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I’ll tell you about Machine Gun Kelly
He rode along the outlaw trail
Machine Gun Kelly was a simple man
But the woman was hard as hell
Watch out Machine Gun
Don’t let her run you ‘round
Don’t let the woman put you six feet in the ground
Machine Gun

In my mind the name “Machine Gun Kelly” conjures up images of some gun toting maniac making daring bank robberies, blasting away at various local authorities and FBI agents and riding off in a cloud off dust. After all, these were the days of Prohibition and the roaring 20’s when the outlaw image became infamous here in America.

But as we all know, names are often misleading.

As matter of fact, Machine Gun Kelly wasn’t always Machine Gun Kelly. He was born George Kelly Barnes in Memphis, Tennessee back on July 18, 1895. By all accounts there was nothing special about his childhood. His parents were well off members of Memphis society and it wasn’t until they shipped him of to Mississippi State University that the first signs of trouble started brewing.

In matters pertaining to academia George wasn’t considered as an up and comer. The highest grade he attained at college was a C+ for “good physical hygiene. He spent most of his time trying to work off all the demerits he attained for various offenses against the faculty and other students.

At the age of nineteen he dropped out of college and headed back to Memphis. He soon took work as a cab driver and met and married a young woman by the name of Geneva Ramsey. It wasn’t long before he fathered two children and since his gig as a cab driver was hardly enough to make ends meet he soon got in to the burgeoning business of bootlegging. He began to gain a little notoriety around Memphis as a small time gangster and soon afterwards he separated from his wife

After being popped by local authorities] for several instances of illegal trafficking he decided to leave town before he could be sent to prison. He then changed his name to George R. Kelly and began to earn his reputation in the underworld. By the time 1928 had rolled around Kelly had already served a couple of prison sentences and was now looking at a three year stretch in Leavenworth for smuggling booze onto an Indian Reservation.

I’ll tell you about Kathryn Kelly
Tired of being such small time, now
Figured they’d kidnap a rich man’s son
Make it in the world of crime
Watch out Machine Gun
Don’t let her run you ‘round
Don’t let the woman put you six feet in the ground
Machine Gun

Kelly decided to head west and landed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was there that he met one Kathryn Thorn and fell in love. Suffice to say that Ms. Kathryn was no pillar of society. She had already been busted on multiple occasions for crimes ranging from robbery to prostitution. The was even some suspicion that she had either committed or arranged the murder of her second husband.

Looking to break out of small time heists Kathryn and Kelly soon went on various crime sprees and that shot them up to Public Enemy Number One on the FBI’s most wanted list. It was at Kathryn’s urging that the Kelly purchase and start using a machine gun and hence a nickname was born that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Kathryn even started introducing him as “Machine Gun Kelly” in the underworld circles.

In July of 1933 the two of them came up with a plan to kidnap a local oil tycoon by the name of Charles Urschel. With two accomplices they broke into his home and found Urschel playing bridge with some friends. After threatening to “blow everybody’s heads off” they abducted Urschel and took him to a ranch in Texas. Soon afterwards, they sent in a ransom note for $200,000.00 in exchange for the safe return of MR. Urschel. Here’s a text of the letter addressed to one E. E. Kilpatrick, a friend of Urschel’s that was sent to the newspaper called the Daily Oklahoman that set the terms of the exchange.

You will pack TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ($200,000.00) in USED GENUINE FEDERAL RESERVE NOTES OF TWENTY DOLLAR DENOMINATION in a suitable LIGHT COLORED LEATHER BAG and have someone purchase transportation for you, including berth, aboard Train #2 (The Sooner) which departs at 10:10 p.m. via the M. K. & T. Lines for Kansas City, Mo.

