"Machine Gun" Kelly's notoriety blossomed quickly, and the press wasn't shy about wildly exaggerating his past, as shown in the first newspaper article below, with such statements that he was "America's Number One desperado" or that he was sought for a series of "abductions, bank holdups and massacres."

The kidnapping of Charles Urschel was Kelly's first successful attempt to collect ransom. Twice before he had abducted people, but let them go empty-handed. The first time he even accepted a promissory note, which, of course, wasn't honored.

Little about this gangster was what it may have seemed to people who read about him.

His name wasn't Kelly. He was born George Francis Barnes Jr.

He didn't particularly like his machine gun. It was given to him as a present by his second wife, Kathryn, a much more interesting character. She's the one who gave him his nickname. She also did her best to promote Kelly — her fourth husband — as some kind of badass outlaw, which he most definitely wasn't.

Therefore it was not surprising he couldn't handle his machine gun particularly well. Kathryn encouraged a tale about her husband being able to spell his name by firing his machine gun into a wall, and that he had perfected this talent as a soldier during the Great War (World War 1). Trouble was, Kelly didn't serve during the war, and the Thompson sub machine gun wasn't used in combat. (Another outlaw, Verne Miller, also was reputed to be able to spell his name with a machine gun.)

Anyway, 1933 was not a time to be considered a badass outlaw. That often dragged your name into crimes committed by other people. Kelly had a catchy nickname, but he entered the year as a little known bootlegger-turned-bank robber. He had nothing to do with any massacres, especially not the one in Kansas City that had shocked the nation, although Kelly knew and sometimes had associated with people who participated in that shoot-out, including the outlaw victim, Frank Nash.

But when Kelly kidnapped millionaire Charles Urschel, himself a fascinating character, the man known as "Machine Gun" suddenly became a major league outlaw. Just as suddenly, his wife, once she was arrested, blamed him for all their troubles, as though she were some naive young girl, which she most definitely wasn't.

Syracuse Journal, September 26, 1933
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (INS) — George “Machine Gun” Kelly, America’s Number One desperado, sought for a series of abductions, bank holdups and massacres that have terrorized the nation, fell into the clutches of the law today.

The man who had sent the organized forces of the law of the 48 states and the federal government on the greatest manhunt in history, taunting his pursuers with scornful, threatening letters, surrendered meekly to Department of Justice agents who trapped him in a Memphis hideout.

Reinforced by local police, heavily-armed with machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and tear gas bombs, the federal operators surprised Kelly, his wife, Kathryn, and two men companions in a residence here shortly before dawn.

The officers forced their way into the home, quickly arrested the owner, J. R. Tichenor, and his brother-in-law, S. E. Travis who were asleep in the front room. The noise aroused Kelly, who was sleeping with his wife in another room.

Kelly, his mane of black hair bleached a brilliant yellow, struggled from his bed with a .45 caliber pistol in his hand, then stumbled into the room where the officers were waiting. Kelly quickly realized his was clearly outgunned by the arresting officers.

“Stick ‘em up, Kelly,” the officers barked, and the gangster grinned sheepishly, hesitated a moment, and then let his gun slip from his hand.

The gangster’s titian-haired wife, clad in a flaming negligee, followed him into the room, and clinged to her husband before the officers removed them from the house and placed them in automobiles for a trip to jail.

A day later there was another arrest:

Syracuse Journal, September 27, 1933
DALLAS, Texas (INS) — Federal Department of Justice agents last night seized $73,250 of currency on the farm of Cass Coleman, near Coleman, Texas, Fred Blake, head of the local DOJ, said today. Coleman was arrested. He is an uncle of Machine Gun Kelly’s wife. The money was found buried in a cotton patch.

The money has been definitely identified as part of the $200,000 ransom in the Charles Urschel kidnapping case, said Blake.

Approximately $6,000 of the ransom money had previously been located. A total of $700 was found on the person of Harvey Bailey, on trial for the Urschel kidnapping. A similar amount was found on Albert Bates, and $5,000 had been circulated in St. Paul, Minnesota, allegedly by Kelly through his contact man.

Meanwhile, a trial already was underway in Oklahoma City involving ten other persons arrested in connection with the Urschel case, including Kathryn Kelly's mother and her stepfather.

