George Kelly Barnes, better known as “Machine Gun” Kelly was a notorious Prohibition-era criminal, whose crimes included bootlegging, armed robbery, and, most prominently, kidnapping. He spent some time in Alcatraz Prison in California before dying of a heart attack at Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas on July 18, 1954.
George Kelly Barnes was born on July 18, 1895, in Memphis, Tennessee to insurance executive George Frederick Barnes Jr. and Elizabeth Kelly Barnes. He was raised in a respectable neighborhood and attended Central High School. In September 1917, he enrolled at Mississippi A&M (later Mississippi State University), at Jackson, to study agriculture. However, he was a poor student and was in constant trouble with the faculty. In his first semester alone, he was given 31 demerits and in the first few weeks of the second semester, was given another 24 demerits. He left college on January 27, 1918. While he was in college he met Geneva Ramsey, also of Memphis and the two married in 1919. Afterward, he went to work as a taxi driver and the couple had two children. His wife soon divorced him and would later say that she divorced him “because he was running in bad company.” In fact, she had to advertise notice to get a divorce because she didn’t know where to reach him.