Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George "Machine Gun" Kelly

Arrest and Trial

With the information supplied by 12-year-old Geraldine Arnold, the Memphis police and the FBI set out to arrest the Kellys on the morning of September 26, 1933 at the Tichenor home.

There are several versions of Machine Gun Kellys arrest. The newspapers reported that Sergeant William Raney of the Memphis Police Department knocked on the door of the Tichenor home and Kelly opened it and stuck out his .45 automatic. The newspaper account said, Raney, who is a big and powerful man, pushed his shotgun against Kellys stomach. It was a tense second, but Raneys coolness and the look that was in his blue eyes won.

Writer and historian Rick Mattix reports that Memphis police burst into the house where Kelly was staying. As Sergeant Raney, armed with a sawed-off shotgun, entered Kellys room he found him standing there in his pajamas, hung over and holding a .45. Kathryn was asleep on the bed next to him. During the night the two of them had consumed six quarts of gin. The sergeant jammed his shotgun into Kellys stomach and ordered him to drop the gun, which Kelly did, on his own foot. Ive been waiting for you all night, Kelly was said to have muttered.

Another humorous version comes from Bruce Barnes. Tichenor told him a story years later that Kelly had picked up the morning newspaper but failed to re-lock the front door. He walked into the bathroom and while there the police entered the house. When the police burst into the bathroom, Kelly was still relieving himself. Although his gun was in the bathroom, he didnt have time to grab it.

Of course the last version comes from the hallowed halls of the FBI archives and was dramatically presented in the movie, The FBI Story, starring Jimmy Stewart. FBI agents, armed with automatics, tommy guns and shotguns, burst through the doors of a Memphis rooming house and confronted Machine Gun Kelly, who is fully clothed and wearing a coat and hat. Kelly pulls his hands out of his coat pockets, drops a gun on the steps, and cries out, Dont shoot, G-men! Dont shoot! In a masterpiece of public relations propaganda, the F.B.I. took full credit for the arrest. Hoover, his agents, Hollywood, and the rest of the country ate it up.

Kelly taken into FBI custody
Kelly taken into FBI custody

What gets lost in Hoovers mythical version of the arrest is the fact that FBI agents were not permitted to carry firearms until May 1934. However, this little regulation did not prevent the G-men from mowing down unarmed Dillinger gang member, Eddie Green on April 3, 1934. During that investigation, Hoover refused to identify the agents who took part in the shooting. Less than three weeks after Greens death, FBI agents killed an innocent man and wounded two others while allowing the Dillinger gang to escape from a tourist lodge in Wisconsin.

After the arrests, Kelly and his wife were arraigned the same day at the Shelby County jail where they both pled not guilty to kidnapping Charles Urschel. Kelly was defiant. He declared he would fight extradition to Oklahoma. When the warrants were read, Kelly barked out, I wont sign that.

You dont have to sign it, explained one officer. Thats just the charge against you.

When placed in a cell, Kelly boasted, Ill be out of this in no time. Lets see them keep me.

Kathryn Kelly wasnt as gallant. She stated that she would waive extradition and would go as soon as they wanted her to leave. Kathryns story was that her family had been coerced into helping with the kidnapping, which consisted of watching over and feeding Urschel. That was also the story her family was telling during their current trial. The three Shannon family members claimed that they were in fear of Kelly. Kathryn told the authorities that she had wanted to surrender and testify on her familys behalf, but her husband threatened to kill her if she did.

Kathryn told the Memphis police chief, Im glad we are both arrested because I am not guilty and I can prove it. Ill be rid of him and that bunch. I dont want to say anything about that guy Kelly, but he got me into this terrible mess and I dont want to have anything more to do with him.

After the arrest, the newspapers were still pointing out that Kelly was wanted for participating in the Kansas City Massacre, as well as the murder of a policeman in St. Paul, and the killing of the police officer in Chicago. In fact, famous Chicago Chief of Detectives William Shoes Schoemaker asked government officials to bring Kelly to stand trial in Chicago before taking him to Oklahoma City.

The following day Kelly had a change of heart. He told FBI Agent W. A. Rorer, Youve got me right on the Urschel kidnapping, but not the Chicago robbery or the Kansas City Union station job. Kelly said he would waive extradition and go back peacefully.

