The villainous deeds of Kate ‘Ma’ Barker and her violent sons are probably known to more people around the word due to the Roger Corman movie ‘Bloody Mama’ and the 1977 hit song ‘Ma Baker’ by popsters Boney M.
However, the dance floor ditty failed to recount the extent of the crimes perpetrated by her and the four gun-toting sons in an era that also witnessed the height of gangster crime with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger. It is claimed that Ma Barker, who never actually murdered anyone, was used as a scapegoat by the notorious J Edgar Hoover and, as a consequence, was shot and killed by FBI agents on his instruction.
Ma Barker was born in the Ozark Mountains near Springfield in 1872. From an early age she was familiar with crime, particularly as one of her greatest thrills was seeing the outlaw Jesse James as he rode past her. She was devastated when he was shot and killed in 1882.
Ma’s upbringing could be termed ‘trailer trash’ today as her folks and neighbours were well versed in outlaw mentality and survival at its most basic in what was then the Wild West.
Kate, as she was known then, never a beauty and leaning towards the plump side, married farm labourer George Barker. They had four sons who were to make up one of the most notorious crime families, the Barker-Karpis Gang.
Ma’s own contribution to the gang’s infamous robberies and kidnappings has never been documented with accuracy. Many believe she simply acted as a motherly support to her villainous sons and travelled around the country with them. There is no evidence that she actually killed anyone herself.
There were four boys, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur ‘Doc’and Freddie, the baby of the quartet and Ma’s favourite. The family lived in an impoverished tar-paper shack in Missouri and from an early age the Barker boys began to cultivate their criminal careers, becoming known to the local police. Ma would often use her acting skills by playing the distraught mother in order to get her sons out of jail.
The bond between mother and sons was extremely strong and no doubt Ma wore the trousers in the family and was the greatest influence on her boys. By 1927, a somewhat emasculated husband George Barker, left the family home feeling that he had no authority over his own offspring.