Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Kate "Ma" Barker

Kate "Ma" Barker (born Arizona Donnie Clark; October 8, 1873 – January 16, 1935) was the mother of several criminals who ran the Barker gang.

The Barker gang was responsible for a multitude of serious crimes and the death of at least 5 police officers. Ma Barker has been presented as a monstrous mother in films, songs and literature. J. Edgar Hoover described her as "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade".

Those who knew her insisted she had no criminal role.
Arizona Donnie Clark gave birth to four sons. The boys were named Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred. After the birth of Fred, George Barker left the family, though it may have been at the insistence of his wife. At some point, she began using the name Kate Barker. There is no question the "Ma" Barker brood was responsible for many crimes. Contrary to FBI reports she was never the ringleader of the gang.

Herman Barker

Arthur Barker
Herman Barker and his brothers Lloyd, Fred and Arthur were involved in crimes of increasing seriousness, including robbery and murder. Herman died on August 29, 1927 after a robbery and confrontation with police that left one officer dead. He shot the officer at point blank range in the mouth. He killed himself to avoid capture. In 1928, Lloyd Barker was incarcerated in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, Arthur Barker was in the Oklahoma State Prison, and Fred was in the Kansas State Prison.

From 1928 to 1931 Ma lived in "miserable poverty" in a "dirt-floor shack" with no husband and no job, while all her sons were in jail. This may have been when she became "loose" with local men, as the FBI suggested.

Fred Barker
Just before daybreak on January 16, 1935, an army of FBI agents arrived outside the two-story house where Barker and her son Fred were hiding out. A call for their surrender was met with no response. After a few moments, FBI Agent Earl Connelly yelled, "Unless you come on out, we're going to start shooting!"

"Go ahead" was the reply. What followed was the longest gunbattle the FBI was ever involved in; it lasted four hours and there are reports that at least 1500 rounds of ammunition were poured into the house.
Eventually "Ma" Barker and Fred were shot to death. Fred Barker was found dead in an upstairs bedroom with 14 bullet holes in his body. Ma Barker was found nearby, also dead. She had been shot three times.

It is said that Herbert Hoover personally authorized the disinformation campaign to defend the shooting of an innocent old woman by the FBI.

Lloyd William Barker
The popular image of her as the gang's leader and its criminal mastermind, portrayed in films such as Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960), Bloody Mama (1970) and Public Enemies (1996), is widely regarded by historians as fiction. The suggestion that she participated in the shoot-out in which she died has also been treated with skepticism.

Barker's sole surviving son, Lloyd, joined the US Army as a cook, received the US Army Good Conduct Medal and Honorable Discharge. On March 18, 1949 Lloyd Barker was killed by his wife who was later sent to Colorado State Insane Asylum.

Shelley Winters, as Ma Barker, in “Bloody Mama” (1970)