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Dillinger’s Ghost and Hoover’s Vendetta against G-Man Purvis

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Joe Nickell

June 11, 2015

Not since Jesse James, had a bank robber attained such a Robin Hood image. Although there were other “public enemies” of the Depression Era—such as “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “Baby Face” Nelson—John Dillinger had daring and style to spare. But so did a tenacious G-man named Melvin Purvis (Figure 1), an agent so effective and so adored by the public and press that his boss, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover, seethed with jealousy. Hoover—well, I’m getting ahead of a most frightening story in the annals of crime fighting, and I don’t mean the tale of Dillinger’s ghost.


Melvin PurvisFigure 1. Melvin Purvis, autographed photo to close friend James McLeod, courtesy of McLeod’s daughter Florrie Ervin; copy photo by Joe Nickell.

The biography of John Herbert Dillinger (1903–1934) begins with an endearing story of him at age three, dragging a chair to the side of his mother’s coffin, climbing up, and trying to shake her awake. It is tempered by the account of a moonshine-intoxicated punk of twenty-one, who teamed up with a more seasoned thug and attempted to rob an elderly grocer of his weekend receipts. As they beat the struggling old man, Dillinger’s revolver went off and the pair fled, the accomplice driving off and leaving young Dillinger to fend for himself. Although both were soon arrested, the latter was sentenced to just two years, while Dillinger drew a prison term of ten to twenty years. Freed in 1933, after nine years, he was rearrested while still on parole as the leader of a new band of bank robbers (Girardin 1994, 10–32).

After some of his old prison buddies escaped, they raided the jail in Lima, Ohio, where Dillinger had been lodged, freeing him but accidentally killing the sheriff in the process. Over the next few months the gang committed a series of bold bank heists, although probably not the more than thirty credited to them. Then, in January 1934, police in Tucson, Arizona, arrested Dillinger and most of his gang. Sent to an “escape-proof” jail in Indiana, he was soon escaping—using a pistol he suddenly brandished. Legend says it was a dummy that Dillinger carved from wood and blackened with shoe polish, while a conspiracy theory holds that a bribed judge smuggled in a real pistol (Girardin 1994, 32–108; Toland 1963). (A popular photo of a smiling Dillinger holding a machine gun in his left hand shows him also clasping the little dummy pistol in his right. The photo was made outside his father’s house following the outlaw’s escape. The picture graces the cover of Girardin’s Dillinger: The Untold Story [1994].)

Dillinger assembled another gang, this time including the infamous George “Baby Face” Nelson. Two robberies later, the FBI got the drop on Dillinger in St. Paul, but he escaped with only a gunshot to the leg as his girlfriend, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, stepped on the gas and sped them to safety. Dillinger had another close call one night a month later in the infamous affair at Wisconsin’s Little Bohemia Lodge. FBI agents led by Melvin Purvis approached the lodge but were forced to dive for cover from machine-gun fire. Three non-gangsters, who jumped in a car and failed to stop when ordered to, were shot by Purvis’s men, one fatally; Dillinger, Nelson, and others escaped (Girardin 1994, 113–156; Purvis 1936, 21).

Dillinger underwent plastic surgery to alter his appearance and damage his fingerprints. Neither attempt was very successful. Billie having been arrested, Dillinger had taken up with a waitress who shared an apartment with a Romanian woman, Ana Cumpanas, a brothel owner known as Anna Sage. She recognized Dillinger and tipped off police who passed her on to Melvin Purvis. Sage later informed Purvis that Dillinger was to take her and his girlfriend to a movie, and that she could be identified by her attire. She would become forever known as “the woman in red,” although she actually wore an orange skirt and white blouse that night. John Dillinger was soon dead in a hail of gunfire outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater (Girardin 1994, 169–173, 217–230).

