mugshots of Fred Barker
December 12, 1901|
Aurora, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||January 16, 1935
|Parents||George Elias and Arizona "Ma" Barker|
Frederick George Barker (1901–1935) was one of the founders of the Barker-Karpis gang, which committed numerous robberies, murders and kidnappings during the 1930s. He was the youngest son of Ma Barker, all of whose children were criminals. He was killed in a lengthy gunfight with the FBI in 1935.
Fred was born to George and Arrie "Ma" Barker in Aurora, Missouri in 1901. His older brothers Herman, Lloyd and Arthur were committing crimes throughout his childhood. Fred was first arrested and imprisoned in 1927 for burglary. While in prison he met Alvin Karpis. According to Karpis, Fred was a dominant figure in jail who was able to obtain marijuana and other perks. Karpis also said he was a "natural born killer" who "never hesitated". Unlike Karpis (nicknamed "Creepy Karpis") he was known for his personal charm. He was released in 1930.
After their release, Fred and Karpis joined up to commit a string of burglaries in Kansas, often collaborating with other local criminals. They were supported by Ma Barker and her lover Arthur Dunlop. Things became difficult for them when they were confronted by sheriff C. Roy Kelly in December 1931. Karpis shot Kelly, and Fred joined in. The sheriff died, an act that forced them to flee the territory. The two had also probably killed an Arkansas police chief, Manley Jackson, a month earlier, but had avoided suspicion at the time. The gang relocated to St. Paul Minnesota. In 1932, Fred, his brother Arthur Barker, Lawrence DeVol and Alvin Karpis robbed Third Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis. DeVol killed policemen Ira Leon Evans and Leo Gorski during the escape. Fred murdered civilian Oscar Erickson, who was in a passing car when he saw the gang. Fred shot him as the car drove past them. Fred and Karpis were also suspected of killing Ma Barker's lover Arthur Dunlop, whom they considered to be untrustworthy.
Around this time Fred started a relationship with Paula Harmon, widow of bank robber Charles Harmon. Karpis did not approve of Paula, considering her to be a "drunk" and a "rotten choice, though you couldn't tell that to Freddie".
The gang became nationally notorious in 1933-4 when they organized the kidnappings of local businessmen William Hamm and Edward Bremer. The crimes were orchestrated by racketeers Jack Peifer and Harry Sawyer with inside-information about police activity being provided by corrupt police officer Tom Brown, who ran the "Kidnap Squad". Arthur Barker carried out the kidnappings with a different accomplice each time. During the Bremer kidnapping, Fred nearly shot dead the victim when the ransom was not paid promptly. They netted $100,000 for the first victim and twice that for the second.
With the FBI in pursuit, Fred and Karpis attempted to get plastic surgery to alter their appearance and remove their fingerprints. The procedure was carried out by underworld doctor Joseph P. Moran. The operations were so painful that Fred asked one of his friends to shoot him to stop the pain, but his friend refused. Moran disappeared shortly thereafter. A badly decomposed body was discovered a year later washed up from Lake Erie on Crystal Beach, Ontario. Police identified it as Moran. In 1971, Alvin Karpis wrote in his autobiography that the identification was mistaken; he claimed that Moran had been murdered by Arthur and Fred Barker and then buried in a lime pit in Michigan. The most accepted version of the tale is that Karpis and Fred took Moran on a boat ride on Lake Erie, during which they both murdered him. He was killed either for his botched surgery or for shooting his mouth off about the gang in a brothel.
After this the gang attempted to launder the ransom money, though this proved to be difficult because the serial numbers had been recorded by the FBI, a fact that soon became known to gang. Harry Sawyer traveled to Cuba to launder the money. While he was away, his wife Gladys and Fred's girlfriend Paula were arrested for drunk and disorderly behavior at a hotel in Cleveland. Paula had a mental breakdown while being questioned and was returned to her family in Texas. Fred moved to Cuba with Karpis, Arthur and Ma Barker. However, they soon relocated to Florida after Karpis became concerned that the money had not been adequately laundered. They rented a lakeside property in Ocklawaha, Florida under the pseudonym "Blackburn", claiming to be a mother and sons wanting to vacation in a country retreat.
