CHARLES ARTHUR FLOYD: 'PRETTY BOY' FROM COOKSON HILLS
"Come all you ramblin' gamblin' boys
Wherever you may be.
Listen to my story,
And shun bad company."
Floyd soon recovered from his wounds and returned to the hills, where he hid out for a spell at his brother Bradley's home in Earlsboro. Back into the picture had come Juanita Baird, who had also recovered from her wounds suffered in Toledo. Along with her sister Rose, Juanita won an appeal in Ohio and the case against the Baird siblings was dropped. She and Choc became constant company again.
Ruby fumed, of course, but when she was told he had been hurt in the fight with Sheriff Kelley she faithfully rushed to his side. She stayed with him a few weeks. It was Juanita's turn to hide.
George Birdwell found this all too confusing and remarked that Choc might be better off if he'd quit chasing skirts to occupy his mind on business. This opened up an argument and the boys split. Actually, the men's relationship had been on the edge for some time; Birdwell was growing tired of Choc getting all the glory, while he was viewed pretty much as a tagalong.
Birdwell was correct, in a way. The legend of "Pretty Boy" Floyd had grown to such energy that hardly a day went by without one major newspaper in America running one story on him. Well-known columnist Vivian Brown was among those intrigued and sought out the man himself for an interview for the publication, Oklahoma News. As she later put it: "The papers were full of Floyd. The Depression was having its demoralizing effect upon society and many of the destitute were admiring the boy who could go out and take money from the bankers...Public temper was right for Floyd to catch the public fancy."
After much attempt and communication, Choc agreed to meet the journalist, but only if her interview were conducted at a location of his choice, in an out-of-the way place. She agreed, and he had a go-between escort her from her lodging to a stretch of backcountry 30 miles west of Muskogee. She wasn't afraid, for she had heard too many stories about the bandit's courtesy to women.
Choc greeted her with a smile, dressed to the nines, and proved to be a gentleman throughout the lengthy interview. She was to the point, he didn't dodge. She drilled him about his childhood, his family, his rise to crime, his bank plunders. While he answered he watched her pencil fly over the notepad. He had never seen anyone writing shorthand and was amazed that those strange scribbles and darts and arrows really translated into the English language
When asked what he thought about the life he was living, he answered, "I guess I've been accused of everything that has happened except he kidnapping of the Lindbergh child last spring. It ain't the names that they call me that makes me sore. I may be an alley rat or a skunk or even worse, but that don't give them a right to tell my kid that he can never amount to anything as long as he had a father like me. That kid can't help who his father is or what he does, but he does think the world of me and I sure think he's all right, too."
After the interview he thanked her for her interest and hoped that the story would soon be published. He had the same escort take her back to her abode. Summarizing her interview in the article, which was published right after his death, Brown wrote: "There is much to support the picture of Floyd as a modern-day Robin Hood. Like the famed marauder of the English forests, he took money from those who had it the banks and divided the proceeds of his raids with the poor. The penniless tenant farmers kept their mouths shut, they had no scruples about taking contraband wrested from bankers."
Not long after Birdwell walked away from Choc, he was killed in a holdup along with some other men with whom he tied up with. Choc was sorry to hear the news, for he thought that they might have repaired their differences, and hoped they would, as he enjoyed Birdwell's company. Now with George out of the picture, Choc went on the prowl for a good replacement.
He found one in the form of Adam Richetti, a 23-year-old machine gun expert and sagebrush bandit whom Choc met sometime in the last quarter of 1932, it is believed. After Richetti jumped bail from a bank job in Mill Creek, Oklahoma, and before they launched their bank-robbing spree, the duo supposedly went to New York City to vacation on wine, women and song. Returning to Oklahoma, they immediately hit several banks in both that state and in Missouri, circling the back roads roundabout with the hub of their operations, as usual, being Akins.
In Pretty Boy, Michael Wallis says of Richetti, "(He) grew up in a large family, one generation removed from Italy. His parents had left the old country for the United States in order to earn enough money to start a new life...They settled in Coal County near the town of Lehigh in the coal-mining district of south-central Oklahoma...Just to keep the pasta, beans, and a little garlic in the cupboard, Adam's parents hawked bottles of hearty choc beer, the miners' preferred beverage. They also picked up odd bits of coal and sold them to other poor families for winter fuel...Richetti ventured forth as a professional criminal in his late teens."
For a very brief time, Choc commandeered a series of bank robberies in which he didn't participate but, because he supplied the men, gear and hideout, received a percentage. A bank-robbing broker, in other words. Biographer Jeffery S. King lists these men, most notably, as: Edgar Dunbar, Aussie Elliott, Fred Stone, Ed Evans, Coleman Rickerson, George Polk, Clarence Garatley, "Blackie" Smalley and Shine Rush.
