Barker c. 1930
|Born||Arizona Donnie Clark
October 8, 1873
Ash Grove, Missouri, United States
|Died||January 16, 1935
Ocklawaha, Florida Marion County, Florida, United States
|Cause of death||Deceased-Gunshot by federal law enforcement.|
|Children||Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, Fred, and Willmer|
Arizona Donnie Barker (October 8, 1873 – January 16, 1935) better known as Ma Barker, and sometimes as Kate Barker, was the mother of several criminals who ran the Barker gang from the "public enemy era", when the exploits of gangs of criminals in the U.S. Midwest gripped the American people and press. Under various pseudonyms, she traveled with her sons during their criminal careers.
After she was killed during a shoot-out with the FBI she acquired a reputation as a ruthless crime matriarch, who controlled and organized her sons' crimes. J. Edgar Hoover described her as "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade". However, witnesses say she had no active role in criminal activity and "couldn't plan breakfast", as one gang associate said.
- 1 Family life
- 2 St Paul and Wisconsin
- 3 Death
- 4 Controversy over leadership of Barker gang
- 5 Summary of Barker sons and Barker-Karpis Gang activities
- 6 Popular culture
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Born Arizona Clark, in Ash Grove, Missouri, she was known as "Arrie". In 1892 she married George Barker, in Lawrence Co., MO. The couple had five boys, named Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, Fred and Willmer. It appears from the 1910 to 1930 censuses and the Tulsa City Directories from 1916 to 1928 that George was regularly employed in a variety of low-level jobs. From 1916 to 1919, he worked for the Crystal Springs Water Co. In the 1920s, he was variously employed as a farmer, watchman, station engineer, and clerk.
George and Arrie's sons started committing crimes from at least 1910, when Herman Barker was arrested for highway robbery. Over the next few years he and his brothers Lloyd, Fred and Arthur were repeatedly involved in crimes, of increasing seriousness culminating in major robberies and murder. Herman committed suicide on August 29, 1927, in Wichita, Kansas. He shot himself after a shootout with police that lasted hours. In 1928, Lloyd was incarcerated in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, Arthur "Doc" Barker was in the Oklahoma State Prison, and Fred was in the Kansas State Prison.
George is last listed living with Arrie in the 1928 Tulsa city directory. Whether he was thrown out by Arrie, as some claim, or he left on his own accord when life with a criminal family became intolerable, is not known. According to writer Miriam Allen deFord, it was after Herman's death and the imprisonment of his other sons, that George "gave up completely and quietly removed himself from the scene."
In 1931 Ma Barker's son Fred was released from jail. He joined former prison-mate Alvin Karpis to form the Barker-Karpis gang. When Arthur was released in 1932, he became part of the gang, which was also joined by other criminals. Ma traveled with her sons and their associates, using various false names during their itinerant crime career. By this time she was usually known to gang members as "Kate".
St Paul and Wisconsin
The Barker-Karpis gang's most infamous crimes were committed during their residency in a string of rented houses in and around St. Paul, Minnesota. (1932-1934) By 1932 Ma was living with a man named Arthur Dunlap, said to be loose-lipped when drunk, who was not trusted by members of the gang, and described as a "pain in the ass" by Karpis. In St. Paul, the gang operated under the protection of the city's police chief, Thomas "Big Tom" Brown, and under his guidance, graduated from bank robbers to kidnappers.
While at one hideout, a local resident identified the gang from photographs in True Detective magazine, and told the local police. An informant among the police tipped off the gang, and they escaped. Wrongly believing that Dunlap's loose lips had given them away, they apparently murdered him while traveling. His naked body, with a single bullet wound to the head, was found near Webster, Wisconsin. Though his involvement in the gang's escape could not be proved, after the escape Tom Brown was demoted to the rank of detective. For a time the gang relocated to Menomonie Wisconsin.
