Friday January 16th marks the 80th anniversary of the deaths of Ma and Fred Barker in Florida. The FBI had searched for the Barker-Karpis gang for years, following the Hamm and Bremer kidnappings in 1933 and 1934. The gang had netted $300,000 from both crimes and successfully evaded the FBI.
In late 1934, Special-Agent-in-Charge E.J. Connelley was sent to Chicago by J.Edgar Hoover to take control of the Barker-Karpis case. The long months of investigation paid off when FBI agents nabbed Doc Barker off the street in January 1935. When they raided his apartment, they found a street map with a penciled circle around the lakes southeast of Ocala, FL.
Connelley and his team traveled south and began canvassing the area. One tip they’d received from another gang member was that the Barkers had rented a house on a lake. In the lake was a famous alligator, whom the locals called “Old Joe.” When Connelley and agents began canvassing the lakes, they discovered a small problem. It was Florida, home to many alligators, and many had nicknames like Old Joe.
At the post office, Connelley received a tip that some odd “out-of-owners” were staying at Carson Bradford’s place on the north shore of Lake Weir. He drove out near the property and interviewed a neighbor. The man identified a photo of Fred Barker and Harry Campbell as the two men renting the house next door. Connelley peered out of the man’s house. Soon, two figures were seen walking out of the house toward the lake. It was Ma and Fred Barker.
The gun battled that ensued, along with many more details of the investigation, is retold in my ebook, “G-Men, Gangsters, and Gators. You can get it here for a special price of $0.99.
The lead FBI investigator, E.J. Connelley, was involved in many famous cases like the Barkers. He was a kidnapping ace and helped investigate Nazi saboteurs who landed in the U.S. during World War II. Connelley and his cases are the subject of my forthcoming book, GMAN. We’ve all seen and heard the stereotypes of J. Edgar Hoover’s G-Men. But the truth, as they say, is better than fiction.