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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
Developing a winning technique using:
Fast draw
Accurate point shooting
Training relentlessly with
Live fire
Cleared-weapon-drawing in front of a mirror
Possessing a heightened sense of justice
Being decisive in gunfights
Developing the ability through training to at once:
Move, draw, and shoot quickly and accurately under stress

I’m Better if I Draw First
After graduating High School, Delf became an Oklahoma State Game Agent, but after six months he resigned, headed for college. While en route, Bryce stopped at a shooting contest in Shawnee Oklahoma, hoping to win the $100 prize. Here he met the “Night Chief” of the Oklahoma City Police Department, Clarence Hurt, and asked if anyone could enter.

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
On his second day on the job, Bryce spotted a suspicious person seated in a car on the streets of Oklahoma City. Bryce approached and pulled the car door open and asked the suspect “What are you doing?” as the suspect was in the process of hot-wiring the vehicle.

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.

Bryce became the youngest Detective on the Oklahoma City Police Department. Plain clothes suited him, because he always enjoyed being a dapper dresser.

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.”

“Jelly” stuck.

Recruited by J. Edgar Hoover
In the 1930’s the FBI was struggling in its war against gangsters. During an attempt to apprehend John Dillinger in Wisconsin, agents mistakenly killed three innocent men. In other actions four agents were killed in less than one year. FBI agents were all college graduates, but often possessed neither street smarts, nor firearms skills. J Edgar Hoover felt a need to reach out to some proven local law men, who possessed the necessary skills.

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
While with the FBI, Bryce’s specialty was ending the careers of criminals, quietly or dramatically…their choice.

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
In 1944, when Jelly was working out of the El Paso Office he spotted a beautiful young lady crossing the street in Roswell, New Mexico. Bryce was so moved by this beauty he approached her and told her, during the introduction, “I just thought you’d want to know. I’m going to marry you.”

Delf Bryce did indeed marry Shirley Bloodworth and their thirty year union produced great happiness as well as a son named Johnny.

Jelly’s Guns
Bryce was involved in gun fights armed with everything from a Thompson sub machine-gun to a .38 caliber revolver and was a master with all. His personal favorite was a Smith and Wesson .44 caliber revolver. It sported a pearl handled grip, embossed with a black cat and the number 13, which proved unlucky for criminals. Bryce, however, affectionately called the pistol “Lucky”

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.

Final Victory
Jelly Bryce not only survived 19 law enforcement gunfights, but he also trained an entire generation of gun fighters to survive their own.

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.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.