Machine Gun Kelly: The Life & Crime of Public Enemy Number One


Back in the day if you wanted to become a
“Public Enemy Number One” you really had to work for the title and the man we are going
to talk about today definitely put in the effort to earn it. He started small and ended his career with
a series of crimes that would go down in American history. In the 1930s stories pervaded the U.S. public
landscape about this expert machine gunner and his crime sprees. The authorities were always one step behind
as Machine Gun Kelly robbed banks across the country, from Texas to Mississippi to Washington
to Iowa. But these robberies would pale in comparison
to his last brazen misadventure. Let’s now see how all this unfurled. He was born on July 18, 1895, in Memphis,
Tennessee, and given the name George Kelly Barnes. What we know about his childhood is that unlike
many other master criminals of the time, he wasn’t born destitute and his family were
said to be fairly wealthy and his upbringing traditional. Little else is known about his early life,
but we know that he got into Mississippi State University and took a course in agriculture
in 1917. He wasn’t a good student, however, with
his best grade being C-plus and that was only for good physical hygiene. He was a troublesome student and rarely on
the good side of the university staff. Studying wasn’t for him and when he met
a young woman named Geneva Ramsey he decided enough was enough and quit his education. The two got married very quickly and had two
sons. Now the prodigal son had to fend for himself
and for his new family, which wasn’t easy. First he took a job as a cab driver in Memphis,
but this wasn’t paying the bills. He was just 19 and things weren’t easy,
so he looked for other avenues to make some quick cash. It seems his wife wasn’t happy about living
hand to mouth and she divorced him, leaving young Kelly broke and heartbroken. So, what do you do when you are stone broke,
down on your luck, and you live in the prohibition era? Well, one option is becoming a gangster and
that’s exactly what George decided to do. He became a bootlegger, a purveyor of illegal
alcohol. This didn’t go unnoticed by the Memphis
police and soon George had made a name for himself. This was of course not good for a man whose
family were notable wealthy folks, so he decided to change his name to George R. Kelly. He then headed out West to seek fortune, which
would soon turn into infamy. On his journey he managed to evade arrest
and gain a reputation in the underworld and it wasn’t until 1928 until the law finally
got the better of him. That year the cops arrested Kelly for smuggling
alcohol into an Indian Reservation and he was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth
Penitentiary in Kansas. After doing his time, and we should say as
a model prisoner, George got out and quickly met a woman who you could say helped create
the legend. Her name was Kathryn Thorne. Before that she had gone by Cleo Mae Brooks,
and eventually she’d become Mrs. Kelly. We should say something about this woman because
she’s an integral part of the Machine Gun Kelly story. She already had a colorful history of her
own before she met George, including having already been married three times. Her last husband wound up shot dead with a
suicide note left next to him, nothing too out of the ordinary. The problem was, he was illiterate. It’s widely believed Kathryn had murdered
him, but she was never convicted of the crime. One of the investigators was sure she’d
done it, and she had even been overhead prior to his death, saying that she wanted him dead. She was certainly working outside of the law
when she met George, and as you’ll see, she just got worse. When she met Kelly she was the mistress of
another criminal, a small time bootlegger named Steve Anderson. After her dalliance with Kelly the two soon
became inseparable and in 1930 they were married in Minneapolis. Here’s where the tale of a garden variety
crook turns into the stuff of legends. As the story goes, Kathryn decided to go out
and buy a gift for her new husband. That present turned out to be a Thompson submachine
gun. She told her lover to go out into the open
and practice with it and become an expert at using it. He dutifully did what he was told, and once
he could use the gun Kelly soon began his crime spree of robbing banks with his trusty
weapon. Let’s remember that before this Kelly was
what you might call an up and coming criminal, but with his wife’s help he soon gained
a fierce reputation as a notorious machine gun wielding robber. She wanted her husband to have this great
reputation and it’s said in her bid to market him she even went around local underground
drinking clubs where gangsters frequented, handing out spent cartridges, telling people
“here’s a souvenir from the man known as Machine Gun Kelly.” He robbed quite a few banks, but it wasn’t
until 1933 that his name became known all across America when the FBI made him Public
Enemy Number One and put out wanted posters for him that described his as an “Expert
Machine Gunner.” It was that same year that the husband and
wife team along with an associate hatched their biggest crime yet. Their plan was to kidnap a wealthy oil tycoon
from Oklahoma City named Charles Frederick Urschel. Here’s how it went down. It’s July 22, 1933, and Urschel is playing
bridge at his luxury residence with his friends. Their wives are there, too. Kelly storms into the party, his machine gun
in hand, and at his side is his accomplice Albert L. Bates, another seasoned criminal. This was no ordinary stick up, and the men
now looking down the barrel of America’s most famous gun are told they are leaving
the game otherwise someone’s head is going to be blown off. They take Urschel and his friend Walter R.
