Whooda thought Depression-era gangster George “Machine Gun” Kelly had connections with Northeast Mississippi.
Oxford novelist Ace Atkins knows well.
He’s recently completed his eighth tome, this one “Infamous” about Kelly, the time he robbed The Citizens Bank here and about his wife Cleo/Kathryn, born in Saltillo.
Ace just shipped his manuscript, but he’s still got his creative juices flowing for the research and has taken a special interest in Mrs. Kelly.
He wants to know of anybody around here knows anything about her.
Before Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger came to prominence, Machine Gun was the man. He hailed from Memphis and actually attended Mississippi State for a semester before flunking out.
“He seems to be the only major criminal of his time to go to college,” Ace said.
He’s is full of tidbits about the pair.
The bank robbery occurred at 2:55 p.m. Nov. 28, 1932, at the Main Street building.
Homer Edgeworth was the chief teller, who emptied the drawers of $38,000 cash, $15,000 in negotiable bonds and $10,000 in travelers checks. The checks ultimately helped the FBI follow Kelly a year later.
When all was said and done, the bank had only a $2 bill left in its drawers. And four amazed customers, who witnessed the crime, felt grateful they were not robbed, too.
Kathryn Kelly, who met George in Texas, was born Cleo Brooks in Saltillo on March 18, 1904, the daughter of James Emery Brooks and Ora L. Brooks. At 15, she married a laborer named Lonnie Frye and they had a daughter, Pauline.
Kathryn’s parents split up, her mother married R.G. “Boss” Shannon and she moved to their farm in Paradise, Texas, which eventually became notorious when she and Machine Gun kidnapped an Oklahoma oil man and held him there for $200,000 ransom.
Ace says Kathryn is credited with giving George the nickname “Machine Gun.” She also is credited with coining the term “G-Men,” when she and George were arrested in September 1934 in Memphis.
Ultimately, George was caught and sent to Leavenworth Prison, where he died in 1954.
Kathryn and her mother also did hard time for their parts in the kidnapping and weren’t released until 1958.
That’s some story. It whets my appetite for the book.
It also makes me wish Tupelo could build a downtown event surrounding the crime on its anniversary date. What fun!
Anybody who knows anything about Kathryn – Cleo Brooks – Kelly should contact Ace at www.aceatkins.com.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal