Subject: "public enemy" outlaw
Culture: Depression-era Anglo-American
Setting: Great Depression / Dust Bowl, America 1930s
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Ellis 1975 p157
"[T]he next crime wave that really caught the public imagination was the outbreak of bank robberies, kidnappings and gun battles that flared across the mid-West of America in the 1930s. To some extent the violence was attributable to the poverty and desperation occasioned by the Depression, and certainly for many poor people living in the area at the time the bandits' exploits made them into Robin Hood figures. They were indeed rather akin to latter-day 'western' heroes. At that time all police forces in America were tied within their state boundaries, and the new-style bank robbers used fast automobiles, instead of the traditional horse, to make their getaway from one state to another. Many now notorious names were involved: John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, 'Baby Face' Nelson, 'Pretty Boy' Floyd, 'Machine Gun' Kelly and 'Ma' Barker. The story of their exploits is punctuated with the fire of 'tommy guns'."
* Wallace 2003 p9-10
"[H]ardly had the smoke cleared from the gun battles of the 1920s when a new breed of misanthrope stepped into the existing socioeconomic climate. These were not the pseudo-business types possessed of the boardroom brilliance of Capone, Accardo or Luciano. Most were the ill-educated sons (and daughters) of farmers and hillbillies. Unlike their big-city counterparts, these criminals had not honed their skills through youthful (yet profitable) extortion and protection rackets. Rather, they embarked on their lawless pursuits with reckless abandon, taking their cue from the outlaws of the Old West. "With the Depression at its height, these back-road bandits, driven by hunger and desperation, set out on robbery and kidnapping sprees that saw them emerge from the plains of Indiana, the dust bowl of Oklahoma, the hills of the Ozarks, and the open fields of Texas. They moved swiftly and hit without mercy. In 1933, the country recorded 12,000 murders, 50,000 robberies and 3000 kidnappings."
* Toland 1963 p36-37
"Even bootlegging suffered from the Depression. Moreover, since it was also evident that President Roosevelt would soon be able to effect the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, many criminals were already turning to other fields. Bank robbery was becoming so commonplace that some communities formed their own vigilante committees, and kidnaping [SIC], inspired by the still unsolved kidnap-murder of the Lindbergh baby, was increasing at an alarming rate.
"Significantly, as repeal drew near and the Depression deepened, there appeared -- especially in the cities and towns of the Midwest -- a different type of criminal. These were men who, unlike Capone, actively participated in robberies and kidnapings [SIC]. Theirs was a philosophy of personal action. Some were even descendants of the outlaws from the Ozarks and Cookson Hills: the James brothers, the Youngers. Almost all were native-born Americans.
"Instead of horses, these modern bandits used fast cars and the intricate system of highways was their escape route This was crime based on the earlier frontier pattern of strike and run. Armed with machine guns, these new prototypes of the old outlaw breed operated openly, insolently. They could rob a federal bank, gun down the tellers, and flee to the next state for sanctuary.
"They shuttled between distant cities like commuters. Local police were helpless. They had few machine guns; their cars were old and often broke down during pursuit; they were undermanned and underpaid, often even having to but their own guns and provide their own transportation. In addition, police chiefs were frequently changed by new political administrations at the cost of efficiency and morale."
* Wallace 2003 p10
"They truly were modern-day cowboys, although advanced in the tools of their trade. Thompson submachine guns capable of dispensing 550 slugs a minute replaced the Winchester rifle."