Friday, September 21, 2012


9/22/1933 - In downtown Chicago at a little after midnight, almost in the shadow of the building containing the city's FBI office (still called the Department of Investigation at the time and the responsibility of Special Agent Melvin Purvis), the Barker-Karpis Gang hits the bags coming out of the Federal Reserve Building.  

                                                        Site of the heist

Cased for weeks, the gang assembled for the heist includes Alvin Karpis driving a special Hudson sedan equipped with bullet glass, armor plating, and a smoke producing machine, Fred Barker, "Shotgun" George Ziegler, and Bryan Bolton wielding submachine guns, and Doc Barker carrying a .38 pistol.

                            Karpis                                        Fred Barker
                                                          Doc Barker

The first part of the job goes perfectly.  Karpis creates a cloud of smoke that cuts off any traffic that might drive by, and as two clerks wheeling a hand truck with bulging sacks on it come out of the building followed by two armed guards the gang swoops in.  Taking only a minute, the men disarm the guards and then throw five lumpy bags into their car and take off, following an escape route they have already practiced driving.  What they didn't practice however is what to do if they should get into a car accident, which is exactly what happens after Karpis crosses the Chicago River and turns onto Halsted.  Intersection chaos, the violent collision send's the outlaws into a telephone pole ... and worse, draws the attention of two uniformed policemen about to walk their beats through the area.  The first concern of both men is whether anyone is injured and needs immediate medical attention and both men run towards the accident.  Forty-six-year-old Maurice Fitzgerald sprints to several women screaming inside the wrecked Ford coupe the getaway car has hit, while thirty-five-year-old Miles Cunningham approaches the Hudson ... a mistaken random twist of fate which costs the officer his life.  As Doc Barker jumps out of the car and yells "Cops," Bolton raises his submachine gun and unleashes a burst of lead directly into the policeman's chest, killing him instantly ... a volley that also wounds Doc Barker when a ricochet hits the bandit on his right pinky finger, knocking the diamond out of a ring the outlaw has recently purchased.  A new vehicle needed, the gang commandeers a car passing by, transferring their booty and weapons while Bolton keeps Officer Fitzgerald pinned down behind a traffic sign with sprays of bullets.  In flight again, their escape comes to another screeching halt when Karpis discovers their new car is almost out of gasoline ... news that requires another commandeering of alternate transportation and one more transfer of assets.  Finally safe in a garage in the southwest portion of the city later that night, the already jangled gang becomes incensed when they go to count how much loot they have acquired and discover they engaged in a robbery, a jarring car accident, and a killing shootout that has left one of them wounded for nothing but fifty pounds of worthless mail.  The only good news for the bandits is that city authorities investigating the crime will think the robbery and murder are the work of either Machine Gun Kelly or Pretty Boy Floyd.  For the family of Officer Miles Cunningham though there is no good news and in death he leaves behind a widow and two children.

                                       Patrolman Miles Cunningham | Chicago Police Department, Illinois

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