Kate “Ma” Barker

October 8, 1873 – January 16, 2024

Kate "Ma" Barker was a legendary American criminal from the "public enemy era", when the exploits of gangs of criminals in the Midwest gripped the American people and press.  Her notoriety has since subsided, trailing behind Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger.

Though her children were undoubtedly criminals and their Barker-Karpis Gang committed a spree of robberies, kidnappings and other crimes between 1931 and 1935, it appears that the popular image of her as the gang's leader and its criminal mastermind is a myth.  The actual degree of Barker's own criminality is in doubt.  However, she did likely know of the gang's activities and helped them before and after they committed their crimes.  Her role was in taking care of gang members, who often sent her to the movies while they committed crimes.

She was shot dead when the FBI raided the cottage she was renting with her son Fred at Lake Weir in the Ocklawaha region of Florida on January 16, 1935.  It was Fred, who was also killed in the raid, that had been the Bureau's main target.  In the end, the Barker-Karpis gang and associates found justice:  18 arrested; 3 killed by lawmen; 2 killed by gangsters.