Public Enemy #1
Creepy Karpis was the only Public Enemy #1 to be captured alive. He and members of the Barker Gang robbed banks and trains, kidnapped executives, and murdered bystanders and officers. The FBI lab was able to identify latent prints from the kidnappings as theirs, and Karpis had his fingerprints removed in 1934. The FBI tracked him to New Orleans, LA, and Director Hoover was part of the team that arrested him on May 1, 1936. He was imprisoned, including at Alcatraz for a time, before he was paroled in 1969.
FBI Alvin Karpis
Alvin Francis "Creepy" Karpis (1907-1979) was a notorious criminal and member of the Barker/Karpis gang in the 1930s. He was arrested in 1936 and convicted on various charges; after serving his sentence, he was released from prison in the late 1960s. This release contains commendation letters from the public.
FBI Barker / Karpis Gang
Alvin "Creepy" Karpis and his Barker brother sidekicks robbed banks and trains and engineered two major kidnappings of rich business executives in the 1930s.
They ended up among the FBI's most hunted gangsters of the time period.
The Hamm Kidnapping
On a warm summer evening in 1933, William A. Hamm, Jr., President of the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, was working at his office in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had just exited the building when he was grabbed by four shadowed figures and pushed into the back of a car. What he didn't know was that he had been kidnapped by members of the Barker/Karpis gang, for a ransom of over $100,000.
Hamm was taken to Wisconsin, where he was forced to sign four ransom notes. Then he was moved to a hideout in Bensenville, Illinois, were he was held prisoner until the kidnappers had been paid. Once the money was handed over, Hamm was released near Wyoming, Minnesota. The plan was perfect and went off without a hitch...almost.
On September 6, 1933, using a then state-of-the-art technology now called latent fingerprint identification, the FBI Laboratory raised incriminating fingerprints from surfaces that couldn't be dusted for prints. Alvin Karpis, "Doc" Barker, Charles Fitzgerald, and the other members of the gang had gotten away, but they'd left their fingerprints behind-all over the ransom notes.
FINGERPRINTSThe Silver Nitrate Method and its application in the Hamm Kidnapping was the first time it was used successfully to extract latent prints from forensic evidence. Scientists had just thought to take advantage of the fact that unseen fingerprints contain perspiration, chock full of sodium chloride (common table salt).
By painting the evidence, in this case the ransom notes, with a silver nitrate solution, the salty perspiration reacted chemically to form silver chloride-which is white and visible to the naked eye. There they were: hard evidence that the Karpis gang was behind the kidnapping.
The Bremer Kidnapping
The second kidnapping of the Barker / Karpis gang targeted a wealthy banker named Edward George Bremer, Jr., who was snatched in St. Paul, Minnesota on January 17, 1934.
Bremer was released three weeks later after his family paid $200,000 in ransom. Although he couldn't identify the culprits, Bremer provided many clues.
A key break came when the fingerprint of Arthur "Doc" or "Dock" Barker, a known criminal, turned up on an empty gas can found by a local police officer along the kidnapping route.
Soon, a number of Barker's confederates-including his brother Fred, Karpis, Harry Campbell, Fred Goetz, Russell Gibson, Volney Davis, and others-were linked to the crime.
The End of the Barker Gang
The gang split up after the Bremer kidnapping and began crisscrossing the country-with some even fleeing to Cuba. Three went as far as to undergo back-room plastic surgeries to conceal their fingerprints and identities. Others passed the ransom loot back and forth and looked for ways to launder the bills.
In late September 1934, Fred Barker and Campbell registered under fake names at the El Commodore Hotel in Miami. Joining them was Fred's mother-Kate "Ma" Barker, who was known to help her criminal sons. When Fred asked for a quiet place to live, the hotel manager told him of a friend's cottage for rent on the nearby Lake Weir. The Barkers moved there in November.
In December, Doc Barker was tracked by Bureau investigators to a home in Chicago. On January 8, Doc was arrested without incident. Later that night, several associates of Russell Gibson were also apprehended. Heavily armed and wearing a bullet-proof vest, Gibson tried to fight it out but was mortally wounded. Searching the apartment, agents found powerful firearms and loads of ammunition. And, tellingly, a map of Florida-with Lake Weir circled. Agents soon located the cottage hideout.
Shortly after 5 a.m. on January 16, 1935, a group of agents led by Earl Connelly surrounded the house and demanded the Barkers' surrender. No response. They waited 15 minutes and called again. Again, no answer. Following another call for surrender and more silence, agents shot some tear gas grenades at the windows of the house. Someone in the house shouted, "All right, go ahead," then machine-gun fire blasted from the upstairs window.
