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Remembering Ma Barker: The FBI’s Most Wanted Mother

Midwesterner Kate Barker, infamously referred to as “Ma” Barker, was the FBI’s most sought-after mother in the 1930s. She was allegedly the organization’s brains behind the Barker-Karpis gang. She assisted her four sons in carrying out the murders, kidnappings, and robberies that she had planned. What caused her to live a life that, in 1935, in Ocklawaha, Florida, would culminate in a four-hour gunfight with the FBI?


Just A Farm Girl

Many knew Ma Barker as the brains behind the entire Barker-Karpis Gang, which is said to have stolen more money than Vern Miller, Bonnie and Clyde, and John Dillinger put together. 

The mother of four of the nation’s most dangerous criminals from the Great Depression, the mob matriarch was once a straightforward farm girl. She was born in 1873 and lived in a makeshift town called Ash Grove in the Missouri Ozarks’ outback. Arizona Donnie Clark was her real name at birth, but she changed it to Kate because she didn’t like her given name.


Jesse James Was Her Idol

Young Kate used to hide out in her room and read articles about Jesse James and the Dalton Gang’s infamous bank and train robberies. “You can’t talk about Ma Barker without talking about Jesse James,” historian John Koblas said. 

James and his siblings were committing bank robberies across Missouri when she was a child, gaining media attention. On one of their escapes, the gang even rode through her hometown of Ash Grove. Kate was saddened when James died in 1882.

Everything stems from her admiration of outlaws like Jesse James. Her boys learned that criminals were heroes.

The four Barker sons were all jailed for an extended period of time, and Ma Barker tried every trick in the book to get them out. Hoover alleged that her screams, sobs, and letters to parole boards were bribes to the police intended to remove evidence. In fact, her efforts were successful in having their sentences canceled or significantly reduced.


Wild Boys

Every Sunday, Barker and the boys attended church. The FBI portrayed the boys as being illiterate. They were out of control. What began as little vandalism, hurling pebbles through windows, turned into minor thefts of wallets from pockets at church. 

The boys evolved from being little thieves to complete crooks. Their father wanted to correct his sons, but it appeared that Kate didn’t want to correct them; in fact, she would get angry at any sort of reprimand.



The Barker family came to Tulsa, Oklahoma, hoping to start over. The family can be removed from problems, but trouble cannot be removed from the family. The authorities quickly caught up with them. 

The sons started committing more significant crimes and joined the Central Park Gang. The four brothers were detained for robbery, automobile theft, and even murder between 1915 and 1927. Herman killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1927 when the deputy witnessed him cashing in stolen bank bonds.


Nothing More Than A Glorified Accomplice

The Barker brothers were without a doubt real criminals, but Ma Barker cannot be formally classified in the same way. She is nothing more than a glorified accomplice, according to the records. She was never detained for any criminal offenses. 

Ma Barker, according to Alvin Karpis, was not a criminal. “It’s no insult to Ma’s memory that she just didn’t have the know-how to direct us on a robbery,” the author stated in his autobiography. He described how they would set up a job and leave her at home.


A Final Shootout 

A four-hour shootout took place, which started when Fred threw a machine gun out the window. By the end, Ma Barker and Fred were killed. The J. Edgar Hoover report claims that Barker battled until she died. She was discovered holding a battered Tommy gun. 

Some elements, though, don’t seem to add up. Obviously, research has been done, and it has been discovered that Barker is not seen holding a gun in the initial photo taken at the crime scene. Others question Barker’s ability to carry a machine gun, much less fire it continuously, given her advanced age.

Whether a mastermind or a simple accomplice, it is no doubt that Ma Barker was surrounded by the inner workings of crime. She defended her boys from everything and stuck by their side which ultimately paved their way into a life of crime. Barker was notorious, wanted, and a tough woman, but her way of life eventually led to her demise.