Special Agent Nelson Bernard Klein | Federal Bureau of Investigation

Special Agent Nelson Bernard Klein Age:37 Served: 9 years 1926 to August 16, 1935

 


 

George W. Barrett

Barrett was born in a Kentucky mountain cabin. He left school after the 6th Grade and was first arrested as a teenager for moonshining. During the arrest, he pulled a gun and was shot by the arresting officer; just a flesh wound. After a small fine and short jail sentence, he participated in feuds and crime until, in 1917, he left for Cincinnati; probably until things cooled off for the five or six men he claimed to have killed.

In Cincinnati he found a job as a streetcar conductor and fenced stolen jewelry on the side. He further developed his criminal occupation and, with a pocket full of diamonds and a flourishing diamond smuggling business, he went back to Kentucky.

Soon, he with his revolver was in a shootout with his brother-in-law and his shotgun. The shotgun won and Barrett lost an eye. He then quarreled with his 73-year-old mother and shot her dead; then his sister who tried to intervene. He left his country home and didn’t return until he had paid enough money to witnesses to assure a satisfactory outcome in his trial. He was tried twice without a conviction in 1931.

FBI Badge
FBI Badge

After the trial, the district attorney hired him as a bodyguard and, in 1933, the district attorney was assassinated – after Barrett slipped away and dove under a car. He left Kentucky for good and started stealing cars and changing the serial numbers, operating his newfound criminal enterprise across the country, as far west as San Diego, California.

 

SA Nelson B. Klein

Nelson was born in New Jersey and fought in France during World War I under Colonel Donovan in New York’s “Fighting 69th” or “Irish Brigade.” He joined the Bureau of Investigation in 1926 and had been involved in a number of high-profile investigations, including the John Dillinger mob chase and the Alice Berry Stoll kidnapping in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

The Incident

During 1935, Agent Klein, working on a tip from a Covington locksmith, set his sights on Barrett. By August 16, 1935, he had enough to arrest Barrett and knew where he was – Hamilton, Ohio. He telephoned the Hamilton Chief of Police and asked that Barrett be detained as agents were on their way to arrest him.

Someone sitting at the station house overheard a conversation and went to Barrett to tell him. Barrett replied, “Guess I’ll go over to College Corners and get my gun. I ain’t been carrying’ it lately.”

When Agents Klein and Donald McGovern arrived in Hamilton and found Barrett had fled, they guessed where he was going. They drove toward College Corner, followed minutes behind by Butler County Sheriff John Schumacher and Deputy Charles Walke.

When Barrett got to the farm, he parked his car, walked into his brother’s home, opened a dresser drawer, and retrieved a long-barreled revolver. His sister-in-law asked him what he was doing and he replied, “Oh, I’m goin’ to attend to a matter.” He walked back to his car and saw another approaching him.

Agent Klein got out of that car and said, “Just a minute, Barrett! We’re federal officers—.” Before he finished, Barrett ran up an alley with the officers in pursuit. Barrett turned and, using a tree as cover, began shooting at Agent Klein. Agent Klein stumbled and fell. While on the ground and as Barrett continued to shoot him, Agent Klein pulled his automatic and shot Barrett in the knee. Barrett shot his final two shots into the Klein’s all but lifeless figure as McGovern shot him in his other knee. Barrett took aim at McGovern and pulled the trigger, but his revolver was empty. Agent Klein was struck with all six rounds in the chest and arms. Sheriff Schumacher and Deputy Walke arrived minutes later at 6:15 p.m.

Agent Klein and Barrett were rushed to Fort Hamilton Hospital. Barrett bragged at the hospital, “I beat him to the draw! Sure I shot him while he lay on the ground. It isn’t the first time I’ve killed a man.”

 

SA Klien’s Death

Agent Klein died a few hours after arriving at the hospital, becoming the seventh Bureau of Investigation agent “killed in the line duty as the direct result of an adversarial action.” He was the fourth agent killed in the last two years.

Agent Klein left a wife, Catherine Klein (37), and three children; Nelson Klein, Jr. (8), Richard C. Klein (6), and Barbara Ann Klein. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Kentucky. Nelson Jr. would later join the FBI and die in a car crash in 1969. Barbara also joined the FBI in a civilian capacity.

 

Barrett’s Death

Barrett was treated at Fort Hamilton Hospital and released as a paraplegic on August 21, 1935. After several weeks of recuperating, Barrett was taken by automobile to Indianapolis to stand trial for Agent Klein’s murder. During the first week of December 1935, a jury returned a guilty verdict. On December 14, 1935, he was wheeled before the bar of Judge Robert C. Baltzell and sentenced to be hanged.

Barrett was the first person to receive the death penalty under a recent federal law that made it a capital offense to kill an FBI agent. On March 24, 1936, at 12:01 a.m., seven months after the murder, Barrett was carried into the yard of the Marion County (Indianapolis) jail and hanged – the first official execution in the county in 49 years.

 

Grave Rededication

After a Covington Office FBI Special Agent found Agent Klein’s monument toppled and broken during the summer 2008, the marker was restored through the generosity and efforts of the Cincinnati Chapter of Former Special Agents and the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum. After determining no other family members were buried in the plot, a new inscription was etched into the stone marking the heroic ultimate sacrifice of Special Agent Klein. Retired and active local and federal law enforcement officers, Greater Cincinnati Police Museum volunteers, and surviving members of Agent Klein’s family rededicated the monument on the 73rd anniversary of his death, August 16, 2008, with a short ceremony and cognac toast.

 

FBI Building Dedication

On August 16, 2013, during the 78th Anniversary of his death, a new plaque honoring Agent Klein was unveiled in the lobby of the new Cincinnati Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in their new building on Ronald Reagan Drive in Kenwood. The lobby was named for Agent Klein. Speakers at the dedication included the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President.

 

Book

During May 2015 a book, “The G-Man and the Diamond King,” was published about the lives and deaths of Nelson Klein and George Barrett.

If you have further information, artifacts, archives, or images of this officer, please contact the Museum Director at Director@police-museum.org.

This narrative was researched and revised August 16, 2014, by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.