The whole thing amazed Bryce. He hadn't expected the guy to draw on him at all. But worse was yet to come. The police were phoned by onlookers and when they arrived Bryce was so new on the force that the captain didn't know him. Worse yet, Bryce hadn't been issued a badge yet. He was summarily arrested for murder and taken to jail. Fortunately Clarence Hurt, who had hired him, showed up that night and turned him loose. "The man is a police officer!" Hurt roared. Bryce was free, but not before his father heard reports of his arrest on the radio news. His father arrived in Oklahoma City that night with a lawyer.
Bryce's father was naturally relieved that no charges were going to be filed but still wanted his son to come home to the safety of small town life.
Bryce told him, "I've never disobeyed you before but this is what I want to do. I want to be a policeman."
To understand Bryces career in Oklahoma City it is necessary to understand the world of the peace officer in the late 20's and early 30's. It was anything but peaceful. In 1924, just three years before Bryce began, Bill Tilghman, last of the great lawmen of the old west, was killed in Cromwell, Oklahoma, while trying to disarm a drunk. When Bryce's career began, the wild west was not a dim memory but a living presence.
How wild was it?
On New Year's Day, 1934, the Oklahoma City Times joked that the economy was so bad even bank robbery was in a slump. There were only 30 banks robbed in Oklahoma in 1933 as opposed to 59 in 1932.
Fifty-nine bank robberies? That's more than one a week.
In 1926, Bryce's senior year in highschool, there were 211 homicides in the state. The media was glamorizing bank robbers and criminals and, in a sense, it was open season on police officers; there were nine killed in Oklahoma City just in the decade of the thirties. It was the first hint of the depression, dust bowl and economic upheaval waiting in the wings.
One night in 1927 Bryce, alone on night patrol, saw two men in an alley trying to jimmy the back door of a furniture store. He swerved his patrol car into the mouth of the alley, skidding to a stop with his two front lights trained on the two men. He jumped from the car. The two men spun and both opened fire at the same instant.
Bryce killed them both instantly with just two shots.
What happened next was later told by Clarence Hurt, then still Night Chief of Police in Oklahoma City. He was in his office when Bryce came and asked him to follow him downstairs. Hurt followed Bryce down to his car where he opened the back door and revealed two extremely dead burglars.
"What you want me to do with them?" Bryce asked.
Hurt, a small, barrel-chested man given to chewing a crooked little pipe, explained, "Take 'em to the morgue, son."
Then, in later years when Hurt told the story he would inevitably add, "And you know what that Indian did then? Went home and slept like a baby!"
Bryce had killed 3 men his first year, all of them attempting to fire first.
On Memorial day, 1933 eleven convicts escaped from the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. One of them, Wilbur Underhill, proceeded to go on a bank robbing spree in a three state area. He was wanted for at least three cold-blooded murders, earning himself the nickname "tri-state terror" in the papers. Underhill was so mean he once killed a drug store employee during a holdup for not raising his hands fast enough.
RAID ON UNDERHILL
In late December of that year Underhill was spotted by police in south Oklahoma City and tailed back to Shawnee, Oklahoma, a town about forty miles east. A posse of federal and county detectives gathered quickly at the Shawnee police department and hurriedly mapped an attack strategy. The posse included Bryce and his old pal, Clarence Hurt.
By then it was dark. A scout car was dispatched to go and drive around the house where Underhill and companions were holed up. It was raining and the night was inky black but the officers reported a light was burning in the house and a drinking party was apparently underway. At three a.m. the police closed in, surrounding the house. The posse, under the direction of R.H. Colvin of the U.S. Investigation Bureau, consisted of six federal agents and eight deputies.
About three in the morning Hurt, Bryce and others took up positions at the rear of the house with the remaining officers positioned in the front and along the sides. A light came on in the rear bedroom. The officers approached. Hurt pressed his face against the screen and saw that it was Underhill and his wife. Hurt yelled, "This is the law, Wilbur, stick'em up
"Yeah, ok." Underhill said, raising his hands about halfway into the air. Then he suddenly whirled and grabbed two Lugers sitting on the nightstand beside the bed. Underhill and the police opened up at the same instant. Underhill was hit by a fusillade of bullets, knocked down, yet somehow managed to get up and charge out the front of the house through a pelting of gunfire, disappearing into the night. His wife fainted.
None of the officers were hurt but they knew Underhill had been seriously wounded, probably mortally. In fact, no one could believe he had managed to run away with so many bullets in him. Bloodhounds were summoned. They followed him. They found three places where he had fallen, full face down, in the mud.
A tip soon came in that Underhill was hiding in the back of a furniture store several blocks away, downtown. Hurt, Bryce and the others found him there, in bed, covers pulled up under his chin. He had been gut-shot with a gas gun several times. All the fight had leaked out of him. He surrendered meekly. Too mean to die, he clung to life for several weeks, finally succumbing in the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma.
By 1934 the United States was truly in a crisis of lawlessness. After the Kansas City Massacre the FBI had been given the authority to carry firearms, the problem being they had few people well-trained enough with weapons to battle the more vicious criminals then operating. As one old lawman says, "You know, there's a lot of plain old sorriness around nowadays but, back then, there were some genuinely mean SOB's." Baby Face Nelson had managed to kill two FBI agents in one night in November of 1934, receiving mortal wounds himself in the process. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI went in search of lawmen skilled as "gunslingers."
Within 6 months they hired 3 detectives from the Oklahoma City pistol team - Jerry Campbell, Clarence Hurt, the Night Chief, and Oklahoma City's youngest detective, Jelly Bryce. Although Bryce had no college diploma, it was rumored that J. Edgar Hoover's mind was made up by the events surrounding July 18, 1934.