Kate "Ma" Barker was born Arizona Donnie Clark on October 8, 1873. She was the mother of several criminals who ran the Barker-Karpis gang during the Great Depression "public enemy era", when the exploits of gangs of criminals in the U.S. Midwest gripped the American people and press.
George and Arizona "Ma" had four boys named Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred. Although "Ma" did not commit the crimes herself, she encouraged her sons in their criminal activities and did everything she could to protect her boys and to keep them out of jail.
Herman Barker committed suicide in 1927 by shooting himself after a long gun battle with police.
After being paroled from prison, "Ma" Barker's sons, Doc and Fred, together with Alvin Karpis, formed the Barker-Karpis Gang and spent the years between 1931 and 1935 committing scores of crimes including robberies, kidnappings, and murder. The popular portrayal of her as the gang's leader and its criminal mastermind has been found to be fictitious.
Alvin Karpis, the gang's second most notorious member, 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?"
This view of Ma Barker is corroborated by notorious bank robber Harvey Bailey, who knew the Barkers well. He observed in his autobiography that Ma Barker "couldn't plan breakfast" let alone a criminal enterprise.
FBI Agents discovered the hideout of Ma Barker and her son, Fred, after Arthur "Doc" Barker was arrested in Chicago on January 8, 1935. A map found in his possession indicated that the other gang members were in Ocklawaha, Florida. Agents surrounded the house on the morning of January 16, 1935. Ordered to surrender, Fred opened fire; both he and his mother were killed by federal agents after an intense, hours-long gun-battle.