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November 2, 2016

American Outlaws & Criminals: 14 Notorious Female Gangsters in History You Wouldn't Want To Mess With

The world has been always been a scary place and the women on this list did nothing to make it better. These women are robbers, gang queens, fraudsters and much more. Men have generally dominated the world of crime, but not many have gripping stories like the women of the crime world. Below are 13 famous notorious female gangsters. These dames can kill with more than just their looks!

1. Bonnie Parker

Undoubtedly the most famous of the female American gangsters, Parker was half of the iconic crime duo Bonnie and Clyde. The two were notorious bank robbers in the "public enemy era" of 1931 to 1934, when the exploits of outlaws made them celebrities.

Parker was born in Rowena, Texas, where she earned a reputation for being smart and outspoken. She met Clyde Barrow in 1930. Though she was married, the two hit it off immediately. Apart from their robberies and killings, the legend of Bonnie and Clyde grew in part because of a photo shoot they did near their Joplin, Missouri hideout, images that still inspire re-imaginings of their lives. But those lives were cut short in a gruesome shootout with police in 1934. She was 23; he was 25.

2. Ma Barker

Don't let the nickname of this godmother of crime throw you. Arizona Donnie Barker (aka Kate Barker) was considered a merciless matriarch. At 19, Arizona Clark married George Barker and the two went on to have four sons: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred. But the Barkers weren't just a family; they were a crime family, pulling off highway robberies as early as 1910.

These heists led to murder, and soon captivated the press and public of the Midwest. But fate took a turn for the Barkers in 1927, when Herman committed suicide to avoid arrest. Shortly thereafter, the other three sons ended up in jail. Arizona faced some lean years, but she reunited with Fred upon his release in 1931, spurring a new crime spree that led to her death and his.

Both were killed when the FBI stormed her hideout in Lake Weir, Florida on January 8, 1935. Posthumously, her role in the Barker gang has been the matter of debate. Those close to the family insisted she could have played no active role in the criminal dealings of her sons, but J. Edgar Hoover called her "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade."

3. Mary Surratt

Mary Surratt ran a tavern with her husband in Maryland, where they welcomed Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. When her husband died, Surratt moved to Washington, D.C., and opened a boardinghouse. The boardinghouse became a meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators. Surratt herself became entangled in the plot to kill U.S. Pres. Abraham Lincoln. She is thought to have been in regular conversation with Booth about his plans and assisted in concealing the weapons used for the murder at her tavern in Maryland. She was tried and found guilty of conspiracy and became the first woman to be sentenced to death by the United States. She was hanged with the other conspirators on July 7, 1865.

4. Belle Starr

Born in 1848, Belle Starr was known as an infamous outlaw in the Wild West—the western edge of the expanding United States in the second half of the 1800s. She associated with famous outlaws, like Frank and Jesse James, and was arrested several times. In recent years, however, historians have gathered data that suggests that she committed far fewer criminal acts than her legend would suggest, with the men in her life being the main purveyors of illicit acts. Belle Starr was killed in 1889, with her murderer having never been brought to justice.

5. Stephanie St. Clair

She was called "Queenie" in much of Manhattan, but in her Harlem home she was known only as Madame St. Clair. An immigrant of French and African descent, St. Clair set up her numbers bank ten years after moving to the U.S. and became fiercely protective of her neighborhood. She testified against corrupt cops, getting them fired from the force. Even more impressive, she thwarted the invasion of downtown mobsters once the end of Prohibition sent them uptown in search of new revenue.

With the help of her chief enforcer Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson and an alliance with Lucky Luciano, Madame St. Clair kept the likes of Dutch Schultz out of Harlem. She later gloated when Schultz lay dying from a gunshot wound, sending a note to his hospital bed that read, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." When she retired, St. Clair handed her operation over to Bumpy, who became known as The Harlem Godfather.

6. Opal "Mack Truck" Long

Believed to be born in Texas, Long earned the nickname "Mack Truck" because of her size (though it's said no one called her this to her face). She was a member of John Dillinger's Terror Gang, brought in as the wife of Russell Clark. A caretaker by nature, Long—who preferred to be called Bernice Clark—happily cleaned the hideout and cooked for the whole gang, who she considered family.

