Ma Barker

America's Most Wanted Mother

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In a time when notorious Depression Era criminals were terrorizing the country, the Barker-Karpis Gang stole more money than mobsters John Dillinger, Vern Miller, and Bonnie and Clyde combined. Five of the most wanted thieves, murderers, and kidnappers by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1930s were from the same family. Authorities believe the woman behind the band of violent hoodlums that ravaged the Midwest was their mother, Kate “Ma” Barker.

Ma Barker is unique in criminal history. Although she was involved in numerous illegal activities for more than twenty years she was never arrested, fingerprinted, or photographed perpetrating a crime. There was never any physical evidence linking her directly to a specific crime. Yet Ma controlled two dozen gang members which jumped to her behest. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called her a “domineering, clever woman who coldly and methodically planned the abduction of two of the nation’s most wealthy men.”

Ma’s misdeeds were well plotted, schemed, and equipped. “The most important part of a job is done weeks ahead,” she is rumored to have told her boys. She is remembered early on as a woman who took her four sons, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred to church every Sunday and to every revival meeting that came along. She was also known as a woman who never admitted her sons were capable of wrong doing. She ruled the family roost, defending her brood against irate neighbors whose windows had been shattered by the boys, and later against the police when the boys began their lives of crime in earnest. At a young age they were involved in everything from petty theft to murder.