Biography of Gangsters Arizona Clark Ma Barker

About the famous gangster Ma Barker, biography and history of her crimes, victims and death.

THE GANGSTERS

ARIZONA CLARK "MA" BARKER (1871-1935)

Person: In her younger years "Ma" Barker was a rather dumpy fiddle player and Bible reader. In her 50s she was even dumpier, running to gray hair and fat.

Activities: Despite the usual, almost comic-book concept of her, Ma Barker was never in her life charged with a crime, and there are those who insist that despite FBI propaganda she was nothing more than a dim-witted woman who merely did whatever her sons wanted her to do. However, it must be said that Ma certainly raised some antisocial sons. The four Barker boys were all vicious criminals.

Born in the Ozark Mountains near Springfield, Mo., Kate was raised in an outlaw tradition. Her greatest thrill as a small girl was seeing Jesse James ride past, and she wept bitterly when Bob Ford shot him in 1882. In 1892 Kate married farm laborer George Barker, who soon begat four monsters: Herman, who committed suicide at 33; Lloyd, who eventually served 25 years and then was killed by his wife; Arthur, who was shot while trying to escape from Alcatraz; and Freddie, the youngest and Ma's favorite. Home for the Barkers was generally a tar-paper shack in some small Missouri town. By 1910 the boys started turning up on police blotters. Sometimes Ma got them off by storming into the station and screaming or weeping, whichever tactic she reckoned would work best.

The boys went on to serious things like bank robberies. The FBI theory was that Ma planned their jobs, taught them getaway routes that she mapped out, and then stayed home and wept and prayed they wouldn't get hurt. Eventually all the boys did time. In 1927 Herman was so badly shot up by the police that he finished himself off with a bullet in the head. This tragedy, according to J. Edgar Hoover, who in the early years of his reign was given to purple prose, changed Ma "from an animal mother of the she-wolf type to a veritable beast of prey." On the other hand, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis--who joined the gang, became its leader, and finally was Public Enemy No. 1,--always insisted that an FBI hype turned Ma into "Bloody Mama" after she was killed. "We'd leave her at home when we were arranging a job, or we'd send her to a movie," he said. "Ma saw a lot of movies."

Leading Crimes: If Ma was a criminal brain, then she was the one who switched the gang from robbery to kidnapping and decided to abduct millionaires William A. Hamm, Jr., and Edward George Bremer, which netted a total of $300,000 in ransom.

Major Victims: If Ma ever killed anyone, it was probably her "loving man" Arthur Dunlop (a billboard painter), who in 1932 ended up ventilated with bullets and dumped in a lake. Then again, maybe the boys did it, unmindful of Ma's feelings, when they suspected Arthur of "ratting to the cops."

How Died: Ma died with Freddie in a famous four-hour shoot-out with the FBI at a hideout cottage in Florida on Jan. 16, 1935. Ma was manning a machine gun and ended up with one to three fatal bullets in her, according to various accounts. That's the FBI and Hollywood story. The counterversion has Ma stopping only one bullet--compared to Freddie's 14--and then committing suicide, while an embarrassed FBI took it from there. George Barker, who had left the family around 1927, buried Ma and Freddie in Welch, Okla. Of his wife and sons Barker later said: "She never would let me do with them what I wanted to."

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