Things soured when her husband was arrested in Tucson, Arizona on January 25, 1934. She attacked the police who made the arrest, and later begged Dillinger for money to fund an appeal of Clark's case. Her demands ultimately ostracized her from the group. That summer she, too, was arrested. She never squealed on her cohorts, yet earned parole by November 1934. She lived out her days in Chicago.

7. Helen Gillis

At 16, Helen Wawrzyniak made a fateful move marrying Lester Gillis, the man who came to be known as Baby Face Nelson. By 20, she had two babies—and a spot on the "shoot to kill" list of Public Enemies, thanks to him. She's regarded more as an accomplice than a gangster in her own right, but Gillis was present at the "Battle of Barrington" in Illinois on November 27, 1934. There, Nelson spotted a cop car, and with Gillis and fellow thug John Paul Chase in tow, chased it down, guns blazing. This led to a shootout that killed Nelson along with two police officers.

Gillis earned her place on the Public Enemies list by harboring her dying husband. She surrendered on Thanksgiving Day. Bitter over Nelson's ugly demise, Gillis testified against Chase, helping secure his life sentence. She died more than fifty years later, but was buried next to her beloved Baby Face in Chicago's St. Joseph's Cemetery.

8. Virginia Hill

Known as The Flamingo as well as "Queen of the Gangster Molls," Hill became notorious as the girlfriend of Brooklyn mobster Bugsy Siegel. She came from a poor background, telling people she didn't own a pair of shoes until age seventeen. Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, she moved to Chicago to seek fame and fortune. She found a bit of both working as an accountant for Al Capone.

When she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting ambitions, she met Siegel, for whom she'd soon be lover and courier. He'd later name his Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas after her. But this proved a bust business, bringing an abrupt end to Siegel's career, and arguably his life. He was gunned down in Hill's Hollywood home on June 20, 1947.

Hill was coincidentally out of the house, and claimed, "If anyone or anything was his mistress, it was that Las Vegas hotel. I never knew Ben was involved in all that gang stuff. I can't imagine who shot him or why." Her underworld dealings had her take the stand increasingly as the years went on. In 1961, Hill was found dead in an Austria snowdrift, the victim of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills—although some speculate this too was a hit.

9. Pearl Elliott

She shared ties with John Dillinger and Harry Pierpont, but Elliott was no hanger-on or gun moll. Instead, she was a notorious madam. She owned a whorehouse in Kokomo, Indiana that boasted police protection. To help keep things at her rural brothel safe, they had a system where she'd shine a flashlight out a window to signal for help should some john get out of hand.

Her establishment also served as a hideout for Pierpont's crew following a 1925 bank robbery. Later, her role as "treasurer" for Dillinger earned her a spot on the 1933 Public Enemies list, which ordered officers to "shoot to kill." Despite her illegal operation and dangerous dealings, Elliott did not die in a hail of gunfire or in prison. She passed away on August 10, 1935, from an illness that may have been cancer. She was 47.

10. Evelyn "Billie" Frechette

She became infamous as John Dillinger's devoted girlfriend, but Frechette came from an unexpected background for a gun moll. A child of French and Native American descent through the Menominee tribe, she attended Catholic grade school, then went on to graduate from high school. Even with an education, finding work was difficult, which led Frechette to Chicago. After her first husband was jailed for a post office robbery, Frechette met Dillinger, and traveled with him through a cross-country crime spree. The pair survived several shootouts.

She was later convicted for harboring a fugitive, and served two years in prison, during which Dillinger died. Upon her release in 1936, Frechette spun her criminal past into a new career, setting out on a lecture tour called "Crime Does Not Pay." She died of cancer 33 years later.

11. Helen Julia "Buda" Godman

From 1907 to 1910, Godman had been married to Chicago music publisher and composer Tell Taylor. But six years after Taylor divorced her, Godman was arrested and convicted for participating in a scheme to blackmail a wealthy business executive widower.

