How Fargo Season 4 Pays Homage to the Union Station Massacre

Fargo season 4’s “The Nadir” rewrites a page from crime history.

Fargo Season 4 Episode 8 Union Station Massacre
Photo: FX

This has a major spoiler so don’t read until you’ve seen Fargo season 4 episode 8 “The Nadir.”

Fargo’s season 4, episode 8, “The Nadir,” contains an allegorical reference to a true crime occurrence. It appears Loy Cannon (Chris Rock) dropped dime on the two lady criminals he felt responsible for, Zelmare Roulette (Karen Aldridge) and Swanee Capps (Kelsey Asbille). He thought he was turning two tickets to Philadelphia into a one-way ride to Palookaville. They turned it into a grand exit. The conclusion of this sequence points to a conspiracy. Put these together and you have the Union Station Massacre.

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In the opening disclaimer of every Fargo, we read how the names have been changed on real events. In this case, that includes the genders, body count, and arc of the gunfight at Kansas City’s main transportation hub, the Union Railway Station. The real events of the Union Station Massacre of June 17, 1933, are still very dramatic. Convicted murderer Frank “Jelly” Nash had been caught after escaping from Leavenworth Penitentiary. His partner-in-crime, Verne Miller, hatched a plan to snatch the convict on the way back to prison.

Nash who had already been sentenced to life for a murder and pardoned in 1913. On March 3, 1924 he was given 25 years for assaulting a mail custodian. He escaped the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, on Oct. 19, 1930. The FBI launched an intensive search over the entire U.S. and parts of Canada. They found Nash went back to Leavenworth on December 11, 1931, to help seven more convicts escape.

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FBI agents Frank Smith and F. Joseph Lackey, along with Otto Reed, the Chief of the McAlester, Oklahoma Police, caught up with Nash in a store in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on June 16, 1933, according to the official FBI site. At 8:30 p.m. they escorted Nash on a Missouri Pacific train from Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was due to arrive at Kansas City, Missouri at 7:15 a.m. on June 17. News of the transfer made the morning edition of the Kansas City Star.

The FBI page maintains the plan to snatch Nash was put together by Richard Tallman Galatas, Herbert Farmer, “Doc” Louis Stacci, and Frank B. Mulloy. There are reports Kansas City gangster John Lazia  was also to help. Lazia controlled votes on the North Side of Kansas City, making him a darling of political “boss” Tom Pendergast and city manager Henry McElroy. Lazia bribed almost every cop in the police department, or he got associates on the force. This makes it likely he would have known about the prison transfer. The head of the Kansas City crime family was more of a politician than a gangster, and Lazia allegedly farmed the job out to Adam Richetti and Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who earned the FBI distinction of being Public Enemy No. 1 after the grab became a bloodbath.

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Floyd and Richetti’s car broke down in Bolivar, Missouri, on the way to Kansas City, according to the FBI site. While getting it fixed, Sheriff Jack Killingsworth came into the garage. Richetti and Floyd, armed with a machine gun and two .45 pistols, respectively, ordered the sheriff and the mechanics against the wall. The two gunmen moved their stash of weapons into another car, along with the sheriff and drove to Deepwater, Missouri. They stole another car and made it to Kansas City by 10:00 the night before the transfer, where they were filled in on the details.

Seven law enforcement officers, a mix of FBI agents, Kansas City Police Department officers and Chief Reed, armed with shotguns and pistols, walked Nash through Union Station to a Chevrolet parked directly in front of the entrance. Two men ran out from behind a green Plymouth which was parked about six feet away, as another man emerged from behind the radiator of another car across the street, and they opened fire. Three officers survived the 30 second exchange. Captive Frank Nash was not one of them.

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The incident marked the second agent death in FBI history. Armed with a latent fingerprint on a beer bottle, the massacre’s lead investigator J. Edgar Hoover, accused Richetti and “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Hoover went on to become the first FBI director. The Bureau shook down the entire Midwest criminal world looking for the mobsters. Like many gangsters, Floyd was beloved by the people where he grew up. During bank robberies he would be sure to destroy mortgage papers. The people of Oklahoma called him “the Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills.”  

In October 1934, an FBI team led by Melvin Purvis, the same agent who led the street execution of John Dillinger, caught up with the pair in Ohio. Floyd was shot while trying to escape and denied having anything to do with the massacre, according to Dary Matera’s book John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal. He didn’t live to go to trial, he was allowed, or helped, to bleed out by the agents. Richetti did go to trial, and was executed on Oct. 7, 1938.

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According to Blackie Audett’s 1954 book Rap Sheet, the real gunmen were Maurice Denning and Solomon “Solly” Weissman. According to Americanmafia.com, Weissman, who was also known as “Slicey Solly,” “The Bully of Twelfth Street” and “the Cutcher-head-off Kid,” ran crime in Kansas City.

The massacre was a major fuckup for organized crime. It brought unwanted attention to the syndicate. Verne Miller, who set it up, was beaten to death and left in a ditch outside of Detroit in 1934. Lazia was shot to death in front of his wife at the Park Central Hotel on July 9, 1934, one week short of the first anniversary of the massacre. His underboss, “Charley the Wop” Carollo took the top spot for a short while but did time for income tax evasion before being deported to Italy.

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Fargo airs Sundays at 9 pm on FX.