On November 27, 1934, FBI Special Agent Samuel P. Cowley was killed in a shootout with the infamous bank robber, George Baby Face Nelson. Cowley had been pursuing Nelson with fellow agent Herman Hollis when Nelson had the driver of his vehicle pull over to the side of the road. A shootout between the agents and Nelson ensued and was witnessed by at least a dozen people. Both Cowley and Hollis were killed during the shootout. Nelson, who was said to have suffered seventeen wounds in the gun fight, had his wife Helen, drive him to a safe house where he died later that same evening. Cowley survived his initial wounds long enough to speak to fellow agent Melvin Purvis and identify his shooter. He died about 10 hours after the shootout took place.
More than 80 years after his death, Special Agent Cowley was given a memorial service to recognize his sacrifice. On December 5, the Utah chapter of Former Special Agents of the FBI, conducted a memorial service which was attended by Cowley’s son, 82-year-old Samuel P. Cowley Jr.
Cowley was born in Franklin, Idaho on July 23, 1899. His father, Matthias F. Cowley was an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Cowley spent four years on a mission for the LDS church before attended the Agricultural College of Utah and George Washington University Law School. In 1929 Cowley joined the FBI and advanced to an inspector by 1934. He was sent to Chicago by J. Edgar Hoover to assist in the manhunt of John Dillinger. After Dillinger’s death, he was assigned to Baby Face Nelson’s case.
Cowley Jr., who was just eight months old when his father was murdered, said that family members and other FBI agents taught him about his father. He said that he was told by others that Hoover, himself, called his father honest and courageous.