For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Criminals and Folk Heroes
Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s
  • Robert Underhill
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Criminals and Folk Heroes . Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s
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During the Great Depression, writers of True Crime could take the decade off: life was imitating art so dramatically they had nothing to add. In these pages historian Robert Underhill presents the most notorious criminals of 1930-1934: Wilbur Underhill, Alvin Karpis, the Barker Clan, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, the Barrows (Buck, Blanche, Clyde, and Bonnie), and John Dillinger along with supporting material on their henchmen and the rise of the FBI.

Often armed better than the police, criminals of the 1930s committed deeds ranging from stealing chickens to kidnappings, bank robberies, and killing innocent victims. Yet such crimes were often taken in stride by avid readers. Cooperation among local, state and federal lawmen was rare as each sought to protect his own turf. Criminals and lawmen made mistakes battling one another, but in most cases the law triumphed and the wanted fugitive died under a hail of bullets. His death would start myths and raise his reputation to national status.


About the Author

Dr. Robert Underhill served for forty years as a Professor and administrator at Iowa State University, where he continues as Emeritus Professor. His education includes a PhD from Northwestern University with additional courses in diplomatic history at Georgetown University and at Indiana University.

Underhill's doctoral dissertation was entitled "Public Addresses as Propaganda During the Cold War." He has published numerous articles in professional journals and has been a frequent speaker before academic and civic groups. He has published fifteen books, including three with Algora Publishing.

About the Book

The author of Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America and The Rise and Fall of Franklin D. Roosevelt shows us another aspect of the Roosevelt era and portrays a series of figures who contributed to pop culture as well...

The author of Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America and The Rise and Fall of Franklin D. Roosevelt shows us another aspect of the Roosevelt era and portrays a series of figures who contributed to pop culture as well helping to shape the security forces in America. Robbing the banks and driving fast cars, they did what many Americans dreamed of, and gave a depressed populace some excitement to distract from everyday worries.

With the Great Depression, some citizens came to regard bank robbers as modern Robin Hoods seeking to avenge depositors whose life earnings had been wiped out by a bank's failure or malfeasance by its owners. No small wonder that criminals were given colorful sobriquets and fact and fiction became intertwined.

Underhill shows how such heists, and kidnappings especially, helped create the modern FBI, overcoming the complaints of those who alleged that a federal force was the first step toward an American Gestapo. The belief that federal government had nothing to do with fighting crime was rooted in the U.S. Constitution and its provisions for states' rights. Local police were expected to provide security and to apprehend criminals without Washington getting involved.

In the big cities, Prohibition era mobsters still ruled, but in the Midwest especially, smaller bands, "gangsters," began to make headlines. They tended to be blue-collar criminals whose favorite targets were filling stations, grocery stores, and small town banks. Prior to 1930, corruption was rife and cooperation among local, state, and federal police was little to none; criminals often got away. Only in 1935 was the FBI formally anointed and its agents were permitted to carry guns. Now, there was a federal agency that could supply sheriffs all over the country with information on suspected criminals.

By 1935, the hardest times of the Depression were beginning to ease and the thrill of watching these cops-and-robber stories play out was combined with a renewed interest in the lives of the rich and famous, previously scorned for their role in ripping off the average man. All in all, the early 1930s were a uniquely dramatic time for crime and crimestoppers in America.


Introduction
As the 1930s began, America was in the lowest depths of its greatest depression. Prices had hit bottom; homeless people were everywhere, sleeping in boxcars, tents, or cardboard cartons outside cities where hungry citizens lined up for bowls of soup or slices of bread. Estimates of the unemployed ranged from twelve to thirteen million. The...
As the 1930s began, America was in the lowest depths of its greatest depression. Prices had hit bottom; homeless people were everywhere, sleeping in boxcars, tents, or cardboard cartons outside cities where hungry citizens lined up for bowls of soup or slices of bread. Estimates of the unemployed ranged from twelve to thirteen million. The shattered economy provided fertile soil for crops of thefts, robberies, murders, and kidnappings.

