chicago, who betrayed John Dillinger.
LAMB: And what`s the importance of the Biograph Theater in Chicago?
BURROUGH: The Biograph Theater is the theater where Dillinger attended a movie on a Sunday evening, July 22, 1934, in attendance with Anna Sage and a mutual friend of theirs, the girl Dillinger was dating. It was upon Dillinger`s exit from that theater that the FBI shot him.
LAMB: You included a picture -- two pictures of dead people in here. One of them is -- one of John Dillinger. Any reason particularly why you put this photo in?
BURROUGH: There may have been at the time. It escapes me at the moment.
LAMB: How about the one above it, of Bonnie?
BURROUGH: I don`t -- I think one of the few reasons for wanting to put in -- look, no one wants to put in grisly photos just for the sake of being grisly, but I think so many of the photos that you see of these people have them -- are the photos that they took of themselves, posing with guns and fat cigars and things like that, and it looks kind of dashing, and it looks kind of heroic and romantic. And you put those photos in of a dead body, as tasteful as you can make it, and you realize, these were human lives, both, you know -- theirs and others that were taken.
You know, it irks me when you see documentaries that kind of unnecessarily romanticize these gangsters. I mean, there are people out there now -- they may be in their 60s and 70s -- whose parents were killed by these people. One of my central aims in the book was to reclaim this war on crime period for the lawmen who fought it, because one of the things that bugged me personally, and I`m not quite sure why, was that the John Dillingers and Clyde Barrows of the world are free -- excuse me, are famous, are legends, but do you know who Charles Winstead is, do you know how Clarence Hurt is? No. Those are the two FBI agents who shot Dillinger, who worked their rear ends off for months chasing all these, and yet they remain, you know, largely anonymous.
LAMB: Did J. Edgar Hoover actually ever himself apprehend one of these criminals?
BURROUGH: Good question. During the war on crime itself, Hoover did not, during `33 and `34. At that point, in `33 and `34, when the main part was opened -- over, there was only one criminal, major criminal still at large, and that was Alvin Karpis who we discussed. And Karpis was still at large in early 1936, when Hoover walked into a budget hearing, a Senate budget hearing. And at the time, in the wake of the war on crime, the FBI was getting an awful lot of positive publicity. G-men movies and comic strips and the like. And this had gotten a certain amount of backlash from people who were angry that they were getting so famous.
And a Tennessee senator went after Hoover pretty tough in this budget committee hearing, and his main point was Mr. Hoover, you`ve never actually made an arrest, have you? And Hoover had to admit that he hadn`t, he had only supervised agents who had.
Well, that day Mr. Hoover went back to his phone -- went back to his office, got on the phone, called the special agent who was in charge of the Karpis manhunt, and his message was clear, he wanted Alvin Karpis brought in, he wanted it done right now, and he wanted to do it himself.
LAMB: Did he?
BURROUGH: He was present at the arrest. Hoover insisted he made the arrest, and the newspapers took his version and ran with it. Karpis later insisted that he had not done the arrest. Actually come down and find the truth is somewhere in between, that, in fact, it was not Hoover who kind of pointed a gun and said stick `em up, but he arrived within five or 10 seconds and was an integral part of the arrest, if not the cutting edge of it.
LAMB: It`s clear, from reading your book, that you have a feeling about J. Edgar Hoover now that you`ve done this book. What would that be?
BURROUGH: Well, I have to tell you, one shouldn`t be sensitive to the opinions of one`s peers in writing one of these, and I didn`t -- I was not overly sensitive, but I was concerned that I might be criticized for being a little too positive about Hoover. It is hard to find a word written about J. Edgar Hoover these days that does not portray the man as a megalomaniac. That may have been true, but during this period, this was before the period that you could argue that absolute power corrupted him absolutely. This was a period that is the becoming, the creation of J. Edgar Hoover, the creation of the modern FBI. And whatever the abuses, and I certainly wouldn`t argue, of the civil rights area and later era, later eras, one cannot and should not dispute the incredible level of professionalism that Hoover not just brought to the FBI, but introduced, really, to American law enforcement with the FBI.
He did an amazing job. He was not particularly pleasant about it. FBI agents could literally be suspended if they were one minute late for work. There were incidents where that happened. Hoover`s agents lived and operated in fear of him. But the man got results.
LAMB: Toughest thing to write in this book?
BURROUGH: Toughest thing of writing the book, knowing when to stop. Ultimately, this was the first time I had ever had a manuscript that was a little too long. And I worked with a wonderful editor at Penguin Press named Scott Moyers, who helped me trim it back to a more manageable, I think streamlined level.
My -- I believe deep in my heart that this was good work, that I was making a significant contribution to this period, however significant you may feel the period was, but I couldn`t be certain about readability. I was just too close to it. And I think now -- I feel like it`s very readable.
LAMB: Next book?
BURROUGH: Unclear. I just don`t know. I generally give myself about a year before I worry about that.
LAMB: Bryan Burrough is our guest, and this is the cover of the book. It`s "Public Enemies," all about the `33, `34 war on crime. Thank you very much.
BURROUGH: Thank you.
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