This kidnapping is best remembered for one of the men who staged it — George Kelly Barnes, the small-time hood with the big-time nickname, "Machine Gun" Kelly. His partner in crime, Albert Bates, did not have a colorful nickname, and is pretty much forgotten.
Also convicted in connection with the kidnapping was Harvey Bailey, a then-notorious outlaw who escaped with ten other convicts from the Kansas State Penitentiary two months before Charles Urschel was abducted from his Oklahoma City home.
Bailey likely had nothing to do with the kidnapping, but he knew Kelly, whose in-laws ran a safe house for outlaws at their ranch in Paradise, Texas. Bailey paid a visit. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Somehow, when he was arrested at the ranch, Bailey had on him some of the ransom money paid for Urschel's release. This earned him a long prison sentence and the reputation for being the real brains behind the kidnapping plot.
WHO ACTUALLY planned the abduction, nobody knows for sure, though it could have been the work of Kelly's wife, Kathryn, the driving force behind her husband's sudden rise from second-rate bank robber to hunted kidnapper.
The crime was inspired by the capers of Verne "Public Enemy Number One" Sankey, who earlier in the year had collected a $60,000 ransom for the return of Charles Boettcher II, a Denver broker.
Charles F. Urschel, a wealthy Oklahoma oilman, seemed like a good target for Kelly, and he was, so far as the $200,000 ransom was concerned, but the hoodlums had no way of knowing about Urschel's amazing memory and incredible powers of observation, even while blindfolded.
On July 22, Urschel was abducted from his sun porch where he and his wife, and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jarrett, were playing bridge. Mrs. Urschel later told the FBI that two men, one with a machine gun, the other with a pistol, stepped onto the porch and asked, "Which one of you is Mr. Urschel?"
Neither man replied, and the kidnapper said, "Well, we'll take both of them."
It took about ten minutes during the getaway for the identities to be established, and Jarrett was let out of the car about 12 miles northeast of the city, after he emptied his pockets of $50.
EIGHT DAYS later, after the $200,000 ransom was paid, Urschel was released. He was tired, but unharmed, and with an interesting story for federal authorities.
He recalled spending a night in a garage or barn, and the next day blindfolded and transferred to a larger car than the one that whisked him away from his home. He said the car stopped for gasoline three hours later, and the woman who filled the tank chatted about the lack of rain and how the corn crops in the area were burning up.
Urschel estimated the time it took to get from the service station to the place where he was kept for the next few days. He said he heard chickens, cows and pigs. He also heard water being drawn from a well, saying the well was northwest of the house. He said he drank from a tin cup without a handle, and said the water had a mineral taste.
Though handcuffed, Urschel managed to work his blindfold loose enough to glance at his watch. He noted the time each morning and afternoon when he heard a plane pass over the house where he was kept, and also noted than on Sunday, July 30, when rain finally soaked the area, there was no morning plane.
On Monday, July 31, he was released near Norman, Oklahoma. After he told his story, FBI agents checked with American Airways (now American Airlines) and with the United States Weather Bureau, and by using Urschel's certainty that he heard a plane in the mornings at 9:45, investigators had a pretty good idea where they would find the farm. This was made easier by the discovery "Machine Gun" Kelly's in-laws owned a farm in the area.
By then, Kelly and his wife were on the run. They were finally traced to Memphis, and when they were caught, Kelly pleaded, "Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!"
At least, that's the FBI's story, and the reason Kelly was credited with coining the name "G-Men" as a shortcut for Government Men, which was how the law enforcers were known before their organization officially became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (It is widely believed today the "G-man" tale was created by J. Edgar Hoover, though Kelly's quirky personality and sense of humor made him a likely source of such a line. Those who refute the story point out Kelly was actually arrested by a local policeman, but, of course, the outlaw had no way of knowing that.)
AFTERWARD, Urschel and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas, to minimize publicity and unwanted attention, and remained in Texas until they died, she in the spring of 1970, he in the fall.
The oilman's domestic situation was interesting. He first married Flored Slick, sister of Thomas Baker Slick, another oil millionaire. Slick died in 1930, and Mrs. Urschel died a year later. Urschel then married Slick's widow, Berniece, in what was both a wedding and a merger of two fortunes.