On September 27, federal agents went to the farm of Cass Coleman and retrieved the $73,250 that Kelly had buried there. Coleman was arrested, as was Kellys brother-in-law Langford Ramsey.

The trial of the original defendants in the Urschel kidnapping case was winding down. Kathryn, who was expected to testify on her familys behalf, never took the witness stand. The defendants were the first to be tried under the new Lindbergh Law. The new law introduced after the abduction and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. in 1932, allowed the FBI to become involved in cases where state lines had been crossed or, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, when it was presumed the boundaries had been violated. The law also provided penalties of life in prison.

In District Attorney Herbert K. Hydes impassioned final argument he told jurors:

I beg of you, in the name of my government, to return a verdict of guilty against these defendants.

This is one of the most important cases ever tried. Precedents are being set that will guide the courts and the bar in all future trials that grow out of this determined effort of your government to stamp out this most damnable of crimes kidnapping.

The jury took less than two hours to decide the fate of the defendants. On September 30, seven of the accused were found guilty of participating in the Urschel kidnapping. Three others -Isadore "Kid Cann Blumenfeld, Sam Kronick and Sam Kozberg were acquitted. Sentences were to be announced a week later.

On October 1, the Kellys were flown to Oklahoma City amid a convoy of nine airplanes. Upon arriving, Kelly quipped, Hello, gang, nice trip, to a group of photographers. Fearing a repeat of what happened in Kansas City, one of the guards held a machinegun on Kelly while another officer kept one trained on the crowd.

Also at the airport was prosecutor Hyde, who arrived with Mr. and Mrs. Urschel.

Thats the man, Charles Urschel exclaimed.

From inside the car, Mrs. Urschel stated, That face will haunt me for as long a I live.

The Kellys were rushed to a motorcade of ten automobiles and taken to the county jail. Their trial was scheduled to begin on October 9. A newspaper article five days later wrongfully reported that both Kellys were going to plead guilty and stand with the other convicted participants to receive their sentences.

On October 7, prior to Federal Judge Edward S. Vaught handing down sentences, Kelly and his wife entered pleas of not guilty. The judge then sentenced Albert Bates, Harvey Bailey, R. G. Boss Shannon, and Ora Shannon to life in prison. One wonders if Kathryn has testified could she have prevented the life sentences for everyone except Bates. Armon Shannon, just 22 years old, was given a ten-year suspended sentence, conditional upon his future good conduct. Edward Berman and Clifford Skelly, the St. Paul money exchangers, received five-year sentences.

Boss and Ora Shannon stood dumbfounded as they heard the judge state that they must spend the rest of their lives in federal prison. Kathryn was reported to have stared at the judge icily, as she listened to her mother being sentenced. She then broke down. Kelly, who had entered the courtroom smiling, passed near Urschel on his way out.

Youll get yours yet, you _______, Kelly sneered.

Kelly then drew his index finger across his throat in a cutting motion. Urschel ignored the incident. He knew he had already gotten his.

The following day Bates and Bailey were whisked off to Leavenworth to begin their sentences. Boss Shannon was allowed sixty days to get his business affairs in order. Ora Shannon was granted ten days to dispose of her property.

Kathryn and George in court
Kathryn and George in court

The trial for Kelly and his wife began on October 9. Author Hank Messick points out that the trial represented the first time sound picture equipment was allowed in a federal courtroom. While Kelly appeared uneasy most of the time, the fashionably attired Kathryn seemed to enjoy the attention she received and mugged for the cameras on several occasions.

When the Kellys arrived at the courthouse the first morning Kathryn spotted her father, J. E. Brooks near the elevator they were about to enter. As she paused to give him a kiss, federal agent J. C. White gave Kathryn a slight shove and she turned around and slapped him. With this, Kelly raised his manacled hands to strike the agent only to be pistol whipped about the head by White as Kathryn screamed, Dont! Dont! Later Kathryn chatted with the agent as if nothing had happened.

Kelly, who had been on bread and water since his threatening gesture to Urschel, entered the courtroom with swelling on his left temple and blood trickling down his face. The night before, he went to sleep without dinner after he stomped on a shallow pan containing his meager food rations.

During the first day of trial, not only was a complete jury selected, but the government had called nearly half of their witnesses. The prosecutors presented overwhelming evidence against the Kellys. Mr. and Mrs. Urschel and John Catlett, who received the ransom notes testified. Kathryn cried when her grandmother, Mrs. T. C. Coleman was brought forward in a wheelchair to testify against her.

