Melvin Purvis, the famed G-man who took down John Dillinger, lived the rest of his life in the desperado's shadow.
When Dillinger made his famous escape on March 3, 1934, from the Crown Point, Ind., jail and crossed the state line with a stolen car, it became a federal offense. Purvis, a South Carolina lawyer who joined the FBI in 1927 and had been put in charge of the Chicago office barely more than two years earlier, suddenly was responsible for hunting down Public Enemy No. 1.
Purvis' first big chance didn't come until mid-April. Acting on a tip, Purvis led a hastily planned raid on the Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin. But Dillinger and his gang escaped, and a federal agent was killed. Dillinger's gang then knocked off a South Bend, Ind., bank on June 30, killing a police officer in the process. The public pressure to get the fugitive was intense.
Finally, on July 22, 1934, Purvis tracked down the notorious outlaw at the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Dillinger was killed in a hail of federal bullets.
But Purvis' work wasn't done. In October, he led seven agents in a raid on an Ohio farmhouse to capture the nation's new Public Enemy No. 1, Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, one of Dillinger's accomplices. As the Tribune reported, Floyd "was shot to death in a burst of fire from two machine guns, pistols, and rifles, as he made his final effort to escape the relentless clutches of the law."
Despite his fame and success, Purvis, who was 30 when Dillinger was killed, retired from the bureau in 1935. Still, he was featured in 1936 and '37 in a series of Post Toasties Corn Flakes advertisements that ran on the Sunday comics pages. The comic strip regaled the exploits of Purvis, called the nation's No. 1 G-Man. The final panel always showed Purvis sitting down to a Post Toasties breakfast. Children could send in two box tops to get a Junior G-Man Corps badge.
Purvis spent the rest of his life as a lawyer in the Carolinas and Washington, D.C. He also owned a radio station.
Not counting anniversaries of Dillinger's death, Purvis made Page One news three more times. In 1937, his engagement to a model and actress was scandalously and spectacularly called off on the eve of the wedding. During World War II, he helped the Army track down war criminals.
And on Feb. 29, 1960, Purvis, depressed and in ill health, killed himself with a chrome-plated .45-caliber pistol.
His Page One obituary was 12 paragraphs long. Six of them mentioned Dillinger.Copyright © 2015, CT Now