“The Barker Gang” The Barker-Karpis Gang

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. (2)

For a few years in the early and mid 1930’s there were several outlaws, and outlaw gangs, running wild in the American Midwest. Memories of the Wild West were vivid enough to frequently refer to them as “desperadoes.” Some of these Depression-day criminals became infamous nationwide through both media and law enforcement attention to their crimes. It was the era of the “Public Enemies;” they robbed banks with machine guns, kidnapped rich people for ransom , engaged in furious shootouts with lawmen, and when apprehended, often made spectacular jail breaks. Everything they did was considered newsworthy by prominent publications like the New York Times down to pulp magazines such as Startling Detective. It was exciting, escapist “cops & robbers” entertainment for the public of the grim 1930’s - unless the innocent people being shot, robbed, and killed were friends or family members.

A few of these criminals are still known today by their colorful names: Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barker- Karpis Gang..

The Barker-Karpis gang was not the least of these. FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, in the book The FBI In Action said, “Ma Barker and her sons, and Alvin Karpis and his cronies, constituted the toughest gang of hoodlums the FBI ever has been called upon to eliminate…Looking over the record of these criminals, I was repeatedly impressed by the cruelty of their depredations…murder of a policeman …murder of two policemen ….machine gun murder of an innocent citizen who got in the way during a bank robbery …kidnapping and extortion…train robbery…mail robbery ...the protection of high police officials bought with tainted money…paroles bought.” (1)

Sources:  (1) Court TV - Crime Library  (2) Depression Era Dead Girls