Monday, July 13, 2009

More From San Fran

C.S. happened to take a photo of San Quentin as the ferry passed by, but didn't snap Alcatraz. I had just heard something about one of Alcatraz's residents that same day. I go weeks and months, years even, without thinking about Machine Gun Kelly, and then all of a sudden, twice in one day!

Until recently, everything I knew about Machine Gun Kelly was contained in the James Taylor song of the same name. Turns out that info is pretty accurate. Now, with a little bump from something I heard on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (but can't find now!), I also know that Kelly may have been the first criminal with a marketing campaign. Turns out his wife Kathryn came up with the "Machine Gun" nickname, encouraged him to start using a machine gun, and promoted his mystique by talking it up and giving away used bullet cartridges. She also pushed him into bigger, more ambitious crimes, when small-time bootlegging was really a better career choice for him.

Kidnapping a wealthy businessman turned out to be Kelly's downfall and landed him in Leavenworth and eventually Alcatraz. Despite his fearsome reputation, it doesn't sound like Kelly was very scary in person. He certainly didn't scare his victim much. Even while blindfolded, the victim managed to memorize a lot of ambient sounds, count and remember the number of footsteps from one room to another in the hideout, and leave his fingerprints everywhere. This was all quite helpful to the FBI and entitled Kelly to a lifetime of free room and board after he was apprehended.

Lots of lessons to be drawn here. Crime doesn't pay. Don't get mixed up with the wrong women. Marketing isn't always the truth. And on smaller scale: Never kidnap anyone smarter than you.

Words to live by, indeed.


  1. I will try in future to only kidnap people who are stupider than me. Thank you so much for that life lesson!


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