DATE OF EVENT: Saturday, June 17, 1933
DATE PUBLISHED: Saturday, June 17, 1933, in The Kansas City Star
Editor’s note: An attempt to free bank robber Frank Nash from the police and federal agents who were escorting him to prison ended in five deaths and became national news. When Nash arrived at Union Station, federal deputies were walking him to a waiting car. They were ambushed in the parking lot by three men with machine guns. Gunfire killed Nash, two detectives, a federal agent and an Oklahoma police chief in what became known as the “Union Station Massacre.”
Kansas City’s union station plaza became an arena of horror at 7:20 o’clock this morning when eight men were ambushed with machine guns, five of them killed outright, and a sixth critically wounded in a brief but murderous burst of fire.
Then the assassins fled and this afternoon still were the object of the most intensive search this city has witnessed in many hears. Hundreds of police and federal authorities were scouring the city and peace officers from every nearby community were guarding highways. No information had been forwarded to the police that might give an indication of the direction the slayers had taken.
It was a massacre apparently built around a plan to release or slay Frank Nash, notorious Oklahoma train robber and killer, being returned to the federal prison at Leavenworth, where he escaped three years ago.
As the machine gun foray burst out, the bullets took the life of Nash, the Oklahoma desperado, and also killed these officers. …
Aside from the dramatic fusillade coming at a time of the morning when the union station at Kansas City was busy with incoming and departing passengers, the battle was of considerable significance to officers who have been watching the sequence of prison breaks at Leavenworth federal prison and the Kansas state prison recently.
Nash was a friend of Harvey Bailey, leader of the gang in the Memorial day break from the Kansas prison at Lansing …
“I don’t believe they intended to kill Nash,” said Mr. (R. E.) Vetterli, as he started to relate the horrors of the unexpected assault. …
The murderers poured lead into a parked car which the officers and their prisoner, Nash, were boarding just south of the east door of the station. …
The officers knew that Nash was a desperate man, but believed they were not in any particular danger of an attempt to release him, since he was then in Kansas City, far from his Oklahoma hangouts and within an hour’s motor ride of delivery to the federal prison at Leavenworth.
Confusing aspects of the massacre were presented to the station employees and the crowd of travelers. Some believed the assassins had two cars, other believed there was only one. Some witnesses believe Nash gave a signal to the killers by raising his handcuffed hands. Others believed he raised his hands to knock a pistol from the hand of (Raymond J.) Caffrey, the government agent, when the latter saw the assassins.
It was a scene of distorted sequence, all occurring in a few moments’ time — a brief flash of fire, groans, writhings of the wounded and the stiffening of the bodies of the victims as they died.
“We went down to the station to meet the officers who were bringing Nash back from Hot Springs,” Mr. Vetterli continued. …
“There were the eight of us, including Nash, the prisoner, and seven officers. We were to enter Mr. Caffrey’s car. In the back seat were Mr. Lackey and Mr. Smith, the agents from Oklahoma, and Otto Reed, chief of police at McAlester who came up with the prisoner. …
“Suddenly I heard a man say: ‘Put ’em up. Up! Up!’
“I looked and saw a man with a machine gun blazing away from near the southwest corner of the car. … He was very close to us.
“I crouched under the murderous fire. I believe there were other machine guns working too. … When the firing ceased —and it was all over in a flash, I leveled a pump gun at the escaping car which roared westward out of the station parking lot.”
It was an appalling sight which met the gaze of those who ventured forth to see what had taken place.
The morning was cool, and, as is usual, many Kansas Citians had gone to the orderly station restaurant for early breakfast. Then, of a sudden, the whole scene changed to one of terror. The rat-tat-tat of a machine gun struck at the hearts of men and women. Everyone stopped. Screams could be heard as women learned of the horrible act of violence and death.
A tragic picture was that Chevrolet coach across the way, punctured with bullets, the glass hanging in jagged strips, cruel marks here and there. On the pavement beside the car were the bodies. …The bullets had blown them away like a strong wind. …
The horror of it! The pity of it! The cruel senselessness of it! What to do? How to stop such things?
People shook their heads as they moved away.