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

She 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 As the saying goes, boys will be boys, but the Barker boys seemed to get in more than their share of trouble in Webb City – petty at first, but eventually escalating into more serious crimes which brought their names into the headlines.  In 1909 sixteen-year-old Herman had been sent to jail for ninety days for receiving stolen property. George purchased a farm in Stone County, Missouri, but Herman left home and went back to Webb City where he got into trouble and landed in jail.  In late June the judge granted clemency for Herman and told him to go home to his family and behave himself.  That didn’t happen, however, after he and Lloyd formed a gang.  By 1910 every one of the sons had been accused of breaking some state law – even little Freddie. In 1915 the family moved to...

Time Capsule Thursday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic and the Rise of Public Enemy No. 1

America’s first official kidnapping accompanied by a demand for ransom occurred in 1874 when four year-old Charles Brewster Ross, son of Philadelphia merchant Christian Ross.  The kidnapper demanded ten thousand dollars via an anonymous communication.  Mr. Ross notified the criminal he was willing to negotiate but had offered only three hundred dollars to obtain the release of his son. Charles was never found although his father later offered five thousand dollars in late 1874 for the safe return of his son.  He was satisfied the abductors had been killed on Long Island on December 14 and was begging for information as to Charles’ whereabouts.  Despite the mayor of Philadelphia’s proclamation the following year urging the state legislature to enact a law granting immunity to the person or persons holding Charles, nothing had turned up.   By the end of March all hope would be gone of ever finding him. Until the 1930’s hundreds of kidnap-ransom crimes would be committed, although most were handled as local crimes.  Federal agents only stepped in when a kidnapping had occurred on federal lands such as a national park or Indian reservation.1  That all changed following enactment of the so-called Lindbergh Law in 1932. On January 1, 1934 William Hamm, Jr., 1933 kidnapping victim of the Barker-Karpis gang, was finally getting on with his life, marrying his fiancé Mrs. Mary Hersey Carroll of St. Paul.  (NOTE: In case you missed yesterday’s “Wayback Wednesday” article on the Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic you can read it here).  The trial of his alleged kidnappers, the Roger Touhy gang, was over, resulting in their acquittal.2  In reality it had...

Wayback Wednesday: Depression Era Kidnapping Epidemic

In 1934 it seemed to have indeed reached epidemic proportions.  Thousands of times that year readers would find the word “kidnap” headlined in their local newspaper, sometimes more than once in one issue.  Just two years previous the nation had been riveted with news of the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s son, Charles, Jr. On March 1, 1932 Charles Lindbergh’s son had been abducted from the family home and later found dead near their home on May 12.  Richard Hauptman was finally arrested in 1934, tried in 1935, found guilty and executed on April 3, 1936 for the crime of first degree murder.  In 1932 Congress passed a law making it illegal to transport kidnap victims across state lines, the so-called Lindbergh Law.  If a person was not returned within twenty-four hours, the FBI could become involved in the case. The law was amended in May of 1934 in the midst of what many were calling a kidnapping epidemic.  The amendment, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on May 24, 1935, provided for the execution of anyone guilty of interstate kidnapping who had harmed the victim(s).  The term “harm” was left wide-open to interpretation, having not been specifically defined by the amendment. Following passage of the original law and increased FBI involvement in these type of cases, kidnapping crimes were up, however.  It would take more than a year to get the epidemic under control.  By 1936 FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was telling reporters that “kidnaping is well in hand in America”.1  Indeed, every one of the sixty-two kidnappings perpetrated since the Lindbergh law was...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Shafter, The Silver Capital of Texas

This area of Texas is home to just a handful of residents these days, but once boasted a population of four thousand.  The town was named for Colonel (later General) William R. Shafter, commander at Fort Davis, and located about eighteen miles north of Presidio.  It became a mining town after rancher John W. Spencer found silver ore there in September 1880. Shafter had the sample assayed and found it contained enough silver to make it profitable to mine – profitable enough for Shafter himself to invest.  Spencer had thought it prudent to share his secret with Shafter since the area was prone to periodic Indian attacks.  Protection would be needed to carry out successful mining operations. Shafter called upon two of his military associates, Lieutenants John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi to join his venture (and clear the area of unfriendlies).  The following month Shafter and his partners asked the state of Texas to sell them nine sections of school land in the Chinati Mountains.  Eventually only four sections were purchased, but lacking capital the partners leased part of their acreage to a California mining group.  Shafter later obtained financial backing in San Francisco and the Presidio Mining Company was organized in the summer of 1883. The company contracted with Shafter, Wilhelmi and Spencer individually to purchase their interests, each receiving five thousand shares of stock and $1,600 cash.  Bullis had purchased two sections in his wife’s name, but when the company’s manager William Noyes found deposits on the Bullis acreage (valued at $45 per ton), a dispute arose.  Bullis claimed the two sections had been purchased outright...

Monday Musings: Spring Cleaning (and a few odds and ends)

Have you started spring cleaning yet?  I’m not sure if you’d call it spring cleaning, but of late I’ve been trying to organize my life a little better.  I spent a few hours recently cleaning and re-organizing my storage unit and found some long-forgotten stuff (and some stuff I should have forgotten and thrown away a long time ago, truth be told!). Of course, that got me to thinking about the history of spring cleaning.  Whenever or however it all began, it appears to have first been practiced for religious reasons.  For instance, the Jewish season of Passover is preceded by Unleavened Days of Bread – seven days when not a crumb of leavened bread is to remain in the house.  Orthodox Jews would clean their home thoroughly to eliminate the possibility of violating this sacred observance. Traditionally in Eastern Orthodox faiths the home is thoroughly cleaned during the week of Great Lent – the first day being “Clean Monday” or “Pure Monday”.  For the faithful, the week represents a time of spiritual cleansing as well. Excavations to uncover the ancient city of Pompeii began in 1738 following earlier discoveries in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, marking the beginning of the modern science of archaeology.  In 1871 American newspapers were reporting an intriguing discovery, titling the article “Seventeen Hundred Years in the Oven”. One home had been found in a state of repair at the time of the volcano eruption.  The family may have been absent, but evidence of “painters’ pots and brushes and workmen’s tools were scattered about.  Tell-tale spots of white-wash stained wall and floor.”1...