In the late 1890’s Christian Protestant groups, mainly Baptist, Congregationalist and Methodist in rural areas of the north, and isolated pockets in deep-south America, began a movement which focused on the elimination of alcohol in the United States. Organizations such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League believed that alcohol was destroying the morals of Americans and that it needed to be eradicated from society. Following World War I the movement gained a foothold as a major lobbyist in Washington, D.C. In 1920 the United States government passed the 18th Amendment which prohibited the manufacturing and sale of alcohol, and the Volstead Act which regulated the laws surrounding Prohibition. In response to the overwhelming demand for alcohol from post World War I Americans, the criminal underworld found new and creative ways to supply the underground Gin Joints, Speakeasy’s and Blind Tigers which served the illegal liquor.
On October 29, 1929 the social condition in America went from bad to worse when the entire U.S. banking system collapsed in a single day. Within a month of the collapse, America had slipped into the Great Depression. Overnight millions of jobs were lost, entire fortunes dwindled and companies became insolvent. The most realistic statistic for the first three years of the Great Depression has the unemployment rate hovering around thirty percent. Due to a lack of jobs, money, opportunities and alcohol, crime escalated in America. Prohibition and the Great Depression gave rise to a new breed of criminal. The Depression and Prohibition Era criminals were far more brazen and violent than pre WWI criminals, and, like millions of jobless, homeless Americans, they viewed the government, banks and the greed of wealthy American’s as the reason for all of the pandemonium.
John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd emerged as the most notorious of the Depression and Prohibition Era criminals.
Their crimes were sensationalized in newspapers and on film. Legend states that Dillinger, who was listed as the first “Public Enemy #1” by the Department of Justice in 1934, enjoyed the 1931 James Cagney movie, “The Public Enemy”, however Dillinger was in prison during the 1931 release of the film. On the other side of the coin, media outlets of the era were sensationalizing the exploits of great lawmen of the times such as J. Edgar Hoover, Elliot Ness and Melvin Purvis. Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables” had brought down Chicago mob boss, Al Capone in 1931 and Ness was later assigned to investigate the gruesome Cleveland Torso Murders in Ohio. J. Edgar Hoover, the charismatic Director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), had arrested and deported subversives, radicals and suspected anarchist during the first World War and assembled a forensics team to investigate the Lindberg baby kidnapping. The Lindberg baby case would be the birth of forensic science in criminal cases and these great lawmen and advances in crime fighting techniques would be needed to reign in criminal behavior during the 1930’s. The crime wave created by Prohibition and the Great Depression would reach a fevered pitch in the first month 1932 and would become known as the Thirty Months of Mayhem.
Jan. 14, 1932 – Pretty Boy Floyd robs a bank in Castle, Oklahoma.
Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd
(February 3, 1904 - October 22, 1934)
Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd began his career at the age of 18 in St. Louis, Missouri when he was convicted of stealing less than four dollars from a Kroger grocery store. Upon his release, Floyd was accused of killing a man who had allegedly killed his father many years earlier however local authorities were unable to secure a conviction. This, including his conviction and three year imprisonment for robbing a payroll truck in St. Louis drew the attention of some of the mid-west’s most notorious criminals. After his release, Floyd began working as muscle for a Kansas City crime syndicate and reportedly boasted that he would never again see the inside of a prison.
Charles Floyd acquired the name “Pretty Boy” when a witness to an early Floyd bank robbery, in Ohio, described him as “a mere boy – a pretty boy”. Newspapers of the times began referring to him by the name that, as legend states, he hated and was known to react violently when called the name in person. He reached the pinnacle of his lawlessness during the Thirty Months of Mayhem and upon the death of John Dillinger, Floyd was named Public Enemy #1 by the FBI. The popular version of Charles’s final gun battle states that when Floyd was cornered in an Ohio cornfield, he drew his .45 caliber pistol and opened fire on Melvin Purvis, his three FBI agents and members of the East Liverpool, Ohio police. Purvis returned fire and killed Floyd but this is one example of media sensationalism of the era. Pretty Boy Floyd was actually brought down by a two shots to the leg by East Liverpool policeman, Chester Smith. Floyd was lying on the ground writhing in pain when Melvin Purvis ordered one of his agents, Herman Hollis, who would later be killed by Baby Face Nelson, to “Fire into him!”
