Pop Gun Kelly
September 26, 1933: “Machine Gun Kelly” is arrested. George Francis Barnes, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1900. During the 1920s and 1930s he worked as a bootlegger for himself as well as for others in the Memphis, Tennessee area. After several scrapes with law enforcement, he changed his name to George R. Kelly to protect his family. In 1928 he was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma while smuggling alcohol onto an Indian Reservation. He was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas. He was reported to have been a model prisoner and was released early. After his release, he married Kathryn Thorne and she purchased his first machine gun for him. She also broadcast his “talents” throughout the underground crime scene as well as helped him plot some bank robberies.
Things were going as well as could be expected, considering Kelly’s career path. Then he decided to kidnap a wealthy Oklahoma City man, Charles F. Urschel and his friend, Walter R. Jarrett. Urschel was able to give incriminating evidence after his release. Even though he had been blindfolded, he remembered background sounds and had been able to count footsteps. He was also able to leave fingerprints behind. This gave the police much to work with.
They found the Kellys were living at the residence owned by JC Tichenor. Special agents from the Birmingham, Alabama FBI office were sent to Memphis. In the early morning hours on this day, they approached the house. George and Kathryn were taken into custody. George, unarmed, allegedly yelled, “Don’t shoot, G-men! Don’t shoot, G-men!” as he surrendered. The term had been used for all federal or government agents but after this, the term became specific to the FBI. The arrest was overshadowed by even bigger news when ten men (the future Dillinger gang) escaped from prison later that night.
George and Kathryn’s trial began on October 12, 1933 and both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During the investigation, it was found that money from the ransom of Urschel had been stored on Cassey Coleman’s ranch and he and Will Casey were both arrested, too. The trials were sensational for several reasons. The first was that movie cameras were permitted to film during the trial. The second was this was the first case of kidnapping after the Lindbergh Law was passed which made it a federal crime. Third, it was the first major case solved by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. It was also the first time prisoners were transported by airplane. George served 21 years, 17 of them on Alcatraz. There he earned the nickname Pop Gun Kelly since he was a model prisoner and not at all the tough guy his wife had claimed him to be. He died of a heart attack on his birthday. He was 54.
I was raised in Chicago and I guess that was one of the special breeding grounds for gangsters of all colors. That was the Detroit of the gangster world. The car industry was thugs. – Quincy Jones
The classy gangster is a Hollywood invention. – Orson Welles
Every human being has a bit of gangster in him. – Binyavanga Wainaina
Old Americana vintage gangster stuff has a fantastical feel; it feels less dirty in a way. It feels like the opera of crime. – Shia LaBeouf
Also on this day: The Parthenon – In 1687, part of the Parthenon was destroyed during a bombing attack by the Ottoman Turks.
Apples – In 1774, Johnny Appleseed was born.
Lurking Evil – In 1937, The Shadow premiered.
Thrown Games – In 1908, Big Ed Reulbach pitched a no hitter double header.