You will ride on the OBSERVATION PLATFORM where you may be observed by some-one at some Station along the Line between Okla. City and K. C. Mo. If indication are alright, somewhere along the Right-of-Way you will observe a Fire on the Right Side of Track (Facing direction train is bound) that first Fire will be your Cue to be prepared to throw BAG to Track immediately after passing SECOND FIRE

REMEMBER THIS -- IF ANY TRICKERY IS ATTEMPTED YOU WILL FIND THE REMAINS OF URSCHEL AND INSTEAD OF JOY THERE WILL BE DOUBLE GRIEF -- FOR, SOME-ONE VERY NEAR AND DEAR TO THE URSCHEL FAMILY IS UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE AND WILL LIKE-WISE SUFFER FOR YOUR ERROR.

If there is the slightest HITCH in these PLANS for any reason what-so-ever, not your fault, you will proceed on into Kansas City, Mo. and register at the Muehlebach Hotel under the name of E. E. Kincaid of Little Rock, Arkansas and await further instructions there.

THE MAIN THING IS DO NOT DIVULGE THE CONTENTS OF THIS LETTER TO ANY LAW AUTHORITIES FOR WE HAVE NO INTENTION OF FURTHER COMMUNICATION.

YOU ARE TO MAKE THIS TRIP SATURDAY JULY 29TH 1933.

The ransom was paid and eight days later Mr. Urschel was released somewhere near Norman, Oklahoma. Even though he was blindfolded throughout the ordeal Mr. Urschel was able to provide enough information to the FBI regarding his whereabouts during his captivity and the hunt for Kathryn and Machine Gun was on.

The government boys they came for Machine Gun
Took the poor boy away
Stuck him in a hole in Leavenworth Prison
Where he lived until his dying day
Watch out Machine Gun
Don’t let her put you down
Don’t let a woman make you out to be a clown
Machine Gun

After bouncing from state to state Kathryn and Machine Gun found their way back to Memphis where they holed up with one of his longtime friends. Acting on a tip, on September 26 members of both the local authorities and the FBI forced their into the house. From here accounts of Machine Gun’s capture vary. Some accounts say Machine Gun was in his pajamas and hung over to beat the band and that Kathryn was still in bed asleep. When discovered he is rumored to have uttered the famous phrase “G-Men, please don’t shoot.” Other accounts say he was apprehended with a pistol in his hand ready to shoot it out with the authorities. Either way, Machine Gun and Kathryn were taken into custody and returned to Oklahoma City to face trial.

It should come as no surprise that they were found guilty of numerous offenses and both of them received life sentences. The trial itself was notable for many reasons but most important it marked the following.

  • It was the first, last, and only federal criminal trial in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film.
  • It was the first trial after the passage of the Lindbergh Law which made the crime of kidnapping a federal offense.
  • It was the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover and the newly founded FBI
  • It was also the first time that the defendants were transported by airplane and it was at the time the largest ransom ever paid in the United States.
  • Machine Gun Kelly would spend his remaining twenty one years behind bars in two of the toughest prisons in America. His first stint was at Alcatraz where he quickly began to be known as “Pop Gun Kelly” due to his quiet nature and his willingness to cooperate with the prison staff. He took a job as an altar boy and worked in the prison laundry. He spent seventeen years there and was then transferred Leavenworth where he would spend the rest of his days. He died there on his birthday on July 18, 1954.

    As for Kathryn Kelly, she would be released from prison in 1958 and return to Oklahoma where she blended back into society as a bookkeeper at a local hospital.

    Historians still debate the accuracy of the accounts of Machine Gun Kelly and his escapades. Some even have gone so far as to claim that he never even fired his trademark machine gun and that it was all hype instigated by Kathryn to further their reputation.

    In the end, who knows for sure but I gotta admit, if you have to be stuck with a nickname and the gangster life is the path you’ve chosen then “Machine Gun” is pretty cool.

    Selected lyrics lifted from the James Taylor tune called coincidentally “Machine Gun Kelly".

    Source(s)

    http://www.alcatrazhistory.com/mgk.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_Gun_Kelly
    http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/kelly/kelly.htm