Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly

Cleo Brookes Frye Brewer Thorne

In the 1990s, crime historian Rick Mattix wrote Machine Gun Kelly, one of the most comprehensive articles about the outlaw. In it he discusses Kellys notorious wife, Kathryn Kelly.

Kathryn was born with the name Cleo Brooks in Saltillo, Mississippi in 1904. By the time she was 15 she was married to a laborer, Lonnie Frye, with whom she had a daughter she named Pauline. The marriage didnt last long and Brooks, who Mattix claims started using the name Kathryn because it sounded more glamorous, divorced Frye and was briefly married to a man named Allie Brewer. Around this time Kathryns mother, Ora, also divorced and married Robert K. G. Shannon. Nicknamed Boss, Shannon was a political power in the Democratic Party in Wise County, Texas. Ora Shannon soon took up bootlegging. The couple also owned a ranch near Paradise, Texas, which they rented out to criminals on the run for $50 a night.

Kathryn married a third time to a bootlegger named Charlie Thorne. Like her mother, Kathryn got involved in the bootleg business. While Kathryn was away visiting relatives once, she got word that Charlie was cheating on her. On the way back home she stopped to get gas and told the station attendant, Im bound for Coleman, Texas, to kill that God-damned Charlie Thorne. The next day Thorne was found shot to death. The coroner ruled it a suicide.

Over the next few years Kathryn was arrested several times. Included in the charges were shoplifting in Fort Worth, and robbery in Oklahoma City. She also spent time in jail for prostitution and for receiving stolen goods. Apparently criminal behavior ran in her family. In addition to her mothers bootlegging operation, she had two uncles in Leavenworth, one for stealing automobiles, the other for counterfeiting. Her aunt was a prostitute and her cousin was a bootlegger.

By the late 1920s, Kathryn was working as a manicurist in Fort Worth. Impressed by her innocent nature, a local businessman asked her out on a date. J. Edgar Hoover quoted the businessman years later as telling a friend: Remember that innocent little girl I was going to show a good time? She took me to more speakeasies, more bootleg dives, and more holes in the wall than I thought existed in all of Texas. She knows more bums than the Police Department. She can drink liquor like water. And shes got some of the toughest women friends I ever laid eyes on!

Legend has it that it was Kathryn that created the Machine Gun Kelly image. She was said to have purchased the first Tommy gun that Kelly ever owned and that she made him practice with it. She then handed out spent cartridges to friends and relatives as souvenirs. A rumor started that Kelly was actually an excellent machine gunner during World War I and was so proficient with a chopper that he could write his name in lead and could knock walnuts off a fence post at 25 paces. Whoever made up this rumor didn't realize that George conjured up a medical deferment in college to escape being a soldier and the Thompson sub-machine gun was not used during World War I.

While George was working for bootlegger Little Steve Anderson in Oklahoma City, Kathryn was Andersons mistress. Soon George and Kathryn fell in love. The two ran off together, taking Andersons new Cadillac and his prized English bulldog with them. They went to Minneapolis after Kellys release from Leavenworth and, in September 1930, got married.

 

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