The Gangster Era
The Gangster Era

Creepy Karpis

Former Public Enemy #1


Posted Sunday October 1st 2023

FBI Alvin Creepy Karpis
Alvin "Creepy" Karpis
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.

Alvin Karpis

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.

Criminal Career
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.

Karpis had his fingerprints removed in 1934
Karpis had his fingerprints removed in 1934

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.

Other Wikipedia Citings