Melvin Purvis

Dillinger’s nemesis was the FBI’s Melvin Purvis (1903–1960) who became a special agent in 1927 and soon headed investigative offices in Cincinnati, Washington, Oklahoma City, and Birmingham before taking charge of the Bureau’s most high-profile office in Chicago in 1932. In just eight years he captured more FBI-designated public enemies than any agent in the history of the FBI (“Melvin Purvis” 2014).

Standing just five feet nine inches and weighing only 140 pounds, Purvis appeared an unlikely hero, and the newspapers sometimes called him “Little Mel.” They also dubbed him “Nervous Purvis”—especially after he admitted that the cigar shook in his mouth that fateful night when he lit it to signal agents that he had identified Dillinger. Purvis would later write, with the candor of a man of integrity:

The romantic newspaper writers have, on occasion, pictured me in their deathless prose as a combination of Wild Bill Hickok, Nick Carter and Frank Merriwell. Nothing could be farther from the truth; I am not a gun fighter; I am not a wily sleuth; and I am not a Fearless Frank. To tell the truth, I was thoroughly frightened every time it fell to my lot to carry a gun on a foray of any kind.

There were men who served with me who never knew the emotion of fear. They belonged to the glory company of history, those joyous daredevils who, from time immemorial, have been vainly waiting for a commander to order a charge on the gateways of hell. I admire them, but my nervous system is not built that way. I never led a raid without apprehension, and only the knowledge that there was a job there to do kept me functioning in the death-haunted sectors where bullets were flying.

Purvis added, “A sense of responsibility is often an effective substitute for courage” (1936, 246–247).

So, as he and other agents moved in on Dillinger on the sidewalk outside the theater, Purvis would later admit, “I was very nervous; it must have been a squeaky voice that called out, ‘Stick ’em up Johnny, we have you surrounded.’” Dillinger drew his automatic pistol, but it never fired. Public Enemy Number One was shot by Purvis’s men and lay dying. “Later after leaving this scene,” Purvis wrote, “I tried to button up my coat and found both buttons gone. Apparently I had grabbed for my gun without thinking, and I am frank to say that I do not know how it came into my hand” (Purvis 1936, 275–277).

Purvis’s self-effacement notwithstanding, he gained tremendous notoriety for his lead role in bringing down John Dillinger, and—three months later—Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, killed in an Ohio farm field. J. Edgar Hoover steamed at the attention given Purvis. He wanted his brave agents to remain faceless so he would get credit for their achievements. So it was that Hoover maneuvered behind the scenes to keep Purvis from the next target, George “Baby Face” Nelson (real name Lester Gillis). When Nelson shot agent Sam Cowley (after Nelson turned a car chase into a trap), a scheming Hoover ordered Purvis to stay at the hospital with Cowley while urgently scrambling less experienced agents to pursue Nelson. When, as Cowley lay dying, Purvis vowed to a Chicago American reporter that he would get Nelson, Hoover had had enough (Purvis 2005, 259–260).


John Edgar Hoover (1895–1972), the man who would become “the nation’s top cop,” had parlayed his Master of Laws degree into a job with the Department of Justice in 1917. Thus escaping the draft, he pursued draft evaders, suspected German partisans, and communists on the home front. A biographer (Hack 2004, 54) observed, “The fledging civil servant had developed an unpopular habit of ridiculing those who dared to disagree with his interpretation of the law, dismissing them with a flutter of the hand as if clearing the air of annoying cobwebs.” It was a sign of things to come.

Working twelve-hour days every day of the week, Hoover received promotions for his industry. He lobbied for, and obtained, the job of assistant chief of the Bureau of Investigation, and, in 1924, became director, charged by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone with implementing a laundry list of ethical reforms. After minor name changes it became, in 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, Hoover sought to improve efficiency and obtain laws permitting agents to make arrests and carry guns, as well as making the slaying of a special agent a federal offense. And he allowed Charles Appel—an accountant as well as a document examiner—to found the Bureau’s now-famous crime laboratory, beginning with a borrowed microscope (Gentry 1991, 124–148).

