Table of Contents
“Massively researched, ludicrously entertaining.”
“[A] colorful new history of the early days of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. . . . [Burrough] has written a book that brims with vivid portraiture . . . Excellent true crime.”
The New York Times Book Review
[is] Bryan Burrough’s spellbinding new account of America’s first War on Crime . . . a model of narrative journalism and an often gripping read.”
“In the telling Mr. Burrough displays a genius for historical reconstruction and an attention to detail so vivid that the reader can almost smell Bonnie and Clyde, neither of whom showed much inclination to bathe during their months sleeping in cars or open fields when they were on the run.”
The New York Times
“Burrough’s narrative is fast-paced, his prose captivating. Drawing upon several hundred thousand FBI documents, Burrough has conducted important new research. He re-creates in vivid detail the criminals’ whereabouts, characteristics, and ignominious rise to Depression-era fame. . . . By shining a spotlight on the FBI’s birth . . . Burrough has altered our view of the early 1930s.”
“It is superb—readable, thorough and critical.”
The Denver Post
“Fascinating . . . A rich and colorful cast of characters parades through the pages. . . . It is a wild and amazing story, and Burrough tells it with great gusto. Truth is often not only stranger than fiction but also a lot more interesting. Burrough’s research is careful and extraordinarily thorough. . . .
is a significant book, and a very readable one. It is easy to toss around terms like ‘definitive,’ but this book deserves it. It is hard to imagine a more careful, complete and entrancing book on this subject, and on this era. Readers will not be disappointed.”
The Washington Post
“[An] excellent new history [of] this country’s greatest crime wave . . . [Burrough] brings a historian’s touch to the material, exploding myths on every page. . . .
is knockout nonfiction entertainment as well as serious history.”
The New York Sun
“It is quite superb . . . with masses of new information.”
“[An] engaging narrative . . . Burrough[’s] book will make excellent reading for fans of American history and true crime.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Gripping . . . [a] great tale.”
New York Post
“Bryan Burrough . . . has written a gripping history of just two years . . . when some of the more notorious criminals in American history harvested banks from Texas to Minnesota. . . . Mr. Burrough delineates this era with as much punch—and much more insight—than any Warner Brothers gang-buster flick.”
The Dallas Morning News
“Gripping . . . Burrough expertly juggles six criminal gangs at one time, show[ing] the FBI’s dramatic restructuring and captures the dark criminal days of the Depression.”
“[A] ceaselessly exciting book.”
The Baltimore Sun
“Bryan Burrough brings [these characters] roaring to life, like a getaway car speeding away after a bank robbery in his new book
Never before has the American past been given such an up-to-date polishing as Burrough gives a day-by-day account of a two-year period in which some outrageous and colorful desperadoes frightened and thrilled the public.”
(Forest Grove, Oregon)
is a fascinating retelling of the FBI’s famous ‘War on Crime,’ weaving the stories of these outlaw gangs with the inner workings of the FBI, the men who were determined to stop them. Thanks to thousands of pages of recently declassified government files, it is exhaustively researched but as entertaining as any page-turning crime novel. . . . Must surely rank among the definitive works on the era and its crimes.”
“A 10-strike for the true crime fan.”
“A rollicking, rat-a-tat ride . . . Iconoclastic and fascinating. A genuine treat for true-crime buffs.”
“The definitive account of the 1930s crime wave that brought notorious criminals like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde to America’s front pages. . . . [Burrough] successfully translates years of dogged research . . . into a graceful narrative. . . . This book compellingly brings back to life people and times distorted in popular imagination by hagiographic bureau memoirs and Hollywood.”
Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at
and the author of numerous bestselling books, including
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
(with John Helyar),
Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34,
The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes
. A former reporter for
The Wall Street Journal
, he is a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award for Excellence in Financial Journalism. He lives in Summit, New Jersey, with his wife Marla and their two sons.
1933 - 34
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in the United States of America by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2004
Published in Penguin Books 2005
This edition published in Penguin Books 2009
Copyright © Bryan Burrough, 2004
All rights reserved
AP/Wide World Photos: Insert pages 1, 2, 3 (top and bottom right), 6 (bottom),
7 (top), 8 (bottom), 9 (top), 10, 11, 12 (top and bottom), 16 (bottom).
Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images: Insert page 3 (bottom left).
Bowersock Collection, Kansas City Museum/Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri:
Insert pages 4 (top), 14 (top).
© Bettmann/Corbis: Insert pages 4 (bottom), 6 (top), 9 (bottom), 13, 15.
Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library: Insert page 5 (top and bottom).
New York Daily News: Insert page 7 (bottom right).
Minneapolis Historical society: Insert page 8 (top).
Federal Bureau of Investigation: Insert pages 7 (bottom left), 14 (bottom), 16 (top).
eISBN : 978-1-101-03274-9
eISBN : 978-1-101-03274-9
1. Crime—United States—History—20th century. 2. Criminals—United States—History—20th century.
3. United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation—History. I. Title.
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For Marla, Griffin, and Dane
Never before have I enjoyed researching and writing anything as much as I did the book you hold in your hands. If you derive half the pleasure from reading it as I did from creating it, I will be thrilled.
This is a book I always suspected I would attempt someday. The first stories I can remember hearing as a boy, the stories that made me want to become a writer, were tales my grandfather told of Bonnie and Clyde. As a young deputy in northwest Arkansas, John Vernon Burrough manned roadblocks set up to apprehend the couple. In his later years he was mayor of Alma, Arkansas, a town where Clyde Barrow was blamed for the murder of one of his predecessors. My grandfather’s stories sounded like tales out of the Wild West; I could hardly grasp the fact that these events had occurred barely forty years earlier. I grew up in the 1970s, and the formative events of my youth were the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Iranian hostage crisis. I couldn’t believe America had changed that much in a single lifetime.
Later, I learned that Clyde Barrow had murdered the great-uncle of one of my boyhood friends in my hometown of Temple, Texas, and my interest grew. Stricken with insomnia late one night in 1997, I found myself watching a cable-television documentary on Ma Barker. I wondered whether the Barker Gang had been in operation before or after Bonnie and Clyde. I walked upstairs to my office and hopped on the Internet, ran a search, and was surprised to find that both gangs had been at large in the years 1933 and 1934. My curiosity aroused, I checked John Dillinger: 1933 and 1934. Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly: all 1933 or 1934. This was my introduction to the War on Crime.
I picked up John Toland’s 1963 book,
a biography that deals glancingly with Dillinger’s criminal contemporaries. I searched for a comprehensive history of the FBI’s fight against Dillinger and his peers, and I was surprised to find there wasn’t one. Any number of books had been published on the individual outlaws themselves, but, to my mind, no one had tackled the whole story. Then I learned that the FBI files on all these cases had been released only in the late 1980s. That’s when I decided to write this book.
This, then, is the first comprehensive narrative history of the FBI’s War on Crime, which lasted from 1933 to 1936, a period that saw the rise and fall of six major criminal factions: those of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barker-Karpis Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde. It is a big, sprawling story, with gunfights and investigations in dozens of American cities involving literally hundreds of major and minor players, including an army of FBI agents, sheriffs, and policemen. On the following pages you’ll find a cast of characters to help you keep everyone straight.