Photo of the Day

1933 Wilbur Underhill Shootout: (L to R) Firearms Instructors, SA “Jerry” Campbell, Unknown, and SA John Vincent taking part in a filming by Universal at Quantico firing range during the mid 1930s.

FBI Beginnings ..

FOR THE HONOuR OF THEIR FATHERS…

“…. You don’t know what hell is until you are a young housewife in Chicago with a 3-month old child and your husband gets a call to throw some clothes in a bag and go to Wisconsin at once. Later that evening a radio bulletin said that 2 unidentified FBI agents had been killed in Wisconsin. The wife of the agent across the hall and I called the Bureau headquarters all night trying frantically to find out if we were widows…….When you have gone through that you will have been through hell.” (Judge Don Metcalfe, son of SA James Metcalfe, recalls his mother’s words.)

The Depression Era’s war on crime came on hard, and it came on fast. To say that formal firearms and investigative training was still in its infancy is an understatement. As Judge Don Metcalfe said in a 2009 telephone interview, “It wasn’t until months after the Kansas City Massacre in 1933 that my father had to learn how to shoot a gun and drive a car.”

The 1920s claimed the lives of two FBI agents. Between 1933 and 1934 alone, four FBI agents would be dead, and others wounded by the wretched bastards they pursued. By decade’s end, four more agents would be added to the list of those lost. Policemen, sheriffs and detectives who worked with or without the Bureau were no less vulnerable.

Bureau agents and others who fought the 1930’s war on crime didn’t understand how much all of it would tax their home lives. Their remarkable bravery overshadowed the haunted thoughts that they may make widows of their wives and leave their children fatherless. What records of both theirs and official that can be found reveal the enduring and relentless fatigue of extremely long hours; of being in one city one day and another the next. The all night driving or the seemingly limitless Pullman train rides. Boring and endless stakeouts; false leads and mistaken identities.  At times, on the move with only the clothing on their backs. Only to bed down in some motel or private room in a remote corner of a dusty, dry America or a grimy industrial city. There would be days and weeks away from their wives, their children and their friends who would have no idea of where they were or what they were doing. For many, the chase offered the best meal it could; a hardened sandwich and a cup or two of some diner’s rancid coffee.

Prior to 1908, the Justice Department had no organized force of investigators to gather evidence. It relied on detectives hired from the Secret Service and, for a while private detectives. Under President Theodore Roosevelt, this began to change. The vigorous application of older laws and the increase in new ones that occurred during his administration began to tax the Justice Department’s ability to detect crime. In 1906, 60 Secret Service operatives were needed; the next year, 65. These investigators came from a reserve force of about 20 that the Secret Service kept to help other departments as well as a list maintained by Chief John Wilkie of some 300 other investigators who had applied for Secret Service positions, were already vetted by the Treasury Department, but for whom no position was available.

The United States was, well, united, with its borders stretching from coast to coast and only two landlocked states left to officially join the union. Inventions like the telephone, the telegraph, and the railroad had seemed to shrink its vast distances even as the country had spread west. After years of industrializing, America was wealthier than ever, too, and a new world power on the block, thanks to its naval victory over Spain.

But there were dark clouds on the horizon.

The country’s cities had grown enormously by 1908—there were more than 100 with populations over 50,000—and understandably, crime had grown right along with them. In these big cities, with their many overcrowded tenements filled with the poor and disillusioned and with all the ethnic tensions of an increasingly immigrant nation stirred in for good measure, tempers often flared. Clashes between striking workers and their factory bosses were turning increasingly violent.

And though no one knew it at the time, America’s cities and towns were also fast becoming breeding grounds for a future generation of professional lawbreakers. In Brooklyn, a nine-year-old Al Capone would soon start his life of crime. In Indianapolis, a five-year-old John Dillinger was growing up on his family farm. And in Chicago, a young child christened Lester Joseph Gillis—later to morph into the vicious killer “Baby Face” Nelson—would greet the world by year’s end.

