Machine Gun Kelly-Gangster

George Francis Barnes Jr. was born on July 18, 1900 Chicago, Illinois, U.S. and was better known as ‘Machine Gun Kelly’, an Irish American gangster during the Prohibition era. His nickname came from his favourite weapon, a Thompson sub machine gun.

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s Kelly worked as a bootlegger after a short time, and several run-ins with the local Memphis police, he decided to leave town and head west with his girlfriend. To protect his family and escape law enforcement officers, he changed his name to George R. Kelly. He continued to commit smaller crimes as well as bootlegging and was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for smuggling liquor onto an Indian Reservation in 1928 and sentenced for three years to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas. He was reportedly a model inmate and therefore he was released early. Soon after his release Kelly married Kathryn Thorne, who not only purchased Kelly's first machine gun but also went to great lengths to familiarise his name in the under ground crime circles; she also helped plot some small bank robberies.

Machine Gun Kelly-Gangster

Kelly's last criminal activity proved disastrous when he kidnapped a wealthy oil tycoon Oklahoma resident, Charles F. Urschel and his businessman friend Walter R. Jarrett. in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, collected a $200,000 ransom.

Urschel, having been blindfolded, made note of evidence of his experience including remembering background sounds, counting footsteps and leaving fingerprints on surfaces in reach. This proved invaluable for the FBI in its investigation, as agents concluded that Urschel had been held in Paradise, Texas, based on sounds that Urschel remembered hearing while he was being held hostage.

An investigation conducted at Memphis disclosed that the Kelly's were living at the residence of J. C. Tichenor. Special agents from Birmingham, Alabama were immediately dispatched to Memphis, where, in the early morning hours of September 26, 1933, a raid was conducted. George and Kathryn Kelly were taken into custody by FBI agents and Memphis police.

Caught without a weapon, George Kelly allegedly cried, "Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!" as he surrendered to FBI agents. The term, which had applied to all federal investigators, became synonymous with FBI agents. The couple were immediately removed to Oklahoma City.

The arrest of the Kelly's was overshadowed by the escape of ten inmates, including all of the members of the future Dillinger gang, from the penitentiary in Michigan City, Indiana, that same night.

On October 12, 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial was held at the Post Office, Courthouse and Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

Investigations disclosed that the Kelly's had been housed and protected by Cassey Earl Coleman and Will Casey. Coleman had assisted George Kelly in storing $73,250 of the Urschel ransom money on his ranch. This money was located by Bureau agents in the early morning hours of September 27th 1933 in a cotton patch on Coleman's ranch. They were both indicted at Dallas, Texas, on October 4th 1933, charged with harbouring a fugitive and conspiracy, then on October 17th 1933, Coleman, after entering a plea of guilty was sentenced to serve one year and one day. Casey after trial was convicted and sentenced to serve two years in the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

The kidnapping of Urschel and the two trials that resulted were historic in several ways;

!) The first federal criminal trials in the United States in which film cameras were allowed.

2) The first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime.

3) The first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

4) The first prosecution in which defendants were transported by airplane.

Machine Gun Kelly spent his remaining 21 years in prison. During his time at Alcatraz he got the nickname ‘Pop Gun Kelly’ in reference to the fact that Kelly was a model prisoner and was nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be. He spent 17 years on Alcatraz as inmate number 117, working in the prison industries, and boasting of and exaggerating his past escapades to other inmates, and was quietly transferred back to Leavenworth in 1951. He died of a heart attack at Leavenworth on July 18th 1954, his 54th birthday, and is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery with a small headstone marked ‘George B. Kelley 1954’.

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