Episode 5 // Prohibition Murderers: The Karpis/Barker Gang

From journalist Amber Hunt and the Obsessed Network


(Fred Barker, Ma Barker, and Arthur Barker)

Thanks to Prohibition, criminal gangs were a dime a dozen in the 1920s and '30s, but the Karpis/Barker Gang became one of the era's longest lived, highest profile, and most consequential. During the Depression, their exploits not only burnished the reputation of the FBI and its director J. Edgar Hoover, but also inadvertently triggered the end to rampant corruption in St. Paul Minnesota.

While its body count was hefty -- and included lawmen like a sheriff gunned down in cold blood -- its enduring reputation hinges on its supposed matriarch, Ma Barker, who would go on to be depicted in movies and TV shows as a gun-toting criminal mastermind. There's no question three of her sons, and plenty of their friends, were stone-cold killers, but was Ma really pulling all the strings?


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