Alvin Karpis

Alvin Karpis

Alvin Francis "Creepy Karpis" Karpowicz (August 10, 1907August 26, 1979), born Alvin Karpowicz, nicknamed "Creepy" for his sinister smile, was a noted American criminal known for his alliance with the Barker gang in the 1930s. He was the last "public enemy" to be taken, a capture which elevated J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to national prominence.

Early life

Karpis was born to Lithuanian immigrants in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and was raised in Topeka, Kansas. He started in crime at about age 10 running around with gamblers, bootleggers, and pimps. In 1926, he was sentenced to 10 years at the State Industrial Reformatory in Hutchinson, Kansas, for an attempted burglary. He escaped with another inmate Lawrence Devol and went on a year-long crime spree interrupted briefly while he lived with his parents after Devol was arrested. After moving to Kansas City, Missouri, he was caught stealing a car and sent back to the Reformatory. Transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas, he met Fred Barker who was in prison for bank burglary. Barker was one of the notorious members of the "Bloody Barkers" as the newspapers of the time had called them. The Barker family included the brothers Herman, Lloyd, Arthur or "Doc", and Fred, the sons of Ma Barker. Growing up impoverished in a sharecropping family, all the boys soon turned into hardened criminals, robbing banks and killing without provocation. Doc was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1920 after murdering a night watchman. Herman committed suicide in 1927 after being badly injured in a shootout with police following a robbery. Lloyd was sentenced to 25 years in 1922 for mail theft. Ma did her part to help her sons. While "Ma" Barker was not herself a criminal, she nevertheless badgered parole boards, wardens, and governors for the release of her boys when they were incarcerated. After Alvin was released in 1931, he joined up with Fred Barker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they soon put together the Karpis-Barker gang.

Alliance with Barkers

The Karpis-Barker gang became one of the most formidable criminal gangs of the 1930s. They did not hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, even innocent bystanders. They robbed a number of banks, hijacked mail deliveries, and soon turned to the lucrative field of kidnapping. In 1933, they kidnapped William Hamm, a millionaire Minnesota brewer. His ransom netted them $100,000. Shortly after this, they abducted Minnesota banker Edward Bremer, Jr., whose ransom brought them $200,000. The group was led by Alvin, who had a photographic memory and was described as "super-smart" by fellow gang member Fred Barker. The other leaders were Doc and Fred, both now out of prison, and the gang included about 25 others. At this time a myth was started that Ma Barker ruled the gang with an iron fist, but the facts do not seem to support these claims. It is highly unlikely that criminals as adept as Karpis, and even Ma's sons for that matter, would have listened to her. Karpis later wrote about this subject in his memoirs:

:"Ma was always somebody in our lives. Love didn't enter into it really. She was somebody we looked after and took with us when we moved city to city, hideout to hideout. It is no insult to Ma's memory that she just didn't have the know-how to direct us on a robbery. It would not have occurred to her to get involved in our business, and we always made it a point of only discussing our scores when Ma wasn't around. We'd leave her at home when we were arranging a job, or we'd send her to a movie. Ma saw a lot of movies."The Alvin Karpis Story

The kidnappings, however, would lead to the gang's end. The father of the kidnapped Edward Bremer Jr. was a friend of president Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR had even mentioned the kidnapping in one of his fireside chats, and fueled also by the Lindbergh kidnapping, the FBI and local police bureaus greatly stepped up their pursuit of those engaged in these type of crimes. The FBI had by this time organized a group of highly skilled agents called the "flying squads" who specialized in hunting down the leading public enemies, and much progress was being made. The year 1934 alone saw the deaths of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and George "Baby Face" Nelson.

With these big-name hoodlums out of the way, the FBI stepped up one of the most persistent manhunts of the time for the Karpis-Barker gangmembers. One incident that aided the FBI greatly was when the gang shot and killed one of their own members, George "Shotgun" Ziegler. Ziegler had been one of the masterminds of the Bremer kidnapping, but after he collected the ransom money, which he kept most of, he began loudly bragging to underworld associates that he was the genius behind the kidnapping. It appeared the one-time hitman for Al Capone, and a lead suspect in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, had lost his senses, and the gang knew it couldn't risk having him spill valuable information. On March 22, 1934, members of the gang shot four slugs into Ziegler as he was coming out of his favorite restaurant in Cicero, Illinois, which nearly decapitated him. The assassins left the corpse, however, and ironically FBI agents found names, aliases, addresses and other valuable information on the gang in Ziegler's pockets. Armed with this information the FBI used it to pick them off one by one, and soon they began getting the big names. Doc was captured on January 8, 1935, by Melvin Purvis who, nearly six months earlier, had hunted down John Dillinger. (Sent to Alcatraz, Doc was shot and killed by guards during an attempted escape in 1939.) Just one week later agents tracked down Ma and Fred at a cottage in Lake Weir, Florida. On January 16, Ma and Fred were shot to death after a 4-hour gun battle.

