Trivia: Gangster Kate “Ma” Barker’s $1 million digs

Kate "Ma" Barker

By Kate E. Stephenson

I have been researching this Kate for weeks, chomping at the bit to introduce you to this wiley woman; but the history books are tricky and the details seem to slip between my fingers. Luckily, an announcement in the New York Daily News made this week’s trivia a done deal.

As reported in the paper on Wednesday, August 22:

The Florida hideout where Depression-era gangster Ma Barker was killed in a hail of FBI bullets has hit the market for $1 million.

The lakefront Ocklawaha home was the site of one of the biggest shootouts in FBI history — and still has the bullet holes to prove it.

On Jan. 16, 1935, G-men took out Kate “Ma” Barker and one of her thug sons in a bloody, four-hour raid.

Barker, 61, branded America’s Public Enemy No. 1, ran the notorious Barker-Karpis gang, wanted for a four-year string of murders, robberies, kidnapping and other crimes across the South and Midwest.

Agents found her dead in a second-floor bedroom, still clutching her Thompson machine gun, according to local lore.

Born October 8, 1873, Ma Barker was the mother of four boys who came to be part of one of the most notorious gangs of the early 20th Century—the Barker-Karpis Gang. Eventually she and her sons came to such notoriety that led to the above bloodbath through the efforts J. Edgar Hoover and the burgeoning Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While even the Daily News reports Ma Barker as the brains of the Barker boys brazen criminal escapades, many sources (including those of the criminals she fostered) indicate that she was, while not innocent, a bystander. Kate Barker’s role in the criminality of her sons and their associates was said to be more of a motherly protector than a bloodthirsty kingpin. Her door was always open to the wounded or those in need of a safe place to lay their head, but apparently the buck stopped there.

But there is something about a woman who earns the nickname Kate that leads me to believe that no one is quite telling the whole story.

According to Wikipedia, Ma Barker was born Arizona Donnie Clark, and so far I haven’t found telling of how she came to be known as Kate. But we Kates know that the name doesn’t come from feeding bad boys cookies and milk. Of those not born to the name, experience has proven that Kate is a name of honor. So there must be more to this story… and this cat—eehm, I mean Kate—is seriously curious. So there will be more on this bit in the not so far future. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, would you pay $1,000,000 for a house with bullet holes circa 1935? How much is a bit of Kate Americana worth to you?

Ma Barker's Lakeside Home

Trivia runs on every Monday at 10:30am. It is written by the insanely knowledgeable Kate E. Stephenson. Read much more about Kate here, and follow her on Twitter @kempsconsulting.

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3 thoughts on “Trivia: Gangster Kate “Ma” Barker’s $1 million digs

  1. Kate Torgovnick says:

    So thoroughly fascinating. Very curious to hear how she got from Arizona Donnie Clark to Kate Barker.

  2. Kaitertot says:

    She reminds me of the mom and sons from The Goonies!

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