George Celino Barnes (July 18, 1895 – July 18, 1954), better known as “Machine Gun Kelly”, was an American gangster during the Prohibition era. His nickname came from his favorite weapon, a Thompson submachine gun.

Kelly’s most famous crime was the kidnapping of oil tycoon and businessman Charles F. Urschel in July 1933 – for which he, and his gang, collected a $200,000 ransom. His crimes also included bootlegging and armed robbery.

Kelly was played by Charles Bronson in the 1958 film “Machine-Gun Kelly”.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s Hollywood.

This is history:

Kelly’s Early Life

George Celino Barnes was born on July 18, 1895, to a wealthy family living in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kelly’s early years as a child were essentially uneventful, and his family raised him in a traditional household.

His first sign of trouble began when he enrolled at Mississippi State University to study agriculture in 1917.

From the beginning, Kelly was considered a poor student with his highest grade (a C plus) awarded for good physical hygiene. He was constantly in trouble with the faculty and spent much of his academic career attempting to work off the demerits he had earned.

It was during this time that Kelly met a young woman by the name of Geneva Ramsey. Kelly fell in love with Geneva, and made an abrupt decision to quit school and marry.

Kelly fathered two children with Geneva, and to make ends meet, took a job as a cab driver in Memphis. He worked long hours with little reward. Kelly and Geneva were struggling financially.

Distressed and broke, Kelly left his job with the cab company to seek other avenues to make ends meet. The strain proved to be overwhelming and at 19 years old, he found himself without steady work and separated from his wife.

It was about this time that Kelly took up with a small time gangster, and started a new venture as a bootlegger.

Criminal Enterprise

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s, Kelly worked as a bootlegger for himself, and his new colleague.

Kelly began to enjoy the financial rewards of his new trade – along with the notoriety.

With new success came the complexities of working in the underground.

After being arrested on several occasions for illegal trafficking, Kelly decided to leave Memphis along with a new girlfriend and head west.

To protect his influential family’s reputation (and to escape law enforcement officers), Barnes changed his name to George R. Kelly.

Kelly continued to commit smaller crimes, and bootlegging.

He was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for smuggling liquor onto an Indian Reservation in 1928, and sentenced to three years in Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, beginning February 11, 1928.

Kelly was reportedly a model inmate, and was released early.

Shortly thereafter, he married Kathryn Thorne, who purchased Kelly’s first machine gun, and also went to great lengths to make her husband’s name known in underground criminal circles. Kathryn allegedly helped to plot some of Kelly’s smaller bank robberies.

The Urschel Kidnapping

In July 1933, Kelly kidnapped a wealthy Oklahoma City resident, Charles F. Urschel, and his friend Walter R. Jarrett.

It was to prove a costly move.

Urschel – an intelligent and observant man – made note of his experiences (despite having been blindfolded), including remembering background sounds, counting footsteps, and leaving fingerprints on surfaces within his reach.

This proved invaluable to the FBI in their subsequent investigation, as they concluded that Urschel had been held in Paradise, Texas, based on sounds that Urschel remembered hearing while he was being held hostage.

An investigation conducted in Memphis concluded that the Kellys were living at the residence of J.C. Tichenor, at 1408 Rayner Street.

Special agents from Birmingham, Alabama were immediately dispatched to Memphis, where, in the early morning hours of September 26, 1933, a raid was conducted.

George and Kathryn Kelly were taken into custody by FBI agents and Memphis police.

Caught without a weapon, George Kelly allegedly cried, “Don’t shoot, G-Men! Don’t shoot, G-Men!” as he surrendered to FBI agents. The term – which had previously applied to all federal investigators – became synonymous with FBI agents.

The couple was immediately removed to Oklahoma City.

The arrest of the Kellys was overshadowed by the escape of ten inmates, including all of the members of the future Dillinger gang, from the penitentiary in Michigan City, Indiana that same night.


Investigation at Coleman, Texas disclosed that the Kellys had been housed and protected by Cassey Earl Coleman and Will Casey – and that Coleman had assisted George Kelly in storing $73,250 of the Urschel ransom money on his ranch. This money was located by Bureau agents in the early morning hours of September 27, in a cotton patch on Coleman’s ranch.

Coleman and Casey were indicted in Dallas, Texas on October 4, 1933, charged with harboring a fugitive, and conspiracy.

On October 17, 1933, Coleman (after entering a plea of guilty) was sentenced to serve one year and one day, and Casey (after trial and conviction) was sentenced to serve two years in the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

On October 12 1933, George and Kathryn Kelly were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial was held at the Post Office, Courthouse and Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

Kathryn Kelly eventually had all charges dropped, and was released from prison in Cincinnati in 1958.


The kidnapping of Urschel and the two trials that resulted were historic in several ways.

They were the first federal criminal trials in the United States in which moving cameras were allowed to film, and the first kidnapping trials after the passage of the so-called Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal crime.

The kidnapping was also the first major case solved by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and the first prosecution in which defendants were transported by airplane.

End of the Line

Machine Gun Kelly spent his remaining 22 years in prison.

During his time at Alcatraz he got the nickname “Pop Gun Kelly”. This was in reference (according to a former inmate) to the fact that Kelly was a model prisoner, and was nowhere near the tough, brutal gangster his wife made him out to be.

Kelly spent 17 years on Alcatraz Island, working in the prison industries, and was quietly transferred back to Leavenworth in 1951.

He died of a heart attack at Leavenworth on July 18, 1954 – his 59th birthday.

Kelly is buried at Cottondale Texas Cemetery, with a small headstone marked “George B. Kelly 1954”.

It’s the end of the line, for this one, too.

Hope you’ll join me, for the next story.

Till then.