Jan. 27, 1932 - Machine Gun Kelly kidnaps banker, Howard Wolverton in South Bend, Indiana.
George Celino Barnes, aka “Machine Gun Kelly”
(July18, 1895-July 18, 1954)
According to all available research George Celino Barnes, aka George “Machine Gun”Kelly was a low level bootlegger and petty thief in Memphis, Tennessee during the 1920’s and 30’s. His exploits gained him a lot of attention by Memphis Police in 1928 causing him to change his name to George R. Kelly and slip away to Oklahoma. After serving a three year sentence for bootlegging in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kelly returned to Memphis and graduated to kidnapping and bank robbery. He married Kathryn Thorne, who gave him a Thompson .45 caliber machine gun as a wedding gift. The name “Machine Gun” Kelly found its way into history following his first bank robbery, during which George randomly fired four dozen rounds from his Thompson machine gun. No one was hurt in the robbery however the newspapers and law enforcement labeled him as a violent, deadly, machine gun wielding criminal. The most famous crime of Machine Gun Kelly’s career was the kidnapping of Oklahoma City banker and businessman, Charles Urchel. The caper netted Kelly and his gang nearly $200,000 in ransom money.
George and Kathryn were hiding out in a Memphis home when Kathryn slipped away long enough to contact the Memphis police regarding their hideout. The FBI was notified and a raid was planned for the next day. George and Kathryn were caught without weapons, or incident, however legend states that when agents entered the residence, George screamed out, “Don’t shoot G-men, Don’t shoot!” More recent research reveals that during the incident, Kathryn may have embraced a handcuffed George and said, “These G-man will never leave us alone!” George R. Kelly would never rejoin the Thirty Months of Mayhem. He spent his remaining years in Alcatraz and Leavenworth Prisons.
Feb. 17, 1932 - Baby Face Nelson escapes from Illinois State Penitentiary and begins bootlegging on the west coast with notorious bank robber, Eddie Bentz.
Lester Gillis, aka “Baby Face Nelson”
(December 6, 1908 – November 27, 1934)
Lester Joseph Gillis, aka George Nelson, aka Baby Face Nelson was only twelve when he began his criminal career. By the age of eighteen, Lester was committing armed robbery and home invasions. It is during these years that he became associated with the Chicago crime syndicate and was being referred to as “Baby Face” Nelson because of his youthful features. In 1932 he was convicted of robbery and sentenced to life in prison however he escaped before arriving Joliet Penitentiary. He stayed in seclusion only briefly then began robbing banks throughout the Midwest and for a short time partnered with John Dillinger for a string of bank robberies.
George Baby Face Nelson, facing a life sentence, appears to have had nothing to live for and no conscience about killing federal agents, police officers or innocent bystanders. While on the run in Nevada, Nelson was enlisted as a hit man. In contrast, George Nelson was very close to his family and often had his wife and children brought to him while he was in hiding between bank robberies. When George lay dying, following The Barrington Battle (Barrington, Illinois), during which Baby Face Nelson was shot seventeen times, his wife, Helen Gillis stood at his deathbed holding his bloodied hand. Helen, fearing the FBI, went on the run only to be named as the first female Public Enemy #1.
Mar., 1932 - Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker form a gang consisting of Buck Barrow, W.D. Jones, Raymond Hamilton and Henry Methvin.
Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow
(Oct. 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934) and (March 24, 1909-May 23, 1934)
The story of these two ruthless, calculating killers began in February of 1932 when Clyde Chesnut Barrow was released from Eastham Prison in South Texas. Clyde had spent most of his life behind bars for petty theft and car theft. While out on parole in 1930, Clyde had met Bonnie Elizabeth Parker in west Dallas. He was subsequently rearrested for robbing a grocery store in Dallas. When he was released in 1932, Clyde sought out Bonnie Parker. Clyde vowed that he would never return to prison. With Bonnie at his side he formed a gang which included his brother, Buck Barrow and sister-in-law, Blanche Barrow. Bonnie and Clyde drove stolen cars from town to town robbing stores and banks and killing any law enforcement officials that attempted to stop them.
