Criminals and Folk Heroes: Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s

Criminals and Folk Heroes: Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s

Criminals and Folk Heroes: Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s

Criminals and Folk Heroes: Gangsters and the FBI in the 1930s

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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.

The first five years of the third decade were noteworthy for several reasons. One significant change that occurred was emergence of cooperation among local, state, and federal police. Prior years had seen no coordination, and rivalries among the three entities made it easier for felons to escape capture. Citizens regarded robberies as affairs of the community and were to be handled by persons elected locally. State police were under-funded and relegated to such duties as licensing, traffic control, and monitoring public events. Adding to the cauldron of confusion was blatant corruption of police forces in several important cities in the Midwest. Through briberies and pay-offs, such amoral individuals made bank robberies and subsequent escapes easier.

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