With All Of The Spin On The Karpis Arrest, Just Where Was Director, J. Edgar Hoover?
Revised Jan. 2015
There's probably no doubt that while spending a lifetime in prison, gangster Alvin Karpis felt slighted by the media's attention over the decades to the Dillinger, Capone and other gangs which didn't include him.
All of this in addition to the fact that Karpis was the last of the "Public Enemies" designated during those turbulent depression years. One FBI document shows little did he know at the time that FBI SAC Earl Connelley had told Assistant Director Ed Tamm that frankly, with major trials to prepare for and more, the Bureau had not spent a lot of time looking for Karpis. No sightings of him had been reported for something like 6-8 months. Fact is, Connelley and his men and the relatively small FBI at the time were over taxed. Karpis would simply have to wait his turn...there were other priorities.
With a legacy that had faded, paroled in 1969, and deported to his native Canada, Karpis wrote his memoirs in 1971 which were republished in 1980 (after death). During those years of the 1970s, came interviews with the History Channel and others revealing his long criminal history. Among the topics, it was during that time that he'd make a final attempt to grab the headlines he believed he so rightfully deserved. To make his "splash," he'd discredit Director, J. Edgar Hoover and the early FBI, knowing that the media and the critics would be "all ears."
"I made Hoover’s reputation as a fearless lawman. It’s a reputation he doesn’t deserve . . . I made that son of a bitch."
“The story of Hoover the Hero is false,” Karpis wrote. “He didn’t lead the attack on me. He waited until he was told the coast was clear. Then he came out to reap the glory.”
The "fearless lawman" comment no doubt pertained to Hoover personally being present during the Karpis arrest and the media attention directed at that fact. Karpis thought he'd add some "gotcha!" moments too of the New Orleans arrest. For one, it was during his arrest that Hoover was wrong in stating a gun/rifle had been taken from the back seat of the Karpis vehicle because his Plymouth had no back seat. What we'll see here is that Karpis was playing his usual "shell game" with words and avoiding the real truth. He was right....there was no back seat. But there was a "back deck" he "forgot" to mention.
With his own importance and legacy forgotten, it was time for Karpis to grab the headlines he believed owed him. The problem with all of it is that his assertions of what happened are nothing more than revelations of a self-serving ego, in defiance of official historical records, multiple witnesses and frankly, go beyond the bounds of logic and mere common sense of the American public. And, with all the attention on "me," one has to wonder if Karpis ever thought that there were - in fact - quite a few notorious gangsters who "made" Hoover and the Bureau, vaulting them to the front page, long before the New Orleans arrest. Realistically, had Director Hoover not shown up that day in New Orleans, Karpis would have had little to talk about during his book promotion. His arrest and his crime career would have had minimal interest by the 1970s. There were others whose daring deeds exceeded his.
In his new role with the media after parole, Karpis essentially made allegations to embarrass Hoover and the FBI, and attempt to make a lot of money doing it. His TV interviews would give him the stage he was denied. Of course, critics of Hoover and the Bureau, with already existing agendas, couldn't wait to make use of the story, regardless of any thought to the hoodlum's ability to tell the truth. Having spent life in prison, mostly Alcatraz, he had a lot of time to think about it all.
"Credibility" was not on the side of Karpis the narcissist. In the interests of applying it to the Karpis (and Fred Hunter) accounts, readers should consider that Karpis was part of the violent Barker/Karpis gang responsible for store robberies, postal robberies, bank robberies, presence at the murder of law enforcement officers, and involvement in notorious kidnappings of the era. In weeks prior to their capture, both Karpis and gangster friend, Harry Campbell, were involved in a shootout with Atlantic City, NJ police officers during their escape there.
The media accounts of that day in New Orleans were no doubt exaggerated and care should be taken in using them as official sources of what happened. If readers accept Karpis' accounts as the truth, then it must be accepted that most, if not all, of the eighteen (18) FBI agents present that day, including Hoover, outright lied in their official reports on his instructions or those of SAC Connelley. Readers would also have to believe that all eighteen present kept the arrest secret to themselves their entire careers, into retirement, and eventually took them to the grave without mentioning anything to their close FBI friends or family. Not highly likely and an accusation of such is a severe challenge to their integrity. A "great lie" such as anything close to the above would have been talked about, even confidentially, among agents across the entire country. If nothing else, it would have provided evidence of an outlandish and corrupt leadership had any disgruntled agents wanted to use it with the media. It would have been talked about in retirement circles of Bureau agents and would have made its way to future FBI generations. It never did... By the way, over the decades the media has reported on occasion there were twenty-eight agents present. They continue to report this and they continue to be wrong.
If Hoover fabricated the arrest account, in addition to asking eighteen men to keep it quiet, it is also observed that he made the fabrication exceedingly difficult and complicated which can be seen if one follows his movements during the arrest. There was no need, for openers, to mention any obstruction by the police officer on a horse getting in their way of the approach to the Karpis vehicle, compounded by the story of the boy's interference. It only adds another "hurdle" that agents would have to lie about and ensure that they don't botch those details as well as others. As anyone can see, details like these do nothing but complicate the lie making more information that others have to recall explicitly the same way by everyone. If one examines the entire scenario from start to finish, it's easily seen that making "the big lie" about the arrest contained way too many factors, all made on a contemporary basis involving first person actions, observations and more. In essence, if a large group of men are going to lie, it has to remain simple! FBI agents or not....humans are humans.
