ⓘ Melvin Purvis


ⓘ Melvin Purvis

Melvin Horace Purvis II was an American law enforcement official and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. Given the nickname "Little Mel" because of his short, 5 ft 4 in frame, Purvis became noted for leading the manhunts that captured bank robbers such as Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd, but his high public profile was resented by local law enforcement.

Purvis asserted he had killed Floyd single-handed, others variously claimed that Floyd had been already wounded, or even that Purvis had ordered Floyd summarily shot dead for refusing to provide information.

Purvis had the reputation of using very tough methods against recalcitrant interviewees. Roger Touhy, a minor-league gangster who was arrested as Purvis fought the huge Capone organisation during Prohibition, alleged he suffered the loss of 25 lbs of body weight and several teeth plus broken vertebrae due to being beaten every time he fell asleep during weeks of questioning by Purviss men. Purvis became the FBIs golden boy, having captured more of designated public enemies than any other agent, but found himself sidelined after he began to enjoy better press than J. Edgar Hoover.


1. Early life

Purvis was born in Timmonsville, South Carolina, to Melvin Horace Purvis, Sr. 1869–1938, a tobacco farmer and businessman, and Janie Elizabeth nee Mims, 1874–1927; he was the fifth of eight siblings.


2. Career

Purvis was a well-educated man, and known to be a crack shot. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law and had a brief career as a lawyer. Purvis was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order while attending South Carolina. He joined the FBI in 1927 and headed the Division of Investigation offices in Birmingham, Oklahoma City, and Cincinnati. In 1932, he was placed in charge of the Chicago office by Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Purvis led the manhunts that tracked outlaws Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, and most famously John Dillinger, which ended in Chicago on July 22, 1934. However, after Purvis became a media figure for this feat, Hoover claimed that Purvis had been demoted and agent Samuel P. Cowley had been put in charge of the Dillinger case. Cowley was later shot by Baby Face Nelson, and Purvis visited him in the hospital shortly before he died. Purvis was praised for his actions. He reportedly incurred the wrath of Hoover, who had previously supported him but now supposedly felt overshadowed. In a 2005 book co-authored by Purviss son Alston, Hoover is portrayed as jealous of the attention given to Purvis after Dillinger was killed.

At least one of Purviss official accounts of his exploits was later called into question. Purviss story of the death of Pretty Boy Floyd indicated that Purvis and his agents had killed him with no assistance from local law enforcement. This was later disputed by Chester Smith, an officer with the East Liverpool, Ohio police Hoover would later state Smith had shot Floyd first. Officer Smith said that Purvis and his agents never fired until after Purvis had attempted to question Floyd. After Floyd responded with curses, Purvis ordered Agent Herman "Ed" Hollis to shoot Floyd, who was lying wounded on the ground. This claim was discounted later by retired FBI Agent Winfred E. Hopton, who wrote in a 1976 letter to TIME that local law enforcement, including Captain Smith, werent even present until after Floyd had died. Of course, this version conflicts with the one from local authorities which has Smith initially wounding Floyd. Neither claim has been clearly proven.

Purvis resigned from the FBI in 1935 and afterwards practiced law. In 1937, he became engaged to actress Janice Jarratt, but they never married. He later married Marie Rosanne Willcox, and they had three sons. In 1936, Purvis published a memoir of his years as an investigator with the Bureau, entitled American Agent.

Purvis served in the United States Army as an intelligence officer during World War II, reaching the rank of colonel. He assisted with compiling evidence against Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg trials.


3. Death

On February 29, 1960, Purvis was at his home in Florence, South Carolina, when he died from a gunshot wound to the head; the shot was fired from the pistol that was given to him by fellow agents when he resigned from the FBI. The FBI investigated his death and declared it a suicide, although the official coroners report did not label the cause of death as such. A later investigation suggested that Purvis may have shot himself accidentally while trying to extract a tracer bullet jammed in the pistol, which is unlikely considering his skill with firearms. He was 56 years old.


4. Other media

In games

In 1937, Parker Brothers published a game called "Melvin Purvis G-Men Detective Game."

In television

  • Purvis appeared as a contestant on the game show To Tell The Truth aired September 24, 1957.

4.1. Other media In documentaries

  • Purvis was portrayed by Scott Brooks in the History Channel documentary on infamous gangsters, Crime Wave: 18 Months of Mayhem 2008.
  • Purvis was portrayed by Dale Robertson in G-MAN: The Rise and Fall of Melvin Purvis 1974, from SCETVs Carolina Stories documentary series 1974.
  • Purvis was portrayed by actor Colin Price in the 2016 television series American Lawmen S1E3: "Melvin Purvis: The Gang Buster" which aired on the American Heroes Channel

4.2. Other media In films and TV movies

  • Purvis is portrayed by Christian Bale in the film Public Enemies 2009.
  • Purvis was originally portrayed by Chuck Wagner in the musical Dillinger, Public Enemy Number One 2002.
  • He was portrayed by Will Patton in the TV movie Dillinger 1991.
  • Purvis was portrayed again by Dale Robertson in the TV movie The Kansas City Massacre 1975, a sequel to Melvin Purvis - G-Man.
  • He was portrayed by Alan Vint in the film The Lady in Red 1979.
  • Melvin Purvis - G-Man is a 1974 American TV movie about Melvin Purvis, starring Dale Robertson.
  • He was played by Geoffrey Binney, opposite Martin Sheen, in the title role of the TV movie The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd 1974.
  • Purvis was portrayed by Ben Johnson in the film Dillinger 1973.
  • He was portrayed by Michael Sacks in the film "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" 1977.


4.3. Other media In games

In 1937, Parker Brothers published a game called "Melvin Purvis G-Men Detective Game."


4.4. Other media In television

  • Purvis appeared as a contestant on the game show To Tell The Truth aired September 24, 1957.
  • reports Ben Johnson would reprise his role as Melvin Purvis in an ABC Movie of the Week called Purvis which would act as a pilot for a potential series
  • Philip Alston Willcox Purvis born 1943 son of Melvin Purvis is an American graphic designer, artist, professor and author. He received his BFA in graphic
  • American television film about Melvin Purvis It is the second spin - off of the 1973 film Dillinger, following Melvin Purvis G - Man in 1974, also directed
  • against Democratic challenger Melvin Purvis The South Carolina Democratic Party held their primary on June 12, 1984. Melvin Purvis a white minister and the
  • Purvis born 1938 Scottish Member of the European Parliament Katharine Purvis died 1909 writer of When the Saints Go Marching in Melvin Purvis
  • they become notorious criminals. FBI leader, J Edgar Hoover puts agent Melvin Purvis on the case. Meanwhile Alvin Karpis joins the gang. An attempted robbery
  • subject of film Melvin and Howard Melvin N. Johnson, American academic administrator Melvin Purvis 1903 1960 American FBI agent Melvin Williams disambiguation
  • Johnson as his pursuer, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis and Cloris Leachman as the Lady in Red who made it possible for Purvis to kill Dillinger. It also features
  • Melvin Purvis was complex and is debated by historians. Fans of Purvis tend to downplay Cowley, and the official FBI records tend to play down Purvis
  • pursued by FBI agent Melvin Purvis Christian Bale Dillinger s relationship with Billie Frechette Marion Cotillard as well as Purvis pursuit of Dillinger s
  • series The Lawbreakers. Philip Abbott as Harry Pierpont Steven Hill as Melvin Purvis Ralph Meeker as John Dillinger Jane Rose as Anna Sage TV Review: Ralph