Felonious Females: Kate “Ma” Barker and Her Wayward Children

Ma_BarkerShe was born Arizona Donnie Clark on October 8, 1873 to parents John and Emaline (Parker) Clark in Greene County, Missouri.  Arizona, or Arrie (and later Kate) as her family called her, grew up on a Missouri farm, and raised as a good Christian went to church and Sunday school.

In 1892 she married George Elias Barker, a farm laborer, and together they had four sons: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred, or Freddie as she liked to call her favorite son.  Kate remained faithful, taking her family to church and singing hymns “with the same lustiness as the rest of the congregation”  George, described as a “mild, inoffensive, quite man who seemed somewhat bewildered by his dominating wife”, was dragged along with the family to church.1


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  1. Hope Star, 13 Mar 1936, p. 1

1 Comment

  1. According to Alvin Karpis, the notion that ‘Ma’ Barker was the ‘brains’ of the Karpis-Barker Gang was absurd – she was carefully kept in the dark by Karpis and her sons about their criminal activities, and spent most of her time ensconced in separate houses or apartments, gardening and solving jigsaw puzzles. Did she eventually figure out that her boys and Karpis were bank robbers? Yes, he says, but she was none too bright and managed to compartmentalize what little knowledge she had of their activities, living out her days in denial.
    That phony ‘brains of the gang’ claim was concocted by J. Edgar Hoover and fed to the press in order to justify the fact that she and Fred were blown to smithereens by the Feds, a la Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, Karpis – probably the smartest of the Depression-era ‘most wanted’ criminals – co-led the gang with Freddie, and Alvin’s autobiography and later account of doing time in Alcatraz are unvarnished, unapologetic insider accounts that put the lie to various FBI myths about the era. To judge by the way Hoover completely distorted Karpis’ arrest in New Orleans, it’s only natural to wonder if the FBI’s account of the Florida massacre – that is, Freddie fired first – is just as self-serving, meant to mask the fledgling FBI’s incompetence and uncrupulousness in those early years.


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