Bernice Killingsworth, the Sheriff's wife was interviewed almost 60 years later in an article published in the
Herald Free Press in Bolivar, Missouri dated Wednesday, March 8 2000. The story was written by Robert G.
Beason and recounted the incident in June 1933. I have retyped the article in it's entirety here:
When Bernice Killingsworth died in Texas last month (Feb. 13 2000) at age 92, the last link with a famous
kidnapping case of 1933 was broken.
On June 16 of that year Bernice's husband, Jack, Sheriff of Polk County, was taken at gunpoint from a
garage on West Broadway by the notorious murderers and bank robbers Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam
Richetti. Through his life was threatened many times that day, Jack eventually was released unharmed and
returned to his wife and son in Bolivar.
Six decades later, on a visit to Bolivar from her daughter's home in El Paso, Bernice still had a clear memory
of the events of the day she almost became a widow at age 26. Bernice grew up in Bolivar and spent most of
her life here. She was the daughter of a man with the unusual first name of Hushell (everybody naturally
called him Hershel)-Hushell Creed. For several years Hushell operated a store and gas station across the
road and slightly south of where the Citizens Memorial Hospital now stands. She married William
Killingsworth, always known as Jack, who at one point was a car salesman at Bitzer Chevrolet on the
northeast corner of Broadway and Missouri Avenue, in a building that now houses the CMH Community
Bernice, a widow since 1972, last lived here in a duplex on Redel Place, on the east side. Because of failing
health, she moved in 1977 to the home of her daughter, Janice, in El Paso. On a visit here last summer she
recalled what a pretty Friday morning it had been 66 years before when she and Jack were having breakfast
in their quarters at the county jail Sheriffs of the time were required to reside in the same building with their
prisoners. At sunup the temperature had stood at a comfortable 60 degrees. The sun, a flat golden disk in
the pale blue sky of late spring, promised heat later the temperature would reach 84 degrees.
Jack wondered aloud about taking Jackie, their 2 year old son who was still sleeping, along when he went on
his daily walkabout in town. No his wife answered, don't wake him. Let's just let him sleep. And so they did.
“Later I was sure glad I said that, considering what happened,” Bernice said so many years later. Though
scarcely anybody knew it, Charles Arthur (Pretty Boy) Floyd and Adam Richetti were in town that day, and
soon their paths would cross with the sheriff's. Later nearly everyone with even a minor part in the event to
follow, and some with none, would tell the story of what happened. Few versions agree. This is Bernice's
Jack Killingsworth, then 36, always went round town unarmed. “He started his walks usually by going to Bitzer
Chevrolet to see the boys,” Bernice said. “he knew a lot of people there because he used to sell cars for
Bitzer. On that morning he'd barely got in the door when Adam Richetti yelled, “There's the law!” He and
Pretty Boy had come in earlier to get their car fixed.”
The two desperadoes had been traveling north from Springfield on Mo 13 when their car, a Pontiac coupe
stolen in Oklahoma, Pretty Boy's home state, gave out. A kindly and unsuspecting farmer towed them to
Bitzer's for repairs. They chose that garage in particular because Adam's brother, Joe, worked there as a
mechanic. All had gone well until the sheriff came in.
They all recognized each other in this triangle of the law and the lawless. Pretty Boy Floyd's picture had
been in all the papers, and Killingsworth had some acquaintance with Adam Richetti, who once had called
Bolivar home. Even if Adam hadn't know the sheriff's face, the star on his shirt told who he was.
It was a tight, cruel situation. By his oath Jack Killingsworth had sworn to capture or kill the likes of Floyd and
Richetti. For their part, the criminals couldn't let the sheriff just walk away.
“They had guns, lots of guns,” Bernice said. “Adam was the more cruel of the two, and he was already drunk
besides. He wanted to kill Jack right away. He told Pretty Boy `Give me that machine gun. I'm going to kill
him. I'm going to kill everybody.'” Presumably that did not include his brother, Joe, the mechanic.
Pretty Boy, though he was to murder 10 times, was the more reasonable person and talked his partner into
merely kidnapping the sheriff. Which is what they did, taking brother Joe's spiffy new 1933 Chevrolet and
installing Killingsworth as its driver. “Have somebody call my wife,” the sheriff said as they left.
“Jack said they drove all day,” Bernice recalled. “Richetti kept drinking from his bottle and wanting to kill
Jack. The car was just full of guns, and they kept one in Jack's ribs all the time. He told me that.
“Jack started talking about his little boy, Jackie, and that had an effect on Pretty Boy. He had a small son
(Jack Dempsey Floyd, born 1922) of his own at home. That might have been the thing that saved Jack's life.”
Motor cars, roads and communications were rudimentary in those days. There were no pocket phones; two-
way radio was just a dream. Instant dragnets were unknown, and roads were mostly local affairs leading to
town. Nobody had ever heard of a superhighway.
