Public Enemy #1 |
The worst of the worst, these lowlifes and their criminal deeds shocked the nation in the early 1930s. The names of the Depression-era desperadoes — Bonnie and Clyde, "Baby Face" Nelson, Ma Barker, "Pretty Boy" Floyd — have become legends, evoking some of the wildest, deadliest stories ever to hit the front pages. Find out more about each of these outlaws — including where their criminal paths ultimately led them.
Ma Barker (Arizona Donnie Clark Barker)
1872? - January 16, 1935
Ma Barker, whose sons Herman, Lloyd, Arthur ("Doc"), and Freddie used her as a cover, maintained that her boys were driven to crime by poverty. Along with Freddie, she was killed in a Division of Investigation (D.O.I.) shoot-out near Oklawaha, Florida. Fearing a scandal when the public found out his agents had killed someone's mother, J. Edgar Hoover invented the myth of Ma Barker as the evil mastermind of the Barker-Karpis gang, who had led her sons astray. Karpis later said that she had nothing to do with her sons' crimes.
Frederick "Freddie" Barker
1902? - January 16, 1935
The youngest of the Barker brothers, Freddie led the Barker-Karpis gang along with Alvin Karpis in their Midwest crime spree. Wanted for many robberies, two murders, and two kidnappings, Barker underwent plastic surgery, which did not successfully alter his appearance. Along with his mother, Barker was killed by D.O.I. special agents near Oklawaha, Florida.
Clyde Champion Barrow (Clyde Chestnut Barrow)
March 24, 1909 - May 23, 1934
Along with his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker, Barrow led a gang that committed crimes throughout the Southwest and Midwest. Bonnie and Clyde were looked down upon by most desperadoes due to their low-level targets (such as grocery stores and gas stations) and lack of professionalism. The impulsive, trigger-happy Barrow was responsible for at least 12 murders, several kidnappings of civilians and police officers and one deadly prison escape. The duo died in a police ambush on a country road in Louisiana.
Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd
February 3, 1904 - October 22, 1934
Floyd succeeded John Dillinger as America's Public Enemy Number One when Dillinger was killed on July 22, 1934. He was accused of taking part in the Kansas City Massacre on June 17, 1933, but there is no conclusive evidence that he did. In the midst of the Depression, when sheriffs were enforcing farm foreclosures, a Populist myth grew up around Floyd as a modern Robin Hood. Floyd was killed by D.O.I. special agents on a farm near Clarkson, Ohio. Melvin Purvis, who was leading the D.O.I. unit, immediately called Director J. Edgar Hoover to tell him Floyd was dead.
Alvin "Old Creepy" Karpis
August 10, 1908 - August 26, 1979
Along with Freddie Barker, who he met in prison, Karpis led the Barker-Karpis gang on a five-year crime spree throughout the Midwest. The men stole over $1 million and killed approximately 10 people. On May 1, 1936, Karpis was captured in New Orleans by J. Edgar Hoover himself. (Karpis later said that special agents held him at gunpoint so Hoover could make the arrest.) He spent most of his 33 years in prison on Alcatraz, and was deported to Canada on his release, where he wrote his memoirs. He died in Spain from an overdose of sleeping pills.
George "Machine Gun" Kelly (George F. Barners, Jr.)
July 17, 1900 - July 18, 1954
Kelly was a small-time bootlegger until he met his wife, Kathryn, who introduced him to friends of hers, with whom he kidnapped Charles F. Urschel, an Oklahoma City oilman, on July 22, 1933. D.O.I. agents captured Kelly on September 26, 1933, and sentenced him to life in prison, 17 of which he spent on Alcatraz. In 1951 he was transferred to Leavenworth, where he died of a heart attack.
Theodore "Handsome Jack" Klutas
1900? - January 6, 1934
A former student of the University of Illinois, Klutas led a gang called the "College Kidnappers." Based in Chicago, their specialty was kidnapping members of organized crime rings and holding them for ransom. Klutas was killed by police in Bellwood, Illinois.
(Credit: American Experience)
Herman K. "Baron" Lamm
1890? - September 16, 1930
A former German army officer, Lamm came to the United States where he put his military training to use as a bank robber. Before a robbery, he thoroughly "cased" a bank and meticulously planned an escape route. Lamm successfully robbed banks across the United States until he was killed in a shoot-out near Sidell, Illinois. His method was later used by the Dillinger gang.
Frank "Jelly" Nash
1887? - June 16, 1933
Nash got his nickname because he was a safe-blowing expert, and "jelly" was gangland slang for nitroglycerin. He escaped from Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1930, and worked with several desperadoes, including the Barker-Karpis gang. Nash was captured by D.O.I. special agents on June 16, 1933, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The following day he was killed by two unknown men in the Kansas City Massacre, along with three police officers and a special agent.
George "Baby Face" Nelson (Lester Joseph Gillis)
December 6, 1908 - November 27, 1934
The most violent member of the Dillinger gang, Nelson was credited with killing several men, including three D.O.I. special agents. He may even have been a gunman for the Chicago Syndicate. Nelson was shot 17 times during a gun battle with special agents in Barrington, Illinois. He died several hours later at a house in Niles Center, now called Skokie, Illinois.
October 1, 1910 - May 23, 1934
Parker became famous as the accomplice of her boyfriend, Clyde Barrow. She scandalized the nation with her unladylike deeds of robbing and killing; she was even photographed smoking a cigar. Parker used to send photos of herself and Barrow to newspapers. They died in an ambush by Texas and Louisiana police officers near Sailes, Louisiana.
1902? - October 17, 1934
A close friend and associate of John Dillinger, Pierpont was the mastermind of the Dillinger gang until his arrest in Tucson on January 25, 1934. After Dillinger escaped from Crown Point with a wooden gun, Pierpont tried the same tactic with a gun carved from soap. The plan failed. He was almost totally paralyzed by bullet wounds, and had to be carried to the electric chair.
(Credit: Indiana State Archives)