George  “Machine Gun” Kelly

      ... captured in Memphis Hideout


George "Machine Gun" Kelly is considered one of the most infamous "gangsters" from the prohibition era (1919-1933). He had adopted the George R. Kelly name around 1927.   In spite of his enduring fame and violent nickname, Machine Gun Kelly never killed anyone, and he was never known to fire his namesake tommy gun (a gift from his wife) at anything but tin cans.


"Machine Gun" was born George Kelly
Barnes on July 18, 1895, to a "comfortable" family living in Memphis, Tennessee.  (His son claims he was born in Chicago in 1900 and the family moved to Memphis when George was two.  (New evidence seems to support this.  Kelly's 1918 Draft Registration, below, lists that he was born in 1900).  The family owned a pleasant two-story home, still standing in Memphis at the corner of Rembert and Cowden in Central Gardens.  George's early childhood years were mostly uneventful.  



George attended Memphis Idlewild Elementary School and Central High School, but he could hardly be called a model student.  New evidence verifies that he dropped ouy of Central High during his senior year and later talked his way into entrance at Mississippi A & M College in Starkville.  His teachers, who talked to reporters about him years after his capture, felt he never "applied himself", and never made above a "C+ grade"  .  George was devoted to his mother Elizabeth and was frequently at odds with his father, blaming his father's infidelity for his mother's early death.


The Barnes Home

Idlewild School

Central High School

Mississippi A and M



During his brief 4 months at Mississippi A and M,  George fell in love with Geneva Ramsey.  They were married when he was 19 and in the next two years had two sons, George Jr. and Robert.   Geneva was close to her parents George and Della York Ramsey.  Kelly admired his father in law and  the two developed a mutual respect.   But Ramsey died as a result of a dynamite accident in 1920 and George was devastated.  He then began a period of one failed job after another.   To support the family George quit college and took various jobs, including taxi driver - working long hours for little pay.  It just wasn't enough.  Eventually the strain caused George and Geneva to separate. 


Geneva Ramsey


About this time he took up with a small time gangster and began a new venture as a bootlegger.  The monetary rewards were impressive and Barnes enjoyed the new notoriety.  It was too late to save the marriage.  Geneva divorced George Barnes, because of the "disreputable company he kept".


George Ramsey George Ramsey Della York Della York Ramsey 1918 Kelly Draft Registration



In the 1920s George met Cleo Brooks and they became a couple.  She had changed her name to Kathryn and by all accounts she was a "lady" who knew "more buns than the Police Department ... who could drink liquor like water.  and had some of the toughest women friends one ever laid eyes on..."  She already had a record for shoplifting, robbery and prostitution.  Her mother Ora, was said to be her equal in all those departments.  So Kathryn would have no trouble accepting George's "disreputable company".  George continued his businesses, but after several run-ins with the local Memphis police, he and Kathryn decided to leave town and head west.

Kathryn Kathryn  

Kathryn's mother  Ora was married to John Emory Brooks when she was born.  Ora later married a gentle, well-respected Texas farmer  named  Robert "Boss" Shannon.  She convinced Boss to rent his ranch to criminals as a hideout while she bootlegged.  Another victim of this period is rarely mentioned:  Kathryn's daughter by a previous marriage, Pauline Fry.  She was a teenager and was lived with Ora and Shannon because Kathryn was off committing robberies with George Barnes. 

John Emory Brooks Brooks-Ora-Cleo Pauline - Ora Ora working at a store R. G. Shannon Boss Shannon


To protect his family and escape law enforcement, Barnes changed his name to George R. Kelly.  The "R" was  for his first wife 's father "Ramsey".  George continued to commit small crimes but the bootlegging got him arrested in Tulsa, and sentenced to 3 years at Leavenworth Penitentiary.  He was a model prisoner and earned early release.  Shortly afterwards he and Kathryn were married and embarked on a life of crime.  Legend has it that Kathryn then created the Machine Gun Kelly image.  She had purchased the first Tommy gun that George ever owned and made him practice using it.  She then handed out spend cartridges to friends and relatives as souvenirs.  It's said that she also planned some of their escapades.  The "machine gun" legend grew as kelly became  involved in bank robberies in several states..

The Kelly's  

Early Mug-Shot Leavenworth Prison George Movie Kathryn



After years of boot-legging, bank robberies and numerous little crimes, the Kelly's hit "big-time" with their next job:  the kidnapping of wealthy Oklahoma City oilman Charles F. Urschel in 1933.  Kathryn had planned the kidnapping and the couple, along with Kelly accomplices, Albert Bates and Harvey Bailey, completed the job and successfully extracted a $200,000 ransom from the victim. 

Chas. F. Urschel


Urschel Home


The Kelly Gang brought the blindfolded Charles Urschel to  the Texas ranch of Kathryn's parent's, Ora and "Boss Shannon.   In return for a cut of the ransom moeny Boss Shannon and his son Armon agreed to watch Urschel while Kelly hangled the negotiations.  After the ransom was paid, Urschel was released, but he had been very clever during his kidnapping, and was able to provide  multiple clues which led to the ultimate capture of the Kellys. 



Ransom Paid Shannon ranch-famr Shannon Ranch Shannon Garage

On August 12, Federal agents raided the ranch,  arresting three of Kelly's in-laws and Harvey Bailey.  Kelly and Kathryn had left by this time and Albert Bates, Kelly's partner had moved on and was arrested the next day  in Denver, spending some of the ransom money.  Kelly and Kathryn evaded capture for several weeks.. 