The agents responded with volleys of their own; more gunfire erupted from the house. Over the next hour, intermittent shots came from the home, and agents returned fire. By 10:30 a.m., all firing had stopped. Both Ma and Fred, it was soon learned, were dead.
The Big Fish is Caught
Alvin Karpis, the brains of the gang, remained elusive.
Karpis had long led a life a crime. He was born in Montreal in 1907 under the name Karpavicz; his parents-immigrants from Lithuania-later settled down in Kansas. In 1926, he found himself serving 10 years in prison for burglary. Following a jail-break in 1930, Karpis began his criminal career in earnest, often working with members of the Barker family. A string of bank robberies, auto thefts, and even murder followed, before the kidnappings of Hamm, Jr., and Bremer put him squarely on the FBI's radar.
In April 1936, Tennessee Senator Kenneth McKellar called Director J. Edgar Hoover on the carpet during an appropriations hearing, complaining about his request for more funds. When the senator challenged Hoover on how many arrests he had made personally, the Director vowed to himself that he would be involved in the next big one.
So when word came that Karpis had been located later that month, Hoover flew that night to New Orleans and joined the waiting raid team, which had staked out the criminals' apartment on Canal Street. The next day, on May 1, shortly after 5 p.m., Karpis and two others left the apartment and got in a Plymouth coupe. Hoover signaled his men, who closed in. The Director ordered Karpis to be cuffed. Ironically, no one had brought handcuffs, so one agent removed his tie and secured the hands of Alvin Karpis. The fish had been caught.
Within hours, Hoover was escorting Karpis back to St. Paul, where he eventually pled guilty to the Hamm kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison. After stays in Alcatraz and other prisons, Karpis was paroled in the late 1960s.
WIKIPEDIA Alvin Francis Karpis
Born Albin Francis Karpavicius (August 10, 1907 – August 26, 1979), a Depression-era gangster nicknamed "Creepy" for his sinister smile and called "Ray" by his gang members, was a Canadian-born (naturalized American) criminal of Lithuanian descent known for being a leader of the Barker–Karpis gang in the 1930s.
- There were only four "public enemies" ever given the title of "Public Enemy #1" by the FBI and he was the only one to be taken alive. The other three, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson, were all killed before being captured.
- He also spent the longest time as a federal prisoner at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, serving twenty-six years.
The Barker-Karpis Gang became one of the most formidable criminal gangs of the 1930s. They did not hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, even innocent bystanders. On December 19, 1931, Karpis and Fred Barker killed Sheriff C. Roy Kelley, who was investigating their robbery of a store in West Plains, Missouri. The gang, including Ma Barker and her paramour Arthur Dunlop, fled to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Karpis has been described as the leader or "brains" of the gang. Gang member Fred Hunter said Karpis was "super smart" and he was reported to have a photographic memory. The other leaders were Doc and Fred, both now out of prison, and the gang included about 25 others.
Pursuit and Capture by FBI
The FBI had come a long way since its reorganization and renaming in 1935 (from the Bureau of Investigation, created in 1908). J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as the acting head of the Bureau in 1924 and completely transformed the agency. Despite its successes, however, the agency had many problems. In those days, when the application of science and technology to fight crime was still in its infancy, the agency was at the mercy of public citizens for information. Often agents on bad information were sent off to remote locales on "tips" that turned out to be red herrings. The personal low point for Hoover came at an April 1936 United States Senate hearing. Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee lambasted Hoover for the performance of the FBI and the fact that Hoover himself had never personally arrested anyone. After the hearing, a determined Hoover vowed he would capture Karpis personally.
Hoover did not have to wait long. On May 1, 1936, the FBI located Karpis in New Orleans, and Hoover flew there to be in charge of the arrest. Shortly after 5pm on May 2, as a dozen or so agents swarmed over Karpis' car, Hoover announced to Karpis that he was under arrest. A couple of versions of the arrest have been reported. Karpis' version, told in his memoirs, was that Hoover came out only after all the other agents had seized him. Only then did the agents call to Hoover that it was safe to approach the car. The official FBI version states that Hoover reached into the car and grabbed Karpis before he could reach a rifle in the back seat. In fact, the car, a Plymouth coupe, had no back seat. The scene was further confused when Hoover told his men to "put the cuffs on him." Not one agent had brought handcuffs. Karpis was tied up with an agent's necktie. The capture of Karpis catapulted Hoover into the public eye and made his name synonymous with law enforcement until he died in 1972 at the age of 77.
- The capture of Karpis essentially ended the age of the big-name Depression Era criminal.
- Sentenced to life imprisonment, Karpis was incarcerated at the then recently constructed Alcatraz federal penitentiary from August 1936 to April 1962.
- Karpis was released on parole in 1969 and deported to Canada.
- He moved to Spain in 1973.
- On August 26, 1979, he died from natural causes.