Machine Gun Kelly
Mugshot of George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes
July 18, 1895|
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||July 18, 1954
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S.
|Occupation||Gangster, bootlegger and businessman|
|Criminal charge||Conspiracy to kidnap and bank robbing|
George Celino Barnes (July 18, 1895 – July 18, 1954), better known as "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster during the Prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun. His most famous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles F. Urschel in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, collected a $200,000 ransom. Their victim had collected and left considerable evidence that assisted the subsequent FBI investigation that eventually led to Kelly's arrest in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 26, 1933. His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.
During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s Kelly worked as a bootlegger for himself as well as a colleague. 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 and bootlegging. He was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for smuggling liquor onto an Indian Reservation in 1928 and sentenced for three years to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, beginning February 11, 1928. He was reportedly a model inmate and was released early. Shortly thereafter, Kelly married Kathryn Thorne, who purchased Kelly's first machine gun and went to great lengths to familiarize his name in the underground crime circles; she also helped plot some small bank robberies.
Nonetheless, Kelly's last criminal activity proved disastrous when he kidnapped a wealthy Oklahoma City resident, Charles F. Urschel and his friend Walter R. Jarrett. 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 their investigation, as they 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 Kellys 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 was immediately removed to Oklahoma City.
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.
Investigation at Coleman, Texas, disclosed that the Kellys had been housed and protected by Cassey Earl Coleman and Will Casey and that 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 27 in a cotton patch on Coleman's ranch. They were both indicted at Dallas, Texas, on October 4, 1933, charged with harboring a fugitive and conspiracy, and on October 17, 1933, Coleman, after entering a plea of guilty, was sentenced to serve one year and one day, and Casey after trial and conviction, was 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. They were: 1) the first federal criminal trials in the United States in which movie cameras were allowed to film; 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; and 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". This was in reference, according to a former prisoner, 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 18, 1954, his 59th birthday, and is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery with a small headstone marked "George B. Kelley 1954".
In popular culture
Film and television
- Machine Gun Kelly and his crimes were (loosely) portrayed in the 1958 film Machine-Gun Kelly starring Charles Bronson.
- Machine Gun Kelly is portrayed by Richard Eschliman in a minor role, in the 1973 film Dillinger.
- Machine Gun Kelly is a central character in the 1974 TV film Melvin Purvis: G-Man.
- Machine Gun Kelly is referenced in the 1993 film So I Married an Axe Murderer by Phil Hartman's character while touring Alcatraz.
- Machine Gun Kelly is referenced in the 1973 film The Sting by Luther Coleman's son as his mother pulls him away from a radio telecast chronicling his arrest.
- Crime novelist Ace Atkins' 2010 book Infamous is based on the Urschel kidnapping and subsequent multi-state misadventures of George and Kathryn Kelly as they attempted to flee both the FBI and other gangsters eager to claim the Urschel ransom money.
- Kelly is (along with Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson) one of the main characters of the comic book series Pretty, Baby, Machine.
- Machine Gun Kelly and Kathryn Kelly were the inspiration for "Machine Gun Kelly" (1970), a song written by Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar and recorded by James Taylor on his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.
- Punk band the Angelic Upstarts released a single in 1984 titled "Machine Gun Kelly".
- In the song "M.V.P." by the late Harlem rapper Big L, he says: "I run up like Machine Gun Kelly, with a black skelly, put one in your belly, leave you smelly, then take your Pelle Pelle."
- In the song "Bluesman" by Harry Chapin, there's a line: "No! A fool plays the blues like Machine Gun Kelly, Five hundred notes to the bar...".
- Rapper Foxy Brown refers to Machine Gun Kelly in her song "Massacre".
- Mentioned in These Animal Men's "I'm Not Your Babylon": "Machine Gun Kelly was the first to crack".
- In the William S. Burroughs' work entitled, "Where he was going," William Burroughs narrates, "It's an instrument," Machine Gun Kelly said, "Play it."
- Richard Colson Baker is an American rapper from Cleveland who uses the stage name Machine Gun Kelly
- Finger, Michael. Public Enemy Number One: The real story of Machine Gun Kelly, the Memphis boy who grew up to become the most wanted man in America. Memphis Flyer, September 7, 2005.
- "FBI history. Famous cases. George "Machine Gun" Kelly". FBI. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
- "Machine Gun Kelly". Alcatraz history. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
- O'Dell, Larry. "Urschel Kidnapping" (in English). Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
- "Machine Gun Kelly". Family Tree Genealogy. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- "FBI 100. The legend of 'Machine Gun Kelly'". FBI. 2008-09-26. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
- "George "Machine Gun" Kelly". Wise County Sheriff's Department. 2003. Archived from the original on 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
- Hamilton, Stanley (2003). Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1247-5.
- Atkins, Ace (2010). Infamous. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
- Dowd, James (April 26, 2010). Book tells tale of capturing infamous Machine Gun Kelly. Memphis Commercial Appeal (newspaper).
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