Just after Ma and Fred's death, Karpis nearly met his own violent end when the FBI located him in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Karpis and Harry Campbell managed to shoot their way to an escape, though Karpis's eight-month-pregnant girlfriend Dolores Delaney was hit in the thigh by a wild shot fired by Campbell. He continued his crimes with others, but had to be on the move more than ever as he was the fourth and last Public Enemy left (the previous three having been killed). He did manage to pull off a crime that echoed times of the "Old West", a train robbery in Garrettsville, Ohio, which netted $27,000. After the death of Ma and Fred, Karpis sent word to J. Edgar Hoover that he intended to kill Hoover the way Hoover had killed Ma and Fred.

Pursuit and capture by FBI

The FBI had come a long way since its reorganization and renaming in 1935 (from the Bureau of Investigation, created in 1908). J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as the acting head of the Bureau in 1924 and completely transformed the agency. Despite its successes, however, the agency had many problems. In those days, when the application of science and technology to fight crime was still in its infancy, the agency was at the mercy of public citizens for information. Often agents were sent off to remote locales that turned out to be red herrings due to bad information. The personal low-point for Hoover came at an April 1936 United States Senate hearing. Tennessee Senator Kenneth D. McKellar lambasted Hoover for the performance of the FBI and the fact that Hoover himself had never personally arrested anyone. After the hearing a determined Hoover vowed he would capture Karpis personally.

Hoover would not have to wait long. On May 1, 1936, the FBI located Karpis in New Orleans, and Hoover flew in to be in charge of the arrest. As a dozen or so agents swarmed over Karpis's car, Hoover announced to Karpis that he was under arrest. A couple of versions of the arrest are reported. One, told by Karpis in his memoirs, was that Hoover came out only after all the other agents had him seized. Only then did the agents call to Hoover that it was safe to approach the car. The official FBI version, however, states that Hoover reached into the car and grabbed Karpis before he could reach a rifle in the back seat. In fact, the car, a Plymouth coupe, had no back seat. The whole fiasco was further aggravated when Hoover told his men to "put the handcuffs on him"Fact|date=April 2007. Not one agent had brought handcuffs and Karpis was tied up with the necktie removed from an agent's neck. Whatever the real story, the capture of Karpis catapulted Hoover's name into the public eye, and that name would be synonymous with law enforcement until he died in 1972 at the age of 77.

The capture of Karpis essentially ended the age of the big-name depression-era criminals. In addition to those mentioned earlier, others killed violently in the 1930s were Jack "Legs" Diamond, Vincent "Maddog" Coll, Frank "Jelly" Nash, and Dutch Schultz. Al Capone was in Alcatraz and slowly going insane from syphilis. The country had gradually started to recover from the Great Depression and economic times had improved, and law enforcement agencies had improved as well.

tay at Alcatraz

Sentenced to life imprisonment, Karpis was incarcerated at the recently formed Alcatraz federal penitentiary from August 1936 to April 1962. For six months in 1958, he had been transferred to the Leavenworth federal penitentiary, but was then returned to Alcatraz. His main job at Alcatraz was working at the bakery. He was far from a model prisoner, frequently fighting with other inmates. However, Karpis is renowned for being the prisoner with the longest sentence at Alcatraz, yet the only prisoner with no escape attempts. In April 1962, with Alcatraz in the process of being closed, he was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington state. While at McNeil he met a young inmate named Charles Manson. Karpis wrote about Manson in his memoirs "On the Rock: Twenty-five Years at Alcatraz" (written with Robert Livesey, published in 1980):

:"This kid approaches me to request music lessons. He wants to learn guitar and become a music star. 'Little Charlie' is so lazy and shiftless, I doubt if he'll put the time required to learn. The youngster has been in institutions all of his life--first orphanages, then reformatories, and finally federal prison. His mother, a prostitute, was never around to look after him. I decide it's time someone did something for him, and to my surprise, he learns quickly. He has a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality, although he's unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never involved in even an argument."

