Ma Barker: America’s Most Wanted Mother
Theft. Kidnapping. Murder. These were the three avenues the Barker-Karpis Gang took to fame, wealth, and, eventually, self-destruction — and all under the auspices of one of the criminal world’s most infamous bosses: Ma Barker. The matriarch of the Barker family comes to life in this chronicle of her family’s brief but brutal run through the Midwest.
Ma Barker opens with their most ambitious crime — a masterfully executed kidnapping — and then rewinds, sharing the story of Kate Barker, her failed marriage, and her devoted boys. There are even cameos by other criminals with similarly lofty reputations, like John Dillinger and “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
The storytelling is at times disjointed, with facts presented, left behind, then re-presented pages later in greater detail, causing the reader to lose context. The book bounces around between the Barker boys and their various crimes, making it fairly difficult to piece together a full timeline of events, especially when the book gets around to the deaths of some of the boys.
Although Ma Barker is rich in information, photographs, and history, you’ll wish the narrative had a bit more flow.
Chris Enss • Howard Kazanjian