Syracuse Journal, September 27, 1933
OKLAHOMA CITY (INS) — George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife, Kathryn Kelly, who are under arrest in Memphis, Tennessee, will be kept away from Oklahoma City while the Urschel kidnapping trial is in progress, federal authorities announced today.

Federal officials do not want the Kellys here until the current trial is concluded. Kelly’s trial is tentatively scheduled to begin October 9 in federal court.

Ten persons are currently being tried, including Mrs. Kelly’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Shannon. Kathryn Kelly’s desire to help her mother led to her arrest. She enlisted the aid of Luther W. Arnold of Ardmore, Oklahoma, to contact a lawyer in Oklahoma City for the purpose of defending her mother.

It was through Arnold that federal authorities learned of the Kellys’ hideout in Memphis.

Three days later, the first trial concluded, with seven of the ten defendants found guilty.

Syracuse American, October 1, 1933
OKLAHOMA CITY (INS) — The United States government yesterday dealt a knockout blow to the kidnapping menace when a jury in federal court found the notorious outlaws Harvey J. Bailey and Albert J. Bates and five others guilty of conspiracy in connection with the $200,000 abduction of Charles F. Urschel, Oklahoma City oil millionaire.

Found guilty with Bailey and Bates were Mr. and Mrs. R. G. Shannon and Shannon’s 22-year-old son, Armon, upon whose ranch near Paradise, Texas, Urschel was held prisoner, and Edward “Barney” Berman and Clifford Skelly of St. Paul, who were accused of having helped pass $5,500 of the ransom money in Minneapolis

Three defendants from St. Paul were found not guilty. They are Sam Kronick, Sam Kozbrerg and Isadore Blumenfield.

The government will “mop up” the case by bringing George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his titian-haired wife, Kathryn, here from Memphis, Tennessee, where they are under arrest.

On October 7, Harvey Bailey and Albert Bates were sentenced to life imprisonment. So were R. G. "Boss" Shannon and his wife, Ora, who was Kathryn Kelly's mother. The Shannon's 22-year-old son, Armon, received a break from Judge Edgar S. Vaught, who suspended a 10-year sentence in federal prison, allowing the young man to remain free on parole.

Edward “Barney” Berman and Clifford Skelly, the St. Paul defendants who were found guilty of having passed $5,000 of the ransom money were both sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary.

This was the first prosecution under the federal kidnapping act, which was passed by Congress as a result of the Charles Lindbergh Jr. abduction a year earlier.

Then it was time for the Kellys to be tried, and it was Mrs. Kelly who became the star of the show.

Buffalo Courier-Express, October 10, 1933
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, October 9 (AP) — A swiftly drawn picture of Charles F. Urschel’s $200,000 kidnapping was put before another federal jury today — trying, this time, the swaggering George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his quick-tempered wife, Kathryn.

Delayed not a bit by a morning row at the federal building elevator, when Kathryn slapped Federal Agent J. C. White and Agent White in turn pounded Kelly’s head with a pistol butt, the trial rushed along at three times the speed of the first, when seven persons were convicted and four given life terms in prison.

Kelly’s mocking grin was in evidence, despite a bloody lump on his head, and he roared with laughter when prosecutor Herbert K. Hyde once demanded sharply of a reluctant witness:

“Who’s been talking to you since the first trial?”

The witness, eighteen-year-old Gay Coleman, cousin of Kathryn, describing Kelly’s stop at a Stratford (Oklahoma) farm the day of the kidnapping last July 22, recalled he heard Kelly say, “There’s more apt to be a kidnapping in Oklahoma City.”

By the time the first day of the trial had ended, almost half the government’s testimony had been submitted, including Urschel’s story of his nine-day abduction. It took but two hours to select a jury of four farmers and eight business men.

Kathryn’s tears flowed as her aged grandmother,, Mrs. T. M. Coleman, who lives on the farm near Stratford, testified from her wheel chair she had driven Kelly and Kathryn from her home early Sunday morning, July 23, “because they told me that they had a kidnapped man there.”

“I told her to get that man away from there or I would scream and wake up the whole countryside,” Mrs. Coleman added.

Earlier, the slender defendant had been pert and smiled often, tossing kisses at her fifteen-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, Pauline Frye, summoned as a government witness. For a time she even smiled coyly at White, whom she had slapped, addressed him a “Mr. White,” and showed him the ring she wore.

