George Celino Barnes was born on July 18, 1895. Better known as "Machine Gun Kelly", he was an American gangster during the prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun.
He began his life of crime at the age of 19 when, unable to support his wife and children, took up with a small time gangster and started a new venture as a bootlegger. The marriage failed under the stress.
After being arrested on several occasions for illegal trafficking, Kelly decided to leave Memphis along with a new girlfriend and head west. He adopted the new alias of George R. Kelly to help preserve the respect and name of his upstanding family back home. By 1927, Kelly had already started to earn his reputation in the underground world as a seasoned gangster, having weathered several arrests and serving various jail sentences. In 1928, he was caught smuggling liquor into an Indian Reservation and was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth Penitentiary.
Eventually, Kelly moved to Oklahoma City where he met Kathryn Thorne, a seasoned criminal in her own right. Thorne had come from a family of outlaws and had been arrested for various charges ranging from robbery to prostitution. Thorne was twice divorced and her second husband had been a bootlegger who had been found shot to death under suspicious circumstances.
Up until his relationship with Thorne, Kelly had been a relatively small time criminal. Kathryn purchased a machine gun for Kelly and pressured her husband to practice. Many historians (and fellow inmates of Kelly) believe that Kathryn was the creator of the "Machine Gun Kelly" image and became known as the mastermind behind several of the successful small bank robberies Kelly pulled off throughout Texas & Mississippi. In August of 1933, the FBI published Wanted Posters describing Kelly as an "Expert Machine Gunner" and created a public frenzy that would later place Kelly into the history books.
His most famous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles Urschel in July 1933 for which he, and his gang, earned $200,000 ransom. Unfortunately, their victim had collected and left considerable evidence that assisted the subsequent FBI investigation that eventually led to Kelly's arrest in Memphis, Tennessee on September 26, 1933. After their arrest, Kelly and Thorne were quickly flown to Oklahoma where they stood trial and both received life sentences. Eventually all of the accomplices were apprehended, and out of all of those involved, six were issued life sentences.
After bragging to prison officials at Leavenworth about his intent to escape, Kelly and two of his accomplices were transferred to Alcatraz.
Kelly was returned to Leavenworth in 1951 and died of a heart attack on July 18, 1954.