Joseph P. Moran

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Joseph P. Moran (1905–1934) was a doctor known for catering to the Depression-era criminal underworld in the early 20th century. He was also a peripheral member of the Barker-Karpis gang,[1] and was possibly the last physician to see the mortally wounded John Hamilton, a member of the John Dillinger gang, whom Moran refused to treat.[2]

Early career[edit]

After graduating from medical school, Moran, an Illinois native, briefly operated a successful private practice until his addiction to alcohol drove most of his business away. To maintain his income, Moran became what was then colloquially known as a "pin artist", that is, someone who performs illegal abortions. He was eventually caught, convicted and sentenced to prison.[3]

Chicago underworld[edit]

His sideline in abortion had helped him make contacts in the Chicago underworld, and after he was paroled he was appointed the official physician of the Chicago Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers Union. Unofficially, he became the emergency care physician for much of the Chicago underworld, despite being fairly debilitated by alcoholism.[3]

Mostly he stitched cuts and removed bullets from wounded gangsters such as Dillinger-gang member John "Red" Hamilton. However, in 1934 Moran began touting his skills as a plastic surgeon, able to change the faces and fingerprints of notorious outlaws in order to hinder police identification.[3]

The Barker Gang[edit]

It was in this capacity that he became associated with the Barker-Karpis Gang. In March 1933, Moran performed plastic surgery on gang members Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis for a fee of $1,250.[4] He was successful in removing Karpis' fingerprints (so much so that even decades later, Karpis had difficulty obtaining a passport to re-enter his native Canada), but his work on the two men's faces was judged a dismal and painful failure.[3]

When the Barker-Karpis Gang kidnapped and ransomed Minnesota banker Edward Bremer for $200,000, Moran helped launder the money through his practice in Chicago. Six months later, while drinking with the gang in a club just outside Toledo, Ohio, Moran drunkenly bragged about the power he now held over the gang, knowing the incriminating details about their crime, saying, "I have you guys in the palm of my hand." It is this assertion that is believed to have sealed his fate.[3]


Very soon afterwards (perhaps that very night, according to some accounts), Moran disappeared[clarification needed].

On September 26, 1935, a badly decomposed body washed up on the shores of Crystal Beach, Ontario, without its hands and feet. The FBI subsequently identified the body as Moran's by means of dental records.[5]

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.[6] The most accepted version of the tale is that Karpis himself, along with Fred Barker, took Moran on a boat ride on Lake Erie, during which they both murdered him.[3][2]

In other media[edit]


  1. ^ Toland, J. (1995). The Dillinger Days, introduction. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80626-6.
  2. ^ a b Matera, D. (2004). John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal, p. 291. Carroll & Graf Publishers.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Newton, M. (2002.) The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. Checkmark Books, an imprint of Facts on File, Inc. 0-8160-4489-9
  4. ^ The New York Daily News. (2000). "The Justice Story: True Tales of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem". Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 1-58261-285-4.
  5. ^ Matera, D. (2004). John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal, p. 391. Carroll & Graf Publishers.
  6. ^ Karpis, A. (1971). Public Enemy Number One: The Alvin Karpis Story. Maclelland & Stewart Pub.