“They kept telling Jack to go first one way and then another,” said Bernice. “Soon Floyd and Richetti were
completely lost; they had no idea where they were,”
The sheriff knew, though; he was familiar with every road in the area. It was part of his job. Floyd and
Richetti, who evidently believed the zigzagging would throw off imagined pursuers, slowly came to realize that
they'd got themselves into a terrible predicament. The sheriff knowing the roads like the back of his hand,
could suddenly deliver them into the hands of other law officers before they knew what was happening.
Said Bernice: “Everybody got real tense, and Adam started talking again about killing Jack.”
“I know how to get to Kansas City,” Killingsworth, aware of his own danger, said suddenly.
“Jack said they both yelled, `Let's go!” Bernice recalled. “At least he was going to live a little while longer.”
The sheriff headed the car north and west, toward the city.
When they were 2 ½ miles short of Deepwater, a hamlet just south of Clinton, the robbers decided they
wanted to change cars, leaving Joe Richetti's Chevy along the road so it could be returned to its owner.
Adam Richetti, known far and wide as a heartless killer, didn't want to deprive his brother of his new car
permanently. The two commanded Killingsworth to stop an oncoming car. Jack stepped out and put up his
hand. The motorist, a man named Griffith, saw the star and halted. The three piled into his car and took its
driver along as hostage.
Meanwhile Bernice, at the jail, was unaware that anything had happened, though she began having
suspicions. “The phone would ring,” she recalled, “but then the person on the other end would hang up
without saying anything. I still don't know why.” Nor does anyone else. The anonymous calls remain one of
the great mysteries of the case. Finally, past noon, Bernice's father, Hushell, called and gave her the news.
“I didn't expect to ever see Jack again,” Bernice said simply of her feelings at the time.
When the captors and their captives finally got to Kansas City-the trip took all afternoon over a spider web of
interconnecting local roads-there was more talk of killing the sheriff. Even Pretty Boy now considered the
idea, but in the end, down on the bank of the Missouri River, they let him and Griffith walk away.
In the night, Hushell Creed drove to the city and brought his son-in-law home. They rolled into town around 3
o'clock Saturday morning.
“I was never so glad to see anybody in my life,” Bernice recalled. “Jack was tired, but he got up at dawn and
went to work again.” You couldn't let a little thing like that get you down.
Newsmen descended on Bolivar for interviews and pictures. Jack Killingsworth, having survivied a run-in with
Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam Richetti, now had to endure an ordeal by the press. But such fame is fleeting,
and soon life returned to normal for the sheriff and his family.
The very day of Killingsworth's return, Saturday, June 17, 1933, the Union Station Massacre took place in
Kansas City. A small bore hoodlum, known by the mob to be singing like a canary, was being transported
from one place to another by officers of the law. In the Union Station parking lot the group was riddled by
machine-gun fire. Four lawman and the prisoner were killed.
Since the sheriff of Polk County could swear that Pretty Boy Floyd, known to be partial to machine-guns, was
in the city that day, he was blamed for the slaughter. Floyd denied it to his dying day. In hindsight, it would
seem that Floyd probably was telling the truth. The assassins more likely were members of the mob bent on
silencing a man who was ratting on them. Floyd, who was never part of any gang had little reason to do the
job. For the newly formed FBI, the opportunity to clear up a case they couldn't solve was simply too tempting
to let pass.
The next year, on Oct. 22, 1934, Pretty Boy was cornered in an Ohio pasture and mowed down like an
animal by “G-men” under the command of J. Edgar Hoover's great and good friend Melvin Purvis. He was 33
Adam Richetti was captured, convicted and sentenced to die. In those macho days, gangsters were
supposed to meet death with their lips sealed. Richetti broke the code, crying and screaming as he was
taken off to the gas chamber in Jefferson City on Oct 7, 1938. He was 29 years old. His body, brought to
Bolivar, was viewed by 3,000 people who evidently relished the ghoulish experience. It was then and still is
amazing what some people will do for a thrill.
Jack Killingsworth, limited to one term as sheriff, later owned a Buick agency in town and served a term as
mayor. He died in 1972 at age 75.
Bernice Killingsworth now lies with her husband beneath the sere, winter blasted turf of Greenwood
Cemetery. Chill winds moan through the stark trees above, but it is all the same to the residents here. Six
short cemetery blocks away, and within sight of Bernice and Jack's piece of earth, is the grave of Adam
Richetti. There is Killingsworth family here to tend their graves and, in a Valentino like mystery, some
unknown person still places flowers on Richetti's stone every Memorial Day.
“Much of this story appeared previously in a somewhat different form in The Resume, the newsletter of the
Polk County Historical Society.
Sheriff Jack Killingsworth
The newspaper article date 8 March 2000 was contributed by Marie
Clayton. Thank you Marie for all of your assistance