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Machine Gun Kelly

Memphis Police Department

George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes and his ties to the city of Memphis.

George Kelly Barnes was born in Memphis on July 18, 1885. He went to Idlewild Elementary and Central High School, living a comfortable and uneventful life. But when he went to Mississippi State University in 1917, his problems began.

His grades were terrible and he stayed in trouble with his teachers. He got married, had two children, dropped out of school, and got divorced. Things went from bad to worse. It was the era of prohibition and he found a career in bootlegging.

After a few run-ins with the Memphis police, he left town and changed his name to George R. Kelly. After he’d served a few years in Leavenworth, his new wife, Kathryn, bought him a machine gun. Using a new nickname, "Machine Gun Kelly," he became one of the country’s most notorious gangsters. It was a kidnapping in Oklahoma that finally did him in.

He’d gotten a huge ransom, and was hiding out back home in Memphis, when the FBI and local police tracked him down. In 1933, Kelly and his wife were sentenced to life in prison.

He died in jail, on his birthday, in 1954.

To learn more about all of our region's history, visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums.