Bank Robbers of the Great Depression in the 1930s
Such was the fame of Depression-era bandits that they remain subjects of movies and books to this day. At a time when the average Joe was struggling to pay for basic necessities, outlaws were taking what they couldn't get honestly. For most of the 1930s, Public Enemy Number One was usually a bank robber.
1 An Infamous Gang
The Dillinger Gang consisted of an infamous bunch of outlaws that, besides John Dillinger, at various times included Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter and John "Red" Hamilton. Starting in the summer of 1933, they stole about $300,000 from banks in five states across the Midwest. Dillinger quickly found himself at the top of the FBI's Public Enemies, with the rest of his gang making up most of the remaining top 10. He met his death at the hands of FBI gunmen outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago in 1934.
2 A Notorious Partnership
Starting in 1932, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow committed a string of bank, gas station and convenience store robberies from Louisiana to as far west as New Mexico. They also killed several people along the way, including civilians and law enforcement officers. Famous for being photographed together and appearing in newspapers, their pictures also ended up on most-wanted posters across the country. The FBI finally caught up with them in 1934. They were each shot to death in their car as they drove a country lane to Sailes, Louisiana.
3 Siblings in Crime
Fred and Arthur "Dock" Barker were brothers who banded together with Alvin "Creepy" Karpis to rob banks during the Great Depression. Their mother, known as Ma Barker, gained a reputation as the ring leader, though it's unclear whether she actually played a role in the family business. Based in Oklahoma, the Barker-Karpis Gang not only robbed banks, but they murdered and kidnapped, quickly catching the attention of the FBI. Dock was arrested in 1935 and sent to Alcatraz where he was eventually shot trying to escape; his brother Freddie and their mother died after a four-hour shootout with the FBI in Florida that same year.
4 Folk Hero
Charles Arthur Floyd, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd, made a name for himself as a bank robber in Oklahoma and the Midwest. His name conjured the ideals of Robin Hood to ordinary people suffering through the Great Depression. To them, he was a folk hero; to the FBI, he was Public Enemy Number One. He robbed over 30 banks, most of them in Ohio and Oklahoma. Though implicated in a string of murders he did not commit, Floyd was guilty of shooting a bounty hunter who tried to capture him. FBI agents and local police officers shot and killed Floyd in 1934 near East Liverpool, Ohio. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral.
- 1 University Libraries: Ball State: Cardinal Scholar: Public Enemies: Robberies of the Dillinger Gang
- 2 Encyclopedia Britannica: Baby Face Nelson
- 3 Federal Bureau of Investigation: Famous Cases and Criminals: Bonnie and Clyde
- 4 Encyclopedia of the Great Plains: Bonnie and Clyde
- 5 Oklahoma State University: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture: Barker Gang
- 6 Oklahoma State University: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture: Floyd, Charles Arthur