George "Machine Gun" Kelly

"A Good-Natured Hood and the Bad Woman Behind Him."
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Most people assume men make the worst criminals, but every once in a while there are exceptions to the rule.  As in the story of George "Machine-Gun "Kelly, a decent soul who fell under an evil influence.

George grew up George Kelly Barnes in the state of Tennessee.  A good-natured but not-too-bright guy, he growled like a tough gangster but was soft and sensitive on the inside.  He tried his hand as a salesman in his early years,  but moved to the more lucrative bootleg industry in the 1920's to make a few bucks.

His wife to be, Kathryn Brooks, was married and divorced by the age of 14, and married and divorced again before 20.  She was also in the bootlegging business, working with her mother in providing local Mississippi residents with freshly distilled beverages.  George loved to make up stories about being a big-time hood, and when he met Kathryn for the first time he regaled her with pretend bank-robbery stories, which she bought, hook, line and sinker.  In reality, Kelly had never even bought a gun.

Kathryn soon realized this when she introduced him to some of her seedier whiskey-drinking criminal customers; trying to get him a job in a gang.  She finally bought him his first machine-gun, and coerced him into practicing with it by shooting walnuts off of a fence.  Gullible, good-hearted Kelly followed her orders, and soon became a machine-gun expert, a skill that readily landed him the role as the machine-gunner in a gang she introduced him to.

"Machine-Gun" George
& Kathryn Kelly

While he ran around holding up banks with his new friends, she made it her mission to build him up to the locals as the toughest, meanest crook in the Midwest.  She also convinced him, after reading stories about the Barker-Karpis gang's luck kidnapping William Hamm Jr., that the real money was in this industry.  They ended up kidnapping Charles F. Urschel, millionaire oil tycoon, for $200,000, and just about got away with it, but the ransom money was traced and they followed its track to their motel room door, nabbing them and putting them away in prison.  Kelly eventually died in Alactraz, in 1954, renamed by the inmates who grew to know his true nature, as "Pop-Gun Kelly.

George Kelly's grave at the Cottondale Cemetery.

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