Editor's note: On this date, July 22, 1933, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, who was living in Fort Worth, embarked on the caper that would be his undoing -- the kidnapping of Oklahoma City oilman Charles F. Urschel. This report on Kelly's criminal career was compiled by Staff Writer Bill Miller from the archives of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In 1958, Kathryn Kelly, formerly of Fort Worth, wife of 1930s outlaw George "Machine Gun" Kelly, was released from a Cincinnati women's prison.
That same year, Hollywood released Machine-Gun Kelly, and in the title role was Charles Bronson (right), whose scowling mug cut a striking image of Depression-era thuggery. Check out the film's original trailer on YouTube.
You'll see the main character -- billed as "a savage ... sadistic ... leader of killers!" -- kicking in a door and hosing down a room with a signature Thompson sub-machine gun.
Victims crumple and fall in what the trailer calls a "masterpiece of murderous violence."
But by all accounts, George Kelly Barnes never killed anyone. And the Memphis native -- who later went by the last name Kelly -- didn't have a menacing Bronson-esque disposition.
Photos of the real Kelly (left) show what appears to be a good-natured fellow with an easy smile and wide, expressive eyes. But people who knew him said he wasn't very bright, including his very critical father.
Kelly dropped out of college, and when it became harder for him to make a living, he turned to crime. Many others had the same idea and soon the Midwest of the 1930s became a bloody landscape.
"Public enemies" -- the likes of John Dillinger, the Ma Barker gang, and Bonnie and Clyde -- traded gunfire with police, posses and agents from the fledgling FBI. The violence claimed most of the criminals along with a lot of cops and innocent bystanders.
Kelly joined the roster of infamy as a bootlegger and then a bank robber in the company of some real outlaws like Vern Miller, who collected a pretty high body count of his own. In April 1931 their gang robbed the Central State Bank in Sherman.
But even though Kelly had no blood on his hands when he came to Fort Worth, his wild stories impressed a manicurist named Kathryn Brooks, herself a shoplifter and part-time bootlegger.
They married and quietly made a home on Mulkey Street in Fort Worth, although they did not go unnoticed by neighbors who recalled how the well-dressed couple (below) got around in a big 16-cylinder car.
Meanwhile, Kathryn was spreading the word among her bootlegging customers and associates that her man was a brutal, but efficient robber of banks.
To seal the image, she went down to a Fort Worth pawn shop and bought him a "Tommy" gun.
Kelly may not have fired a shot in anger, but he practiced religiously with his subgun. Historians believe it was Kathryn who came up with the nickname "Machine Gun Kelly." Ever the promoter, she handed out his spent shell casings as souvenirs.
At that time, the typical modus operandi on banks was a quick assault with lots of guns and fast getaway cars. The Sherman bank job, for example, netted $40,000, but Kelly and wife sought even more loot and turned to kidnapping.
On July 22, 1933, Kelly and an accomplice, Albert Bates, barged in on a card game at the Oklahoma City home of oilman Charles F. Urschel. They drove him down to a ranch near Paradise in Wise County where he was kept blindfolded until his family paid a $200,000 ransom.
Urschel was released unharmed near Norman, Okla., and the Kellys took a trip to Memphis. But the FBI was hot in pursuit and achieved one of its first victories by leveraging Urschel's amazing memory to crack the case.
Agents located the farm near Paradise after Urschel told them that he had heard aircraft flying overhead. Air travel was relatively rare back then, so it didn't take long for the agents to figure out that the farm was along a flight path between Fort Worth and Amarillo.
On Aug. 12, 1933, FBI agents, joined by police from Fort Worth and Dallas, approached the farm owned by Boss Shannon, Kathryn's stepfather. Shannon surrendered quickly and he, along with Kathryn's mother, Ora, admitted to guarding Urschel.
Kelly then became the prime suspect.
Agents searched for him in Fort Worth, then shifted their search to Memphis where, on Sept. 26, 1933, they got their man. Busting down doors, they found Kelly with pistol in hand.
Kelly is credited for another FBI first by shouting something like, "Don't shoot, G-Men!" There are different accounts about what was actually said, and one has Kathryn saying it, but since that encounter, FBI agents were frequently called "G-Men," short for "government men."
Kelly and his wife were tried and convicted under the new "Lindbergh Law,” which made kidnapping a federal offense if the victim was taken across state lines. Congress passed the law after the 1932 abduction and death of aviator Charles Lindbergh's toddler son.
A life sentence was Kelly's penalty; he served part of it at Alcatraz but he later was transferred to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan. He vowed to escape, but there is no record of him ever trying.
Instead, the easy-going crook earned a new moniker, "Pop Gun Kelly," for being a model prisoner. He died of a heart attack on July 18, 1954, at Leavenworth. It was his 54th birthday. He's buried at the cemetery in the Wise County community of Cottondale. The plot was donated by Boss Shannon.
It's not known if Kathryn ever saw Bronson's portrayal of her husband. She sought no more publicity after her release from prison at age 54, and quietly slipped into obscurity.
-- Bill Miller