In 1927, a handsome young lawyer named Clyde Tolson caught Hoover’s eye, and in just two years he would become in rapid succession an agent, a staff supervisor, special agent in charge of the Buffalo office, and finally assistant director! Thus began a friendship—others say a romantic liaison—that lasted until Hoover’s death. Neither married, and the two dined together, spent weekends together, took vacations together, albeit while keeping separate residences; Hoover lived with his mother until her death in 1938. Hoover’s sexual orientation has been made an issue due to his public crusade against homosexuals—his professed contempt of them being second only to his hatred of Communists. Hoover refused to allow gays into the FBI, subverted their positions elsewhere, and sometimes blackmailed them into becoming informants (Hack 2004, 281–282; Gentry 1991, 90, 307–310, 412–413).

Hoover also took an interest in another young lawyer, the dashing Melvin Purvis to whom the Bureau director wrote (April 3, 1934), “. . . get Dillinger for me and the world is yours” (Summers 1993, 70). Things soured with the shootout-turned-fiasco at Bohemia Lodge, and Hoover sent agent Sam Cowley to assist. When Purvis did succeed against Public Enemy Number One, Hoover briefly feted Purvis and Cowley in Washington, privately praising Purvis for “almost unimaginable daring” (Summers 1993, 72). Unfortunately the press kept referring to Purvis—not Hoover—as “The Man Who Got Dillinger,” and when Purvis also brought down Pretty Boy Floyd and became a media sensation, Hoover’s jealous anger finally boiled over.

Hoover secretly demoted Purvis—one of the greatest G-men of all time—and began to load him with demeaning assignments and to rewrite history, omitting Purvis’s name from the Dillinger saga. An early example of Hoover’s spite came following Purvis’s telegraphed resignation in 1935, when he accepted a lucrative offer from Post Toasties cereal. Comic strips featured Purvis’s exploits and promoted the Melvin Purvis Junior G-Man Club, which offered—in exchange for cereal box tops—such items as a fingerprint kit, code wheel, invisible ink and developer, and a Secret Operator’s Manual, plus Junior G-Man badges as well as Secret Operator badges for girls as well as boys. Although this was wonderful promotion for the FBI, Hoover nevertheless tried to find a pretext for challenging the little toy badges. He had to content himself with getting Post Toasties to remove any mention of the FBI in their Junior G-Man promotion (Purvis 2005, 283–284, 295).

While pretending to be friendly with Purvis, Hoover in fact launched an unrelenting sneak crusade against him, sabotaging Purvis’s career opportunities whenever possible, spreading rumors, and encouraging agents to look for anything negative about this principled American hero. Although successful in blocking his appointment as a federal judge, undermining Hollywood offers, and the like, Hoover was unable to thwart Purvis’s appointment to the Military Intelligence Division during World War II. Purvis instigated surveillance of Martin Bormann, helped organize a War Crimes Office, investigated the report of Hitler’s death, and assisted with the Nuremburg trials. Unfortunately, Colonel Purvis’s service records were destroyed in a fire, so crucial details are lacking, but he served with distinction (Purvis 2005, 260–313).

Months after Purvis had resigned from the FBI, Hoover had been humiliated at a senate subcommittee hearing on appropriations when a senator pressed him on whether America’s top cop had ever made an arrest. Hoover was forced to reply—four times—that he never had, that he was a desk-bound administrator. He probably never in his life wished more for credentials like Purvis’s. The very next morning Hoover ordered his agents to notify him immediately when targeted gangster Alvin Karpis was about to be arrested. Three weeks later, Hoover arranged to be on scene, kept safely out of harm while brave agents pulled in front of Karpis’s car and arrested him with drawn guns. But in the official version, it was Hoover who lunged at Karpis and grabbed him before he could reach his weapon. (Actually Karpis’s two rifles were in the trunk.) “Karpis Captured in New Orleans by Hoover Himself,” headlined the New York Times. Years later, in an autobiography, Karpis would make fun of these lies (Gentry 1991, 182–195).