During this time, Fred Barker stashed Ma Barker in a variety of hotels and hideouts. The purpose was to keep her from learning much about the gang's crimes, as well as to separate her from the gang's girlfriends, with whom she did not get along. Indeed the FBI later claimed that Ma would try to break up any relationships, so that "other women in the gang" did their best to avoid Ma. By 1933 most of the gang were back in St. Paul, where they planned the kidnapping of Edward Bremer. This brought the gang to the FBI's attention, so they left St. Paul, renting a series of Chicago apartments for Ma Barker while they tried to launder the ransom.
FBI Agents discovered the hideout of Barker and her son, Fred, after Arthur "Doc" Barker was arrested in Chicago on January 8, 1935. A map found in his possession indicated that other gang members were in Ocklawaha, Florida. The FBI soon located the house at which the gang were staying after identifying references to a local alligator named "Gator Joe", mentioned in a letter sent to Doc. They were living under the name pseudonym "Blackburn".
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 in the house. Ordered to surrender, Fred opened fire; both he and his mother were killed by federal agents after an intense, hours-long gun-battle. Allegedly, many local people came to watch the events unfolding, even holding picnics during the gun battle. After gunfire ceased coming from the house, the FBI forced local estate-handyman Willie Woodbury to enter the house wearing a bullet-proof vest. Woodbury reported that there was no-one inside alive.
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. According to the FBI's account, a Tommy gun was found lying in her hands. Other sources say it 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.
Controversy over leadership of Barker gang
The popular image of her as the gang's leader and its criminal mastermind, portrayed in films such as Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960) and Public Enemies (1996), is widely regarded by historians as fictitious. The suggestion that she participated in the shoot-out in which she died has also be treated with skepticism. Many, including Karpis, have suggested that the myth was encouraged by J. Edgar Hoover and his fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to justify his agency's killing of an old lady. After her death, Hoover claimed that Barker was "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade". He also claimed that she was "loose in her moral life", having supposedly had a string of lovers.
Though her children were undoubtedly murderers and their Barker-Karpis Gang committed a spree of robberies, kidnappings, and other crimes between 1931 and 1935, there is no evidence that "Ma" was their leader, or was even significantly involved. Barker certainly knew of the gang's activities, and even helped them before and after they committed their crimes. This would make her an accomplice, but there is no evidence that she was ever an active participant in any of the crimes themselves or involved in planning them. Her role was in taking care of gang members, who often sent her to the movies while they committed crimes.
Alvin Karpis, the gang's second most notorious member, later said that Ma was just "an old-fashioned homebody from the Ozarks...superstitious, gullible, simple, cantankerous and, well, generally law abiding". He concluded that,
|“||The most ridiculous story in the annals of crime is that Ma Barker was the mastermind behind the Karpis-Barker gang. . . . She wasn't a leader of criminals or even a criminal herself. There is not one police photograph of her or set of fingerprints taken while she was alive . . . she knew we were criminals but her participation in our careers was limited to one function: when we traveled together, we moved as a mother and her sons. What could look more innocent?||”|
This view of Ma Barker is corroborated by notorious bank robber Harvey Bailey, who knew the Barkers well. He observed in his autobiography that Ma Barker "couldn't plan breakfast" let alone a criminal enterprise.
Summary of Barker sons and Barker-Karpis Gang activities
- 1910—Herman Barker arrested for highway robbery in Webb City, Missouri.
- March 5, 1915—Herman Barker arrested for highway robbery in Joplin, Missouri. (Herman and Lloyd Barker reportedly involved with the Central Park Gang of Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
- July 4, 1918—Arthur "Doc" Barker involved in US automobile theft in Tulsa, Oklahoma; arrested (#841) (escaped).
- February 19, 1920—Arthur Barker arrested in Joplin, Missouri (#1740); returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- 1921—Lloyd "Red" Barker arrested for vagrancy in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- January 15, 1921—Arthur Barker aka "Claude Dade" involved in attempted bank robbery in Muskogee, Oklahoma; arrested (#822).
- January 30, 1921—Arthur Barker aka "Bob Barker" received at the Oklahoma State Prison (#11059); released June 11, 1921.
- August 16, 1921—Arthur Barker and Volney Davis involved in killing of night watchman Thomas J. Sherrill in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (According to other sources, Thomas J. Sherrill. was a night watchman at St. John's Hospital in Tulsa.)
