Machine Gun Kelly

Machine Gun Kelly

George Kelly Barnes aka George R. Kelly aka George "Machine Gun" Kelly (July 18, 1895July 18, 1954) was a notorious American criminal during the prohibition era. His crimes included bootlegging, armed robbery and, most prominently, kidnapping.


Early life and education

George Kelly Barnes was born to a wealthy family living in Memphis, Tennessee, his father was a well-to-do insurance executive. Kelly’s early years as a child were essentially uneventful and his family raised him in a traditional household.

He received his early education at Idlewild Elementary and was enrolled at Central High School, the oldest high school in the City of Memphis Public Schools.

His first sign of trouble began when he enrolled into Mississippi State University (MSU) to study agriculture in 1917. From the beginning, Kelly was considered a poor student, having been awarded his highest grade (a "C plus") for good physical hygiene. He was constantly in trouble with the faculty and spent much of his academic career attempting to work off the demerits he had earned. He soon flunked out of MSU.


During this period Kelly met and soon afterwards married Geneva Ramsey. The couple had two children (George Jr. and Bruce), but not wanting to rely on his family’s money, Kelly struggled, employed as a cab driver, to make ends meet. His father was also not inclined to help George because of what had happened at Mississippi State, and his dislike of Geneva. Money problems strained the relationship, and the couple soon separated.


As he lived in the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 30s, George was able to find both work with a bootlegger as well as a colleague. After a short time, he had several run-ins with the local Memphis police, he decided to leave town and head west with a new girlfriend.

To protect his family and escape law enforcement officers, he changed his name to George R. Kelly.Fact|date=January 2008 He continued to commit smaller crimes and bootlegging. He was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for smuggling liquor onto an Indian Reservation in 1928, and sentenced for three years to Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas. Sent to Leavenworth on February 11, 1928, he was a model inmate and was released early.

Shortly thereafter, Kelly married Kathryn Thorne, who purchased Kelly’s first machine gun and went to great lengths to familiarize his name in the underground crime circles. Some historians claim that Kathryn coined the nickname "Machine Gun Kelly" and even went so far as to plot some small bank robberies.

Nonetheless, Kelly’s last criminal activity proved disastrous when he kidnapped a wealthy Oklahoma City resident, Charles F. Urschel and his friend Walter R. Jarrett. Urschel, having been blindfolded, made sure to foil his kidnappers by noting all possible evidence of his experience such as carefully noting background sounds, counting footsteps and leaving fingerprints on every surface in reach. This in turn proved invaluable for the FBI in their investigation, as they learned that Urschel had been held in Paradise, Texas.

An investigation conducted at Memphis disclosed that, after 56 days on the lam, the Kellys were staying at the residence of J.C. Tichenor. Special Agents from Birmingham, Alabama, were immediately dispatched to Memphis, where, in the early morning hours of September 26, 1933, a raid was conducted; during which, George had the misfortune to famously (or infamously) inadvertently urinate on the arresting officer. George and Kathryn Kelly were taken into custody by FBI Agents and Memphis police officers Sergeant William Raney and officer Thomas Waterson. Caught without a weapon, George Kelly supposedly cried, "Don’t shoot, G-Men! Don’t shoot, G-Men!" as he surrendered to FBI Agents. The term (which had applied to all federal investigators, meaning simply 'Government Men') became synonymous with FBI Agents. Reports of the raid, however, indicate that George Kelly came to the door, dropped his pistol and said, "I’ve been waiting for you all night"." Recent research revealed a 1933 newspaper interview with one of the federal agents at the arrest. He commented that, upon their arrest, Kathryn Kelly put her arms around George and said, "These G-men will never leave us alone." Thus, it was actually Kathryn Kelly who coined the term. However, the FBI press machine generated the G-Man story to build its own reputation. The FBI itself now repudiates the "Don't shoot, G-Men!" story. []

On October 12, 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Kathryn Kelly and her mother had all charges dropped and were released in 1958.

The kidnapping of Urschel and the two trials that resulted were historic in several ways: 1) they were the first, last, and only federal criminal trials in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film; 2) the first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime; 3) the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover’s evolving and powerful FBI; and 4) the first crime in which defendants were transported by airplane. At the time it was the largest ransom ever paid in the United States. Most historians agree that it also marked the end of the Gangster Era in America.


Machine Gun Kelly spent his remaining 21 years in prison. During his time at Alcatraz he got the nickname "Pop-Gun Kelly". This was in reference, according to former prisoner, to the fact that Kelly was a model prisoner and was nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be.He died of a heart attack at Leavenworth Federal Prison, Kansas on July 18, 1954 - his 59th birthday.

He is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery [ [ Wise County Sheriff's Department article] showing a picture of Kelly's gravestone] with a small head stone marked "George B. Kelley 1954".

Machine Gun Kelly and Kathryn Kelly were imortalised in a song "Machine Gun Kelly" (1970) written by Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar Which was recorded by James Taylor on his 1971 Album "Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon".

External links

* [ Kelly's Urschel kidnapping case] - at the FBI website.
* [ Kelly Biography] - at Alcatraz History website


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