The Death of Melvin Purvis

Hoover’s decades-long jealous vendetta no doubt contributed to Purvis’s suicide on February 29, 1960, and even then—as we shall see—Hoover would add insult to injury.

The sound of a gunshot brought Purvis’s wife, Roseanne, running upstairs from the kitchen. He had shot himself with a gun from his impressive collection—ironically the pistol of a gangster, Gus Winkler—the bullet entering beneath the jaw and exiting at the top of the head. It then hit the plaster ceiling, ricocheted into a bedroom opposite Purvis’s own, and, by then spent, fell on the floor (Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 30–32).

In 2004, I spent most of a week in Florence, South Carolina, where Melvin Purvis—after resigning from the FBI—had raised a family and died. From March 27 to 31, I visited his former home, talked with people who had known him, made a pilgrimage to his grave, and conducted research at both the county library and courthouse—being permitted at the coroner’s office to make a supervised examination of the file on Purvis’s death. I obtained a copy of the Coroner’s Inquest report (1960), and I held in my hand the bullet that killed the great G-man.

I met only one person who thought Purvis had been murdered, even though his son Alston writes (Purvis 2005, 337), “Despite the evidence to the contrary, some are convinced that my father was murdered and I have been urged to demand that an investigation into the death be opened.” I had a lengthy talk with murder-theorist Charles Ducker, resident of the former Purvis home. He was a child when he knew Purvis (being only ten when the shooting occurred) and so, he quipped, regarding Purvis’s stature, “He always looked big to me.” Ducker (2004) insisted the death was no suicide, believing instead that someone deliberately shot Purvis, someone who knew him well enough to get close to him. He told me in conspiratorial fashion that the alleged death bullet was suspiciously pristine, that it “doesn’t have a mark on it” even though the home’s plaster-over-lath ceiling was extremely hard. However, like the questioned “super bullet” in the JFK-assassination case (Posner 1993, 335–336), the Purvis bullet has two features to which I can attest: It is copper-jacketed, making it resistant to the damage that would accrue to a soft lead bullet, and it was indeed deformed, flattened on one side. Moreover, using an illuminated Coddington magnifier, I noted traces of what appeared to be plaster on the bullet’s tip.

Speculations that Purvis was murdered are completely unfounded. Mrs. Purvis reached the scene—at the top of the steps—within moments. Neither she nor her maid saw or heard anything suspicious. Nor did the investigation reveal any trace of an intruder, any report of a stranger in the neighborhood, or anything else that suggested foul play. Purvis’s physician, Dr. Walter R. Mead, arrived within minutes, followed by another doctor and then the coroner; none found anything other than evidence of a self-inflicted wound, and that became the official verdict (Coroner’s Inquest 1960). The coroner who allowed me access to the file, M.G. Matthews (2004), told me he thought the presence of both Mrs. Purvis and a maid in the kitchen was very good evidence against the intruder theory and that therefore homicide was unlikely.

Still questions are raised. Why did the victim shoot himself under the jaw—a supposedly unheard of site (Allen 1960, 14; Purvis 2005, 339)? In fact it has been chosen in a significant number of instances (DiMaio 1998, 363), and, indeed in this case it proved effective. The site seems much less likely for a homicide. Speculations that the gun may have been in Purvis’s left hand—he was right-handed—are misleading (Purvis 2005, 2). According to the Coroner’s Inquest report (1960, 2–3, 9, 48), the deceased—dressed in pajamas, housecoat, and slippers—was lying in a “crumpled” position, “slightly on his right side” with the pistol on the floor “to his back.” Since these are positions into which the body and gun fell (the latter even possibly rebounding), a left-handed grip is not indicated. Anyway, it seems possible that Purvis held the weapon in some manner in his left hand (the bullet entered the left-of-center portion of the jaw), and then pushed against the trigger with his right thumb. This could explain why, although there were powder burns showing “that the shot was close” (Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 15), the wound did not appear to have been a contact one (Purvis 2005, 339); the thumb pushing on the trigger could have pushed the weapon away slightly at the same time. He could even have been seated on the floor—to help steady the gun—as possibly suggested by a butted-out cigarette there to the right of the body (Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 12, 51). This hypothesis would seem to account for all the known evidence; there are other credible scenarios as well, though I do not think that homicide is one of them.

