One of the legendary coppers of old that today's officers don't know enough about is Delf (Jelly) Bryce. There's an excellent description of his life and exploits on this site here. A few of the almost unbelievable details:
- As a young child he went everywhere with his little .22 and had a reputation for literally never missing a shot.
- As a kid he once saved up over $100 that he'd earned by shining shoes, and spent it all on ammunition. Think of how much ammunition that was (and how much $100 was worth) a century ago!
- On demand, he could drop a silver dollar from shoulder height with his right hand, then draw his revolver with the same hand and shoot the dollar as it reached waist level.
- Just out of high school in 1927, and on his very first day on the job with the Oklahoma City PD, while in plain clothes, he outdrew a gangster who was drawing on him and killed him. He killed several more BGs in the next few years alone.
- He went on to participate in 19 gunfights (the actual killed toll is unknown).
- He was such a legendary shot at OCPD that he was recruited by the FBI, where he went on to a long career, getting in successful shoot-outs with the gangsters that plagued the country in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Editor's Note Inserted: In another piece I read about Jelly Bryce, when he was once asked how he could be so accurate, he said he could SEE the bullets in the air so if he ever missed a first shot, he adjusted based on what he'd seen; no guessing involved.
And Jelly? How'd he get that nickname? It came from the fact that he was always a fancy dresser. One of the crooks that he shot it out with in Oklahoma City, just before he died from his wounds, looked up at Bryce and said, "I can't believe I was killed by a jelly bean like you." At the time jelly bean was a somewhat derogatory term for a fancy dresser, and the name stuck.
Mike Conti is a name well-known to the law enforcement firearms community. In 2000 he took over as Director of the Massachusetts State Police Firearms Training Unit, and made national news in the firearms instructor community when he incorporated Applegate-style target-focused shooting in the curriculum, and built a version of Applegate's house of horrors at the FTU's training facility (I went through the MSP house of horrors, and it was truly an eye-opening experience - one I have never forgot). He has also written and published other exclusive books focused on the firearms practitioner, all of which are invaluable resources to the community. He went on as a MSP Lieutenant to command the anti-terror unit at Logan Airport. Now retired, he has taken over the Rangemaster position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where--no surprise -- he's revamped and modernized the program and the facilities for both the students and the public.
Conti has always been fascinated by Jelly Bryce, and indeed, as much as there's much to be learned from those old-school guys, there's even more to be learned from the giants among them like Bryce. The biography of Bryce had already been written, and so Mike decided to write the novel of his life. You always wonder want someone's first-time novel will be like, but no worries on that front here: Jelly Bryce, The Legend Begins is 1) very well-written, and 2) a relaxing and engaging read. Conti uses the well-known incidents of Bryce's life to craft a story, and you really want to keep reading to see what happens. In this novel, we follow Bryce from babyhood to his recruitment into the FBI.
No novel is complete without a conflict, of course, and the conflict in this novel is within Bryce himself: with his coming to terms with the killing that comes so easily to him. Conti says that he used incidents from his own career as inspiration for the dialogue, the relationships between the cops, and details of the situations that he describes Bryce going through. Indeed, knowing Mike Conti for a while, I can hear his voice in the character of H.V. Wilder, Bryce's older partner and mentor at OCPD, as he tries to help Bryce reconcile himself to his natural talent.
Part of Conti's inspiration for writing the novel is the fact that most of the movies and books that have been written about the gangster era center on the personalities and exploits of the criminals; the heroic law enforcement officers that ultimately brought them down are usually nothing more than supporting characters. And Bryce's exploits are nothing short of heroic: he was always the first man through the door on the really bad calls.