The Depression created a type of outlaw fed by both need and greed. By 1930, in the East and in other large cities gangster syndicates from Prohibition Days still operated, but across the land and particularly in the Midwest, smaller bands held sway. Newspapers sometimes called the smaller groups gangsters, but they were different from the millionaire mobsters in metropolitan centers who reigned as feudal lords. Depression desperadoes were blue-collar criminals whose favorite targets were filling stations, grocery stores, and small town banks which dotted the plains and prairies of America's heartland.

Sensational kidnappings prodded Congress to fund the new agency, and its dedicated leader used every means at his command to enlarge its power. In March, 1932, the infant son of famed trans-Atlantic flier Charles A. Lindbergh was kidnapped and slain. Three months later, Congress passed a law dubbed the Lindbergh Act making it a federal crime whenever kidnappers crossed a state line. The law soon was expanded to put bank robbers in the same category, thus authorizing use of federal powers when banks were robbed and fugitives apt to flee across state lines.

From thefts, robberies, and murders, the perpetrators gained loot and publicity. Reporters added interest by giving the criminals catchy nicknames: "Ma" Barker, "Creepy" Alvin Karpis, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Machine-Gun" Kelly, or "Baby-Face" Nelson. The monikers helped elevate cheap thugs into folk heroes. Many citizens looked on the small-time hoodlums with a sort of admiration and welcome diversions from woes of the Depression. The freelance criminals differed from disreputable big-city mobsters and syndicate racketeers. The freelancers seemed more like reincarnations of flamboyant former Wild West outlaws: Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and the Dalton gang. In truth, thugs of the early thirties seldom had long to enjoy happy, carefree days as they squandered booty from banks or businesses. Rather than glamour and luxury, their lives are little more than aimless odysseys forced upon them by their attempts to keep moving and one step ahead of the law.

Kidnappings especially helped create the modern FBI. By 1930, some desperadoes had come to believe that kidnappings paid more than bank robbing, and as tales of massive ransoms spread through underworld grapevines, kidnappings became more frequent. The year of 1933 brought 27 major cases, more than twice the number in any previous year.

Reporting crimes and criminals of the early 1930s is difficult for several reasons. One is that, frequently, crimes occurred at the same time in different places involving different personnel. Moreover, henchmen might hook up with several gangs. Another reason was the flood of rumors and fiction that engulfed leaders and related major happenings. A third is the competition between criminals and law enforcers, including internecine rivalries among federal officials, state, and local police - rivalries which were spiced with bald intrusions by newspapers and radio reporters. From this kaleidoscope, writers in later periods can select only a few of the events and characters, omitting many and failing to include much supporting detail. Interested readers who want a fuller picture are encouraged to examine other histories or consult biographies of individuals who made the years between 1930 and 1934 so exciting.


Table of Contents
Preface Chapter 1. Wilbur Underhill, Tri-State Killer Chapter 2. The Barkers Chapter 3. Alvin "Creepy" Karpis Chapter 4. Charles A. "Pretty Boy" Floyd Chapter 5. Lester Gillis
Preface
Chapter 1. Wilbur Underhill, Tri-State Killer
Chapter 2. The Barkers
Chapter 3. Alvin "Creepy" Karpis
Chapter 4. Charles A. "Pretty Boy" Floyd
Chapter 5. Lester Gillis, "Baby Face" Nelson
Chapter 6. Buck and Blanche Barrow
Chapter 7. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker
Chapter 8. Clyde’s Rap Sheet
Chapter 9. Iowa Mayhem
Chapter 10. Requiem for Bonnie and Clyde
Chapter 11. John Herbert Dillinger: Early Years
Chapter 12. Crown Point Melodrama
Chapter 13. Dillinger Raids
Chapter 14. Little Bohemia
Chapter 15. Movie Night
Acknowledgements
Bibliography

Categories

Pages 180
Year: 2015
BISAC: HIS036060 HISTORY / United States / 20th Century
BISAC: TRU000000 TRUE CRIME / General
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-1-62894-138-8
Price: USD 19.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-1-62894-139-5
Price: USD 29.95
eBook
ISBN: 978-1-62894-140-1
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