Friday, May 1, 2015


5/1/1936 - Bad luck, good investigating, stupidity and female betrayals have put all the major public enemies of the early 1930s behind bars ... or six feet under ... John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Verne Miller, Ma Barker, Baby Face Nelson, Wilbur Underhill (no, he wasn't a long lost relative of Frodo Baggins), Harvey Bailey, Thomas Holden, Dock and Freddy Barker, Francis Keating, Eddie Bentz, Baron Lamm, Jelly Nash ... all gone save one ... the current Public Enemy #1 is still at large, Alvin Francis "Creepy" Karpis.
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Bentz & Underhill

Not learning the Dillinger lesson to not hang around with prostitutes, between taking $72,000 from a mail truck in Toledo, Ohio, robbing a Garrettsville, Ohio, train of $27,000 (and becoming the first bank robbery known to have used a plane to escape the authorities), drinking, and bass fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, Karpis carouses from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Florida in the company of his most recent criminal partner, Freddie Hunter (a former blackjack dealer turned thief from Toledo, Ohio), Hunter's girlfriend, a teenage runaway from Oklahoma turned prostitute named Connie Morris, and Morris' boss, the latest Karpis squeeze, 32-year-old Hot Springs madame, Jewel Laverne Grayson, now calling herself Grace Goldstein (she also uses the names Mrs. Helen Wood and Mrs. Helen Parker while traveling with the bandits).  The two women will eventually result in Karpis and Hunter both being sent to Alcatraz for life.
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Following bogus sightings (and a handful of true leads too) of Karpis that range from Grant's Pass, Oregon, to Sarasota Springs, Florida, eventually postal investigators connect the women to the men ... information that also finds its way to the FBI.  Hunt on, when Goldstein finally makes her way back to the Hot Springs in late April of 1936, Federal agents are waiting for her.  Placed in custody, Goldstein refuses to betray Karpis until she is blackmailed into providing his whereabouts (and the names of his traveling companions) with the threat that her entire family in Texas will charged with harboring the fugitives (her tongue is also loosened by a reward promised of $12,000).  And so it is that FBI agents flood into New Orleans, Louisiana, looking for Karpis, Hunter, and Morris (she is there being treated for a bad case of syphilis, while the men are casing a pair of potential jobs, a construction company payroll and a train that passes through Iuka, Mississippi).


Setting up around the address Goldstein has provided, an apartment building on the busy corner of Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway being used by Hunter, surveillance established, the Goldstein info is proved correct when a red Essex Terraplane pulls up in front of the apartment being watched and the most wanted man in the country gets out ... Karpis.  Minutes later both men leave to drop off the Karpis vehicle for servicing.  Unaware a raid is being planned on the apartment, the men exit again a few minutes later on another errand ... Morris wants them to pick up some strawberries to go with the dinner she is preparing.  Fruit procured, when the men return to the apartment Karpis decides to escape its muggy confines (the temperature is hovering just below 90 degrees at 4:30 in the afternoon) by taking a walk down to the local drugstore for a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes and the latest Reader's Digest ... the same store Federal agents have been using to telephone in their movement reports to headquarters.  Returning to the apartment he looks at faces and vehicles, making sure there is no lawmen wandering the neighborhood   5:00 and there is one more errand to run, the outlaw's ride is ready to be picked up.  Too hot to wear the sports coat that hides his pistol, Karpis puts the weapon under a sofa cushion, places a straw boater upon his head, and with Hunter, unarmed, steps out of the apartment and down to the street where his bandit buddy's Plymouth coupe is waiting.
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At the very same time, 20 Federal agents are finalizing their positioning to raid the apartment ... two groups of men will watch the back of the building, two agents will provide front support from the house across the street where they have been observing the movements of Karpis, Hunter, and Morris, and a fourth group of five men armed with Thompson sub-machine guns will kick in the apartment door and arrest, or kill, the apartment's occupants.  Four of the attack team are agents with outstanding records ... Earl Connelley (the special agent most responsible for ending the lives of Ma Barker and her son, Freddy), Dwight Brantley (a veteran of the hunt for Pretty Boy Floyd and the Kansas City Massacre killers), Clarence Hurt (his resume includes the death of the Tri-State Terror, Wilbur Underhill, and being one of the agents that fired on Dillinger at the Biograph Theater), and Buck Buchanan (a former Waco, Texas, detective that had chased Bonnie & Clyde all over the state).  The fifth man in the raid squad is the surprise for he is an over-weight, 59-year-old desk jockey that has never made an arrest in his career ... the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover himself!
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A household name since his men eliminated John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and the Barker Family, he is there to add "arrest" to his record after being embarrassed only days before during a Senate budget hearing being held by Senator Kenneth McKellar of Tennessee (an enemy of Hoover for years, dating back to the time McKellar recommended two men from Tennessee to Hoover for positions with the Bureau, and not only did he not hire the men, but when the senator complains, he fires three other agents already on board for the crime of being from the same state). Expecting his budget requests to fly through Congress, Hoover instead is verbally beaten up over the money being spent on advertising the Bureau to the public, with questions of whether his organization has writers and publicists on its payroll, the issue of the FBI not cooperating with local police departments, and the Bureau's director never personally arresting a single felon. Incensed, Hoover leaves the hearing vowing to stick an arrest in the senator's ear ... the biggest possible, once found, he will slap the cuffs on Alvin Karpis himself.

