Machine Gun Kelly

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George Kelly Barnes (Machine Gun Kelly)
Mugshot of George "Machine Gun Kelly"
Born George Kelly Barnes
(1895-07-18)July 18, 1895
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died July 18, 1954(1954-07-18) (aged 59)
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S.
Other names Machine Gun Kelly
Occupation Gangster, bootlegger and businessman
Criminal charge Conspiracy to kidnap and bank robbing
Spouse(s) Kathryn Kelly

George Kelly Barnes (July 18, 1895 – July 18, 1954)[1] better known as "Machine Gun Kelly", was an American gangster from Memphis, Tennessee, during the prohibition era. He attended Central High School in Memphis.[1][2][3] His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun. His most infamous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles F. Urschel in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, collected a $200,000 ransom.[4] Their victim had collected and left considerable evidence that assisted the subsequent FBI investigation that eventually led to Kelly's arrest in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 26, 1933.[1] His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.


During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s Kelly worked as a bootlegger for himself as well as a colleague.[2] After a short time, and several run-ins with the local Memphis police, he decided to leave town and head west with his girlfriend. To protect his family and to escape law enforcement officers, he changed his name to George R. Kelly.[5] 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 to three years at Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, beginning February 11, 1928. He was reportedly 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 within underground crime circles.

George "Machine Gun" Kelly is led from Shelby County Jail en route to Memphis Airport and Oklahoma City for his trial for the kidnapping of Charles F. Urschel, October 2, 1933.
George and Kathryn Kelly receive life sentences for the Urschel kidnapping, October 12, 1933.

Nonetheless, Kelly's last criminal activity – the successful July 1933 kidnapping of wealthy Oklahoma City resident, Charles F. Urschel and his friend Walter R. Jarrett – would become his undoing. The Kellys demanded a ransom of $200,000 ($3.8 million today), and held Urschel at the farm of Kathryn's mother and step-father.[6] Urschel, having been blindfolded, made note of evidence of his experience including remembering background sounds, counting footsteps and leaving fingerprints on surfaces in reach. This proved invaluable for the FBI in its investigation, as agents concluded that Urschel had been held in Paradise, Texas, based on sounds that Urschel remembered hearing while he was being held hostage.

Machine Gun Kelly's hideout at 1408 Rayner Street in Memphis, Tennessee (2010).

An investigation conducted at Memphis disclosed that the Kellys were living 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. George and Kathryn Kelly were taken into custody by FBI agents and Memphis police. Caught without a weapon, George Kelly allegedly 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, became synonymous with FBI agents. The couple was immediately removed to Oklahoma City.[7]

The arrest of the Kellys was overshadowed by the escape of ten inmates, including all of the members of the future Dillinger gang, from the penitentiary in Michigan City, Indiana, that same night.[8]

On October 12, 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial was held at the Post Office, Courthouse and Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

An investigation in Coleman, Texas, disclosed that the Kellys had been housed and protected by Cassey Earl Coleman and Will Casey, and that Coleman had assisted George Kelly in storing $73,250 of the Urschel ransom money on his ranch. This money was located by Bureau agents in the early morning hours of September 27 in a cotton patch on Coleman's ranch. They were both indicted at Dallas, Texas, on October 4, 1933, charged with harboring a fugitive and conspiracy, and on October 17, 1933, Coleman, after entering a plea of guilty, was sentenced to serve one year and one day, and Casey after trial and conviction, was sentenced to serve two years in the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.[9]

The kidnapping of Urschel and the two trials that resulted were historic in several ways. They were:

  1. the first federal criminal trials in the United States in which film cameras were allowed;
  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 FBI; and
  4. the first prosecution in which defendants were transported by airplane.


His gravestone, marked "George B. Kelley".

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 a former prisoner, that Kelly was a model prisoner and was nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be. He spent 17 years on Alcatraz as inmate number 117, working in the prison industries, and boasting of and exaggerating his past escapades to other inmates, and was quietly transferred back to Leavenworth in 1951. He died of a heart attack at Leavenworth on July 18, 1954, his 59th birthday, and is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery with a small headstone marked "George B. Kelley 1954".[10] Kathryn Kelly was released from prison in 1958 and lived in relative anonymity in Oklahoma under the assumed name "Lera Cleo Kelly" until her death in 1985 at the age of 84.[11]

In popular culture

Film and television

  • Machine Gun Kelly and his crimes were (loosely) portrayed in the 1958 film Machine-Gun Kelly starring Charles Bronson.
  • Machine Gun Kelly and his wife (called "Lou" in the film) are portrayed as rivals of Ma Barker's gang in the 1960 film Ma Barker's Killer Brood. Kelly is portrayed by Victor Lundin.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is mentioned in the 1973 film The Sting.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is portrayed by Richard Eschliman in a minor role, in the 1973 film Dillinger.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is a central character in the largely fictionalized 1974 TV film Melvin Purvis: G-Man.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is referenced in the movie So I Married an Axe Murderer by a former Alcatraz Corrections Officer, turned tour guide (Phil Hartman) as having blinded a prison "girlfriend" during his incarceration on the island.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is mentioned by a sheriff in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 while chasing the Bandit.
  • A ship named Machine Gun Kelly appears in the Lupin III movie Alcatraz Connection.
  • Machine Gun Kelly is mentioned by a professor in Mindhunter while giving a presentation to a class.


  • Crime novelist Ace Atkins' 2010 book Infamous is based on the Urschel kidnapping and subsequent multi-state misadventures of George and Kathryn Kelly as they attempted to flee both the FBI and other gangsters eager to claim the Urschel ransom money.
  • Kelly is (along with Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson) one of the main characters of the comic book series Pretty, Baby, Machine.



  1. ^ a b c "George 'Machine Gun' Kelly". Alcatraz 2015. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Finger, Michael (September 7, 2005). "Public Enemy Number One: The real story of Machine Gun Kelly, the Memphis boy who grew up to become the most wanted man in America". Memphis Flyer. 
  3. ^ "FBI history. Famous cases. George "Machine Gun" Kelly". FBI. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  4. ^ O'Dell, Larry. "Urschel Kidnapping". Oklahoma Historical Society. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved May 11, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Machine Gun Kelly". Family Tree Genealogy. Retrieved July 13, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Kathryn Kelly – Crime Museum". Crime Museum. Retrieved May 18, 2018. 
  7. ^ The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office. 2008. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-16-080954-5. 
  8. ^ Fee, Christopher R.; Webb, Jeffrey B. (31 August 2016). American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore (3 Volumes). ABC-CLIO. p. 310. ISBN 978-1-61069-568-8. 
  9. ^ "FBI 100. The legend of 'Machine Gun Kelly'". FBI. September 26, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2009. 
  10. ^ "George "Machine Gun" Kelly". Wise County Sheriff's Department. 2003. Archived from the original on September 27, 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Kathryn Kelly - Crime Museum". 

Further reading

  • Atkins, Ace (2010). Infamous. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 
  • Hamilton, Stanley (2003). Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1247-5. 
  • Kirkpatrick, E.E. (1934). Crimes' Paradise (1st ed.). San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Company. 
  • Urschel, Joe (2016). The Year of Fear:Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt That Changed the Nation. Minotaur Books. ISBN 978-1-250-10548-6. 

External links

  • Machine Gun Kelly at Find a Grave
  • FBI file on George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes
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