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The Chester Smith Controversy

‘Pretty Boy’ Falls
The Chester Smith Controversy

10/16/09     

In the 1970s—some four decades after the fact—Chester Smith, one of the East Liverpool officers at the final confrontation with “Pretty Boy,” made two controversial and unfounded claims that continue to color depictions of Floyd’s last moments.

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Part 1: Dillinger Crosses a Line
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Part 3: Top Ten Dillinger Myths
Part 4: ‘Pretty Boy’ Falls
Part 5: Firefight on Highway 12

First, Smith alleged that he himself fired the shots that killed “Pretty Boy.” Second, he maintained that Purvis ordered Bureau Agent Herman Hollis to shoot the wounded and helpless Floyd in the chest with a “Tommy gun” as he lay on the ground, killing him.

Neither statement is true. The bullets that killed Floyd didn’t match the rifle Smith said he used that day. And the day after the shooting, Smith told a different story, not claiming to be the one who felled Floyd. That self-serving version of the story didn’t surface until the 1970s.

As for controversial comment that the FBI essentially murdered Floyd in cold blood, the facts prove otherwise. The coroner’s report, for example, clearly shows that “Pretty Boy” did not have a close-range gunshot wound to the chest from a Thompson machine gun. Hollis was not even present at the scene, as FBI records show and Smith himself said in 1934. And none of the witnesses—farmers and neighbors, East Liverpool police, or Bureau agents—ever verified Smith’s story or said anything remotely similar. The sworn statements by the other three local officers are all part of the FBI files on the case starting on page 33.