- January 8, 1922—Central Park Gang involved in attempted burglary in Okmulgee, Oklahoma; shootout results in one burglar dead while police Captain Homer R. Spaulding dies of his wounds on January 19, 1922. One gang member is sentenced to life in prison while another had his sentence overturned.
- January 16, 1922—Lloyd Barker received at Leavenworth Prison (#17243) after arrest for robbing mail at Baxter Springs, Kansas and sentenced to 25 years; released 1938.
- February 10, 1922—Arthur "Doc" Barker received (#11906) at Oklahoma State Prison for the murder of Sherrill.
- 1926—Fred Barker robbed bank in Winfield, Kansas; arrested.
- March 12, 1927—Fred Barker admitted to Kansas State Prison.
- August 1, 1927-Herman Barker cashed stolen bank bonds at the America National Bank in Cheyenne, WY. Sheriff Deputy Arthur Osborn flagged down Barker's car. Barker picked up a gun from the vehicle's seat and shot Osborn. Osborn died as a result.
- August 29, 1927—Herman Barker commits suicide in Wichita, Kansas after being stopped at police roadblock. (Wichita Policeman J.E. Marshall had been killed on August 9, 1927 by the Kimes-Terrill Gang that Herman was associated with. Five other policemen were killed by the Kimes gang. See ODMP).
- March 30, 1931—Fred Barker released from Kansas State Prison after serving time for burglary; met Alvin Karpis in prison.
- June 10, 1931—Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis (alias George Heller) arrested by Tulsa, Oklahoma Police investigating burglary. Karpis sentenced to 4 years but paroled after restitution made; Fred Barker also avoided jail sentence.
- November 8, 1931—Fred Barker killed an Arkansas police chief Manley Jackson.
- December 19, 1931—Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis robbed a store in West Plains, Missouri and involved in the killing of Howell County, Missouri sheriff C. Roy Kelly.
- January 18, 1932—Lloyd Barker received at Leavenworth Prison.
- April 26, 1932—Body of A.W. Dunlap found at Lake Franstead, Minnesota; killed by Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis.
- June 17, 1932—Fred Barker, Karpis and five accomplices robbed Fort Scott, Kansas Bank.
- July 26, 1932—Fred Barker, Karpis (with an augmented gang) robbed Cloud County bank at Concordia, Kansas.
- August 13, 1932—Attorney J. Earl Smith of Tulsa, Oklahoma found killed at Indian Hills Country Club north of Tulsa; he had been retained to defend Harvey Bailey over the Fort Scott bank robbery, but the man was convicted.
- September 10, 1932—Arthur "Doc" Barker released from prison.
- December 16, 1932—Fred and Arthur Barker, Alvin Karpis and gang robbed Third Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis, killing policemen Ira Leon Evans and Leo Gorski and one civilian. (One gang member Lawrence DeVol in this shooting was also involved in four other police killings-two police officers, Sheriff William Sweet and City Marshal Aaron Bailey, in Washington, Iowa and Marshall John W. Rose in Kirksville, MO on November 17, 1930 and killing officer Cal Palmer and wounding another officer before being gunned down in Enid, OK in 1936.)
- April 4, 1933—Fred and Arthur Barker, Alvin Karpis and gang robbed Fairbury, Nebraska bank.
- June 1933—William Hamm of the Hamm's Brewery family kidnapped by Barker-Karpis gang; Hamm released June 19, 1933 after ransom paid. It is believed by some that the gang turned over half of the Hamm ransom money to the Chicago Mob under Frank Nitti after Nitti discovered that they were hiding Hamm in suburban Chicago and demanded half the ransom as "rent".
- August 30, 1933—Barker-Karpis Gang robs a payroll at Stockyards National Bank of South St. Paul, Minnesota in which one policeman Leo Pavlak is coldly executed and one disabled for life.
- September 22, 1933—Two bank messengers held up by five men identified as Barker-Karpis gang; Chicago policeman Miles A Cunningham is killed by the gang after their car crashed during the getaway. (Barker-Karpis gang associate Vernon Miller was allegedly involved in the killing, and reportedly also involved in the Kansas City Massacre in which four lawmen were killed).
