A dangerous criminal who had been added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, Gerhard Arthur Puff shot and killed an FBI agent on July 26, 1952, in the lobby of a New York hotel.
Puff was wounded in the encounter, captured at the scene, and later found guilty of murder.
Gerhard Arthur Puff (pictured) took his first steps toward a life of crime at the age of 20 when, in his home city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he was arrested on June 21, 1934 and convicted on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Seven years earlier he had come to the United States from his native Dresden, Germany, and only the previous month he had been admitted to U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of his father.
Puff’s next conviction occurred a year later for stealing domestic animals. On August 22, 1935, he was sentenced to serve three concurrent terms of one to five years each in the Wisconsin State Penitentiary. Several months later he was transferred to the State Reformatory at Green Bay.
While at the reformatory, Puff assaulted one of the guards and, on conviction, was sentenced to an additional term of one to 10 years to begin at the expiration of the sentences he was then serving. He was sent back to the State Penitentiary in February, 1937 and was discharged on May 24, 1939 after serving a total of approximately three years and nine months.
Puff was returned to the penitentiary to begin serving a sentence of one to nine years following a conviction on December 28, 1942, for assault with intent to commit armed robbery. On September 6, 1945, he escaped. Fifteen days later he was apprehended in a stolen car and again returned to prison. He was discharged on November 19, 1947.
The following June, Puff was found guilty of breaking and entering a warehouse at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He was also charged with the 1945 prison escape, and on the basis of these convictions he received concurrent terms of one to four years and 12 to 17 months, respectively. He was again committed to the Wisconsin State Penitentiary in June 1948 and was released on April 25, 1951.
Between prison sentences Puff was employed at various times as a truck driver, laborer, farm hand, and machinist helper. He also had experience in the printing trade, but to satisfy his fondness for expensive clothes, big automobiles, dancing, sports, and gambling, he again turned to crime.
On May 2, 1951, Puff was arrested by the Milwaukee Police Department on a charge of armed robbery and was lodged in the Milwaukee County Jail in lieu of $3,000 bond. While in jail awaiting trial he became acquainted with George Arthur Heroux (pictured), a sullen, gun-crazy youth, who was released from the jail on August 23, 1951.
On October 17, 1951, an unknown party, acting through a Chicago bondsman, posted a $3,000 cash bond for the release of Puff. He was to report for trial on November 15, but he did not appear.
Eight days later, the Johnson County National Bank and Trust Company of Prairie Village, Kansas, was robbed by two armed men of more than $62,000 in cash, large numbers of American Express Travelers checks and several denominations of Series E, unissued United States government bonds.
The robbers gained entry to the bank at approximately 8:05 a.m. by forcing an employee to open the front door. While one of the outlaws herded bank employees into a reception room located near the front of the bank and stood guard over them with what was described as a M1-type carbine, the other bandit made the cashier open the vault. The loot was collected in a muslin bag resembling a pillowcase and bearing the printing of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri.
The getaway was made at 8:42 a.m. in a cream-colored, late- model convertible automobile which was abandoned a few minutes later less than a half-mile from the bank. This car had been stolen on November 3, 1951, in the downtown business district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the time it was abandoned by the robbers, it carried a set of license plates which had been stolen in Hollister, Missouri on November 4, 1951.
Witnesses to the robbery said that both bandits wore white mechanic-type coveralls with narrow blue cuffs on the sleeves and light-colored hunting caps with upturned earmuffs.
A complaint was filed before a United States Commissioner at Topeka, Kansas, on December 3, 1951, charging Gerhard Arthur Puff with participating in the robbery. The other person charged with the stick-up was George Arthur Heroux. The names of the two were added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
The search for the bandit pair during the ensuing seven months was intense and relentless. Then, on July 25, 1952, George Arthur Heroux was apprehended at Miami, Florida.
From clues gained through the apprehension of Puff’s criminal associate it was determined that Puff might attempt to make contact with persons at a certain hotel in New York City. During the night and morning of July 25-26, 1952, therefore, FBI agents set up a surveillance at this hotel. Agents were strategically located in the lobby of the hotel, in rooms on the ninth floor, at the hotel entrance, and in the streets surrounding the hotel while FBI radio cars cruised in the vicinity.
The room under observation, Room 904, was registered to a “John Hanson.” Another room had been vacated that day by a man named “J. Burns.” Hotel employees identified Burns as Gerhard Arthur Puff. It was felt Puff might attempt to contact Hanson with whom he was friendly. In substantiation of this a note was found on the bed in Room 904 indicating that “Burns” desired to contact Hanson that night or the following morning.
FBI Agent Joseph J. Brock
At approximately 9:00 a.m. on the morning of July 26, a new shift of special agents replaced the group on duty in the hotel. Special Agent Joseph John Brock, 44, married and the father of three children, was placed in charge of this group and he and two other agents were stationed in the hotel lobby.
Shortly before noon two girls visited Room 904, then left the hotel. Special agents in radio cars followed them to another hotel. At 1:20 p.m., they returned to the first hotel and again went to Room 904.
Within a few minutes an individual resembling Puff entered the hotel. After making a telephone call to Room 904 he went up to the room in the elevator. The hotel clerk confirmed the fact that the individual was Puff, and agents were alerted.
It was decided to wait for Puff to return to the lobby before arresting him. Special Agent Brock took up a position at the foot of a small stairway.
Puff did not remain at Room 904 but returned to the first floor in a few minutes by the stairway where Agent Brock was stationed. Puff encountered Agent Brock, shot him twice in the chest, took his gun, then with a gun in each hand, Puff made a zig-zagging dash through the lobby, firing another shot at converging agents.
Agents outside the hotel called to Puff to surrender. He answered with gunfire. Agents posted behind parked cars returned the fire and Puff collapsed to the sidewalk.
He was taken to a hospital for treatment, then to the prison ward at Bellevue.
Special Agent Brock was treated by a doctor who appeared on the scene, then rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
On May 15, 1953, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gerhard Arthur Puff was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Puff’s attorney appealed the conviction but to no avail and on August 12, 1954, at Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, New York, the killer’s career of violence came to a final, irrevocable end.