Barker Cottage At Lake Weir - Courtesy FBI Official Records ~
THE BARKER/KARPIS GANG IN GENERAL
The criminal reign of the Barker/Karpis gang, including the often believed controversial role of "Ma Barker," has been addressed over the decades by many authors, movie producers, historians and researchers. On occasion, efforts have been made to downplay the role of "Ma Barker" in the gang's activities with most relying on the later in life statements, many self serving, of those such as Karpis himself and/or gangster, Harvey Bailey.
Of course, many believe the supposed trumped up allegations with the well known press statements of J. Edgar Hoover. These provided after the Lake Weir shootout to the effect that "Ma Barker" was the brains behind the gang's activities, all of which Karpis, Bailey and others laughed at. It might be pointed out that we're assuming he meant that literally as perhaps the planner of the robberies, the kidnappings and more. Fact is, other than what the likes of Karpis, Bailey and others have said, we really don't have any independent information on what she did or did not provide with regard to planning anything. Let's face it, no one except the gangsters were present at these meetings!
Many contend Hoover made this statement to cover the fact that his men killed an innocent party, i. e. "Ma" herself at Lake Weir. While we agree Hoover was probably concerned about the backlash of killing a woman in a gunfight, this concern may have taken exaggerated proportions over the decades. Additionally, she was far from being an "innocent party" at the gun battle!
We now know from a recovered FBI document that Associate, Clyde Tolson, addressed this concern early on by stating for the record that killing "Ma Barker" should not be an issue since she raised her gun at arresting officers.
What the historic facts reveal is that "Ma Barker" was not the innocent party that many believe. We also know that she kept a tight, motherly maternal reign on her sons, yet provided them with the aid and cover they, along with Karpis, needed to carry out their plights. She relished living the high life style and never turned her head away from a stolen dollar bill. During the early days, she was suspect in the assistance of the murder of her lover, Arthur Dunlop who the gang believed tipped police on one occasion. We take note in the lengthy report below of a woman's bloody glove found at the Dunlop scene for openers.
According to "Biography.com" Editors in their article on "Ma Barker," in
"the spring of 1931, Ma Barker's youngest son, Fred, was unexpectedly paroled from Lansing Prison, in Kansas. Fred brought with him a fellow parolee named Alvin Karpis. He and Fred agreed to become partners in crime. Ma approved of the newly formed Barker-Karpis Gang and let them use her Tulsa shack as a hideout. Living vicariously through the exploits of her boys offered Ma the adventure she had always craved."
"Fred and Alvin quickly went to work, committing a series of burglaries and small?time bank robberies. In December 1931, they robbed a department store in West Plains, Missouri. The next day, they shot and murdered the town's Sheriff, C. R. Kelly, at point blank range. Kelly's murder started a pattern of excessive violence and thoughtless killing that soon became the trademark of the Karpis-Barker Gang. For the first time, Ma Barker became a wanted woman."
"In September of 1932, Ma's son Doc was paroled from a murder sentence at the same time that his brothers were free. The Barker gang was back at full strength and more menacing than ever. With Ma's blessing, they quickly plotted another bank job for December, at the Third Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis. This time, however, they failed to adequately think the job through. The consequence was a violent shootout with the police, which only served to solidify their reputation as the most vicious criminal gang in America."
From FBI files, perhaps the best document found regarding the reign of the Barker/Karpis gang, including the role of "Ma" herself comes from a 1936 summary report spanning some 125 or so pages. As most will see, the gang and their activities are a complicated mishmash of alleged murders, robberies, violent kidnappings, and years of violent crime in general. All intertwined with a multitude of additional gangland names, some not even recognized today. Or, who at least today, don't even get an "honorable mention" in gangland history.
We strongly suggest readers download this lengthy Barker/Karpis summary and read it before coming to any conclusions about the gang, or even "Ma Barker" and where she fits in during the reign of terror the gang carried out. It may be necessary to further research some of the incidents mentioned in this document for further details, later results found, historical accuracies and more.
Beyond those formative years of his gangster days, there is one final note of mention regarding Alvin Karpis. Being a subject of the Bremer Kidnapping, (among other crimes) and thus originally scheduled for trial with others, Karpis didn’t even bother with a trial. In the summer of 1936, he pled guilty to kidnapping and received a life sentence in federal prison. His incarceration signaled the end of the gangster era in St. Paul.
According to an article in the "Minnesota Monthly" in 2007 by Tim Brady...
"There’s a coda to the story, however: before he went to prison, Karpis squirreled away his “ill-gotten gains” in a number of Midwest banks, according to [ author, Paul] Maccabee. After he was released on parole, he met up with a nephew bearing a large check. The old gangster retired in comfort on the coast of Spain."