Urschel held here... Ranch Bedroom Ranch front room Ranch room

On the morning of Tuesday, September 26, 1933, Memphis police, along with FBI Agents, surrounded a bungalow at 1408 Rayner Street owned by Kelly's longtime friend John Tichenor.  The agents then made a violent forced entry.  As legend has it, at that moment, Kelly coined the phrase: "G-Men, please don't shoot."  Kelly was found badly hung over from the prior evening's drinking binge and still in his pajamas".


1408 Rayner St.


1408 Rayner today Arrest... Capture Mug Shots Mug Shot


Kathryn Mug

The Capture Court transfer Shackled Shackled Airport transfer




By the time Kelly and Kathryn were arrested in Memphis, the trial had already begun in Oklahoma City and the couple were quickly transferred to Oklahoma.  The trial resulted in several historical events:  The first federal criminal trial in which film cameras were allowed; the first kidnapping trial after the passage of the Lindbergh Law; the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, and the first prosecution in which defendants were transported by airplane.  

Kelly Confesses  

The prosecution pronounced that "the interest of the nation is focused on the drama now coming to a close in this courtroom.  We are here to find an answer to the question of whether we shall have a government of law and order or abdicate in favor of machine gun gangsters.  If the government cannot protect its citizens, then we had frankly better turn it other to the Kellys, the Bates, the Baileys and the others of the underworld and pay tribute to them through taxes."


Kelly Confesses


Kathryn George-Kathryn George-Kthryn KKathryn-Georgea Sentence

George didn't take the stand in his own defense.  He and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.   Kathryn's mother Ora was also sentenced to life for her part in the kidnapping, and her step-father "Boss" Shannon was sentenced to a shorter term.   Armon Shannon received a probationary sentence because he cooperated with the government.  Accomplices Harvey Bailey and Albert Bates were also sentenced to life in prison.    The sentences completed the Urschel kidnapping case and brought closure to the first trial in the nation to invoke the Lindbergh Kidnapping Law.


George and Attorney


Bates-Bailey-Armon-Boss-Ora Boss Shannon Boss Convicted Kelly

George Machine Gun Kelly was transferred to prison where he would spend his remaining 21 years.  17 of those years were at Alcatraz, where he swore he would  escape.   At Alcatraz he got the nickname "Pop Gun Kelly" in reference to the fact that he was a model prisoner and nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be.   As inmate #117, he worked in the prison industries, where he exaggerated his past escapades to the other inmates.   


Harvey Bailey Albert Bates

Ora -Boss shackled







Because Kelly had been a model prisoner at Alcatraz prison,  he was quietly transferred to Leavenworth in 1951, where he died of a heart attach on his 59th birthday in 1954.  Kathryn and Ora were still in prison, but "Boss" Shannon was out, living in Paradise, Texas.  Kelly's body was shipped to Shannon, who arranged the funeral at nearby Cottondale, Texas.  Armed FBI agents were in attendance at the funeral.   All was very quiet.  


Kelly at Alcatraz


Coffin arrives in Texas




Kathryn and her mother were not permitted to attend the funeral.  They were released from prison in 1958 based on "circumstantial evidence" in the trial.  Kathryn was 54 and slipped quietly into obscurity as a bookkeeper in an Oklahoma hospital.  Ora died in 1980 and Kathryn died in 1985.  They are both buried in Oklahoma.   Tales persist that before the trial, both of them tried to strike a deal and sell Kelly down the river.  No hard evidence has surfaced.

Accomplice Harvey Bailey was released from prison in 1964 and died in 1979.  Kelly's long-time partner Albert Bates died in Alcatraz in 1948 of heart disease.


Ora - Kathryn 1958


Most historians feel that George Barnes would only be a footnote in crime history were it not for kathryn Kelly.




After divorcing George, Geneva Barnes married Frank Trimbach around 1927 and he adopted her two sons by George.  They divorced in 1940 and she later married Frank Williams.  Geneva died in 1997 in California and her ashes were buried next to her parents in Memphis Elmwood Cemetery.   George's son Robert Owen Bruce Barnes developed a relationship with Kelly when he was in Alcatraz and later wrote a book about his father,  "To right a wrong".  He died in 2010 and is buried in California.  George's son George Ramsey Barnes Trimbach never communicated with his father after the trial.  He died of a heart attack in 1989 and is buried in California. 


Robt.O.Bruce Barnes

"To Right a Wrong" George R. Trimbach Geneva Armon Boss Shannon Pauline


Boss Shannon died in 1956 and is buried between his first and second wives - a short distance from the grave he supplied for George Barnes.  His son Armon returned to Texas after the trial, where he lived the remainer of his life.  He eventually married three times and had seven children. 

Pauline Fry?  An Oklahoma aunt took her in.  She wanted to become a teacher, but there were no funds.  Judge Vaught from the Kelly trial advised her that an unknown benefactor had offered to pay for her tuition and living expenses.  Pauline did become a teacher, married, had two children and eventually reunited with her mother and grandmother.  She died in 2005 and is buried in Oklahoma.  After Judge Vaught's death, his family located files that showed Pauline's unknown benefactor was none other than Charles Urschel.

     Boss' Obit



Various mug-shots of George Kelly

WANTED posters of George Kelly .  a couple appear to be "photo-shopped".



Kathryn's FBI card



Note:  The court documents, files, and photos relating to the Kelly trial are in Public Domain





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