Godman attempted a scheme, known as a "badger game," of framing a victim in an embarrassing and illegal situation that resulted in a staged arrest by fake law enforcement officials. Godman, who was strikingly beautiful, posed as an unmarried woman being held against her will in a hotel room across state lines, which, if true, would have been a violation of the Mann Act. The ensuing fake arrest went awry when the victim, a prominent and wealthy widower, reported the incident to authorities.

In 1932, at the trough of The Great Depression, Godman, under the name of Helen Smith, was convicted for grand larceny and sentenced to prison in New York.

Her date of death (1944) is not verified. She is believed to be buried in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

12. Kathryn Kelly

In September of 1930, "Machine Gun" Kelly and Kathryn Throne tied the knot. It was the start of a career that would span just three years. But Kathryn was a criminal in her own right before she ever laid eyes on Kelly. She was born Cleo Mae Brooks in 1895. By eight-grade she was going by Kathryn to sound more elegant. At 15 she married for the first time. After giving birth to her daughter, she divorced and quickly remarried. Her second marriage didn’t last long, and she soon moved in with her mother and new step-father on his farm near Fort Worth, Texas.

She married for a third time to Charlie Thorne a bootlegger in the area. They sometimes quarreled, and after one alteration, Charlie was found shot to death with a suicide note. The judge overlooked the fact that Charlie was illiterate and looked the other way. Soon after Kathryn was arrested for robbery under an assumed name, but let off on a technicality.

She continued to live in Fort Worth and her husband’s money, and the stolen cash, allowed her to thoroughly enjoy the Roaring Twenties and all Prohibition had to offer. Her vivaciousness and striking good looks caught the eye of George Kelly. They soon became the leading bootleggers in the city. However, Kelly was also a convicted bank robber, and in April 1931 he helped robe the Central State Bank of Sherman, Texas of $40,000. He continued robbing banks until 1932.

By then banks were beginning to run out of cash because of the Great Depression. Kelly soon turned to kidnapping. After his second failed attempt, Kathryn began talking him up to everyone she knew in Fort Worth. She bought him a machine gun and gave him his famous nickname. After the Barker-Karpis Gang got a ransom for $100,000, Kathryn and Machine Gun began plotting their next kidnapping. They kidnapped a local oil baron, and not be outdone, they demanded $200,000—the largest payout ever paid at that time. They hid the man at her mother’s farm. When he was released, he used his photographic memory to lead the FBI right back to their door. By then the Kellys were long gone. The FBI arrested Kathryn’s parents and their accomplices.

The Kellys were arrested 56 days later after a failed attempt to negotiate for the release of Kathryn’s mother and herself. Kathryn received a life sentence, but was released 25 years alter with her mother when they appealed claiming the FBI had intimidated their lawyers. When the FBI refused to release documents proving otherwise, the women were released. Kathryn never saw Machine Gun again; he died in prison. Kathryn spent the rest of her life in relative anonymity in Oklahoma. She was one of the last "Molls" to go and died under the assumed name Lera Cleo Kelly in 1985.

13. Patty Hearst

At the time of her kidnapping, Patty Hearst was a wealthy heiress and actress who was targeted by the radical left movement known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. After she was kidnapped, Hearst was later shown to have renounced her parents and to have joined the SLA in order to support their cause and rob banks with them.

Despite the defense’s courtroom claims that she was brainwashed, Hearst was later imprisoned for her role in the SLA robberies. Eventually, though, Hearst was released; President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence and President Clinton wiped her record wiped clean via a Presidential pardon.

14. Arlyne Brickman

Born in 1933 to a Jewish family in East Harlem, Brickman grew up idolizing the glamor and thrills of Virginia Hill. "In my eyes, here was a broad that really made good," she later told biographer Teresa Carpenter. She worked for the mob as a numbers runner, drug dealer, and loan shark. Yet her Jewish heritage was an obstacle to rising up the ranks of the Sicilian-run crime syndicate. Still, the money and power was good enough to please her.

Years later, after a loan shark threatened her daughter, Brickman turned informant. Her spying and testimony ultimate led to the conviction of Anthony Scarpati and several associates for racketeering. In 1992, Brickman told her story in Mob Girl: A Woman's Life In the Underworld.

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