Melvin shone as a field agent, and rapidly climbed through the ranks. Purvis stepped down from the FBI in 1935, and returned to practicing law. On February 29, 1960, Purvis committed suicide in Florence, South Carolina. Sr. went to act as a junior associate in the prestigious law firm of Willcox and Hardee in Florence, South Carolina. To get a limited time, Purvis thought of a job as a diplomat, but the State Department had not been hiring at that point. Purvis shone as a field agent, and rapidly climbed through the ranks. Purvis was among the few representatives given particular focus by Hoover, in spite of his less-than-leading administrative performance. In 1932, Purvis was put in charge of the Chicago office by Hoover.
Small in prominence (one paper report quantifies him at 5’4″, weighing 127 pounds), Purvis was referred to as “Little Mel,” from the press as well as by J. Edgar Hoover. Purvis talked gently using a mellifluous Southern drawl. Purvis was famously frugal with words, frequently refusing to comment on dramatic cases in which he played a part. One paper of the day referred to him as a “clam personified.”
In under a year, his gang stole an estimated $150,000. After an arrest in Tucson, Arizona, through the bank robber’s “holiday,” Dillinger was extradited to Indiana. In a ill-famed escape from jail—legend has it the bank brandished a wooden gun misleading police officers—Dillinger fled Crown Point prison on March 3, 1934. The bank drove a stolen vehicle across state lines, that was a federal offense and brought him into the authority of the FBI. Two days after Dillinger’s jail break, Hoover ordered Purvis to create a network of informants to catch the desperado.
On April 23, 1934, Melvin Purvis received a tip that John Dillinger was hiding out in a resort lodge called Little Bohemia in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. Sometime after midnight, Purvis and several representatives drove to the hostel and parked their cars some distance away. Purvis walked in the woods, but with no map or first-hand familiarity with the surroundings. As they got nearer, they are able to begin to see the lodge was inhabited. A dog barked as three guys walked from the lodge and got in a vehicle. Alarmed and agitated, the representatives opened fire on the vehicle, believing the guys were members of Dillinger’s gang. The lodge burst with gunfire. The representatives killed among the guys in the parking lot and wounded the other two. FBI agent W.C. Baum also perished in the shootout, and two other representatives were wounded. In the confusion, the Dillinger gang slipped from the hostel via a carefully planned escape path. Reports differ on whether Dillinger was even in the hostel in the time; however FBI records say he was. It was afterwards learned the guy killed in the vehicle as well as the two injured people were local Civilian Conservation Corps workers who’d ceased in in the hostel to get a beer.
For a time, Dillinger went into concealment. Melvin Purvis was shaken by the catastrophe at Little Bohemia, but a lot more discovered. John procured a contact with one of Dillinger’s buddies, Anna Sage, who’d later become known in the press as “the girl in red.” Sage joined forces with the FBI to be able to prevent deportation to her native Romania. (Despite the tacit arrangement, “the woman in red was deported yet.) On July 22, 1934, carrying out a set up organized by Sage, Purvis and his group of representatives waited outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago until Dillinger emerged. But Purvis refused to take any direct credit, and protected his representatives from possible reprisal by describing the functioning in military terms, where each guy had a job to do and brought equally. However, Purvis became renowned as “The Guy Who Got Dillinger.” Beyond Dillinger, the most infamous gangster to be overthrown was Lester M. Gillis, a.k.a. “Baby Face Nelson,” who perished in a Purvis-led shootout in Chicago on November 27, 1934.
Based on FBI records, on October 22, 1934, four FBI agents and four East Liverpool (Ohio) Police Department officers were hunting an East Liverpool area in two different autos for Pretty Boy Floyd. Floyd emerged in the vehicle having a drawn .45 caliber pistol along with the representatives opened fire. Hit by bullets, Floyd allegedly said “I am done for; you have hit me twice,” and died 15 minutes later.
Based on reports by the East Liverpool Authorities—and most especially Chester Smith, a retired East Liverpool police captain and sharpshooter—Floyd’s capture and killing went down considerably otherwise. Based on Smith, who maintains he was also in the scene, he, rather than the FBI, fired the two shots that brought Floyd down in a purposeful effort to wound rather than kill the fugitive. Smith went to assert that, after shooting Floyd, he ran over to where he lay on the floor and disarmed him. Now, Purvis ran up and ordered Smith to back away. Purvis questioned Floyd briefly and then ordered representative Herman Hollis to shoot Floyd. In accordance with Smith, Hollis followed orders and fired at point blank range, fatally wounding Floyd. Himself explained that no East Liverpool policemen were present at that time, but that they arrived soon after Floyd was mortally wounded. Pretty also said Herman Hollis had not been present when Purvis questioned Floyd.