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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 16: They weren't always the FBI

Updated: May 15

My title is just an excuse to write about J. Edgar Hoover's 'main men' because his agency went by many names before it was called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In a moment, though.


This image may look a bit odd because a bit of clever technology has 'stitched' together two separate images for me. Oklahoma City P.D., I haven't recorded the date:

Important to us were the men, the guns, and the gunleather of the noted men who fought and even killed the notorious mobsters of the 1930s. Biggest among them for us was D.A. Jelly Bryce who, like Tom Threepersons, was more of legend and a 'blunt instrument' as Ian Fleming referred to his fictitious character, James Bond. The 'D.A.' was for, variously, Jacob Adolphus (yes, I know those don't match up with 'D.A.') at age 3, J. Delph Bryce at age 13, Delph Bryce and Delf A. Bryce at age 23 when he appeared twice (!) at different residences in the 1930 Census (and Tom appeared twice in the 1940 Census; once with Lorene and once in the 'wrong' official month for the Census to be taken), as Delf Albert Bryce on his WW2 draft card and ultimately by the nickname 'Jelly' beginning in 1945. Jelly was half-Indian according to his FBI application and his parents' Oklahoma home being in what is now Kiowa county there, I expect he was Kiowa.


We know now that his holster was a Myres 614 of the second generation Threepersons Style holster that we know so well today as being the FBI's. We have images of him wearing it and stories from Myres about him carrying it in his gunfights.

He started out 'hot' and didn't ease up until the FBI put him out to pasture as a 'gunfighter showman' in the very next decade. He graduated high school at age 20 in 1926 and joined first one agency, then the Oklahoma P.C. in 1928. His killings began in 1929 with two auto thieves there and by 1930 he had shot a grocer whose death was highly exaggerated in his FBI application because the grocer did not die of his wounds. 1930 is coincidentally when one of his three future wives, Minnie Kirkman, arrived in America from Liverpool England to be a 'domestic' so perhaps a nanny. It was not she that he married first. We've no pics and researchers have only recently learned even her name. We do know from records that she was a very petite Englishwoman; and surely her reason for marrying Bryce was for the right to stay in USA before WWII broke out for England in '39 because by the end of the war they were already divorced. A dapper G-Man in Chicago in the 1930s -- how could a girl possibly go wrong?

Lots more to know about Jelly, not least the myth of his nickname "Jelly" which, according to the book Criminal Slang: Vernacular of the Underworld's Lingo, did not mean 'snappy dresser' as legend has it; but rather, 'coward'. Seems an unlikely choice of names to insist on (and he did insist, even petitioning the courts to run for governor of Oklahoma as Jelly Bryce) and his claim to have earned the nickname at the killing of the man who can only have been Dillinger in 1934 is even more unlikely: he was not yet in the FBI (killed by FBI agents) and neither was he at the scene (we have a contemporaneous list of all who were there).

His Oklahoma City P.D. partner was Jerry Campbell. They seemed to do things in tandem so both men had Wolf & Klar engraved 38/44 revolvers and both had the same Myres holsters. It was a short trip by car from Oklahoma City to W&K headquarters:

Jerry also had an 'early' Brill holster for his and although we have only grainy pictures of Jelly with his pistol we can do lots better with Jerry's matching revolver, which has survived to this day in a private collection:

The agent who killed Al Brady in a Maine gunfight in 1937 was carrying this .357 revolver as one of a pair, in matching Berns-Martin 'Speed' holsters. His name was Walter Walsh and was as at home on the range as all such men were expected to be in the FBI and even LAPD. He also had a Myres 614 that is a clone of the pair owned by Jelly and Jerry:

Here Walsh is receiving a trophy from Hoover himself. Walsh lived into this century! Dying at 107 in 2014 for goodness' sake. Ironically the 'marksmanship trophy' shown is in the same year as the street killing of Brady.

Then an image on the FBI's timeline website caught my eye because it is of the first graduating class of the 'pre-Academy' of the FBI. The Academy itself was established I believe in 1940 by Hank Sloan (which reminds me why I mentioned Jelly and Jerry prior: Hoover decided he would fight fire with fire and would hire his own guns; and he got them in spades with these men). We already knew of the group shot of the men who had just joined that class and indeed I do believe I can match up about a half dozen of them between the two photos. The many Fedoras in the earlier picture foiled most efforts though.

Ed McGivern tells the story in his papers of being asked to set up the new FBI's shooting program then, but the Eastern weather forced him and his crippling arthritis back to Montana. It is said that instead, the agency sent Hank Sloan out to him to work it all out.

Oh yes. The agency's names. The agency started out life as the Bureau of Investigation, then as the the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (I know, right?), then the Division of Investigation and finally as it is labeled today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One of Hoover's last official acts as Director of the Division of Investigation was to acquire four Clark shoulder holsters for the new Colt Super 38s and three of the holsters appear in that first 'pre-Academy' class image: we can see the harnesses :-).


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