Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly

The Bank Robber

 

Jimmy Keating
Jimmy Keating

In Paul Maccabes well-researched gem, John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul 1920-1936, he discusses Kellys first bank robbery after leaving Leavenworth. On July 15, 1930, Keating and Holden showed their gratefulness to Kelly for his help in their escape from Leavenworth by inviting him to participate in robbing the Bank of Willmar, Minnesota. Willmar is a small town located 100 miles to the west of St. Paul. Included among the bank robbers were Harvey Bailey, Verne Miller, and Sammy Silverman. The bandits escaped with an estimated $70,000, but it was not a clean robbery. The head of Minnesotas Bureau of Criminal Activity claimed, I cant remember a holdup in the history of the state since the raids of the Younger Brothers and Jesse James gangs which compares to the one at Willmar for daring and cold-blooded disregard of human life.

During the robbery a cashier was pistol-whipped. When a group of onlookers formed outside the bank, one of the gunmen unleashed a burst from his tommy gun into the crowd, wounding two women.

Verne Miller
Verne Miller

On August 14, while authorities were still investigating the robbery, Sammy Silverman and two associates from Kansas City were found slaughtered in a lovers lane section near Wildwood Park in Minnesota. During a prison interview in 1934, Kelly claimed Verne Miller had committed the murders after Silverman had doublecrossed him. Miller, at the time of Kellys confession, was already dead.

Kelly continued to participate in other bank robberies. In September 1930, he helped rob a bank in Ottumwa, Iowa with a group of bandits including Holden, Keating, Bailey, Miller, Fred Barker and Larry DeVol. On April 8, 1931 Bailey, Nash and Miller headed a group of robbers that took $40,000 from the Central State Bank of Sherman, Texas. Kelly met the men near the Louisiana border in a second getaway car. During this time Kelly and his wife were living at the home of Kathryns former husband, Charlie Thorne, in Fort Worth.

Kelly became partners with Albert L. Bates sometime in 1932. Bates, who used a variety of aliases, had an arrest record dating back to March 1916 when he was convicted of burglary and sentenced from one to fifteen years in the state penitentiary at Carson City, Nevada. Paroled a year and a half later, his next sentence was a six-month stretch for petty theft in Salt Lake City. In August 1921, Bates received another sentence for burglary in the Utah State Penitentiary. He escaped in October 1926, but less than seven months later he was serving a three to five year burglary sentence in Colorado. After his release in July 1930, Bates made his way to the mid-west and spent 30 days in jail on a minor charge in Michigan. At one time, Denver police considered him a suspect in the murder of two of his accomplices.

How Kelly and Bates met is unknown, but the two would work together for the next year. In September 1932, the two men, along with Eddie Bentz, traveled all the way to Colfax, Washington, near the eastern edge of the state. Here Kelly would enjoy his biggest payday as a bank robber. On the 21st the men robbed the First Trust & Savings Bank of Colfax of $77,000. Shortly afterward police raided the Kellys home in Fort Worth, only to find the couple had fled. Eddie Bentz was soon captured in a Dallas post office. He admitted to knowing Kelly and Bates, and that they had a hideout somewhere on a Texas ranch, but he denied any involvement in the Colfax robbery. When Bentz was able to make bail, he fled the state.

Kellys last known bank robbery occurred on November 30, 1932. Kelly, Bates and a Chicago hoodlum, Eddie Doll, robbed the Citizens State Bank of Tupelo, Mississippi of $38,000. During this bank holdup, Kelly carried a .38-caliber revolver instead of his trademark Thompson sub-machinegun. After the robbery the banks chief teller would say of Kelly, He was the kind of guy that, if you looked at him, you would never thought he was a bank robber.

As in many bank robberies during this time, Pretty Boy Floyd received credit for the Tupelo holdup. A letter was mailed to the local newspaper soon afterward, allegedly signed by Charles Floyd. The famed bank robber denied involvement in the robbery.

Barnes doesnt mention the names of Kellys accomplices, other than Bates, during his bank robbery career. He claims though that, When not operating with his own gang, George was one of the chief gunmen hired by other gangsters throughout the country and became second only to Verne Miller in notoriety.

In describing his fathers personal habits, Barnes writes, George purchased a completely new wardrobe beautifully tailored suits with fashionable vests and hand made English shoes, silk ties and shirts. His toilet was exacting. His brown hair, now with a sprinkling of grey, was always meticulously groomed, and his moustache, clipped to perfection, completed the picture of a well-to-do businessman or banker.

Bruce Barnes claims Kelly felt superior to the bank robbers he befriended in Leavenworth, but recognized their accomplishments. When Kelly left his bootlegging career behind to pursue robbing banks, Barnes tells us, It wasnt only the money that appealed to him. The picture of himself going into a bank, holding a gun and knowing that he had power over those he was robbing appealed to him. He knew that when he was through, he would prove himself better than those who were teaching him the rudiments of the trade.

Barnes wrongfully comments that Kelly enjoyed hearing his name mentioned in the same tone as people like John Dillinger at the time. By the time Kellys bank robbing career was over and he had been arrested in Memphis, Dillingers career was still in its infancy.

Barnes also writes that Kelly robbed banks in Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, and parts of Texas and Mississippi. He claims that Kathryn not only helped in the planning of these robberies, but that she dressed like a man and participated as an armed getaway driver during some of them.

 

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