But violence was just the tip of the criminal iceberg. Corruption was rampant nationwide—especially in local politics, with crooked political machines like Tammany Hall in full flower. Big business had its share of sleaze, too, from the shoddy, even criminal, conditions in meat packaging plants and factories (as muckrakers like Upton Sinclair had so artfully exposed) to the illegal monopolies threatening to control entire industries.

In 1908, the bureau was born as a force of special agents, which was created by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. The agency became known as the Bureau of Investigation, and was re-named as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in early 1935. At its outset, the Bureau of Investigation predominantly recruited men who had prior experience in law enforcement.

In June 1910, the Mann (“White Slave”) Act became an important tool for the bureau. The Mann Act made it illegal for women to be transported across state lines for immoral purposes, which in turn, gave the bureau the right to investigate non-law-abiding citizens who had eluded prosecution by leaving a certain state. The Bureau of Investigation also used the Mann Act to bring Louisiana’s Ku Klux Klan “Imperial Kleagle” to justice. In 1912, former Special Examiner, Bruce Bielaski, became the bureau’s new chief.

From 1912 to 1914, the Bureau of Investigation employed some 300 special agents assigned to various federal crimes, as well as more than 300 other office personnel offering support and logistics to field agents. Field offices were placed in many major U.S. cities, and each field operation was run by one special agent who worked directly with headquarters in Washington. Although those outposts were primarily placed in larger cities, the demand for a presence near the Mexican border soon became evident, and compelled the placement of outposts in smaller border towns to investigate various instances of illegal smuggling.

From 1921 to 1933, the bureau was often at odds with a frustrated public. During what were called the “lawless years,” many Americans resisted the establishment of Prohibition, while others were involved in extremist politics. The Treasury Department, not the Justice Department, had jurisdiction over the unlawful use of intoxicating beverages. With the transportation of alcohol across state lines, however, bureau agents also were brought in to investigate. Raids of speakeasies (nightclubs serving alcohol) and the use of decoy speakeasies brought about the arrests of many bootleggers (alcohol smugglers) during Prohibition.

From the 1940’s to the 1970’s the FBI conducted several investigations of espionage cases against the United States. After the entry of America in the Second World War, FBI offices were placed on 24-hour schedules. The FBI arrested previously identified aliens who threatened the US security and handed them to relevant authorities. In theses troublesome times the FBI increased its personal strength by taking in National Academy graduates who were given abbreviated training courses. By the end of 1943 the number of FBI employees increased from a little over 7000 to over 13000 personnel.

In 1940 Roosevelt created ‘Special Intelligence Service’ (SIS). It was composed of a contingent of FBI agents. A very large number of Germans and Japanese lived in South America that provided cover for the Axis communication facilities. The SIS was charged with the job of keeping tabs on all Axis activities. The SIS was also charged with the responsibility to liquidate the axis and propaganda and intelligence networks. The SIS destabilized axis support to such an extent that by 1944, south America was largely out of axis influence.

After the war, one of the main concerns of the FBI was the spread of communist agents in the country. The FBI’s authority to do background investigations on government employees also expanded in the postwar years. In 1945 the FBI raided Amerasia magazine’s offices and discovered State Department documents of classified nature.

After the Atomic Energy Act passed in 1946, FBI started to conduct background check on government employees with access to critical data on American atomic energy program. The purpose of this was to determine their loyalty and weather they had any ties to the communist party. Different agencies that wanted to check their employees for disloyalty asked the FBI for investigation only, while making the final judgment themselves. The FBI’s resources were stuck at war levels up till 1950.

The numbers of FBI agents were increased to 6200 and the bureau got more money as a consequence of the Korean War. The FBI was instrumental in diminishing communist Party influence in the USA. The FBI’s jurisdiction continued to grow through its assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies. In 1950 it started the “10 most wanted fugitives” list that increased the capability of the FBI to capture criminals.

The 60’s and 70’s were troubling times in the country which was characterized by idealism and also by increased urban crime. The ‘romance with violence’ produced about 300 bombings by the leftist anti war groups. No specific guidelines for covering national security investigations had been developed for the bureau agents until 1976. Until that time, FBI dealt with the ‘militant new left’, in the same way as it had done against the communists and Ku Klux Klan in the previous decades.

