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In the kidnapping and trial of George Urschel, the victim went on to identify the hideout where he was held captive. He testified at the trial of his accused captors. In an era before victim's rights, Urschel embodied strength and character - the very qualities lacking in his kidnappers.

The trial of George "Machine Gun" Kelly and his wife, Kathryn, and their co-conspirators, was historically significant. The Urschel kidnappers served life prison terms, due to the imposition of the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932, otherwise known as The Lindbergh Act. It subjected kidnappers to life imprisonment. Kathryn Kelly stands out.

Unlike Ma Barker and Bonnie Parker, she did not die in a hail of bullets, nor did she do a short stretch. Kathryn Kelly was sentenced to life imprisonment,along with her mother, Ora Shannon. Together, these two women served 25 years of this sentence. In the federal courtroom in Oklahoma City in 1933, Kathryn got all the attention. She appeared in fashionable dresses, hats and shoes.

With her photogenic features perfectly poised, photographers couldn't get enough of her.

Photo-hungry journalists even snapped Kathryn Kelly in prison garb. As she began to pay for her crime, public opinion went against her. Starting with E.E. Kirpatrick, Urschel's friend who delivered the ransom, who authored "Crimes' Paradise," a book about the trial -- the blame for the kidnap plot went to Kathryn. It took its form in accusations: she was a manipulator, a murderess (a charge that has never been substantiated), an instigator of a ring of kidnappers (men like Bailey and Bates, with long criminal histories); a dragon-lady responsible for the downfall of George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

One of the myths that has sprung up about Kathryn Kelly refers to the mysterious death of her first husband, Charles Thorne. She is said to have shot Thorne, and left a "suicide" letter that said, "I cannot live with her or without her." For all the hype, there is no trace of this letter today, nor has one ever surfaced. This myth, of murderess and cunning writer of a forged suicide note, influenced the charges presented against her during the Urschel trial.

In the Oklahoma City federal courtroom on kidnapping charges, Kathryn was again accused of writing letters. This time, the letters were kidnap ransom notes. Through her attorney, she was not able to dispute this claim. Her 1958 appeal charged that the prosecution suppressed evidence challenging and vindicating Kathryn as the writer of the Urschel ransom letters. It was this argument that resulted in Kathryn's appeal and release from prison in 1958.

Kathryn Kelly was the editor of The Terminal Island Gull, an inmate publication, in December 1940. She wrote, "We realize that every "feminine fluff" beneath our roof carries within her heart a full quota of loneliness, grief and mental suffering.

None of us like to do "time." It isn't play, it is sapping one's very life blood drop by drop. It is seeing 365 days filled with golden opportunities slipping away year by year, each day gone forever from the span of life. The drabness, the necessary discipline attached to an institution pulls at the vital organs of living 24 hours each day. The Government can never fashion from steel and stone a prison that will mean home to any of its inhabitants."


3-18-04 Kathryn Kelly Thorne was born Cleo May Brooks

7-33-33 Charles Urschel kidnapped and held for $200,000 ransom

8-12-33 House of Boss Shannon in Paradise, Texas, raided; alleged accomplice Albert Bates arrested

9-26-33 George "Machine Gun" Kelly Barnes and "Kathryn" Kelly arrested

10-18-33 The Kellys sentenced to life imprisonment

6-16-58 Kathryn Kelly released on bond pending appeal with Ora Shannon

5-21-80 Ora Shannon died

5-28-85 Kathryn died

This page is dedicated to the memory of the late Linda Scott,
a biographer of Kathryn Kelly.

Recommended reading
"Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand," by Stanley Hamilton,
University Press of Kansas, 2003

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