- January 17, 1934—Gang kidnaps Edward George Bremer, Jr.; Bremer released on February 7, 1934 after ransom paid.
- January 19, 1934—Gang wounds M.C. McCord of Northwest Airways Company, thinking he was a policeman.
- March 10, 1934—Barker gang member Fred Goetz (also known as "Shotgun George" Ziegler, a participant in the Bremer kidnapping) killed by fellow gangsters in Cicero, Illinois.
- April 1934-Doc Barker and associate Volney Davis get a surprise visit from John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter, helping them bury their comrade John "Red" Hamilton after Hamilon died from gunshot wounds sustained in a shootout in St. Paul, Minnesota.
- July 1934—Underworld doctor Joseph Moran last seen alive.
- January 6, 1935—Barker gang member William B. Harrison killed by fellow gangsters at Ontarioville, Illinois.
- January 8, 1935—Arthur "Doc" Barker arrested in Chicago; Barker gang member Russell Gibson killed and his colleague Byron Bolton captured at another address.
- January 16, 1935—Fred and Ma Barker killed by FBI in Ocklawaha, Florida (Marion County). Ma Barker was discovered by the FBI tracking her letters sent to her other son. She was writing to him to tell him about a large gator in Lake Weir that everyone had called "Gator Joe", which led to the name of the local restaurant known as "Gator Joe's".
- September 26, 1935—The supposed body of underworld doctor Joseph Moran found in Lake Erie; believed killed by Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis. (However, Karpis himself said that Moran had been buried.)
- November 7, 1935—Karpis and five accomplices robbed an Erie Railroad mail train at Garrettsville, Ohio.
- May 1, 1936—Karpis and accomplice Fred Hunter arrested in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- January 13, 1939—Arthur Barker killed trying to escape from Alcatraz Prison.
(Of Barker-Karpis gang/associates: 18 arrested; 3 killed by lawmen; 2 killed by gangsters)
- World War II - Lloyd Barker was a US Army cook, ironically at POW camp Fort Custer, Michigan; received US Army Good Conduct Medal and Honorable Discharge.
- March 18, 1949 — Lloyd Barker was killed by his wife; he was manager of Denargo Market in Denver, Colorado; she was sent to Colorado State Insane Asylum.
In film and television
- "Ma Barker and Her Boys", an episode of 1959 TV series The Untouchables, pits Federal Agent Eliot Ness against the Barker clan, and depicts Ness as leading the assault on Ma Barker and her sons at their Florida hide-out. In real life Ness was not a member of the FBI at the time of the shoot-out, and had nothing to do with the Barker/Karpis case.
- The 1959 movie The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart portrays a number of deaths of 1930s-era criminals, including Ma Barker (portrayed by Jane Crowley, though it was uncredited).
- Lurene Tuttle portrayed Ma Barker in the low-budget feature film Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960). The film's scrolling text refers to her as a "sadistic...master of crime" and "evil genius". It portrays her controlling a gang that includes John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, constantly outwitting their rival Machine Gun Kelly.
- Ma was played by Joan Blondell in an episode of the 1961 TV series The Witness, which took the form of a mock-trail of historical individuals before a "committee" of lawyers.
- In the 1966 Batman series, one of the villains in series one was Ma Parker (played by Shelley Winters), a villainous mob boss based on Ma Barker. Ma Parker along with her three sons and one daughter almost managed to defeat the Dynamic Duo in the series.
- Barker's story was also adapted in the low-budget film Bloody Mama (1970). The movie also starred Shelley Winters as Ma Barker. In this film her criminality is explained as the consequence of childhood sexual abuse by her family.
- The DuckTales version of Disney's Beagle Boys (the series lasted from 1987-1990), a gang of criminals, is led by their mother Ma Beagle, who is based on Ma Barker. She is absent from the original comics by Carl Barks.
- Another retelling of the legend occurred in the 1996 movie Public Enemies starring Theresa Russell. As in Bloody Mama, she is depicted as a victim of sexual abuse which brutalizes her.