The FBI also carried out a controversial surveillance program in this time called ‘Cointelpro’. The purpose of this program was to keep tabs on dissident organizations in the USA. These included both, the militant and the non violent movements. This program was dismantled by Hoover on April 28, 1971.

To counteract illegal drugs in America in the 80’s, the FBI was given concurrent jurisdiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over narcotics violations. Hundreds of important figures in the drugs trade were arrested as a result. The most famous case of this time was the “pizza connection case” which included a Sicilian mafia boss.

Since June 2002 the FBI’s top priority has become counterterrorism followed by counterintelligence. On October 26, 2001 the ‘PATRIOT act’ was passed and signed by President George W. Bush. It granted new provisions against the threat of terrorism. This act increased FBI’s powers, especially in wiretapping and monitoring of emails. The more controversial of these provisions is the ‘sneak and peak’ rule by which FBI can search a house while the residents are away and not inform them about it for weeks afterwards. The FBI can also look into library records of people it suspects of illegal activity.

FBI Wives At Kansas City – 1936: Internal “wives clubs” in the FBI were not uncommon. This is a group of wives from the Kansas City FBI Office in 1936. The ladies on the back of the photo are id’d left to right as: Anne Egan, Helen Dierst, Peggy Brandt, Grace Ferguson, Margaret & Jean Grout, Mrs. Bill Miller, Rose Fitzimmons, Winifred O’Donell, Dee Franklin, Margaret Reeder, and Violet Devereau. (courtesy George Franklin)

1933 – “Machine Gun” Kelly In Custody: Kelly, in custody, being returned to Oklahoma to stand trial with his wife in the Urschel Kidnapping. (Photo from the collection of FBI SAC William A. Rorer and provided by his son, J. Davis Rorer.)

1933 – SAC William Rorer & Kathryn Kelly: Courtesy of SAC William A. Rorer’s son, J. Davis Rorer, this photo reveals SAC Rorer escorting Kathryn Kelly after her arrest with her husband, George “Machine Gun” Kelly. SAC Rorer is at Mrs. Kelly’s immediate left side (dark Fedora hat). (Other Agents are currently unidentified) The Kelly’s were being returned to Oklahoma to face charges in the Urschel Kidnapping of 1933.

SA John W. Core With Colt Monitor: Courtesy of his son, retired SA Robert Core, his father SA John W. Core is shown here in the late 1930’s at firearms practice with the Colt Monitor obtained by the Bureau during the 1930’s. This particular photo has been seen in magazines around the country.

George “Machine Gun” Kelly is credited with coining the term “G-Man” to describe the government men of the FBI. This has been disputed, however; some references indicate the term was used several years before Kelly’s arrest. Word origins aside, the G-Man took on a cultural significance in the 1930s that was ubiquitous. Movies, radio shows, books, comic strips, board games, cereal – you name it, the G-man mystique was part of it. At some point it became just that – a stereotype far removed from the men completing the actual job.

Undoubtedly the most popular FBI agent, Melvin Purvis achieved his fame by leading the arrest and murder of John Dillinger in 1934. He only spent eight years in the Bureau, rising to become J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite. At one point, TIME magazine ranked Purvis as one of the ten most influential people (along with Hitler, FDR, and Mussolini). He also led the capture of Pretty Boy Floyd.

His celebrity became problematic. In the Alice Stoll kidnapping, Purvis could not directly participate in the investigation as reporters instantly recognized him. Purvis’ record of failures – Little Bohemia, arresting the wrong people for the Hamm kidnapping (Roger Touhy), agents on his squads were killed (Carter Baum, Sam Cowley and Herman Hollis) and based on internal memos he didn’t develop strong contacts with local police and informants – eventually became reasons for Hoover to turn his allegiance and relieve Purvis as the head of the “flying squad.” Purvis retired and wrote an account of his FBI career; in American Agent he never once mentioned J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover returned the favour in The FBI Story by giving credit for the Dillinger case to Sam Cowley.

