Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly

The Kidnapper

According to Paul MacCabe, Kellys first venture into kidnapping occurred in 1930 with a former Cicero, Illinois police officer named Bernard Phillips. Below is MacCabes account of the incident:

George Machine Gun Kelly Barnes gave Detroit police an idea of how inept a crook Phillips could be. During a 1930 Chicago kidnapping in which Kelly and Phillips were partners, one of the victims taken by Phillips was accidentally killed. Soon after, Phillips asked Kelly to join him in another kidnapping. Kelly declined, concluding that the proposed victim did not have enough money to come up with the ransom. Phillips went ahead with the abduction and discovered that Kellys assessment had been correct. Phillips released the kidnap victim with the pathetic order to bring his own ransom to a meeting and then borrowed Kellys Cadillac to collect the ransom. Kelly, who was now being hunted for Phillips' crime, had to load his coupe into a truck and flee with it to Chicago.

Kellys next kidnapping was no masterpiece either. On January 27, 1932, Howard Woolverton, a South Bend, Indiana banker, was returning home with his wife when a gunman jumped on the running board of their car. Forcing his way into the automobile, the gunman ordered Woolverton to drive out of town. Two miles outside the city Woolverton was taken out of his car and placed in one that had been following them. Mrs. Woolverton was given a ransom note demanding $50,000.

Kellys partner in this kidnapping was Eddie Doll. Orphaned as a boy, Doll grew up in a Chicago slum and started his criminal career as a car thief, before he went on to bootlegging, bank robbing and kidnapping. After the pair drove their captive around for two days in northern Indiana, Woolverton was finally able to convince the two that he was unable to pay the ransom. He was released just outside Michigan City, Indiana on his promise to raise the money later. Calls and letters to his home looking for the money were ignored.

While in Fort Worth, prior to the police raiding the home after the Colfax, Washington bank robbery, Kelly and his wife planned another kidnapping. The intended victim was the son of a Fort Worth oil magnate. Kathryn threw a party and invited Fort Worth police detectives J. W. Swinney and Ed Weatherford. She approached the two about taking part in the kidnapping. She believed the two officers were corrupt and was trying to cultivate them into becoming kidnappers. The two believed she was a criminal and were trying to cultivate her into becoming an informant. After the offer, the two declined saying it was too risky. Before the two detectives left, Kathryn asked them for a favor; if Kelly or Bates were ever arrested in another state, could the detectives be counted on to contact that authority and claim they were wanted in Texas for bank robbery?

And you boys come and claim them. Is that a go? asked Kathryn in her most charming voice.

Swinney and Weatherford said they would do it. The detectives then contacted the F.B.I. and the oilmans son was placed under constant police surveillance. Wondering why so many police suddenly seemed to be around the young man, the Kellys dropped their plan.

While the Kellys anticipated their next kidnapping, two completely unrelated events occurred which the FBI and law enforcement agencies in the Midwest would incorrectly tie into the Kelly legend.

First, Kellys one-time bank robbing buddy, Harvey Bailey, had been arrested and was incarcerated in the state penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas. On May 30, 1933, Bailey, Wilbur Underhill and nine others, using guns allegedly smuggled into the prison by Frank Nash, kidnapped the warden and two prison guards and escaped. The hostages were released unharmed. After regrouping in the Cookson Hills of eastern Oklahoma, Bailey and Underhill would lead a gang which pulled off several bank robberies in the state.

Frank 'Jelly' Nash
Frank 'Jelly' Nash

The second event during that fateful spring of 1933 was the infamous Kansas City Massacre also referred to as the Union Station Massacre. Verne Miller and two unidentified accomplices attempted to free Frank Nash from a group of federal agents and law enforcement officers. Nash, who had been arrested by federal agents in Hot Springs, was being transferred back to Leavenworth. During this ill-fated rescue attempt five people, including Nash, were senselessly slaughtered. Years later it would be revealed that Nash and two of the law officers died from friendly fire.

Although the FBI would incorrectly name Pretty Boy Floyd and Adam Richetti as the accomplices months later, the initial suspects were Kelly and Harvey Bailey.

 

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