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When it came to news about criminals in the 1930s, the United States seemed divided into three sections.

Northeastern states, though they had many remote rural areas, generally were fed stories about big city mobsters — from Al Capone of Chicago to Detroit's Purple Gang to Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Waxey Gordon and others who were prominent in New York City.

They were part of a new breed — criminals organized into what seemed a loosely operated corporation. However, "employees" who encroached on another's territory were usually rubbed out. This gangland violence, which made news throughout Prohibition when bootlegging was big business, continued in 1933, even as states voted overwhelmingly to end the failed experiment that had made alcoholic beverages illegal.

There were new crimes to commit, old scores to settle, which is why Mrs. Alice Diamond, widow of "Legs" Diamond was murdered July 1. A few weeks later, a former Diamond bodyguard, James Dolan, also was killed.

In Chicago, "Diamond Louie" Cowan, a friend of Al Capone, was murdered, prompting a reprisal that resulted in the killing a man suspected in Cowan's death.

Two Pittsburgh mobsters were killed, and two more gunned down during a war between gangs in Buffalo and Cleveland.

OUT WEST there were big-city mobsters, but California's crimes often seemed like something out of the movies. Murders, such as the Siever and Lamson cases, were unusually mysterious, almost unreal, as if plotted by screenwriters.

With the exception of Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri, site of 1933's horrific massacre of four lawmen, the Midwest — and the Southwest — fostered a different breed of criminal. This was outlaw territory, still alive with the spirit of Jesse James, the Daltons, the Youngers and other bank robbers and train robbers of the Old West.

Two of 1933's most notorious outlaws were, appropriately, Texas-born brothers, Marvin ("Buck") and Clyde Barrow. Their notoriety rested more on killings than criminal ingenuity. As thieves, the Barrows were relatively inept, so much so that "Buck" Barrow's time in the spotlight spanned only four months. Clyde Barrow's now-famous crime spree covered 25 months, but in his lifetime he was never as famous an outlaw as John Dillinger.

(On November 27, 1933, the day after Bonnie and Clyde escaped a trap set for them by Dallas lawmen, their story, at least in the northeast, was small news compared with the killings of two members of Detroit's Purple Gang.)

FOR OUTLAWS, however, the most important thing that happened in 1933 was the federal government's declaration of war against those responsible for a crime wave that had gotten out of control, particularly in the Midwest and Southwest where banks in small cities and towns might as well have had targets painted on their windows.

Leading the way for the government was 38-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, head of the U. S. bureau of investigation, which in 1935 would be renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, better known as the FBI.

Hoover was an opportunist whose argument for more power was well-fed by the recklessness of criminals who exhibited a shocking disregard for innocent people caught in the crossfire. Again, this was especially true in the Midwest and Southwest, where there were frequent gun battles between escaping bank robbers and local police, with well-armed citizens often assisting.

The so-called "Kansas City Massacre" in June, 1933, helped Hoover convince Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt that federal agents should be armed, and by the time the year came to an end, it was clear the outlaw gangs, at least, were suddenly an endangered species.

Big city gangsters were a different matter. They were killing each other, which didn't upset the public all that much, and after these murders, they disappeared like rats into a sewer. It was when they left the city that they ran into trouble, as mob hitman Leonard Scarnici learned when he plotted a kidnapping in Albany and robbed a bank in Rensselaer, New York.

But outlaws such as Dillinger, Wilbur Underhill, "Baby Face" Nelson and "Machine Gun" Kelly (shown in handcuffs at the top of the page), grabbed most of the headlines, and as they were eliminated, one by one, the press and the public came to believe Hoover's war was being won.

The following story is from 1934, but is mostly an account of progress made the year before.

Niagara Falls Gazette, January 15, 1934
By S. J. McNALLY
KANSAS CITY (AP) — Swept from streets and highways by a concentrated drive on crime, all but four of the score of desperadoes who spread terror through the southwest last summer have been slain or taken prisoner.

Still at large are Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, elusive Oklahoma outlaw; Clyde Barrow, Texas bad man; Ed Davis, one of 11 convicts who escaped from Kansas penitentiary last Memorial Day to commence an orgy of kidnapping, banditry and murder, and Richard T. Galatas, sought “dead or alive” on a charge of participating in the slaying of four officers at the Union Station in Kansas City last June.

Davis’s desperate companions are in coffins or in cells. Wilbur Underhill, known as a ruthless killer and charged with leading the break, recently died of wounds suffered when a posse took him prisoner in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Harvey Bailey, who helped Underhill stage the escape and the kidnapping of the warden and two guards, was caught near Paradise, Texas, tried for the kidnapping of Charles F. Urschel, and sentenced to life imprisonment in a federal penitentiary. He is now in Leavenworth.

Verne C. Miller, accused with Underhill and Bailey as a part in the slaughter of the four officers and their prisoner, Frank Nash, in Kansas City, was found beaten to death on the outskirts of Detroit. Detectives listed him as a gangland victim.

George “Machine Gun” Kelly, boastful desperado, was trapped in Memphis, tried for the Urschel kidnapping, and sentenced to life in a federal prison. With him to Leavenworth went Albert Bates, arrested in Denver and convicted of participation in the same crime.

Marvin “Buck” Barrow, wanted along with his brother, Clyde, for murder in Missouri, was chased through central Iowa by a posse and fatally wounded.

Walter McGee, charged with the ransom kidnapping of Miss Mary McElroy, daughter of the city manager of Kansas City, was caught in Amarillo, Texas, convicted and sentenced to death. His brother, George, is serving a life term and another convicted accomplice, Clarence Click, a term of eight years for the same crime.

And here is the roster of the men whom Bailey and Underhill led in their made dash from the Kansas prison:

Lewis Bechtel and Frank Sawyer, recaptured in Oklahoma a few days after the break.

Billy Woods and Clifford Dopson, arrested June 10 near San Angelo, Texas.

Kenneth Conn, shot to death attempting to rob a bank at Altamont, Kansas, July 14.

Alvis Payton, seriously wounded and captured in the Altamont robbery.

Bob Brady and Jim Clark, apprehended near Tucumcari, New Mexico, October 6, after Brady had been seriously wounded by officers.

 
The solution?

Syracuse American, October 15
Proposed “Devil’s Island” Exile
for Public Enemies

Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay, long a military prison, has been selected by the government as the prison to house desperate gangsters, kidnappers and other persistent troublesome federal convicts. It is more than a mile from the nearest mainland point, a swift, forbidding current swirls constantly around it, and in all its long military history not one prisoner has ever made an escape from it.

 
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