• Matt

THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE

Updated: Nov 12


The bodies of Frank Hermanson and William 'Red' Grooms lay in a pool of blood between the two cars just minutes after the shooting. Groom's head is cradled against Hermanson's chest. Caffrey's bullet-ridden Chervolet is at the right. The car still has Nebraska plates because he, his wife and infant son, had just moved to Kansas City for his new assignment.

UNION STATION RAILROAD DEPOT

DATE(S) VISITED: OCTOBER 30, 2022
LOCATION: KANSAS CITY, MO
MAP

The Kansas City massacre was the shootout and murder of four law enforcement officers and a criminal fugitive at the Union Station railroad depot in Kansas City, Missouri, on the morning of June 17, 1933. It occurred as part of the attempt by a gang led by Vernon C. Verne Miller to free Frank Jelly Nash, a federal prisoner. At the time, Nash was in the custody of several law enforcement officers who were returning him to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, from which he had escaped three years earlier.


Left: Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, suspected of involvement in the massacre. Photo from the FBI files. Center: Adam Richetti. Photo from the FBI files. Right: Vernon Miller. Photo from the FBI files.

Upon the arrival of the train in Kansas City, Agent Lackey went to the loading platform, leaving Smith, Reed, and Nash in a stateroom of the train. On the platform, he was met by SAC Vetterli, who was accompanied by FBI Agent Raymond J. Caffrey and officers W. J. Grooms and Frank Hermanson of the Kansas City Police Department. These men surveyed the area surrounding the platform and saw nothing that aroused their suspicion. SAC Vetterli advised Agent Lackey that he and Caffrey had brought two cars to Union Station and that the cars were parked immediately outside.


Agent Lackey then returned to the train and, accompanied by Chief Reed, SAC Vetterli, Agents Caffrey and Smith, and Officers Hermanson and Grooms, proceeded from the train through the lobby of Union Station. At the time, both Agent Lackey and Chief Reed were armed with shotguns. Other officers carried pistols. Frank Nash walked through Union Station with the seven officers.


Upon leaving Union Station, the lawmen, with their captive, paused briefly. Again, seeing nothing that aroused their suspicion, they proceeded to Caffrey's Chevrolet. Frank Nash was handcuffed throughout the trip from the train to the Chevrolet, which was parked directly in front of the east entrance of Union Station.


Agent Caffrey unlocked the right door of the Chevrolet. When the door was opened, Nash started to get into the back seat; however, Agent Lackey told Nash to get into the front of the car so they could keep a watchful eye on him. Agent Lackey then climbed into the back of the car directly behind the driver's seat. Agent Smith sat beside him in the center of the back; and Chief Reed sat beside Smith in the right rear seat.


At this point, Agent Caffrey walked around the car to get into the driver's seat through the left door. SAC Vetterli stood with Officers Hermanson and Grooms at the right side near the front of the car.


A newspaper account of the scene.

A green Plymouth was parked about six feet away on the right side of Agent Caffrey's car. Looking in the direction of this Plymouth, Agent Lackey saw two men run from behind a car. He noticed that both men were armed, at least one of them with a machine gun.


Before Agent Lackey had a chance to warn his fellow officers, one of the gunmen shouted, "Up, up!" At this instant, Agent Smith, who was in the middle of the back seat, also saw a man with a machine gun to the right of the Plymouth. SAC Vetterli, who was standing at the right front of the Chevrolet turned just in time to hear a voice command, "Let 'em have it!"


Photo taken near the area where the massacre took place.

At this point, from a distance approximately 15 feet diagonally to the right of Agent Caffrey's Chevrolet, an individual crouched behind the radiator of another car opened fire. Officers Grooms and Hermanson immediately fell to the ground, dead. SAC Vetterli, who was standing beside Officers Grooms and Hermanson, was shot in the left arm and dropped to the ground. As he attempted to scramble to the left side of the car to join Agent Caffrey, who had not yet entered the driver's seat of the Chevrolet, Vetterli saw Caffrey fall to the ground. He had been fatally wounded in the head.


Inside the car, Frank Nash and Chief Reed were killed. Agents Lackey and Smith were able to survive the massacre by falling forward in the back seat of the Chevrolet. Lackey was struck and seriously wounded by three bullets in the back. Smith was unscathed.


Curious on-lookers were at the scene in seconds, and a great deal of valuable evidence was taken away as souvenirs.

The three gunmen rushed to the lawmen's car and looked inside. One of them was heard to shout "They're all dead. Let's get out of here." With that, they raced toward a dark-colored Chevrolet. Just then a Kansas City policeman emerged from Union Station and began firing in the direction of one of the killers, later identified as Floyd, who slumped briefly but continued to run. The killers entered the car which sped westward out of the parking area and disappeared.


The three survivors, Agents Smith and Lackey and SAC Vetterli, reported that the assault lasted possibly 30 seconds. They were uncertain if three or four gunmen staged the assault. From their account, it was apparent that the two Kansas City police officers were killed immediately, followed seconds later by Frank Nash and Chief Reed and then by Agent Caffrey, who was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.


The building today is an exhibition and science center.

Today, this beautiful building is now an exhibition and science center, but supposedly still shows some of the bullet holes left in the wake of the deadly ambush. There are marks on the front of the building that for years were rumored to be bullet holes from the shooting, but recent tests by Kansas City police conclude the marks could not have come from bullets. However, the mystery surrounding the legendary holes lives on.


One theory we put forward was that they may have purposely debunked the bullet hole myth so people would not chip off bits of the building as souvenirs.


One of the supposed bullet holes near to where the massacre happened.

The Kansas City Massacre would bring changes to the FBI. Before this event the agency did not have authority to carry firearms (although some agents reportedly did) and make arrests (they could make a citizen's arrest, then call a U.S. Marshal or local law officer), but a year later Congress gave the FBI statutory authority to carry guns and make arrests (in May and June 1934).


A commemorative plaque to honor the fallen law enforcement officers was erected in October, 1991 by the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.

The FBI acquired their first Thompson submachine guns and Winchester Model 1907 self-loading rifles. But, after requesting that Remington Arms provide a replacement for the Winchester, the agency later adopted specially modified variants of the Remington Model 81 semi-automatic rifle. This would give them a much needed level playing field to go up against the heavily armed mobsters.

 

POSSIBLE HAUNTINGS?


A place as old as Union Station has most certainly seen and experienced many emotions over the centuries, and it would not surprise us at all if these have been embedded into the foundations of this historic building. Over the years sightings of a ghostly woman in black, train whistles blowing, and a mysterious piano have all been seen and heard, as well as many more eerie goings on.


But, there is a local story that Frank Jelly Nash also haunts the station, his spirit refusing to rest after being violently gunned down. He is also the most commonly reported ghost connected to the massacre and visitors have apparently seen Nash’s ghost at several different locations in Union Station, both in the daytime and at night.


Some people have reported seeing figures of men in dark suits outside the building, near where the massacre took place, and when approached, these figures always vanish. Footsteps have also been heard on the pavement outside and inside the building, in the corridor leading out to the parking lot. It is thought that these phantom footsteps may be a re-enactment of the last steps taken by Frank Nash and the federal agents as they walked towards their doom.


The paranormal show Ghost Adventures investigated Union Station in Season 7. The basis of the episode is the potential residual hauntings by the men murdered outside the building during the massacre.


Whilst Team H were here we did not attempt to do any investigating due to time constraints, but we enjoyed seeing and feeling the energy of the history that oozes from this area.

 

For more pictures of our visit, head on over to our Facebook page.

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