Ocklawaha, Florida — On Thursday, the house of infamous gangster Arizona Donnie Barker, better known as ‘Ma’ Barker, slowly made its way across Lake Weir by barge.
Dozens of people came to watch the historic, once in a lifetime event.
Arizona, the mother of those who ran the Barker-Karpis gang, along with her son Fred Barker, were killed in a shootout with FBI agents on January 16, 1935.
According to historians, J. Edgar Hoover once described ‘Ma’ as “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of [that] decade.”
In the midst their crime spree, the Barker-Karpis gang was nearly captured in 1932 in St. Paul, Minnesota. However, the gang had the protection of local police chief, Thomas Brown. When a resident of the town recognized the gang and called police, the chief quickly tipped off the gangsters and they eluded capture. The chief was later demoted, and then fired.
Between 1930 and 1933 the gang had stolen nearly 3 million dollars during various robberies, but their greed is what sealed their fate.
In 1933 Barker-Karpis gang kidnapped wealthy businessman, William Humm. They collected $100,000 in ransom from that kidnapping.
Due to the fact that the kidnapping went smoothly, the gang kidnapped a second wealthy business man named Edward Bremer, in which they successfully collected $200,000 in ransom.
In 1935, Ma’s son Author Barker was arrested in Chicago. During his arrest, FBI agents found a map that led them to the location in Ocklawaha.
At that time, FBI agents said that “Gator Joe” was mentioned on the map, and that is how they located the house.
Soon after, FBI agents surrounded the ‘Ma’ Barker house. Most of the gang members had left three days earlier. Only ‘Ma’ and her son Fred had stayed behind.
FBI agents said that Fred fired the first shot, which led to the shootout. The house was riddled with hundreds of bullets.
After the shooting, FBI agents were too scared to go into the house. Instead, FBI agents ordered a local handyman to enter the house. After fitting the man with a bulletproof vest, he entered the house and confirmed that there were two dead bodies inside.
The FBI alleged that ‘Ma’ died with a Tommy gun in her hand; however, it was later stated that the gun was between she and her son’s body.
It was later speculated that the FBI made up the story about ‘Ma’ actually having participated in the shootout to cover up the fact they had killed an unarmed old lady.
According to the FBI, the gang’s second most notorious member, Alvin Karpis, later said that:
“The most ridiculous story in the annals of crime is that Ma Barker was the mastermind behind the Karpis-Barker gang… She wasn’t a leader of criminals or even a criminal herself. There is not one police photograph of her or set of fingerprints taken while she was alive … she knew we were criminals but her participation in our careers was limited to one function: when we traveled together, we moved as a mother and her sons. What could look more innocent?”
He blamed Hoover and federal agents for demonizing ‘Ma’. (FBI file)
Plans for the house
For preservation reasons, the historic home was relocated to the Carney Island Recreation and Conservation area, located at 13275 Southeast 115th Avenue, Ocklawaha.
Once situated on Carney Island, the county will begin its plan to restore and preserve the house as a public museum.
Read the 126 page FBI file here.