You should have been there. I never saw anything like it in my life. There he was, J. Edgar Hoover himself, running around the corner on cue to tell America's Public Enemy No. 1, Alvin Karpis, that he was under arrest. The day: May 1, 1936. The time: 5:30 p.m. The place: 3343 Canal St. near Jefferson Davis Pkwy. What a day!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I know you want all the spectacular details.
Alvin Karpis -- also known as Old Creepy, because he got on the nerves of his henchman who hated and feared him -- was born in 1909 in Montreal, Canada, of Lithuanian parentage. He began his life of crime very early and at the time of his arrest was a member of the notorious Barker-Karpis Gang. When he was arrested, he was under indictment for two kidnappings. One victim was a barber in St. Paul, Minn., and the other the president of a brewery in that same city. Both men had been released after ransoms of $100,000 and $200,000 had been paid. Karpis' other crimes included murder and robbery.
Three weeks before the arrest, Karpis had rented an apartment on Canal Street from the owner and manager, Mrs. J.B. Mayer. Of course, he gave her an alias: Ed O'Hara. Mrs. Mayer said after the arrest, "He was such a nice, quiet little man. He is just a boy. I can't imagine such a slim fellow being as bad as they say he is."
Hoover had been in New Orleans three days before the arrest. He had come from Washington when the head of local operations told him that the stage was set for Old Creepy's capture. The department had been working on the case for two years, and agents knew Karpis had been in and out of New Orleans for the past two months.
More than 12 federal officers armed with machine guns and pistols participated in the capture, with "The Director" there to supervise the arrest. When Karpis left his apartment and headed toward a car waiting at the sidewalk, "Stick 'em up!" was the command. Even though he was armed with a revolver, Karpis turned quickly, hesitated for a moment and then did as he was told. In fact, the whole arrest was executed so quietly that few were aware that one of the most intensive manhunts of modern times was coming to an end. No shots were fired, and few words were spoken after the initial command. In an interview with a reporter, Hoover said, "He didn't have a chance."
Shortly after, officers also arrested Karpis' two accomplices, Fred Hunter and Connie Morris. The three were hustled into a car and taken to the post office building to verify their identities. By 8:30 p.m., a manacled and heavily guarded Karpis was driven to Shushan Airport and put aboard a chartered plane to St. Paul. The next day, Hoover was declared "Public Hero No. 1" and given a big raise.
Karpis, the only man Hoover ever arrested, eventually found a new home: Alcatraz. And he spent more time there than any other prisoner -- more than 26 years. After leaving Alcatraz, he was sent to McNeil Island Penitentiary. He was finally released in 1969, when, because he was a Canadian citizen, he was deported. He lived then in Toronto where he wrote his memoirs, delivered lectures about life at Alcatraz and made beer commercials. His end came in Spain in 1979 where it is believed that he committed suicide.
At the intersection of Canal and Jefferson Davis today, there is a parking lot where the apartment building stood in 1936. We have many monuments in this city but none that recognizes the dramatic event that took place when the first G-man rid the country of Public Enemy No. 1.
Alvin Karpis said of Hoover, "I made that son of a bitch."
J. Edgar Hoover called Karpis "a dirty yellow rat."