Delf A. 'Jelly' Bryce was possibly the fastest gunfighter ever
Law enforcement legend survived 19 gunfights and trained an entire generation to survive their own
Delf A. “Jelly” Bryce — often described as “the perfect shot” — was said to have teethed on his father’s loaded gun. When asked about the veracity of the story, his sister said that the tale was preposterous, claiming with a wry smile their father always unloaded the pistol before he let the infant “have at it.”
During his 32-year career as an officer of the law, Bryce became an indomitable law enforcement gunfighter, as he battled through “The Gangster Era.” He accomplished this by:
• Possessing natural talent
I’m Better if I Draw First
Chief Hurt in turn asked Bryce if he could shoot, and Bryce answered that he thought he could.
Hurt set up a target to see if the kid was any good and Bryce asked, “Can I draw and shoot? I’m better if I draw first than if I stand still.”
“Up to you,” replied Hurt.
Bryce drew and fired rapidly six times, putting the shots in a group one could cover with a silver dollar.
Hurt told Bryce, “Forget about college. You have a job with the Oklahoma City Police Department.”
A Keen Eye for Trouble
The man snarled, “Who are you?”
Bryce, in plain clothes, answered, “I am a police officer.”
The car thief instantly jerked a pistol out from under his coat and swung it toward Bryce. The rookie drew, fired once and the suspect’s lifeless body slid out of the car onto the pavement.
Bryce was officially no longer a rookie.
During that same year, while alone in a patrol car, Bryce spotted two men prying a door open on a business late one night. Bryce pulled his car up, lighting up the suspects with his head lights. As he exited his squad Bryce shouted for them to surrender. Both suspects drew pistols and fired.
Bryce drew and fired twice killing both suspects instantly.
Early in his career as a Detective, he located a wanted gangster and after calling for his surrender the suspect opened fire. The Gangster was instantaneously felled by shots from Bryce, but the wounded criminal conjured the energy to crawl into a nearby theatre.
Bryce entered, directed the theatre manager to turn up the house lights and he cautiously followed the trail of the bleeding suspect, who he found dying and helpless. The gangster looked up at the smartly dressed detective, and with his last breath bemoaned, “I can’t believe I was killed by a Jelly Bean like you.”
Recruited by J. Edgar Hoover
One incident brought Jelly Bryce to the attention of recruiters from the FBI. On July 18, 1934 Jelly was on the hunt for a partner of Clyde Barrow named Harvey Pugh, who was a cop killer, as well as his two associates, J. Ray O’Donnell and Tom Walton. Jelly received information that the three were holed up at the Wren Hotel.
Jelly went to the hotel and made contact with Nora Bingaman, an elderly woman at the front desk. Her 28-year-old daughter, Merle Bolen was the owner of the hotel and Jelly asked to speak with Merle, hoping to confirm the tip. Bingaman led Jelly to Merle’s room and when Nora opened the door she looked startled and tried to hurriedly close the door.
Jelly, sensing something was amiss, blocked the door and opened it, spotting Ray O’Donnell in bed with a scantily dressed Merle Bolen. Ray had a Colt 1911 in each hand.
Bryce later described the action like this, “When I looked into the room there he was up on his elbows with a gun in both hands aimed right at me. He was lying on the near side of me and the woman was on the other side of him. I jumped to one side out of the line of fire, grabbed my gun and tore him up.”
Tore him up, he did. Jelly Bryce fired six times on the move. The first shot hit the bad man just under the chin. The next four hit him in the head and one round went into the mattress. The women and a Walton were taken immediately into custody unharmed. The cop killer Harvey Pugh was arrested a short time later, when he returned to the hotel to pick up his car.
The FBI recruited Bryce.
J. Edgar himself waived the FBI’s college requirement to hire the man who was known to stand in front of a mirror practicing a fast draw for eight hours straight. As it turned out, Bryce was a man for his times.
Special Agent Jelly Bryce
In a time when the FBI had neither a Hostage Rescue Team, nor trained negotiators they had Jelly Bryce. Whenever an especially dangerous man was holed up in his area Jelly would be called to the scene as the “Special Negotiator.”
Bryce would use his skills as a communicator and maneuver into a position to talk to the suspect, who was brought out alive if cooperative and inevitably dead if he was not.
On one occasion a reporter took a verbal shot at Bryce, when he asked, “Aren’t you interested in bringing them back alive.”
Unfazed by the question the honorable gun fighter gave an answer that resonates for police officers to this very day. Bryce fired back, “I’m more interested in bringing myself back alive.”
After the untimely but necessary demise of a number of gangsters at the hands of Special Agent Jelly Bryce a phenomenon developed, which was called the “Bryce Effect.” Law enforcement officers at the scenes of stand-offs only need call Bryce to the scene and suspects would surrender without a shot being fired.
A Happy Man
Delf Bryce did indeed marry Shirley Bloodworth and their thirty year union produced great happiness as well as a son named Johnny.
In 1945 Life magazine did a photographic study of Bryce dropping a coin, drawing, firing and hitting the coin before it passed his waist. Experts determined Bryce was able to draw and make that incredible shot in two fifths of a second.
Toward the end of his career Bryce was utilized heavily, teaching agents his point shooting style. He also gave incredible public displays of marksmanship, which he continued after retiring in 1958.
In May 1974 at 68 years of age Delf A. “ Jelly” Bryce achieved the honorable gunfighter’s ultimate victory. He ended his tour peacefully, in his sleep.
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