The fabled pair spent their entire relationship on the run from police, involved in shootouts, committing robberies and committing murder. The most famous of all the shootouts came in 1933 at the Red Crown Tourist Court in Platte City, Missouri when local police opened fire on the tiny brick cottage the gang was hiding out in. Clyde returned fire with his Browning Automatic Riffle as the gang loaded into a car in an attached garage. Bonnie and Clyde barely escaped but Buck and Blanche were both wounded. The villainous couple continued their murderous rampage until they were ambushed by Texas Ranger, Frank Hammer in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. The coroner for Bienville Parish, Dr. J.L. Wade stated that he found seventeen bullet wounds in Clyde Barrow and twenty-five in Bonnie Parker. In all 130 rounds were dispensed by the six lawmen.
April 7, 1932
Pretty Boy Floyd kills Sherriff, Erv Kelley in Bixby, Oklahoma. Floyd is shot in the ankle during a battle with police.
April 21, 1932
Pretty Boy Floyd robs a bank in Stonewall, Oklahoma.
April 27, 1932
Clyde Barrow kills businessman, John Bucher during a robbery.
Aug. 5, 1932
Bonnie and Clyde gun down officer Eugene Moore in Oklahoma.
Sept. 21, 1932
Machine Gun Kelly and Eddie Bentz rob a bank in Colfax Washington.
Sept. 29, 1932
Machine Gun Kelly and Eddie Bentz rob a bank in Holland, Michigan.
Oct. 11, 1932
Bonnie and Clyde kill Howard Hall during a general store robbery in Sherman, Texas.
Nov. 1, 1932
Pretty Boy Floyd robs a bank in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. This would be the first of three banks robbed by Floyd in November of 1932. Henryetta, Oklahom on the 7th and Boley, Oklahoma on the 23rd.
Nov. 30, 1932
Machine Gun Kelly robs a bank in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Dec. 26, 1932
Bonnie and Clyde kill Doyle Johnson while stealing a car.
Jan. 6, 1933
Bonnie and Clyde shoot and kill Deputy Sheriff, Malcolm Davis during an ambush by law enforcement officials.
April 13, 1933
The Barrow Gang are in a shootout with law enforcement in Joplin, Missouri.
|April 27, 1933
|Bonnie and Clyde kidnap two merchants of Ruston, Oklahoma. The merchants are released unharmed in Arkansas.
(June 22, 1903 – July 22, 1934)
When John Dillinger was an adolescent, his father noticed that his young son had a rebellious streak. The Indianapolis grocer moved his family to Mooresville, Indiana in the hopes that John would not be tempted into a life of crime by the bright lights of the city or the nefarious characters that he had began to associate with. This, however, did not work. Shortly after arriving to Mooresville, Dillinger began to draw the attention of local law enforcement. He believed that he needed to separate himself from his oppressive father, and avoid the law, so he joined the U.S. Navy but he quickly deserted and returned to Mooresville. After marrying Beryl Hovious in 1924, John tried to settle down, however it was not long before he was planning the robbery of a local grocery store. That caper earned Dillinger a sentence of ten to twenty years in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City. On May 10, 1933, John Dillinger is released from Michigan City Prison after serving nearly ten years for robbing a grocery store of fifty dollars.
The life of John Dillinger was larger than the legends that have been created over the last eighty years. He escaped from jail using a wooden gun, robbed over a dozen banks, staged a prison break, and stole nearly $500,000 within a fourteen month time period, making him the most predominant, and most wanted during the Thirty Months of Mayhem.
June 10, 1933
John Dillinger robs a bank in New Carlisle, Ohio…..The same day, Bonnie Parker is severely burned in a car crash near Wellington, Texas.
