- NAME: Machine Gun Kelly
- OCCUPATION: Criminal
- BIRTH DATE: July 18, 1895
- DEATH DATE: July 18, 1954
- EDUCATION: A&M College
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Memphis, Tennessee
- PLACE OF DEATH: Leavenworth, Kansas
- Full Name: George R. Kelly
- Originally: George Kelly Barnes
- AKA: George Barnes
- Nickname: "Machine Gun"
- AKA: George Kelly
- AKA: George Celino Barnes
Best Known For
Machine Gun Kelly was an American bootlegger, bank robber and kidnapper who made headlines in the 1930s. He was sentenced to life in prison along with wife Kathryn Kelly in 1933.
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Born on July 18, 1895, in Memphis, Tennessee, Machine Gun Kelly was a bootlegger, small-time bank robber and kidnapper who ranged through Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico in the 1920s and '30s. Beginning his criminal career as a bootlegger, he was caught in 1927 and subsequently spent a few months in jail, where he met bank robbers. In 1930, he married Kathryn Thorne. They, along with others, robbed banks in many states,
and kidnapped a wealthy oil tycoon and held him for ransom. For that crime, Kelly was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 1933. He died in 1954.
Bootlegger, bank robber and kidnapper Machine Gun Kelly was born George Kelly Barnes on July 18, 1895, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Some sources state that he was born in 1897. A book by one of his sons stated that he was born in Chicago in 1900.) Despite the nickname "Machine Gun," Kelly was a relatively minor criminal until a 1933 kidnapping made him infamous. Before beginning his life of crime, he was a student at Mississippi A&M College. He married Geneva Ramsey when he was 19. The couple had two sons together before divorcing. His first wife told The New York Times after his arrest that she divorced him because he was "running in bad company."
Involved in bootlegging as a teenager, Kelly returned to the profitable illegal enterprise after several failed attempts at legitimate work. He was caught selling illegal liquor in 1927 and spent a few months in jail in New Mexico. Nabbed again, this time for selling liquor on an Indian reservation, Kelly did time at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. While incarcerated, he made friends with several bank robbers, including Charlie Harmon, Frank Nash, Francis Keating and Thomas Holden, and is believed to have helped Keating and Holden escape.
After his release from prison in 1930, Kelly traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, with his girlfriend Kathryn Thorne. (The two later married in the fall of that year.) There, he reunited with Keating and Holden and participated in a bank hold-up with the pair. Continuing his crime spree, Kelly was involved in bank robberies in several states, including Iowa, Texas, and Washington. According to legend, Kelly's wife helped build his reputation, buying him a machine gun and nicknaming him after the weapon. She also reportedly gave away shell casings from his exploits to people as souvenirs to increase his notoriety.
Along with bank robbing, Kelly made several attempts at kidnapping. With his wife and longtime associate Albert L. Bates, Kelly hatched a plan to kidnap wealthy Oklahoma oil man Charles F. Urschel. On July 22, Bates and Kelly entered the Urschel's Oklahoma City home and abducted Urschel and one of his friends, Walter R. Jarrett, leaving their wives behind. Jarrett was soon let go, but Urschel was held for ransom. Kelly and his gang wanted $200,000 for the oil man.
They set up an elaborate system for the handling of their captive and the delivery of the ransom.
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