But could the death have been accidental? Those hypothesizing that possibility suggest different scenarios. One, that Purvis was attempting to extract a round jammed in the .45 automatic (“Melvin Purvis” 2014), is pure speculation—an obvious rationalization to deflect the label of suicide, which many regard as a stigma. (More on this presently.) Moreover, such carelessness on the part of a gun expert like Purvis would be unlikely, and the powder burns under the jaw showed he was not looking down the barrel at the moment the pistol fired.

Another notion is that, intending to clean the firearm, Purvis may have attempted to pull the rope that would lower stairs to the attic where his gun-cleaning equipment was stored, and, in the process, put his weight on a previously injured foot, whereupon “He stumbled and fell and the gun, which he did not know was loaded, pressed against his throat and went off” (Ducker 2005). This complex scenario fails the test of Occam’s razor, the principle that, of competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions is most likely correct.

The preferred hypothesis is therefore that Melvin Purvis committed suicide, a possibility that becomes a probability when the elements relative to a psychological autopsy are considered, providing corroborative evidence. Dr. Mead testified at the inquest, having talked with Purvis the night before:

Mr. Purvis was very much depressed, had been so for several days, I might say even weeks before then, but he had returned from Washington some eight or nine days before this and had seen me several times during that period. On each occasion he was very much depressed because of his inability to sleep, because of some constant pain that he was having in his back, his feeling that he was not gaining his strength. He was very much worried about the work that he was doing in Washington [investigating graft in the federal manpower system], that he didn't see how he could get well enough to carry on, and he expressed many times the feeling of futility of trying to go ahead with so many circumstances against him.

When asked if Purvis mentioned the possibility of suicide, Dr. Mead replied:

By indirection only, I would say, he mentioned it one time—I can’t recall whether it was the night before or sometime during the previous week but he had been unusually hopeless in his outlook and he said “I just don’t see any way out of this at all” and then quickly he said, “But I am not thinking of the same thing you are.”

(Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 6–7)

There, at least obliquely, was Purvis mentioning the idea of suicide, while at that time seeming to reject it. Certainly he was depressed and expressing such futility as to be consistent with subsequent suicide. In very recent weeks—“about the latter part of January”—his attorney said, Purvis had asked to have his will revised (Willcox 1960), another indication that he was thinking of death. Yet another highly suggestive fact was that— only the day before his death—Melvin Purvis asked his son Alston where the Winkler automatic was. (Alston had used it for target practice at the Police Pistol Range.) Purvis claimed he was “planning on giving it away” (Purvis 1960, 25–26). And in the middle of that very night, helping his frail, sick father get to and from the bathroom, Alston “breathed the odor of alcohol and morphine” (Purvis 2005, 327).

I do not see Purvis’s suicide as a stigma at all. Ambrose Bierce wrote: “Suicide is always courageous. We call it courage in a soldier merely to face death—say to lead a forlorn hope—although he has a chance of life and a certainty of ‘glory.’ But the suicide does more than face death; he incurs it, and with a certainty, not of glory, but of reproach. If that is not courage we must reform our vocabulary” (Bierce 1909–12).

