this day in crime history: january 16, 1935

On this date in 1935, Kate “Ma” Barker, matriarch of the infamous family of criminals, died along with her son Fred in a hail of gunfire near Ocala, FL. Far from the Tommy-gun toting outlaw she’s been portrayed as in popular culture, Ma Barker’s role in the Barker-Karpis gang was probably limited to providing logistical and moral (or is it immoral?) support.

On January 8, 1935, her son Arthur “Doc” Barker was arrested in Chicago. When he was searched, he was found to have a map of the area where his brother Fred Barker was hiding out with Ma. On the 16th, federal agents surrounded the house and ordered the Barkers to surrender. A gunfight followed. Both Ma and Fred were killed in the battle. When they entered the house, agents found a Tommy gun still in Ma’s hands. Or so they claimed.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Ma Barker

Find a Grave – “Ma” Barker

FBI – Barker-Karpis Gang

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, January 17, 1935 – “Fred Barker and Mother Slain in Florida Hideout”

this day in crime history: december 11, 1985

On this date in 1985, Hugh Scrutton, a computer store owner in Sacramento, CA was killed when a bomb loaded with nails and splinters exploded in the parking lot of his store. Scrutton was the ninth victim, and first fatality, in the 17 year bombing spree of the man who turned out to be the nuttiest of nutty professors: Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. By the time he was arrested in 1994, Kaczynski had planted sixteen bombs. Two of the bombs were defused before they could explode. The other fourteen bombs killed three and injured eleven. He is currently serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) in federal prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Theodore Kaczynski

FBI – The Unabomber

The Unabomber’s Manifesto

this day in crime history: november 29, 1933


On this date in 1933, the bound and mutilated body of outlaw Verne Miller was found just outside Detroit, MI. Miller, the chief suspect in the Kansas City Massacre, was a decorated World War I veteran and former lawman. After a short stint as sheriff of Beadle County, SD, Miller turned to a life of crime. He started out in bootlegging, then moved on to robbery. Eventually he wound up as a trigger man for organized crime. The list of people with motives to kill him was long, but Miller’s murder was never solved.

Further reading:

Wikipedia: Vernon C. Miller

FBI Famous Cases – Kansas City Massacre /”Pretty Boy” Floyd

Vern Miller—Sheriff, Moonshiner, Hit-man

Lawman to Outlaw: Verne Miller and the Kansas City Massacre, by Brad Smith

Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, by Bryan Burrough

this day in crime history: november 27, 1934

On this date in 1934, Lester Gillis, better known as George “Baby Face” Nelson (and don’t even think about calling him “Baby Face” to his baby face) died after being shot by FBI agents near Barrington, IL. Nelson was shot multiple times in a gun battle that also resulted in the deaths of FBI Inspector Samuel Cowley and Special Agent Herman Hollis. Nelson’s body was later found in a ditch, wrapped in a blanket.

Further reading:

FBI History – “Baby Face” Nelson

Crime Museum – Baby Face Nelson

Wikipedia – Baby Face Nelson

FBI Hall of Honor – Samuel P. Cowley

FBI Hall of Honor – Herman E. Hollis

this day in crime history: november 24, 1971

db-cooper

On this date in 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 airliner. He received $200,000 in ransom and ordered the plane back into the air. He parachuted out somewhere over southwestern Washington state and disappeared. In February of 1980, $5880 of the money was found by 8 year old Brian Ingram near Vancouver, WA. Cooper’s true identity and whereabouts, and the whereabouts of the rest of the ransom money, remain unknown to this day.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – D.B. Cooper

Wikipedia – D.B. Cooper

this day in crime history: november 2, 1979


On this date in 1979, three members of the Black Liberation Army broke fellow BLA member Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard) out of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ. The escape began when the BLA members, posing as prison visitors, drew .45 pistols and took two guards hostage. They seized a prison van and used it to flee the prison with Shakur. Once outside the prison, they switched cars and made their getaway. The two hostages were released unharmed.

Shakur, step-aunt of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was serving a life sentence for her role in the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. After escaping prison, she lived as a fugitive in the U.S. She eventually fled to Cuba where she was granted asylum by the government.

Further reading:

FBI Podcast – JOANNE DEBORAH CHESIMARD

Wikipedia – Assata Shakur

this day in crime history: october 22, 1934

On this date in 1934, notorious outlaw Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was shot and killed in eastern Ohio.  According to the FBI version of the incident, Floyd was shot by agents as he jumped from a car and drew a .45 pistol.  Another version has it that he was shot and wounded by East Liverpool, OH police sharpshooter Chester Smith, and that FBI agents executed Floyd after briefly questioning him.  At the risk of appearing to be a victim of J. Edgar Hoover’s propaganda machine, I’m inclined to believe the FBI’s account.  But I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Further reading:

FBI Famous Cases: Kansas City Massacre – Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd

Wikipedia – Pretty Boy Floyd