1940-09 The Purple Dragon

Cover Date: September 1940
Volume  16 # 1
Copyright Date: Friday, August 16. 1940
Author: Harold A. Davis
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length:  41,167 words
WHMC: The collection contains one folder for this story, f.665
Cover by Emory Clarke
Recurring Characters. Monk, Ham, and Renny do the heavy lifting in this one.  Long Tom is on a power project in South America and Johnny is on an expedition in Asia.

The Purple Dragon by Kenneth Robeson
Shark Bait by Wallace Booker
Doc Savage Club
Editor’s Page
Letters from Readers

This story features many of the graduates from the Crime College.  The men are former members of the Pat Hatrack gang.  A figure, soon identified as “The Purple Dragon,” is rounding up these men and subjecting them to a series of psychological shocks that culminate in a visit to the Purple Dragon.  The people who are aware of the Purple Dragon blanche and become ill just thinking about it.  The dragon is the creation of Grover Tiler who is a magician and  entertainer.  Tiler has created an illusion that terrifies those who are subjected to it.  The device is a mechanical creation, that uses stage tricks along with hypnotic lights.  Victims who are subjected to the treatment are also drugged which make the ordeal seem genuine.  This process completes the brain short circuit process, and the Crime College graduates are able to remember key items that Hatrack wishes to know.  The information relates to the various names that crime czar Hatrack used to hide money in safety deposit boxes in various banks.  Tiler’s partner is Fielding Falcon, a criminal practice attorney, who worked for Hatrack.

Modern readers may recall an episode of the Mission Impossible series that aired on September 25, 1971, in season seven, episode two.  The show was titled “Encore” and centered on a gangster named Thomas Kroll played by William Shatner.  The Mission Impossible team use drugs and an elaborate Hollywood type set to convince Kroll he is back in 1937 on the very day he commits murder.  The goal is to learn where he hid the victim’s body.

The Doc Savage story begins in New York City before moving to the Catskill Mountains.  The location then moves to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico before returning to New York City.  The story climax happens on Long Island.


  • Some of the gimmicks used in the story are the communication watches first seen in “Merchants of Death” and “Crimson Serpent.” 
  • Doc Savage also uses a “hot foot” trick to contact his men in an emergency. This is a metal disk in each man’s sock that vibrates whenever Doc broadcasts radio waves on a special frequency.
  • The Mayan language is used for private communication.
  • Doc Savage uses a special anesthetic powder.
  • Doc makes his signature trilling while disguised and unwittingly gives away his identity.
  • The autogyro is used with an infra-ray telescope.
  • Doc Savage uses his influence with the police commissioner to get Monk and Ham released from a bogus murder charge.

This is one of those stories attributed to Lester Dent and Harold A. Davis.  In the beginning, Davis worked as a ghost writer for Dent.  He wrote a story and Lester Dent tended to rewrite and polish it before sending it to Street & Smith,  The University of Missouri at Columbia maintains the Western Historic Manuscript Collection of which Lester Dent’s papers are a part.  The collection contain only one document for this story which is the outline.  This suggests that Dent sent Davis the outline and did no revisions on the final story. 

Harold Davis plants a big clue to his identity by having the story start in Lamar, Colorado.  This was his  hometown.  He also includes Ham’s pet ape, Chemistry, as part of the storyline.

The Crime College: Two months later in the September issue the Crime College takes center stage again with The Purple Dragon.  Hiram Shelleck is a graduate who is firmly entrenched as an upright citizen in a small Colorado town.  Hiram, we learn, has been a decent hardworking citizen for ten years. 

What does that mean?  It means the Crime College has been in operation since at least September 1930 — at least two and half-years before “The Man of Bronze.”  Then we learn that Hiram Shelleck believes it to be 1929 rather than 1940!  It would be logical to assume 1929 was the date he “enrolled” in the Crime College so apparently the thing has been going on for some years now.

Another interesting fact comes to light.  Doc Savage is a heroic figure to Hiram Shelleck.  It is mindful of the attitude expressed by the taxi driver in “The Vanisher.”  This further reinforces the idea that the Crime College regimen includes a strong indoctrination of loyalty to Doc Savage.

It is clear from the events told in this story that the “decriminalization” process employed at the Crime College followed a regimen of psychological and chemical treatments.  The surgical aspects of the curriculum dealt only with the removal of past memories.

The Shadow: “The Purple Dragon” has a Shadow-like cameo.  A black clad figure roams the night as he shadows Fielding Falcan who enters an office.  This unknown being laughs “mirthlessly” as he trails his man.  The figure, who is completely clothed in black, enters an office directly above Falcan’s.  This office belongs to a “John Jones.”  The Jones name bring to mind the B. Jonas name used in many of the Shadow stories.