June 17, 1933
Kansas City Massacre. Pretty Boy Floyd, Vernon Miller and one other gunman try to free gangster, Frank Nash from the FBI. Three police officers, one FBI agent and Frank Nash are killed during the shootout.
|June 23, 1933
|The Barrow Gang kills Marshal Henry Humphrey of Alma, Arkansas during ambush and shootout.
|July 7, 1933
|Clyde Barrow breaks into the National Guard armory at Enid, Oklahoma, stealing a stockpile of weapons.
|July 19, 1933
|The Barrow Gang shoots their way out of an ambush at the Red Crown Tourist Court in Platte City, Missouri.
|July 22, 1933
|Machine Gun Kelly kidnaps an Oklahoma City businessman, Charles Urchel.
|July 24, 1933
|The Barrow Gang is ambushed at Dexfield Park in Dexter, Iowa. Buck Barrow is killed. W.D. Jones and Bonnie Parker are wounded.Buck’s wife, Blanche Barrow is wounded and captured.
|Aug. 18, 1933
|Baby Face Nelson and Eddie Bentz rob the people’s Savings Bank in Grand Haven, Michigan.
|Sept. 22, 1933
|Dillinger is arrested in Dayton, Ohio. He is transferred to Lima, Ohio.
|Sept. 26, 1933
|Using a gun previously smuggled in by Dillinger, 10 men escape from Indiana State Prison.
|Oct. 12, 1933
|Three escapees from Indian State Prison free John Dillinger from the Allen County Jail in Lima, Ohio. Sherriff Jesse Sarber is killed.
|Sept. 26, 1933
|Machine Gun Kelly is captured in Memphis, Tennesee. In October of that year he would be sentenced to life in prison. His kidnapping trial holds a place in history as having several U.S. first. The Kelly trial was the first to be filmed. His trial was first federal crime case to be solved by the FBI, with J. Edgar Hoover as Director, and the first kidnapping case that was tried as a federal crime.
|Oct. 23, 1933
|Baby Face Nelson robbed the 1st National Bank in Brainard, Minnesota.
|Oct. 23, 1933
|Dillinger and his gang rob the Central National Bank, in Greencastle, Indiana.
|Nov. 7, 1933
|Vernon Miller is found dead in Detroit, Michigan
Jan. 15, 1934
Dillinger robs a bank in East Chicago, Indiana, killing Officer William O’Malley.
|Jan. 16, 1934
|Bonnie and Clyde free four inmates from Eastman Penitentiary in Houston, Texas.
|Jan. 25, 1934
|John Dillinger is capture in Tucson, Arizona and extradited to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sherriff Sarber.
|March 3, 1934
|John Dillinger escapes from the Allen County Jail using a wooden pistol. The escape is believed to have been financed by Baby Face Nelson and his gang.
|March 6, 1934
|Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson rob the Security Bank & Trust in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
|March 13, 1934
|Dillinger and Nelson robbed a bank in Mason City Iowa. Shortly after the robbery, Nelson and one other gang member flee to Reno, Nevada.
|March 24, 1934
|Baby Face Nelson and one other accomplice kill a primary witness to the trial of two of Nelson’s former bosses.
|March 31, 1934
|Bonnie and Clyde steal a car in Shreveport, Louisiana.
|April 1, 1934
|Bonnie and Clyde gun down two highway patrolman in Grapevine, Texas.
|May 23, 1934
Bonnie and Clyde are killed by Texas Ranger, Frank Hammer, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. One of the law enforcement officers, Dallas County Deputy Sherrif Ted Hinton, who was present at the ambush, was quoted as saying.
"Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns... There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied Thethe pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren't taking any chances."
|June 22, 1934
|John Dillinger is celebrating his birthday when he discovers that he has been listed as Public Enemy # 1 by the U.S. Department of Justice.
|June 30, 1934
|Dillinger robs a bank in South Bend, Indian.
|July 22, 1934
|John Dillinger is killed in an ambush in Chicago by FBI agents, led by Melvin Purvis. Anna Sage, a prostitute and sometimes girlfriend of Dillinger had tipped off federal agents. When the coupled exited the theater, agents moved in and fired on the outlaw killing him in an ally off of Lincoln Avenue.
|Oct 22, 1934
|Pretty Boy Floyd is killed by Melvin Purvis in a corn field near Clarkson, Ohio
|Nov. 27, 1934
|Baby Face Nelson is wounded in a gun battle in Barrington, Illinois. He died later that day in Niles Center, Illinois.
Thirty Months of Mayhem died with Baby Face Nelson!