Melvin Purvis was a courageous man. His epitaph is carved in stone: “Saepe Timui Sed Numquam Cucurri” (“Always Afraid, Never Run”). His son Alston (whom I have talked with) says:

And when my son asks me, as I know he will, if my father was a hero, I will have an answer for him. I will tell him my father led men into battle, that he risked his life more than once. I will tell him my father believed in duty, honor, dignity. I will tell him he never boasted or bragged about the things he did. I will say, “Yes, my father was a hero.”

(Purvis 2005, 342)

Mrs. Doris Rogers (later Doris Lockerman, 1910–2011) had worked for Purvis in Birmingham and came to Chicago at his request to manage the office. There were no female special agents then (not since an “experiment” with two in the 1920s), but she was involved in behind-the-scenes FBI activity during the gangster era. On one occasion she was asked to identify the wanted criminal Verne Miller, who happened to have once been sheriff in her native county in South Dakota. She sat on a high stool in a nearby apartment in such a way that she could peer out without being seen. Another time she remonstrated with Purvis for his agents’ harsh treatment of a woman suspect, and Purvis simply asked, “What should I do?” As to J. Edgar Hoover and his treatment of Purvis, her anger never ceased (Gentry 1991, 133; Purvis 2005, 344).

She summed up Hoover’s vendetta against the great G-man: “It is the story of a man whose littleness and meanness and smallness led him to destroy another man. It is a calumny of the worst order, and there is no way to recall it without raging against it” (Lockerman 2005). After Purvis’s funeral, his widow gathered her three sons and sent a terse telegram to Hoover: “We are honored that you ignored Melvin’s death. Your jealousy hurt him very much but until the end I think he loved you.” Hoover did not respond (Purvis 2005, 329).

Dillinger's Ghost?

Some conspiracy theorists maintain that it was not Dillinger who died near the Biograph Theater. Rumors circulated after his death that the FBI shot down the wrong man. They cite discrepancies in the description of Dillinger versus the autopsy that “point to Dillinger’s permanent escape and disappearance” (Nash 1978, 394). Some have postulated that the FBI had actually killed a small-time hoodlum by the name of Jimmy Lawrence “and was covering up its tracks” (Ogden 2009, 117).

This is a familiar conspiracy claim. Supposedly, the “wrong” person likewise was killed instead of such “escaped” outlaws as John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid (Nickell 1993). Even Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy, was not in Oswald’s grave, according to one ludicrous book. (See my forensic refutation, “Assassin or Look-alike,” Nickell 2009, 143–154.)

In fact, Dillinger’s body was identified by his own father—once he had looked past the minor plastic surgery—and he had his son’s coffin covered with three feet of concrete to keep the curious from digging it up (Ogden 2009, 117). A death photo leaves little doubt the corpse was indeed Dillinger’s, and fingerprints left no doubt at all: The tiny scars that obliterated his prints’ major pattern features (called “cores” and “deltas”) did not prevent comparison, and the postmortem prints unquestionably match those of Dillinger on his FBI wanted poster. As to “Jimmy Lawrence” that was simply the alias Dillinger was using at the time of his death (Kurland 1994, 101–108; Girardin 1994, 220; Gentry 1991, 173).

Now that we know “Dillinger” was indeed Dillinger, we need not be mistaken as to just whose ghost allegedly visits Dillinger’s death site. According to ghost raconteur Tom Ogden (2009, 117): “Within months of Dillinger’s death, people began to report seeing a misty male form floating down the alley where he died. Sometimes it would pull a gun before it fell to the ground and faded away.” In other words, the alleged ghostly drama simply repeated the drama people had read about.

But did these paranormal reenactments actually occur? Ogden is contradicted by another writer, Ursula Bielski (1998, 134), who insists: “In light of the mania following Dillinger's death, it seems almost unbelievable that no unusual phenomena were reported at the shooting site in the immediate months and years that followed. In fact, it was not until the 1970s that passersby on north Lincoln Avenue began to spot a bluish figure running down the alley, stumbling, falling, and disappearing.” Hauck (1996, 154), repeats claims that Dillinger’s ghost “has been seen racing down the alley.”

