Kathryn and “Machine Gun” Kelly
Kathryn Kelly made a career out of crime. With a lust for danger, she masterminded crimes that took Kathryn, her husband and others, who included her own mother and stepfather, on a spree across Minnesota, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas. Starting off with small crimes including bootlegging and smuggling liquor onto an Oklahoma Indian reservation and other petty crimes, she got her husband, George Barnes aka George Kelly, to move up to more serious criminal activity, eventually escalating into bank robberies, kidnapping and extortion.
Kathryn was given the same birth name as Cleo Epps, queen of the Tulsa bootleggers, she who was pitched into the dank darkness of a west-side cistern after asking why she had to die. Cleo Mae Brooks didn’t like that name and became Kathryn in eighth grade to seem more elegant.
And eventually, it worked.
But she started small in 1904 near Saltillo, Mississippi, eight years before Elvis Presley’s mother was born there. After becoming Kathryn, she married at fifteen, divorced after her daughter Pauline was born and moved with her parents, James and Ora (Coleman) Brooks, from Mississippi to Oklahoma, where she was briefly married again.
Kathryn’s mother Ora divorced Brooks, married Robert G. “Boss” Shannon, and moved with Kathryn and Pauline to his place near Palestine, Texas, north of Fort Worth. He was in the hospitality business, catering to gangsters; his rate was fifty dollars a night.
Kathryn’s ticket out of that stark, weather-beaten farmhouse was her third marriage; this time the groom was Texas bootlegger Charlie Thorne.