“A day I will never forget.” –Special Agent Tom McDade, November 27, 1934

Tom McDade’s FBI application photo,
courtesy of the FBI.

Recently, the Museum was offered the opportunity to preserve and utilize an amazing piece of 1930s FBI history. Ray Batvinis, of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, introduced us to Jared McDade, who was looking for a way to share a 1934-1938 diary that belonged to his father, Special Agent Tom McDade.

Upon review, Museum staff found that Agent McDade’s 318-page diary includes firsthand accounts about some big players in the 1930s FBI and gangster scene. Unlike the (somewhat dry) official FBI reports, McDade’s diary offers a window into his life as an FBI agent, from everyday details to thrilling car chases and shootouts.

November 27, 1934 Thursday. A day I will never forget. What follows is a riveting description of McDade’s and an agent named Ryan’s encounter with Baby Face Nelson and his associates.

They turned again and running about 40-45 miles per hour they ran along side and the driver yelled to us to pull over. A man in the back seat had a rifle or tommy pointed at us. I stepped on the gas and ran down road and they opened fire. The plunk of the shots sounded on our rear. We bent low and Ryan started firing through the rear window with an automatic. I kept the accelerator to the floor and ran about 72-75 M.P.H. We drew away from them but they continued to follow. We looked for a road to turn off to phone or get to cover from their guns but had to run…In trying to turn in I went too fast ran off the road and into a field. We jumped from the car and Ryan borrowed an attendant’s at a gas station to get to a phone. I watched the road but they didn’t follow. Purvis advised us to come back…

McDade and his partner managed to escape Nelson. Unfortunately, two other FBI agents, Hollis and Cowley, weren’t so lucky. Later in the day, Nelson and his associates shot and killed Special Agent Hollis. Special Agent Cowley would pass the next day of his mortal wounds.

Agents searched for Nelson over night with no luck. Later Nelson was found dead from the injuries he sustained in the battle with Hollis and Cowley. McDade wrote of the aftermath in his diary: At the office 6 PM and on all night. Did some accounting problems then sat in a poker game from 2 AM to 6:30 AM. Everybody was just waiting for an emergency call.

Jared McDade (holding his father’s diary) and Craig W. Floyd,
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Chairman & CEO

This is just one story from the rich pages of Tom McDade’s diary. Many thanks to the McDade family and Ray Batvinis for giving the Museum the opportunity to use this truly fascinating resource, to capture some real stories of American law enforcement—as seen through Agent McDade’s eyes—and share them with Museum visitors.

Learn more about Agent McDade and his diary.