(L to R) Firearms Instructors, SA “Jerry” Campbell, Unknown, and SA John Vincent taking part in a filming by Universal at Quantico firing range during the mid 1930s.

Courtesy Franklin family. Only identities known are (l to r) SA Dwight McCormack in white sweater; SA George Franklin with hand on headlight & far right is SA Bill “Duff” Duffy

1930s FBI Arrest Training: Courtesy of George Franklin, this photo is circa the late 1930’s at Quantico involving arrest procedures. Franklin’s father, SA George H. Franklin appears at far right (with pith-helmet) as an Instructor. Others are unidentified.

James “Doc” White,  served as a Texas Ranger before he joined the Bureau in 1924. Though special agents couldn’t legally carry firearms until 1933, White was deadly with a weapon. He was remembered as shooting well with a 30.06 rifle and the era’s most identifiable firearm, the Thompson submachine gun. He also carried a bone-handled Colt and kept a knife hidden in his boot.

White was 55 years old when he joined the Dillinger squad in Chicago. He participated in the failed Little Bohemia raid, and killed Russell Gibson as he fled a Chicago apartment in January 1935.   Days later, he saved SAC E. J. Connelley’s life in Florida. When Connelley stepped out from cover to call for Fred and Ma Barker to come out of a house, Fred Barker nearly shot Connelley where he stood. White saved Connelley’s life by returning fire long enough for him to take cover. Later, in evaluating the men of the squad, Connelley gave White praise in the stilted “Bureauese” used in all official reports: “This particular man has done very good work. He has been of marked assistance in raiding. As a reward therefore I recommend that he be sent to his office of preference.”

Charles Winstead was not the prototypical “G-Man” that Hoover modelled his organization after. In fact, he was the antithesis. Winstead may have cut a diminutive figure – 5’7” and 130lbs – but he was a raw force to be reckoned with. He was also a Texan to the core – wearing a dirty felt hat, a blue serge suit, and cowboy boots when his peers wore fedoras or straw boaters and brogans.

Anyone who has ever worked in law enforcement will tell you sometimes despite all of the hard work, that there is always someone gunning for a promotion or trying to curry favour with the brass badges. Such was the case on July 22, 1934 when Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger finally met his end in Chicago after a celebrated manhunt. If you ask who got Dillinger, you will hear universally one name mentioned, Melvin Purvis. While Purvis was J. Edgar Hoover’s man in charge of the Dillinger squad, it was Agent Charles Winstead who ended the outlaw’s career abruptly with a bullet.

Unlike most of the green agents with the fledgling FBI in those days, Winstead was already a veteran lawman from Texas who had been hot on the trail of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and Machine Gun Kelly. One day while at the Dallas FBI field office Frank Hamer who would later corner and take down Bonnie and Clyde walked in and asked the agent in charge if he could have Winstead assigned to him in the pursuit of those same criminals. The agent in charge refused and Winstead missed out on the ambush that would make history.

Winstead however did make the Dillinger squad and on that fateful night in Chicago chased America’s most popular criminal down an alley and put a bullet in the back of his head. In his unpublished memoirs Winstead wrote very plainly of the shooting “John Dillinger came out of the Biographic Theatre in Chicago and died of a bad case of lead poisoning.”

Edgar Hoover sent Winstead a letter of commendation about the incident and said of Dillinger’s demise “It is particularly gratifying that Dillinger was shot and killed by one of our own men.” Things were a little different in those days.

While Melvin Purvis reaped the glory, Charles Winstead went back to work. He narrowly missed a confrontation with Baby Face Nelson. After that Winstead was sent down to Florida and ended up on the tail of “Ma” Barker and her gang.

FBI Special Agent, Charles Winstead in 1934.

FBI Special Agent, Charles Winstead’s engraved .38 S/W Serial # 473732 – Private owner.