After Manson had actually become somewhat proficient on the guitar, he asked Karpis for help in getting a job playing in Las Vegas as Karpis had contacts with nightclub and casino owners there. Manson even told him he would be bigger than the Beatles, but in the end Karpis decided to leave Manson on his own regarding his music career. Manson was moved to a Los Angeles facility in 1967, which proved to be one of the most ominous prison transfers ever. Later Karpis added "The history of crime in the United States might have been considerably altered if 'Little Charlie' had been given the opportunity to find fame and fortune in the music industry. He later became the infamous Charles Manson."

Later years

Karpis was released on parole in 1969 and deported to Canada, although he initially had difficulty obtaining Canadian passport credentials, on account of having had his fingerprints removed by underworld physician Joseph Moran in 1934.Newton, M. (2002.) "The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers". Checkmark Books, an imprint of Facts on File, Inc. 0-8160-4489-9]

He wrote his first memoirs in 1971 and published another memoir book in 1979 (v.s). During his first book tour across Canada for "Public Enemy Number One" for MacClelland and Stewart (published in the United States as "The Alvin Karpis Story"), Karpis, looking more like an accountant than a gangster, still showed a wry sense of humour. In Edmonton, Alberta, while shuffling Karpis between various interviews with the media, M&S book rep, Ruth Bertelsen made a stop at her bank. Asking Karpis if he wanted to come in with her, Karpis replied "No dear, you take care of the vault, I'll drive." He became a mentor to her young son until the obvious sociopathy of some of his advice to her child caused Ms. Bertelsen to break off their relationship.Fact|date=February 2007

He moved to Spain in 1973. On August 26, 1979, he died by what was originally ruled suicide by authorities, as sleeping pills were found by his body, but later it was ruled death from natural causes. Some closer to the scene say foul play may have been involved. Robert Livesey, who co-wrote Karpis's 1979 book, said Karpis was not the type to have committed suicide. Livesey said Karpis was a survivor, having served 33 years in prison, and also stated Karpis was anticipating the publication of the book. Livesey believed Karpis had been introduced to pills and alcohol by his last girlfriend Nancy, to give a relaxing high, and perhaps Karpis accidentally over-indulged on one occasion, with fatal consequences. No autopsy was done, and Karpis was buried the next day in Spain.Fact|date=February 2007

Popular culture

The myth of Alvin Karpis and the Barker-Karpis Gang along with their matriarchal leader Ma Barker itself inspired such fictional characters as Ma Beagle and the Beagle Boys published in the Scrooge McDuck universe.

The Jesus Lizard feature a song titled "Karpis" on their album "Goat"

The character of Frank Halloway, played by Cliff Robertson, on an episode of "The Untouchables" entitled "The Underground Railway" was based on Karpis.

He will be portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi in the upcoming movie Public Enemies.



Other sources

*Richard Kudish, CourtTV Crime Library
*Carl Sifakis, "The Encyclopedia of American Crime", 1992

External links

* [ Barker Karpis Gang]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alvin Karpis — (* 10. August 1908 in Montreal; † 26. August 1979 in Torremolinos, Spanien), eigentlich Albin Francis Karpaviecz (in der Autobiographie zu Karpowicz vereinfacht), war ein kanadisch US amerikanischer Krimineller. Karpis wurde vor allem berühmt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Alvin Karpis — Alvin Francis « Creepy Karpis » Karpowicz (10 août 1907 – 26 août 1979), né Alvin Karpowicz, surnommé Creepy à cause de son sourire sinistre, était un gangster américain appartenant au gang Barker dans les années 1930. D origine… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Karpis — Alvin Karpis Alvin Karpis (* 10. August 1908 in Montreal; † 26. August 1979 in Torremolinos, Spanien), eigentlich Albin Francis Karpaviecz (in der Autobiographie zu Karpowicz vereinfacht), war ein kanadisch US amerikanischer Krimineller. Karpis… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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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, [Toland, J. (1995). The Dillinger Days , introduction. Da Capo Press. ISBN …   Wikipedia

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