(Alston Purvis is currently chairman of the design program at Boston University. His father was FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, of the FBI Bureau in Chicago. Purvis was among those attempting to trap Miller at the Sherone Apartments on November 1st, 1933.)
What did your father ever share with you regarding the mobster, Verne Miller?
Verne Miller was one of the few he talked about. And he felt that Verne Miller was one of the few who rivaled Baby Face Nelson as a dedicated and vicious killer. He considered him absolutely cold and was..well, if my father had a soft spot for these characters, he didn't have one for Verne Miller.
Verne Miller was one of the few criminals that your father attempted to capture but didn't.
Yes, and he said that eventually they would've gotten him. But you see, Verne Miller had it coming from both sides. He was persona ingrata with my father's office and the police, and persona ingrata with his underworld colleagues. It was just a question of who was going to get him first.
What was your father's reaction to the events of the Kansas City Massacre?
My father accepted the general story about that. He felt that.for attempting something like that..that to attempt to free Frank Nash at Kansas City, that Verne Miller had to be a bit crazy. He felt that there were two events that really helped to awaken the public at that time: One was the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping and the other one we know now as the Kansas City Massacre.
How did the Kansas City Massacre help out the FBI? How did that generate public awareness?
Well, it focused attention from the public to what was going on. And up until that time, a lot of people considered people like Verne Miller to be somewhat of a hero like..Dillinger and so forth. But the sheer brazen quality of the event was a shock to the public I think.
Maybe the public outcry over the deaths of the lawmen...?
Yes, there were four killed and that was a shock at the time.
Now Verne went on..being chased by both underworld and FBI. Do you remember your father's reaction to the news of Miller's death?
He felt.there were several stories about that. The one my father accepts was the he was killed quite some distance from where they found him. And as far as my father's reaction to it, it was probably one of relief. It was over, and he did not lose any of his own men in the process.
Do you think there was ever a real opportunity to bring him in alive by lawmen?
Yes, that's what they always try to do. But I think it would've been.he would've been difficult to bring in...I think he would've gone down with his boots on.
He sounds the type.
And he was also one of the more charming ones. I know that Doris Lockerman, who back then was Doris Rogers, said that she had not known him but she'd seen him in Huron, South Dakota, and that he was a very handsome man and very, very, very clever.
Very charismatic too.
Yes, he was a sheriff who went wrong. And he had a great sense of humor too. I think you've Read in my father's book that one of his hobbies was carefully shooting his initials into the gas tank of fleeing bootleggers. (That's pretty impressive marksmanship) It is.
Did your dad theorize how a clean cut, popular sheriff and war hero went bad?
He felt that of.thought Verne Miller had to have a flaw in his character. As I said earlier, thought he was a bti crazy. But He also had lot of weaknesses.one was alcohol...and he liked to drink a bit too much that was good for him. And he was..I think my father felt he had basically a flew iu his character. He wasn't one my father had a soft spot for..like for example, Verne Sanke (?) -- another Verne --, my father had a slight soft spot for him , but not for Verne Miller.
Verne Miller was a decorated war hero out of World War I and maybe he viewed his gangster role very much as a soldier.
Yes, that could be true. Of the story about him being a war hero, he had a..he certainly.he was a sergeant and he had a good record, and a champion rapid-fire pistol shot that certainly helped him in his next job.
That must've intrigued and frightened your father at the same time.
My father was often frightened.anyone in my father's job who says they were never frightened would not be telling the truth.
It's still remarkable that a man who came down so hard on bootleggers eventually turned into one himself.
I guess that he had a lifestyle that far exceeded his salary. And bootlegging and also serving as what they call a freelance torpedo.which is the gangland term for a freelance hitman -- for Al Capone, it paid well.
So the money, plus the romance that the public had for gangsters...people were enamored with these mobsters, weren't they?
They were. And Verne Miller was quite a dresser, he had expensive taste..I remember, there was one story he told that he passed himself off as a member of the Princeton Club in New York while buying his clothes at Brooks Brothers.and then he was..he joined the best country clubs in Kansas City. So all that took money.
How intensively did your father plan the trap for Miller in Chicago, what went wrong with it?
He.as most major operations stemming from his office, he certainly planned this. He was not there at the time. There were several agents stationed in apartment across the hall, at that time there was.very little radio communication, so there was little contact between the ones on inside and ones on outside. It was .and Verne Miller was very quick.and had a lot of experience. And he slipped through, but my father was convinced had the underworld not wiped him out that he'd eventually be killed or captured by the FBI or the police.
And again Verne Miller was found dead in Detroit and in terrible shape..your father know how they got the jump on him? It's hard to take down a hitman, isn't it?
The theory that my father accepted was that he was found.I forget the town now, it was about 200 miles away, they caught him in the bathtub and killed him there. And this disposal of the body - far away. It was, that kind of murder was not unusual when they really wanted to wipe someone out. He was tied with clothesline, and his skull was bashed almost beyond recognition.
They could've just simply done a straight kill - but they were sending a warning in the way they killed Miller, right?
Absolutely. They were sending a message at the same time they were killing him. That that kind of..of.they were sending a message that that freelance operation that he was carrying out was not acceptable and was bringing heat down on them. He was not the only one put out that way, but certainly one of the better known ones.
The Kansas City Massacre really brought a lot of resentment against Verne Miller. From both gangssters and the FBI. Everyone was gunning for Miller.
That's true. And it was..they never quite
forgave him for it. I wouldn't say quite, They never forgave him.
After that, he found himself an outcast among his own associates...(No
more honor among thieves)? No (laughs).