1930s, FBI Instructors At Quantico: Courtesy of George Franklin, this photo reveals the sleeping quarters for Agents at the Marine base, Quantico, Va. circa 1935 when Franklin’s father was an FBI Firearms Instructor there. Left is SA Tom McDade, (Dillinger Squad), next is SA Delf A. “Jelly” Bryce and the shorter Agent on the right is believed to be SA Walter Walsh (as per another photo here) Others are currently unknown.

An online Dallas newspaper report revealed that the memoirs of former FBI Special Agent, Charles Winstead were in a museum in Sherman, Texas. Having known the Winstead name and his role in the Dillinger shooting and many other high profile cases of the ’30s, one could only wonder why a document of this value to FBI and police history had never made it out of the city of Sherman where Winstead was born. Or at least copies of it.  It was important that others read it. After all, Winstead was just one of the many who belonged to the “glory company of history” that Purvis referred to.

But somehow overpowering the news story of John Dillinger and the Winstead memoirs, came a final note from the author of the Dallas article.  He said, “FBI Agent Winstead, who died in bed at 82 in 1973, is today widely disremembered.”

“widely disremembered…?”        It’s one of those phrases you need to read twice.  

How could men like Winstead and other pioneers of FBI and law enforcement history not be remembered? There was something that just wasn’t right with this. How many others, especially those who died in the line of duty, are “disremembered?” Men who were such an intricate part of the beginnings of a very young and inexperienced FBI.

An entire generation of FBI Agents is gone. So is the evil they pursued. Their biographies are diverse. From immigrants to those U.S. born; from lawyers to accountants, former Texas Rangers, or Oklahoma and surrounding lawmen; sports legends, boxers, and veterans of the Great War. Scientists, technicians and others..

“Winstead didn’t know the emotion of fear…”

So said SAC Blake of the Dallas FBI Office during an early 1930s “efficiency rating” of Special Agent, Charles B. Winstead.

If ever there was a legendary “character” in the early Bureau, FBI Special Agent, Charles was at the top of the list.  An apparent “rebel” all his life he was expelled from a private school as a young man and in his memoirs, speaks of being disciplined within the FBI at least three times, the last forcing him to retire.

What really was not well known was Winstead’s long standing friendship with Associate Director, William Sullivan, even into their retirement days.  Sullivan himself was forced into retirement by Director Hoover who accused him basically of insubordination

Winstead, was really a contradiction of sorts to the polished lawyers and accountants hired by the Bureau during those early days. Although hired in the latter 1920s, by the height of the “war on crime” the Bureau realized that he, among others, also had some special qualities the Bureau desired desperately. Simply put…he among others knew how to handle a firearm.

The role of FBI special agent, Charles B. Winstead in the shooting and killing of John Dillinger is widely known today. The 1934 incident outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago catapulted Director J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau to the front pages during the “war on crime” and brought on a continuous wave of publicity for generations to come. Over the decades, crime enthusiasts would label Winstead and others chosen of that era as “Hoover’s hired guns.”

Some might believe he should have been born decades earlier than the 1890s, and walked the dusty streets of places like Tombstone instead of the cement sidewalks of twentieth century Los Angeles, Chicago and surrounding.

When Winstead entered the Bureau in 1926 he was only five feet, seven inches tall, weighing one hundred thirty pounds. When he left the Bureau in 1942, he weighed the same. In reality, there was nothing mysterious about “Charlie” Winstead.

A 1934 inquiry to the field by FBI headquarters placed Winstead on a list of who had unique abilities to handle cases involving the dangerous desperadoes of that violent period. He wasn’t the only “marksman” on that list and he wouldn’t be the last, but at the time, he was the only man his Dallas Special Agent-In-Charge (SAC) recommended from that office. That alone would be a label that would follow him throughout his Bureau career.

In general, Winstead’s file reflects that by the end of the 1930s, he had survived the wrath of FBI headquarters on quite a few occasions while always marching to his own drum. Early on, he was the holder of two disciplinary transfers. He was also subject of unfounded allegations he beat a prisoner with brass knuckles. On one occasion, he arrested the wrong person as a fugitive and inflamed the situation by using an anti- Semitic comment toward the suspect. He drew a three day suspension for drawing his weapon on a citizen during a verbal altercation. While in Chicago, he struck a delivery man who called him an sob over a parking place. His approach to citizens and witnesses in areas outside the Southwest would be characterized as gruff and complaints were common. A later superior would describe Winstead as having the “Texas approach….”

