Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly

Ascent into Crime

Barnes stayed in Kansas City for a while and developed a small bootlegging business. It was here that he began using the name George R. Kelly. Working with several partners Kelly expanded his bootlegging operation into Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Mississippi. He purchased additional trucks and eventually expanded into Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Bruce Barnes account of his fathers bootlegging days, he states that Kelly was extremely selective in the men he worked with, George preferred to hire basically honest men men with a good reputation. Kelly then paid these men well to insure their loyalty.

George Kelly
George Kelly

Myron Quimby in The Devil's Emissaries describes George at that time: "George was a large man, with a round face and blue eyes, who was always grinning when he wasn't boasting. He was not exactly handsome, but women found him attractive, and he did have a natural air of good humor about him. His one big failing was his mouth. He could never keep it closed. He was a big blusterer who eventually came to believe his own lies."

Kelly was arrested in Santa Fe on March 14, 1927. After being tried and convicted, he spent several months in the state prison. After his release he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where on July 24, 1927, he was arrested for vagrancy. His next arrest was for selling liquor on an Indian reservation. This constituted a federal crime and at the federal courthouse in Tulsa, Kelly was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth.

Charlie Harmon
Charlie Harmon

In Leavenworth, Kelly was befriended by bank robbers Charlie Harmon, Frank Jelly Nash, Francis Jimmy Keating and Thomas Holden. Using forged trusty passes Keating and Holden walked out of the federal prison in late February 1930. Prison officials later accused Kelly and Harmon, who worked in the photography department of Leavenworths record's section, of helping with the forgeries. Keating and Holden headed for St. Paul, which, along with Kansas City, were considered safe cities for underworld figures because of their corrupt city government. Frank Nash also escaped from Leavenworth that year. He too would head for St. Paul. When Charlie Harmon was released in 1930, he joined Holden and Keating. On November 1931, Harmon would be killed while robbing a bank in Menomonie, Wisconsin with the pair. His widow, Paula Fat-Witted Harmon, would soon become the girl friend of another ill-fated bank robber Freddie Barker.

When George Kelly was released from Leavenworth in 1930, he also headed to St. Paul. However, he didnt travel there alone.


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