Tuesday, January 15, 2013

THE BATTLE OF LAKE WEIR

1/15/1935 - Using information acquired through the arrests earlier in the month of Dock Barker and Bryan Bolton, looking for a locale that is the habitat of huge alligator named "Old Joe," at Lake Weir, Florida, agents of the FBI discover the latest hideout of thirty-three-year-old bank robber, kidnapper, and murderer Fred Barker, and his mother, Arizona Donnie Clark, who upon getting married and birthing four hoodlum sons, will become better known as Kate "Ma" Barker. 

             
            Ma and her youngest

Surrounding the two-story white clapboard house with green trim the pair has rented as Mr. and Mrs. Blackburn, Chicago Special Agent in Charge Earl Connelley positions a raiding team in the early morning darkness that consists of J.C. "Doc" White, Alexander Muzzey, Bob Jones, John Madala, Tom McDade, Daniel Sullivan, Jerry Campbell, G.C. Woltz, Charles Winstead (the agent thought to have fired the bullet outside the Biograph Theater that killed John Dillinger), Ralph Brown, S.K. McKee, T. Melvin, and J.T. McLaughlin. 

          
          Site of the shootout

Five men and Connelley take up positions on the west side of the property at a small guesthouse, four agents get behind a stone wall and cover the back of the house, two men set themselves up behind neighbor Frank Barber's home, covering the east side of the property, and the last two agents block traffic on the road, East County Highway 25.  At a little after 7:00 in the morning, Connelley steps out of his place of concealment and yells at the house.  "Fred Barker, come out!  We are Department of Justice agents and we have the house surrounded!" 

                       
                       View from the water

Silence greets the request.  After twenty minutes, still shouting for the occupants to come out, Connelley orders Muzzey and McDade to fire their tear-gas guns into the house.  Both shots miss the windows they are intended for and gas begins filling the yard outside the house (in the hours and events that follow, none actually make it inside the structure).  From inside the house a woman's voice can be heard asking, "What are you going to do?"  No response is heard, but a moment later the same woman's voice proclaims, "All right, go ahead!"  Connelley and his men believe it is Ma, okaying the surrender of her son.  They are very wrong in thinking so! 

                                   
                                   Inside on the ground floor

From a second-story window a burst of machine gun fire suddenly sweeps the yard ... a burst that is answered in kind by agents firing on the house and the battle is on!  For five minutes slugs fly with deadly purpose from bedroom windows and out of the front door (the agents respond by putting over 1,500 rounds into the house before the battle is over), then silence falls again.  In the lull, Connelly sends an agent back to the men's cars for more ammo and gas canisters.  They will be needed.  As crowds gather in the woods and on the highway near the property (there are three hundred residents living nearby), the agents and Freddy fire on each other in starts and stops for hours (additionally, Mrs. A.F. Westberry is fired on by both sides, asleep when the shooting begins, a bullet from Barker's gun sears through the thin walls of her neighboring home and strikes the headboard of her bed, and when she flees from that plight with her daughter, thinking she might be Ma Barker, she is fired on by Agent Brown ... thankfully for the woman, none of the rounds sent her way score hits) ... then, at around 10:00 in the morning the house goes silent once more.


The Barker's hideout

Shortly after 10:30, Connelley enlists the help of the home's twenty-five-year-old African-American caretaker, Willie Woodbury, to determine what is going on inside the house.  Entering the home by cutting open a locked screen door with a pocket knife, crying tears from the gas fumes he passes though, Woodbury calls out, "It's okay Ma, it's me.  They're makin' me do this!"  There is no answer.  Moving through the home, minutes later Woodbury appears at an upstairs window and calls down to Connelley, "They all dead!"  At the announcement, agents stream into the structure, guns at the ready just in case Woodbury is wrong ... but he isn't.

                   
                   Freddy

Upstairs, in the room Freddy usually slept in the agents find Ma in a curled-up position under a window in her house slippers, dead from a single slug that has hit her in the forehead.  Beside her in a growing pool of blood is her youngest son, finally killed by a burst of gunfire from the agents below that has cratered the outlaw's shoulder and chest eleven times ... and his head three!  Beside him is an empty machine gun, beneath him is a .45 automatic pistol, and in his pocket are four $1,000 bills.  The Barker portion of the infamous Barker-Karpis Gang is no more!

                                
                                Arsenal taken from the house

                       
                       Bullet damage to the house from the battle

That afternoon, J. Edgar Hoover holds a press conference to reap the benefits of his men's victory ... and to do damage control against any who might question why the FBI has killed a sixty-one-year-old grandmother with no criminal record.  And Hoover accomplishes his mission, deflecting criticism by depicting Ma as a criminal genius, a homicidal maniac that was the brains of the Barker-Karpis Gang, ordered her son to "Let 'em have it," and went to her death holding a still smoking machine gun.  They are all lies ... but without anyone alive or with credibility to testify otherwise, the myth and legend of Ma Barker is launched ... a tall tale that is still active to this day.

                             
                             At the morgue
                            
                           Freddy and Ma at rest

              
              Headlines
                                         
                                         Big news

Machine Gun Kelly behind bars, Bonnie & Clyde rubbed out, Dillinger killed, Pretty Boy Floyd dead, Baby Face Nelson gone, and now Ma Barker and her son Freddy destroyed, the focus of law enforcement agencies across the country now becomes Alvin Karpis ... and it will not be long before he responds to his pursuit with some gunfire of his own.

                                         

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