Born August 10, 1907, in Montreal, Alvin Francis Karpis was raised by Lithuanian parents in Kansas. By the age of ten, he was already blazing his path. While observing the shady works of pimps and conmen, Karpis learned from the best. After a ten year stint in the State Industrial Reformatory in Hutchinson, Kansas, Karpis escaped and embarked on a crime spree that ended in Kansas City, Missouri, returning him to prison to complete his term. While doing his time at the Kansas State Penitentiary, he fell in with Fred Barker of the notorious Barker Gang. This union formed one of the most intimidating gangs in history, the Karpis-Barker Gang.
On December 19, 1931, Karpis and Barker murdered Sheriff C. Roy Kelley in West Plains, Missouri. Soon after, the gang fled to Minnesota. In 1933, they kidnapped William Hamm, a wealthy brewer from Minnesota. This netted the gang $100,000, which provoked them to kidnap again, this time Mr. Edward Bremer, a St. Paul banker, which resulted in a $200,000 payout. This proved to be the gangs undoing, however, as Bremer had friends in high places. Bremer was friends with none other than President Roosevelt, who ordered a rigorous investigation. The FBI formed a task force of highly trained individuals with experience in gang activity. This task force called the “flying squads” resulted in the capture of several elusive gangsters, including Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson.
After the FBI shootout with Fred Barker and his mother on January 16, 1935, Alvin Karpis narrowly escaped the clutches of death. Having been located in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Karpis was nearly killed in a shootout with the FBI. His girlfriend, Dolores Delaney, was shot in the thigh while heavily pregnant. Their son was born healthy and raised by Karpis’ parents.
During this harrowing time in history, the FBI began to take shape with leadership from its new head, J. Edgar Hoover. Far from perfect, the agency had growing pains but during that time was diligent in reducing gangland crime. Hoover took the capture of Karpis personally and vowed to arrest him.
On May 2, 1936, Karpis was discovered hiding out in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hoover was present at the arrest, while there is controversy regarding if Hoover himself actually made the arrest himself.
After pleading guilty to the Bremer abduction, Karpis was sentenced to life in prison at the newly constructed Alcatraz. There he spent his time from August 1946 to April 1962. He worked as a baker while maintaining his prior gangster attributes. He was frequently punished for fighting. During his later years at the prison, he became friends with Charles Manson.
In 1969, Karpis was paroled. He had served “the longest sentence of any prisoner at Alcatraz: 26 years.” He was deported to Canada, where he had issues claiming residency due to the fact that he had commissioned Dr. Joseph Moran to remove his fingerprints in 1934. He ultimately ended up back in Montreal.
After publishing his memoir in 1971, Karpis toured Canada promoting his book for years. He moved to Spain in 1973 where he lived quietly until his mysterious death on August 26, 1979. It was at first ruled a suicide when pills were found next to him, but the death was later ruled natural after a short investigation.
Alvin “Creepy” Karpis began his criminal career early and he lived a long life of crime. Following his death there was no autopsy, and he was buried in Spain.
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