The United States in the 1920s - before the era of big government - was a mostly lawless place; about all a criminal had to do to get away with any crime in those days was cross a state line, rendering most border towns dangerous in the extreme... Into this sad state of affairs stepped a young lawyer named Melvin Purvis (born this day in 1903) who was one of the first men to join the Bureau of Investigation before it was given more sweeping powers by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following his inauguration in 1933.
Although he only served in the FBI from 1927 to 1935, Purvis still holds the record for the most public enemies arrested or killed: Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger were all killed either by him or by agents serving him. It is rumoured that he left the FBI because J. Edgar Hoover was jealous of the attention he got, which Hoover thought should be either his or the Bureau's.
Since his suspicious death in February 1960 Purves has been played on film by Ben Johnson, Geoffrey Binney, Dale Robertson, Will Patton, Chuck Wagner, and most recently - in Michael Mann's 2009 film Public Enemies opposite Johnny Depp as John Dillinger - by Christian Bale.
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