After the first day of testimony is was clearly evident that Kelly didnt have a prayer. The following days testimony would center around Kathryns participation in the kidnapping, which up until then was still in question.

Mrs. Arnold took the stand and testified that after her family was picked up, Kathryn identified herself to them and talked about all the problems the Shannon family was going through because of Charles Urschel. Arnold told the court, Mrs. Kelly said they ought to have killed the son of a bitch and then she wished she could do it herself.

The mother of Geraldine said that Kathryn virtually kidnapped her 12-year-old daughter. I let her have my baby for a little ride, she claimed. She said she would be back that day. It was two weeks before I saw her again.

When Geraldine took the stand she told the jury about her ordeal and said that Kelly threatened to kill Judge Vaught, Charles Urschel, and the prosecutors who were handling the case against the Shannons. When the trial was over, Geraldine collected a portion of the $12,000 reward that had been offered for the Kellys.

A handwriting expert was then called to testify that the threatening letter sent to Urschel was actually written by Kathryn. Cass Coleman, Kathryns uncle, told the jury about the couples short stay there and that his niece had several lurid verbal exchanges with Kelly regarding the hiding of the ransom money. He claims Kathryn referred to Kelly as that damned fool.

On October 11, Kathryn took the witness stand. She denied any involvement in the kidnapping, writing the note to Urschel, and being on her uncles farm when the ransom money was buried.

Prosecutor Hyde grilled her about the kidnapping. While she cried softly, Kathryn told the court of first finding out about the kidnapping and about Kelly threatening to kill Urschel at the ranch:

I talked to Kelly there by the little house. He said he had a kidnapped man there.

I begged him to please release him.

He said it was none of my business. He then threatened me.

He said they were going to kill him [Urschel]. I begged him not to.

If you do Ill tell on you, even if you kill me.

When Keenan said to her, but Mrs. Kelly, you could have surrendered at any time, couldnt you? Kathryn replied, But I didnt know I was wanted.

Kelly sat listening to the testimony with absolutely no hope for acquittal. His own attorneys and his wife were trying desperately to place the entire blame on him.

When Kelly had taken Urschel to the Shannon ranch, Kathryn took her daughter Pauline and the daughter of the Shannons, Ruth, to her Fort Worth apartment claiming she was lonely and wanted company. In the judge's instructions to the jury, he reminded them of this incident in his astonishing final comments:

The court would feel it had been cowardly and derelict in duty if it had not pointed out ... that the defendant Kathryn was not wholly truthful.

This court will not hesitate to tell you that Kathryn Kellys testimony concerning her removal of the little girls from the Shannon farm near Paradise, Texas, the day Mr. Urschel was brought there did not sound convincing.

Her conduct at the Coleman farm ... not only is a strong circumstantial point but is convincing to this court that Kathryn knew about the kidnapping and knowingly participated. Other testimony from this defendant is utterly convincing to this court that Kathryn Kelly had criminal knowledge of the abduction conspiracy.

However, you can ignore my remarks altogether. They are not binding upon the jury.

The jury took less than an hour to reach a verdict. On the morning of October 12, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted for their roles in the Urschel kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison. Kathryn was clearly angered by the decision.

Anyone would have been convicted in this court. If theyd brought my dog in here, he would have got a life sentence too.

Kathryns Fort Worth home was deeded over to her daughter 14-year-old Pauline Frye. Pauline also received her mothers expensive jewelry. Saying goodbye to George, she told him to be a good boy. Kelly had threatened to bust out of Leavenworth, where he was sentenced, by Christmas. Kathryn told reporters that she still loved him and would see him at Christmas time.

He told me he will break out (at) Christmas and get me out. He always does as he says he will.

Manacled, hand and foot, Kelly was led to a train where he was to be transferred to Leavenworth. Shuffling from an automobile to the train, Kelly mumbled to reporters, Dont worry about me going stir crazy. I wont be there long.

Some of his guards had already gotten wind of a proposed American Devils Island, a penal colony that was to house 600 hard-core prisoners on a remote island called Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. There was a report that the government was going to make Kelly the first inmate there. How does that sound to you? one guard asked him.

Listen, the prison at McNeil Island is just as tough, Kelly replied. And dont forget, they get away from there. Dont forget it!

Kelly would one day feel differently.

 

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