Arthur soon left Florida for Chicago. Karpis also moved on, leaving Fred and Ma in the house. FBI Agents caught up with them after Arthur was spotted and arrested in Chicago on January 8, 1935. A map found in his possession indicated that other gang members were in Ocklawaha, but did not identify the address. The FBI soon located the house at which they were staying after identifying references to a local alligator named "Gator Joe" and questioning locals about newcomers.
Agents surrounded the house at 13250 East Highway C-25 on the morning of January 16, 1935. Unknown to the FBI, Karpis and other gang members had left three days before, leaving only Fred and Ma Barker in the house. Ordered to surrender, Fred opened fire. There was an intense firefight for about 15 minutes. The FBI agents retreated to a safe distance, but lobbed smoke-bombs into the house. Gunfire continued to come from the house, and Fred and Ma apparently moved from room to room, as shots came from different windows. The FBI returned fire. Allegedly, many local people came to watch the events unfolding, even holding picnics during the gun battle. Gunfire ceased coming from the house after five hours; the FBI ordered local estate-handyman Willie Woodbury to enter the house wearing a bullet-proof vest. Woodbury reported that the occupants were dead.
Both bodies were found in the same front bedroom. Fred's body was riddled with bullets, but Ma appeared to have died from a single bullet wound. A tommy gun was lying between the bodies of Ma and Fred. Their bodies were put on public display, and then stored unclaimed, until October 1, 1935, when relatives had them buried—at Williams Timberhill Cemetery in Welch, Oklahoma—next to the body of Herman Barker, who had died in 1927. On January 20, four days after his death, Paula Harmon was committed to the State Hospital for Insane in Rusk, Texas.
- In the 1957 docudrama Guns Don't Argue Fred is played by Sam Edwards
- Fred is portrayed by Joe Di Reda in "Ma Barker and Her Boys", an episode of 1959 TV series The Untouchables, which pits Federal Agent Eliot Ness against the Barker clan, and fictionally depicts Ness as leading the assault on Ma Barker and her sons at their Florida hide-out. In this version, Lloyd, Fred and Arthur are all present at the final shootout. Fred is portrayed as the most devoted to his mother. He shoots Lloyd when he tries to give up. In reality Lloyd Barker was in prison throughout the career of the Barker-Karpis gang.
- In The FBI Story he is portrayed by Alan Craig.
- Fred is played by Eric Morris in Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960). In this version, in the final shoot out he revealed to be a coward who wants to surrender, but Ma refuses to let him.
- In Bloody Mama (1970) he is portrayed by Robert Walden. In this version he is the weakest member of the family and is involved in a homosexual relationship with "Kevin Dirkman" (a fictionalized version of Karpis, who was still alive at the time).
- In Public Enemies (1996) he is portrayed by Gavin Harrison.
- Mahoney, Tim Secret Partners, Minnesota Historical Press, 2013, p. 25.
- Breuer, William B., J. Edgar Hoover and His G-men, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995, p.27.
- Mahoney, p.63-5
- Mahonney, p.59
- Karpis, A. (1971). Public Enemy Number One: The Alvin Karpis Story. Maclelland & Stewart Pub.
- Newton, M. (2002.) The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. Checkmark Books, an imprint of Facts on File, Inc. 0-8160-4489-9
- Matera, D. (2004). John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal, p. 291. Carroll & Graf Publishers.
- Mahonney, p.165
- Stuart B McIver, Touched by the Sun, Pineapple Press, 2008, pp.71ff.
- Jack Powell, Haunting Sunshine, Pineapple Press Inc, 2001, p.54.