A change in plans, as the two cars carrying the raiding team approach the apartment, they see the two outlaws get into Hunter's car and Connelley instantly reacts by swerving in front of the vehicle and locking it in place against the curb as the second car, carrying Hoover, does the same thing behind the Plymouth.  A heartbeat later there are agents all over the street pointing weapons into the faces of Hunter and Karpis.  Cornered and unarmed, both men raise their hands and surrender and Hoover gets his big arrest moment ... with a slight problem ... in the scurrying about that has taken place to bring down Karpis, not a single agent has remembered to bring a pair of handcuffs to the bust.  And so it is that Public Enemy #1 goes into incarceration under the restraint of a suit tie knotted around his wrists (and in another Keystone Cop moment, when the driver taking Karpis to the FBI headquarters in New Orleans gets lost, the outlaw is the one that gives the man directions on how to get to the post office where his holding cell is waiting).
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Hunter's Plymouth
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In Custody

Or there is the Karpis version of his arrest in which Hoover is no where to be seen until after Karpis is in custody (hiding to the side of the apartment building until he gets an "all-clear" signal from his agents).  Interestingly, there are holes in Hoover's story that might verify the bandit's tale (the same Hoover that will have agents make porno tapes of Martin Luther King, Jr. having sex with women other than his wife, break the law to enforce the law, kill civilians that unfortunately get in the way of taking down bad guys, has Dillinger shot from behind with no request for surrender coming first, lies about the criminal activities of Ma Barker, for years blackmails politicians, authorizes the murder of Eddie Green, claims there is no Mafia, gambles heavily on horse races, and is said to dress as a woman at certain special private Washington D.C. parties) ... Hoover claims Morris is in the car when the arrest goes down (she is still upstairs in a white halter top and shorts working on dinner) and that he sticks a gun in the outlaw's face before Karpis can grab a rifle from the backseat of the Plymouth (though there isn't a back seat).

Hoover at front, Karpis behind

Whatever happened during the arrest, it is the end of the Public Enemy Era and Hoover's position in the culture of the time as a national hero is solidified again.  
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Flown north in a special charter to face charges in the 1933 kidnapping of William Hamm, Jr., Karpis will plead guilty and receive a life sentence to serve for his criminal activities.  Arriving at Alcatraz on August 7, 1936, the bandit becomes AZ-325 ... and will serve more time on The Rock than any other convict in the history of the prison.  At various institutions for 33 years, Karpis will finally be let out of the federal prison on McNeil Island, Washington, in January of 1969 (while there he meets a young con that he teaches how to play guitar ... a budding maniac murderer named Charles Manson) and deported to the country of his birth, Canada.  Finally free once more, Karpis will settle in Montreal before eventually living his final years in Torremolinos, Spain (he has difficulty getting a passport because his fingerprints were removed in 1934 by shooting cocaine into the tip of each finger and then scrapping the digits bloody with a scalpel), writing two memoirs before dying from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills at the age of 72, on August 26, 1979.
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Early Alcatraz

In Canada


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