Late in the day came testimony of the four bridge players who were rudely interrupted on the sun porch of the big Urschel townhouse by the two machine-gunners who seized the oil millionaire.

The witnesses were Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jarrett and Mr. and Mrs. Urschel. All pointed accusing fingers at Kelly.

Urschel recounted, as he did at the first trial, how he had been taken away, his eyes taped securely shut, “so I couldn’t tell daylight from darkness,” and moved to the R. G. Shannon farm in Wise County, Texas, where he was held until ransomed for $200,000.

Then came the testimony of John G. Catlett, Tulsa oil man and friend of Urschel, who received the first letter sent by the kidnappers in establishing channels for payment of the ransom.

The pre-trial melee occurred when Agent White gave Mrs. Kelly a slight shove as she paused to kiss her father, J. E. Brooks, before entering the Federal Building elevator.
She slapped White sharply and Kelly raised his manacled hands over the officer’s head.

White, grasping his pistol by the barrel, brought it down several times over Kelly’s head as Kathryn screamed, “Don’t! Don’t!”

Other guards surrounded the couple and rushed them into the elevator and up to the tower courtroom.

His head swelling under his straw-colored dyed hair, Kelly raged and muttered, “I didn’t do a thing and he hit me with a pistol.”

Declaring “two figures” played the lead in the kidnapping of last July, District Attorney Herbert K. Hyde pointed to the couple in his opening statement and shouted:

“They sit in this courtroom now. Their names are George and Kathryn Kelly.”

He told the jury the government will prove Kelly was the companion of Albert Bates the night Urschel was kidnapped from his home; that Kelly guarded the millionaire captive on the Shannon ranch near Paradise, Texas, and that Kelly took the $200,000 ransom money from E. E. Kirkpatrick, Urschel's friend, on a Kansas City street.

Kathryn, he said, will enter the picture at Stratford, Oklahoma, at the T. M. Coleman farm home, “where you will hear her saying the day of the kidnapping: ‘We’re going to make some money,’ and where you will hear Kelly saying: ‘There’s going to be a kidnapping tonight.’ ”


Syracuse Journal, October 11, 1933
OKLAHOMA CITY (INS) — Garbed in black and her face pale and drawn, Kathryn Kelly, the slim, red-haired wife of George “Machine Gun” Kelly, went on the witness stand in federal court today and in an effort to save herself from a long prison term, put the blame for the $200,000 kidnapping of Charles F. Urschel on her gangster husband.

She told the jury she implored Kelly to “release Mr. Urschel,” but her husband told her to “mind your own business.”


"My Pekingese dog would have gotten a life sentence in that court," muttered Kathryn Kelly, whisked away with her husband to the county jail to await transfer to prison within a few days.

Kelly claimed he'd soon break out of prison, but he would be a model prison at Alcatraz and Leavenworth. In both places he was ridiculed by other inmates who called him "Pop Gun" Kelly. He died in Leavenworth of heart failure on July 18, 1954.

He has been portrayed a few times in films, most notably by Charles Bronson in 1958"s "Machine Gun Kelly," which, like almost all such movies was a highly fictional tale.

Another piece of fiction, apparently, is that story about Kelly coining the term "G-man," when he was arrested. That was a story concocted by J. Edgar Hoover, a master of publicity. (Hoover's department wasn't yet known as the FBI.)

For some folks today, Machine Gun Kelly is a singer and would-be rapper from Cleveland, whose real name is Richard Colson Baker. Ah, the things you find out online.

Kathryn Kelly* and her mother remained in prison until 1958. Kathryn became a bookkeeper at an Oklahoma City nursing home, her mother, Ora, became a nurse at the same facility. Ora died in 1980, Kathryn passed away in 1985.

Albert Bates died in prison in 1948, at the age of 54, while Harvey Bailey, who was bounced from Leavenworth to Alcatraz, back to Leavenworth, and finally to a federal prison in Seagoville, Texas, lived long enough to be freed — in 1964. He died in 1979. He was 91 years old.

* This links to an interesting story, but one which may include another piece of fiction involving the death of Kathryn Kelly's third husband. It is mentioned in this and other stories about her that she killed the man, but convinced authorities her husband had left a typewritten suicide note, which was strange because the man was illiterate. However, some sources say this is untrue; such a note was never found and likely never existed.