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...

Felonious Females: “Badger Girls”

  No one seems to know for sure where the term “badger game” originated.  Perhaps it was so-named because it had its origins in Wisconsin, the Badger State, or perhaps it was named after a rather cruel sport called “badger baiting”.  Badger baiting appears to have originated in England during the nineteenth century.   Without going into the sordid details, this blood sport pitted a badger, normally a docile creature, against a dog (some dogs were bred as “badger dogs”). Stories began appearing in American newspapers in the early to mid-nineteenth century.  Even into the early twentieth century the so-called “badger game” was still popular and most profitable, hardy despite its age, according to Duluth News-Tribune (01 Oct 1922).  The con game had ousted card sharping as the number one “indoor sport” on trans-Atlantic ocean liners.  The game was played best, however, when a couple worked together. They picked a man, preferably a rich business man with a family, and proceeded to dupe him or “vamp” as one headline read.  The wife of the con couple would complain about her husband’s mistreatment and how she was afraid he would suspect something.  According to one United Press correspondent, somehow the victim usually fell for it, believing himself some sort of heroic Lothario.  The victim then found himself in a compromising position with the con wife, and of course in walked the “jealous” husband. The scene might have played out like this: scorned husband threatens to throttle the victim while the wife pleas for his forgiveness, to which he replies, “No! Not for $10,000!” – maybe $20,000?”  Amazingly, it seemed to work...