Jarrett from the house and force them into the car outside. At this point the kidnappers don’t even
know which man is Urschel. They drove as fast as possible out past the
city limits and when they were far away from people the two men were told to get out their
wallets. While Jarrett was also in the oil business
and quite wealthy himself, Kelly only wanted Urschel, so Jarrett was let go unharmed, but
not before taking the $51 dollars out of his wallet. They drove to a farmhouse in Paradise, Texas,
where they kept Urschel hostage. The two men put out the word that if Urschel
was ever to be seen alive again a ransom had to be paid of $200,000. That was a lot of money at the time, the equivalent
of around four million dollars today. The FBI has since published the ransom letter. In part it went like this:
“You will pack TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ($200,000.00) in USED GENUINE FEDERAL RESERVE
NOTES OF TWENTY DOLLAR DENOMINATION in a suitable LIGHT COLORED LEATHER BAG.” There is also a threat of course, which reads: “REMEMBER THIS — IF ANY TRICKERY IS ATTEMPTED
YOU WILL FIND THE REMAINS OF URSCHEL AND INSTEAD OF JOY THERE WILL BE DOUBLE GRIEF — FOR,
SOME-ONE VERY NEAR AND DEAR TO THE URSCHEL FAMILY IS UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE AND
WILL LIKE-WISE SUFFER FOR YOUR ERROR.” Believe it or not, the Urschel family decided
to pay the money and eight days after the patriarch was kidnapped the cash was dropped
off in 20 dollar bills at LaSalle Hotel in Kansas City. The next day the gangsters made good on their
word and let Urschel go at a place called Norman in Oklahoma. There the wealthy businessman nonchalantly
walked into a restaurant and called for a cab. He was pretty unfazed by the ordeal, and for
good reason. You see, Urschel didn’t make all of that
money by being stupid, and during his kidnapping he was staying vigiliant and collecting information
on his assailants. At no time could he see through his blindfold,
but all the time he was listening to the sounds around him. He knew for instance when an airplane passed
overhead each day, and this would prove valuable. He made sure to leave his fingerprints everywhere,
and when possible he catalogued how many steps it took him to get somewhere. He knew how long he’d traveled in a car
and when it stopped for gas. All this was so he could give some description
to the FBI as to where he might have been kept. It was a huge case, too, and J Edgar Hoover
put his best men on it. With the help of Herschel and his formidable
memory the FBI soon had a list of possible places where Herschel might have been kept. They soon descended on the Paradise farmhouse
and found that people were there, but not who they were expecting. The FBI discovered Robert and Ora Shannon,
and Harvey Bailey, who had been using the farmhouse as a safehouse of their own after
committing a robbery. They also had some of the cash from the kidnapping,
around $700 according to the FBI. Of course Kelly hadn’t just waited around
once he had the cash. He and his wife started hopping from state
to state in an attempt to throw off law enforcement. The group at the farmhouse were arrested,
and more arrests would follow because kidnapping, staying hidden, and getting rid of vast amounts
of money takes a lot of people. Several arrests were made, including people
charged with money changing. The hunt was now on for the masterminds of
the kidnapping, and the Kelly’s weren’t happy about what was going on. As others were arrested, they sent letters
to the Urschel family, as well as attorneys and judges, warning that they were coming
to get them. In August, Kelly’s accomplice from the kidnapping,
Bates, was arrested in Denver, Colorado, with $660 and a machine gun on him. At around this time the FBI was discovering
the stolen bills all over the USA and was making various arrests, but the Kellys were
still nowhere to be seen. But you can only run for so long. In the early hours of September 26, 1933,
after receiving a tip, a residence in Memphis was raided where the fugitive couple were
finally found. The great Machine Gun Kelly was without his
gun, and as the legend goes, he shouted to the agents, “Don’t shoot, G-Men! Don’t shoot, G-Men!” Apparently he had a terrible hangover after
a big night and he was caught while still in his pajamas. Nightgown Kelly just doesn’t have the same
ring to it. The couple was taken to Oklahoma City and
on October 12, 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In all, twenty-one people were convicted for
crimes related to the case. This included six life sentences and other
sentences making up in total 58 years, two months, and three days. Kelly was taken to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas,
and his wife was taken to a federal prison in Cincinnati. In prison, Kelly often bragged that he’d
escape and the authorities didn’t take this lightly. In 1934 he was transferred to a new prison,
a place no one could break out of. Soon Kelly would get a new nickname, inmate
number 117 at his new home, Alcatraz. Behind bars Kelly was actually said to be
a model inmate, taking jobs and keeping his head down. He apparently felt remorse for his crimes
and on several occasions wrote to the Urschels. This didn’t help him, though, and he would
remain in prison for the rest of his life. In 1951 he was transferred back to Leavenworth
and died three years later on his birthday from a heart attack. Kathryn managed to finish her sentence and
was released in 1958. After years behind bars she didn’t return
to a life of crime and got a job as a bookkeeper at a nursing home and hospital in Oklahoma. The widow of Machine Gun Kelly died in 1985
at the age of 81. What do you think about the story of Machine
Gun Kelly? Is his life of crime worthy of the fame his
name has carried through the years? Tell us in the comments. Also, be sure to check out our other video
The American Who Climbed the Ranks of the Chinese Mafia. Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time.

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