Sheriff Jack Killingsworth
The newspaper article date 8 March 2000 was contributed by Marie Clayton.
Thank you Marie for all of your assistance
Bolivar Sheriff Jack Killingsworth
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
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 story.
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
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
“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
“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 years old.
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