In November 1934, FBI Inspector Samuel Cowley rated Winstead (and others) while in Chicago during the course of Cowley’s routine administrative duties. Cowley wrote, “…Winstead is a typical Texan. He does considerable whining and complaining, which seems to be a part of his nature and makeup. He discounts the value of most all leads, and has continuously requested to be sent back to Dallas, Texas…and has repeatedly advised of the expense to which he has been put by being transferred to Chicago and his dislike for same.

He played an important role in the killing of Dillinger, having fired three shots and was calm and deliberate…and seemed particularly proud of it, which is probably only human.

SAC Ralph Colvin later wrote that Winstead “was a sober, industrious agent with one idiosyncrasy …….He likes to attract attention to himself by appearing as a two gun Western bad man… at times tyrannical with the employees.” Colvin commented that unlike those agents who normally donned the “straw boater” of the day, Winstead often wore a ten gallon hat in the office. He added that Winstead carried two engraved hand guns and usually sat with his feet on the desk when in the office.

At times, superiors thought Winstead was “tactless and uncouth,” and some were not overly anxious of his participating in cases where he’d be in contact with bankers, businessmen, and corporate types. Most agreed he had “no executive ability,” and that would mean he’d spend the rest of his career at the street level, never rising to any position of supervisory authority. Perhaps that didn’t phase Winstead to any degree…as long as it could be back in Texas.

The trade off with Winstead’s sometimes “unpalatable” persona came in the form of other attributes that some lawmen would argue are more consequential. His career ratings remained as “satisfactory” throughout, generally scoring in the 80s and 90s overall. He was ambitious and many times a workaholic. He had a keen street sense in ferreting out dangerous fugitives, and dealing with street urchins.

Wherever he went, from beginning to the end of his career, local law enforcement fell in love with the man and letters in the file, along with comments from supervisors attest to that. Winstead had the ability to relate to the sometimes uneducated local lawmen of the day, and was one who realized early on that their assistance was paramount to any Bureau agent worth his salt. After all, having spent time as a local peace officer, Winstead had been there.

Winstead was rushed to Florida with others to deal with “Ma” Barker and her son who were subsequently killed in a shootout with FBI agents. Winstead was one of the “old timers” in the Bureau, Small in stature, wiry and has a definite ‘Texas’ approach and personality. Is somewhat gruff but good humoured… turns out a large volume of work and is a hard worker. He is reckless, abrupt, and forceful, and belongs to this section of the country.

After resigning in December 1942 Winstead would join the U. S. Army and spend his remaining working days as a captain mainly assigned to intelligence matters. He’d later secure a position with the State Liquor Authority in Albuquerque, New Mexico working under retired FBI special agent, George Franklin, before retiring and taking up horse ranching.

In the 1950s, he began work on a memoir of his years with the FBI but never finished; the manuscript was discovered in 2008 and is now kept in a museum in Sherman.

You can read/download Winstead’s memoirs here.

Read Hoover’s commendation to Winstead here regarding the Dillinger Shooting

The FBI’s disciplinary transfer letter to SA Charles Winstead

Winstead turns down the transfer and resigns from the FBI

The Handguns Of SA Charles B. Winstead

Memoirs Of SA Charles Winstead

The Abrupt and Fearless Character of FBI Special Agent Charles …

Gunfights on Guns.com: Charles Winstead and the “Ma” Barker Shootout

Federal Bureau of Investigation – Press Room – Headline Archives – Fbi

A Brief History — FBI

The Birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — FBI

FBI – US History

History – Federal Bureau of Investigation

Police History: The creation and evolution of the FBI – PoliceOne

Federal Bureau of Investigation: History – Before The Beginning Of The …

 


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