In fact, however, the reported ghostly reenactments are no such thing, since Dillinger never ran and was never in the alley. For these facts we turn to the first-hand account of his death by Melvin Purvis, leader of the team of G-men who brought down John Dillinger.

As Purvis wrote in his American Agent (1936, 275–276), “I was about three feet to the left of him,” when agents closed in on Dillinger.

I had to give the signal to close in then because I had seen the woman at his right [his current girlfriend] tug at his shirt in a furtive sort of way as if to warn him that all was not well. I had seen him reach for his right-hand pocket and give it a slight jerk as if in an effort to draw a gun. When I called out to him he drew his .380 automatic pistol, but he never fired it. He dropped to the ground; he had been shot.

Purvis continued, making clear that Dillinger never ran or even entered the alley:

He had made a long stride toward the entrance to an alley at the end of which were some of our men. I am glad he didn’t get into the alley, as there might have been a cross fire, although we had planned to avoid this as in all cases. Dillinger fell with his head in the alley and his feet on the sidewalk. In his right hand was his gun, and as he fell the elbow hit first, causing a sort of bounce. When his hand bounced up I took the gun from it. Turning him over, we immediately determined that he had no other weapons. We spoke to him, but he couldn't speak. An ambulance was called.

So the alleyway ghost is a figment, obviously based on misreports of Dillinger’s slaying. Besides, “In recent years . . . paranormal tales of that alleyway have lapsed . . .” (Bielski 1998, 134). Let us hope that Dillinger’s imagined ghost now rests in peace, and let us remember Purvis and Hoover in the contrasting ways that each deserves.


Allen, Dr. Edwin. 1960. In Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 10–16.

Bielski, Ursula. 1998. Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press.

Bierce, Ambrose. 1909–12. “On Taking Oneself Off,” in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (12 vols.); reprint New York: Guardian, 1966, 338–344.

Coroner’s Inquest: The State of South Carolina vs. The Dead Body of Melvin Purvis. 1960. Inquest held April 13. (Table of contents, p. a; report, pp. 1–57.)

DiMaio, Vincent, J.M. 1998. Gunshot Wounds. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Ducker, Bill. 2005. Quoted in Purvis 2005. 339–340.

Ducker, Charles. 2004. Conversation with Joe Nickell, March 28.

Gentry, Curt. 1991. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Girardin, G. Russell, with William J. Helmer. 1994. Dillinger: The Untold Story. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hack, Richard. 2004. Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. Beverly Hills, CA: New Millennium Press.

Hauck, Dennis William. 1996. Haunted Places: The National Directory. New York: Penguin Books.

Kurland, Michael. 1994. A Gallery of Rogues. New York: Prentice Hall.

Lockerman, Doris. 2005. Quoted in Purvis 2005, 344.

Matthews, M.G. 2004. Discussion with Joe Nickell, March 29.

“Melvin Purvis.” 2014. Online at; accessed Feb. 11, 2014.

Nash, Jay Robert. 1978. Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nickell, Joe. 1993. “Outlaw Impostors,” in Stein 1993, 112–113.

———. 2009. Real or Fake. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Ogden, Tom. 2009. Haunted Theaters: Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press.

Posner, Gerald. 1993. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: Random House.

Purvis, Alston. 1960. Testimony in Coroner’s Inquest 1960, 24–27.

Purvis, Alston, with Alex Tresniowski. 2005. The Vendetta: Special Agent Melvin Purvis, John Dillinger, and Hoover’s FBI in the Age of Gangsters. New York: Public Affairs.

Purvis, Melvin. 1936. American Agent. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co.

Stein, Gordon. 1993. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Summers, Anthony. 1993. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Toland, John. 1963. The Dillinger Days. New York: Random House; cited in Kurland 1994, 105–106.

Wilcox, Hugh L. 1960. Testimony at Coroner's Inquest 1960.

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell's photo

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at