Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly


George Machine Gun Kelly remained at Leavenworth Penitentiary until October 1934. He was then transferred to Alcatraz with Albert Bates and Harvey Bailey. There Kelly would be joined by several familiar faces: Tommy Holden, Jimmy Keating, Eddie Doll, Eddie Bentz, Alvin Karpis, Doc Barker and, the king of the gangsters, Al Capone.

George in Alcatraz (UPI)
George in Alcatraz (UPI)

Kelly was a model inmate at Alcatraz and worked in the laundry. He became a bible student and sent several remorseful letters to Charles Urschel begging for forgiveness and asking him to intercede on his behalf. Remembering the vicious death threats he and his family received, Urschel was not in the forgiving mood. A recent Discovery Channel documentary produced in England claimed that Urschel, in search of the money that was still missing, visited Alcatraz and stood outside Kellys cell staring him down in an effort to get him to confess to where the money was.

In Rick Mattixs careful following of the ransom money, he is able to account for almost $120,000.

Also corresponding with Urschel was Albert Bates. He, too, got nowhere with the angry oilman. Bates was the first of those convicted in the kidnapping to pass away. He died on Alcatraz on July 4, 1948.

Robert K. G. Boss Shannon received a pardon from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. Although the reason for the pardon was owing to ill health, the old Democrat lived another twelve years. Returning to his ranch in Paradise, Texas, Shannon was hoping that oil would be discovered on his property and had written several letters to Kathryn letting her know that he was close. Bruce Barnes visited the now ramshackle ranch in the mid-1950s and wrote that, After twelve years in prison, he [Shannon] was a basket case. Boss Shannon died on Christmas Day 1956 in a Bridgeport, Texas hospital.

Harvey Bailey, who was the only person convicted that didnt participate in the infamous kidnapping, was paroled in 1961. Vengeful Kansas State authorities re-arrested him for a bank robbery he had committed in 1933 and Bailey was sent to the Kansas Penitentiary until 1965. He spent his last years in Joplin, Missouri working as a cabinetmaker and helping to write a book about his life. Bailey died in March 1979, at the age of 91.

Kellys former brother-in-law, Langford Ramsey died at the age of 78. Ramsey, at the time he passed the Tennessee bar, was the youngest ever to do so. For his role in going to the Coleman ranch and returning Geraldine Arthur to her parents, he served two and a half years in the Atlanta Penitentiary. Other people who played a peripheral role in the kidnapping Louise Magness, John C. Tichenor and Cass Coleman served varying lengths of prison time.

Bruce Barnes informs us that Kellys first son, George Jr. (Sonny), never forgave his father for the physical and mental abuse he suffered. He always felt embarrassed about the notoriety that was inflicted on the family. George Jr. married and had five children, three of whom died from muscular dystrophy. On June 6, 1989, George Jr. died of a massive heart attack while on his way to his grandsons graduation.

According to Barnes, Kathryns daughter, Pauline Frye, grew up to be a fine professional woman with high moral standards and a commitment to serve humanity.

Other people associated with Machine Gun Kelly have also passed away over the years; some by natural causes...some not.

Harvey Baileys bank robbing partner, Wilbur Underhill, pulled off a series of bank robberies after his escape in May 1933. Honeymooning in Shawnee, Oklahoma on December 30, 1933, Underhill was fatally wounded by police and FBI agents while hiding with others in a cottage. The girlfriend of one of his partners was killed in the shootout.

Neither Kelly, nor Bailey, was ever charged in the Kansas City Massacre. By the time the kidnapping trial was over, the FBI was falsely identifying Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam Richetti as Verne Millers accomplices. Miller was found brutally murdered outside Detroit on November 29, 1933. The FBI under questionable circumstances killed Floyd on October 22, 1934. One day earlier Richetti was captured near Wellsville, Ohio. He would be the only person to stand trial for pulling a trigger in the Kansas City Massacre. After being convicted, he paid with his life in the gas chamber at the Missouri state prison at Jefferson City on October 7, 1938.

Tommy Holden left Alcatraz in 1948. Some time after moving home to Chicago, he got into a drunken argument with his wife, which resulted in the murder of her and two of her brothers. Placed on the FBIs Most Wanted list in 1950, Holden was captured in Oregon in 1951. He was sentenced to 25 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet. Suffering from health problems, he was transferred to Stateville Hospital where he died of a heart attack in 1953.

Holdens bank robbing partner, Jimmy Keating, chose a different path. Keating was a hard worker in both Leavenworth and Alcatraz. He received high marks in both prisons. At Alcatraz his disciplinary black marks included making faces at the guards, laughing too loudly in the mess hall, playing baseball in the prison yard, and taking an unauthorized bowl of ice cream.

In 1948, Keating was released and moved to Minneapolis. He worked at a florist shop during the 1950s. During the 1960s and 1970s, Keating became a successful organizer for a St. Paul machinists union. He also remarried and became a grandfather. By July 1978, Keating was living in a nursing home in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He died there at the age of 79.

Kathryn Kelly told the authorities that if she weren't housed with her mother, she would use her influential friends to get herself released. Kathryn was first placed in a federal facility in Cincinnati. During the mid-1950s, she served time in a prison in Alderson, West Virginia. Later that decade, she was in Milan, Michigan. In Milan, Kathryn wrote poetry and articles for the prison newspaper. She eventually became the assistant editor.

Kathryn and her mother, Ora, were released from prison in June 1958, on a $10,000 bond. Kathryn had hired a new attorney who filed an appeal claiming that the governments case was based on the handwriting expert who testified that she had written the ransom note and the threatening letter to the Urschels.

The handwriting expert was not an FBI expert but rather an individual who had been hired by the United States attorney in Oklahoma City. A memo in the FBI files, dated September 22, 1933, four days before the capture of the Kellys, stated that the FBIs handwriting expert determined that Kathryn had not written the notes. Kathryn was not allowed to call her own handwriting expert to refute the testimony, and the FBI suppressed its own findings. This revelation was brought to the publics attention by former FBI Agent William Turner is his book, Hoovers FBI: The Men and the Myth].

A new trial was granted Kathryn and when the FBI refused to release their files, she was set free.

Kathryns mother was placed in the Oklahoma County Home and Hospital in Oklahoma City. Wishing to be near her, Kathryn found a job there as a bookkeeper. She lived on the property, eventually becoming a recluse.

In 1951, George Machine Gun Kelly was transferred back to Leavenworth. He was assigned to the furniture factory. On July 17, 1954, he died of a massive heart attack at the prison at the age of 54.

Kellys obituary in the New York Herald Tribune was titled MACHINE GUN KELLY DIES; KIDNAPPER COINED G-MEN. In the article a spokesman for the FBI was quoted on the facts surrounding Kellys capture:

He was cowering in a corner with no gun handy, the FBI man said. His face twitched and got white. He was whimpering. He lost his bravado. He reached up his hands toward the ceiling, trembled and said, Dont shoot, G-Men, dont shoot

Old myths never die, they just get embellished.

Perhaps Machine Gun Kelly should best be remembered from a line he penned to his kidnapping victim. In one of his final letters to Charles Urschel Kelly wrote, these five words seem written in fire on the walls of my cell: Nothing can be worth this!



We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'