Loot from their various jobs was stashed and divvied up in a cave above Akins, which also served as a "cooling off place" for the men after a job.
This "conglomerate" was not to last long, however. Garatley, Rickerson and Smalley fell to the law after a foiled robbery attempt in Comanche. Eliot was arrested while trying to steal a car on the streets of Depew. Floyd began to regard them as "small-timers" and soon abandoned the enterprise. More than that, he feared that future failures might result in his own capture, say, one of the men leading the police right back to him. He and Richetti went it alone. Their target of operations was Eastern Oklahoma.
Choc was experiencing a transition.
On Mother's Day, 1933, he visited his mother and attended services at the Sallisaw Baptist Church. On the way home, mother and son paused at the local cemetery to put flowers on Walter Floyd's grave. Choc was silent, hat in hand, pacing; he remained deep in thought; by his manner unusually pensive, his mother thought. Finally, he turned to her and pointed out a shady spot beneath a nearby cypress. "Ma, over there, there's where I want to be buried, near you and Pa. Don't fret, but I expect to go down soon, with lead in me."
Mrs. Floyd was shocked; it was the first time her son had discussed the possibility of his death, a violent one much the less. For the first time in his life he felt cornered, he told her; felt as the minister at that church that morning might call mortal. Those who knew Choc would opine that the portent derived from his own guilt over the killing of Sheriff Kelley, an incident he had a hard time shaking. He had been thinking of the kids Kelley left behind, and he couldn't help wonder how his own son would react when his Dad's time came to be rubbed out.
But, Choc wasn't dead yet, and there were things to do, places to run. He and Richetti took to the roads again, this time leaving Oklahoma behind for the climes of Missouri. Rumors abounded that a government agent named Delaney had coupled with a private detective named Cooper, bounty-hunter style. They told Oklahoma authorities that they were going to see Floyd dead soon. Like many others before them, though, their boasts came to nothing.
Notwithstanding, Choc and his buddy endured a couple of inter-related close shaves, the first with a humorous twist. On the evening of June 8, 1933, the outlaws decided that it was time to switch cars, something they did frequently. Pulling into Cromwell, Oklahoma, they spotted a four-car garage belonging to the local Excelsior High School; within were a couple of autos belonging to members of the school district. While they were inside, preparing to steal a brand-new Pontiac, a teacher named Hudiburg locked the garage from the outside! The highwaymen, fearing the police had been summoned, had no alternative but to burst the Pontiac through the heavy door not a way to treat a shiny new Pontiac.
Knowing the law would be looking for such a car with dented fenders, they dashed for Bolivar, Missouri, where Richetti's brother, Joe, worked as a mechanic in Bitzer's Garage. They would have him pound the bruises out and retouch the fenders. Simultaneously, Chock figured, they might have him check under the hood in case the accident caused further damage that might cause complications later. Joe was pleased to help his brother; Ernest Bitzer, the owner of the shop, didn't dare complain.
Early in the morning, Polk County Sheriff Jack Killingsworth and a deputy pulled up to the gas pumps to re-fuel. Richetti, who had been drinking, panicked when he saw the badge pinned to Killingsworth's chest and cried, "Damn, the law!" audible for both officers to hear. Choc drew his pistol before Killingsworth could access his own, taking him prisoner, but the deputy managed to elude the scene, obviously running for assistance.
"We're taking your car," Choc told Bitzer, and demanded the keys. Choc took the wheel and shoved the sheriff in the backseat beside Richetti who covered him with a machine gun. Off they sped, through and away from the confines of Bolivar. In the meantime, the deputy had wired for help. Local city and county police, as well as the highway patrol, poured out three hundred strong.
The escapees avoided the main roads to adjacent Kansas City and instead swerved back and forth over the dirt roads of the county. Towards dusk, they flagged down an innocent passerby outside Deepwater; when he stopped, they pirated the man's auto and, still holding Killingsworth, sped off in the dark towards Kansas City. Once inside the city, they tarried around looking for a place to stop. At the corner of Ninth Street and Hickory, they released the sheriff. "Now don't go rushing to the phone, copper. Give us time to get away!" Choc ordered. Killingsworth watched the boys' car melt into the ebony.
After he returned to his post, he told reporters that, "Floyd seemed as clean a fellow as I ever ran into, outside his record. He treated me nicer than I ever expected.'
He was surprised, however, to hear Floyd at one point mention his own demise. "They'll get me," he told the sheriff. "Sooner or later I'll go down full of lead. That's how it will end. How would you like to be hunted day and night? How would you like to sleep with this thing," indicating the Thompson gun, "across your knees?" He silenced, abruptly. He stared at the road outside the car. Then, looking at Killingsworth with eyes that almost pleaded, he added: "I have a son, and I would love to see him before I die..."