There's one thing important that many overlook. During that period, as today, the written statements of agents during arrests, evidence seizures and more were "testimonial" documents. There was a strong probability that those typed documents were not only going to be testified to under oath, first in a grand jury by the agents but later, again under oath, at any upcoming trials of Karpis. By fabricating the arrest story, Hoover was going to perjure himself at proceedings if called and readers would have to acknowledge that Hoover (and/or Connelley) asked those present at the arrest to also perjure themselves at upcoming court proceedings. Had any perjury on Hoover's part, SAC Connelley or the agents been uncovered, many careers would have been destroyed. Not only a destruction of their careers but also the probability of being arrested and imprisoned for perjury! It is preposterous to believe that Hoover would have asked his men to subject themselves to perjury and it's even more absurd to believe that all of them would have acted like "sheep" and done so!
The official records of the Karpis arrest, those who were there, and the details of what everyone did has been available to the public since the Freedom of Information Act became law decades ago. It's not like these documents are some newly released finding. But many simply didn't find it convenient to review them or relied upon the interpretation of them by others. For others, many have taken the Karpis story of what happened as "gospel" without any challenge. First, he revealed that Hoover was not present at the immediate arrest scene and had been observed coming from behind a nearby building after Karpis was in custody. He clearly meant to impart the idea that Hoover was a coward and had hidden himself until the other agents present could place Karpis and Fred Hunter in custody.
This "revelation" by Karpis is in direct conflict with SAC E. J. Connelley's very detailed report of where Hoover was, in what car he occupied, and his actions at the scene. It's also in direct conflict with other FBI agents present and their own statements. According to Hoover's own telephone call to FBIHQ, his arrival at the Karpis vehicle the moment of the arrest was delayed by two obstructions; a young boy and a policeman on horseback. The plan was for Hoover and those present in the car with him to block Karpis' vehicle from the rear. Hoover's telephone call to FBIHQ regarding the arrests and the obstructions he encountered is here.
It is noted that according to the official record, Assistant Director Clyde Tolson, along with others, was assigned to cover the outside of building to prevent escape of anyone. We do know from statements of other agents that Tolson ran to the back of the building to alert agents there that the raid was oveer. In all liklihood, Karpis saw Tolson emerge with other agents assigned with him, but Hoover clearly was not with him or that section of the raiding party.
With what he believed to be his "gotcha" moments, Karpis attempted to make a mockery of Hoover and the FBI in regard to supposed weapons in the car he occupied at the moment of arrest. He would later contend that Hoover said publicly that Karpis had weapons in the "back seat" of the car occupied. Karpis mentioned in later years that this was impossible since the 1936 Plymouth that he and gangster, Fred Hunter, occupied did not have a "back seat." We haven't found any quotes of Hoover mentioning "back seat" but the AP story the day after does quote Hoover stating Karpis had guns. But Karpis' comment about a "back seat" was a diversion from the truth. The AP story of the arrest appeared in newspapers on May 2, 1936 and a copy is here revealing Hoover's comments.
Karpis' mockery of Hoover's supposed "back seat" statement evades the facts. (He stated that rifles were wrapped and in the trunk.) What Karpis does NOT mention is that the 1936 Plymouth had a "back shelf" behind the front seat and records reveal a rifle was found there by FBI agent Blake, as shown above. Another document reveals a handgun and ammunition present in the Plymouth also. This document can be found here.
Lastly of course, is the Karpis mention that none of the FBI agents present had remembered to bring handcuffs to the arrest and we know this is true. We also have established that it was the necktie of SA W. L. "Buck" Buchanan that was used to bind Karpis' hands at the moment, and we've located letters proving this with the son of SA Buchanan. These are shown in the "navigation" area of this section. The letters between Hoover and SA Buchanan clearly reveal Hoover was not irate about the issue with handcuffs and in fact, seems to joke about it mentioning a "tie party." If readers review the History Channel's interview with Karpis, they mention that in lieu of handcuffs, he was bound with his own "striped tie." We're not sure where they obtained that information, but even they got it wrong. On and off for decades, journalists and others have reported the tie used belonged to a variety of agents present, none of which was accurate.
To rely on the accounts of both Karpis and his gangster friend, Fred Hunter, as to what happened that day is to totally defy any common sense, the historical record and challenge the integrity of the agents present. If anyone lied about what happened, it was Karpis. The fact is, he did not see Hoover come from behind the apartment building. Karpis' attempt at using the fact the Plymouth had no "back seat" to imply Hoover was wrong about him having weapons in the car is all "smoke and mirrors." Both Karpis and Hunter had immediate access to weapons in the car and they knew they were there! Instead of critics exaggerating the importance of where Karpis' rifle was located, they should be asking the larger question of, "what exactly was Karpis and Hunter doing with a car and apartment load of weapons to begin with?" Through some warped pair of lenses, some today see Karpis as the "victim" of all of this...
In the interest of fairness, we do have to make one observation which is no doubt apparent to any of our readers who, as law enforcement officers, have been involved in arrest scenarios. The common cliche of course is that they never go according to plans! And many times they don't. From the accounts given, and the two obstructions to Hoover's car arriving at the rear of the Karpis vehicle, it appears that by the time Hoover and others arrive at the immediate moment of the arrest, Connelley, Clarence Hurt and others already have control and custody of Karpis and Hunter. However, this does not change the facts as to where Hoover was, and the weapons found in the Karpis vehicle.
Finally, we'll also mention that in all likelihood, readers will not find any news articles etc. from 1936 revealing Hoover ever stating that he single-handedly arrested Karpis as some in the media seem to continue to report. In fact, you'll notice he uses the term "we" very often. What I offer is that the words over the years of Hoover "single-handedly" arresting Karpis are the words of the media, not the Director's. To believe that the 1930s media wasn't capable of exaggerating headlines and putting words into people's mouths is simply a naive approach to that era's methods of journalism.
Karpis died in Spain of natural causes in 1979, first reported as an overdose of pills. Although he had a girlfriend in Chicago who visited him a week before death and friends in the apartment complex where he lived, no one originally came forward to claim his remains..............No one.