"But, alas, the notoriety that was Karpis’s particular currency had no value in Europe. According to [author, Bryan] Burrough, he spent much of his time there drowning in tequila, trying to convince people that he’d been a tough guy back in the day. He died in 1979."
Personally, I think Burrough hit the nail on the head with Karpis in later life. "drowning in tequila, trying to convince people that he'd been a tough guy....." And with that we all know comes the lies and the exaggerations...
THE LAKE WEIR SHOOTOUT - 1935
The Bureau's raid on the cottage near the shores of Lake Weir, Fla., in January, 1935 was a direct result of a map and other items of evidence found just days earlier in Chicago where "Doc" Barker was taken into custody by Agents there.
SAC Earl J. Connelley, who led both the Chicago raid and the Florida raid, was appointed by Director Hoover to assume the duties of Inspector Samuel Cowley who was killed in November, 1934 with Agent Herman Hollis in the battle at Barrington, IL with "Baby Face" Nelson and John Paul Chase. Connelley's role as a leader of men, and the investigations, during some of the Bureau's most renowned moments of the gangster era and up to the case of the Nazi saboteurs off Long Island, NY is often forgotten about by many today.
Our own review of nearly a thousand pages surrounding the raid at Lake Weir originated from the FBI's released case file on the Bremer kidnapping, Part 89. (There's over 400 sections to this file alone.) While we do not attempt to address the entire Bremer investigation, nor all of the activities of the Barker/Karpis gang, the purpose here was to retrieve those historical records related directly to the assault on the Barker cottage, obtain the shootout details, attempt to determine what weapons the Agents and the Barkers used and resolve the questions about who was actually present from the Bureau.
(The Connelley report, and some others, are difficult to read in some places due to the poor quality. We suggest you enlarge the pages.)
The battle at Lake Weir, Fla. was one of the many epic Bureau shootouts of the time. The raid lasted from approximately 7am that day until 11am - 12Noon. E. J. Connelley's summary report below is a highly detailed examination of what took place, weapons used and more. Any "yellow notes" you see on documents are mine. Although we have not included the statements of each Agent present, they are available in the file, but do not contain anything to change Connelley's report. (Standard procedure in the Bureau is to incorporate those statements into an overall report).
We have included the statements of SAs Charles Winstead and J. C. "Doc" White because of the amount of inquiries that seem to surface over what they did and didn't do at the scene.
We found no documentation revealing that Hoover, or anyone else within the Bureau, was overly concerned with potential public relations problems in that they "killed someone's mother" or that "Ma" Barker had been some innocent civilian killed accidentally. However, having no findings of any Hoover memos of concern, we also believe that in all likelihood, he and others in the Bureau would be the targets of criticism. This may have prompted the memorandum from Tolson found. Clyde Tolson revealed to Hoover and others that the shooting was totally justified by the mere fact that she had fired upon the agents while resisting arrest.
Weapons found inside the cottage - Courtesy FBI
The raid at Lake Weir was led by SAC E. J. Connelley and those present at the immediate scene of the shootout involved Connelley and thirteen (13) additional Agents. These additional Agents have been identified through official reports shown as: SAs J. C. "Doc" White; A. A. Muzzey, R. L. Jones, John Madala, T. M. McDade, Daniel P. Sullivan, Gerald "Jerry" Campbell, G. C. Woltz, Charles Winstead, R. D. Brown, S. K. McKee, T. Melvin and J. T. McLaughlin.
It should be noted that SA Tom McDade of the Chicago Office, and present during the shootout, was the only person present with a camera. After the shooting stopped and agents entered the home, McDade's crime scene photos taken clearly reveal "Ma Barker" with a Thompson machine gun at her feet. While some will contend that this was a staged cover up by the Bureau, her shooting at agents is corroborated by others present. Regardless of being a woman or not, or having no prior arrest record, the fact of life is that if you're going to pick up a weapon, point it, and shoot it at law enforcement officers, you probably should prepare yourself to be taken home in a body bag!
Over the last few years, we've been contacted by the sons, daughters and grandchildren of some of these Agents to include, Sullivan, McKee, Connelley, McDade, and Winstead.
The links below will take readers to the various original FBI documents of the 1935 raid:
SAC E. J. Connelley is in Chicago with the arrest of "Doc" Barker - raid and travel plans of agents, weapons etc. (Note: Winstead did not stay behind afterall but traveled to Jacksonville with others.)
The map submitted by Connelley to FBI HQ showing positions of Agents involved