- In the 1985 film The Goonies Ma Fratelli is loosely based on Ma Barker.
- While The Daltons of the Lucky Luke comic book series, were originally based on the real Dalton Gang, their mother Ma Dalton is clearly inspired by Ma Barker. Coincidentally, their gang consists of four instead of three Dalton brothers.
- Crime author James Hadley Chase based some of the characters in his first novel, No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939), on Ma Barker and her sons.
- John Eaton composed an opera, Ma Barker, in 1955.
- In 1977, German disco band Boney M. released a hit single titled "Ma Baker", which was later covered by German Comedy Rock band Knorkator. The song's title and lyrics clearly reference Ma Barker.
- The band Maylene and the Sons of Disaster (formed in 2004) are named after the group of criminals and their songs are based on the gang's history.
- Former wife of gangsta rap pioneer Kool G Rap and fellow MC also goes under the name of Ma Barker. They had at one point formed a group called 5 Family Click, releasing a collective album and surfacing on mixtapes.
- Composer Michel Wintsch and writer Gérald Chevrolet adapted the writings of Marguerite Yourcenar to create the opera "Ma Barker" in 1996.
- Gator Joe's Beach Bar and Grill in Ocklawaha, Florida was named after a large alligator that lived in Lake Weir. The FBI killed Fred and Ma Barker in Ocklawaha, Florida (Marion County), after the FBI discovered "Ma" by tracking letters she sent to her other son, telling him about "Gator Joe". The restaurant's website displays a wanted poster for the Barker-Karpis gang.
- Lake Weir Chamber of Commerce stages an annual "Ma Barker Shootout" on "Ma Barker day" in a building near the actual location of her death.
- The Barker deathhouse in Ocklawaha, Florida was listed for sale on August 16, 2012. Offers on the Florida property are being accepted through October 5, with a suggested minimum of $1 million. Furniture is included.
- eFord, Miriam Allen, The Real Ma Barker: Mastermind of a Whole Family of Killers, 1970 Ace, New York
- Paul Maccabee, John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936, Minnesota Historical Society, 1995, p.105.
- Mahoney, Tim (2013) Secret Partners Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul;
- Stuart B McIver, Touched by the Sun, Pineapple Press, 2008, pp.71ff.
- Burrough, Bryan (2004). Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934. Penguin Press, New York, p.508-509;
- Jack Powell, Haunting Sunshine, Pineapple Press Inc, 2001, p.54.
- Jones, Ken (1957) The FBI in Action Signet, New York;
- Gentry, Curt (1991) J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets W. W. Norton, New York, ISBN 0-393-02404-0
- Karpis, Alvin with Trent, Bill (1971) The Alvin Karpis Story Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, New York;
- "History". gatorjoesocala.com. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
- Bloody Mama (1970)
- Ma Barker at G. Schirmer
- Hornberger, Francine (2002) Mistresses of Mayhem: The Book of Women Criminals Alpha, Indianapolis, IN, ISBN 0-02-864260-0
- Hamilton, Sue, and Hamilton, John (1989) Public Enemy Number One: The Barkers Abdo and Daughters, Bloomington, MN, ISBN 0-939179-65-2
- Winter, Robert (2000) Mean Men: The Sons of Ma Barker Routledge, Danbury, Connecticut, ISBN 1-58244-090-5
- deFord, Miriam Allen (1970) The Real Ma Barker: Mastermind of a Whole Family of Killers Ace, New York
- Morton, James (2012) The Mammoth Book of Gangs Running Press Book Publishers, Philadelphia, PA, ISBN 987-0-7624-4436-6
- Perkins; Jack; Drummond, John; and Cara, Mark (1996) Ma Barker Crime Family Values (television documentary on VHS tape) A & E Home Video, New York, ISBN 0-7670-1060-4
- Federal Bureau of Investigation. Barker-Karpis Gang (summary). Washington: GPO, 1937. <http://foia.fbi.gov/filelink.html?file=/barksumm/barksum1.pdf>
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Barker Gang
- Ma Barker & Son Morgue Photograph
- Alvin Karpis
- Barker-Karpis Gang Summary FBI file