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Secrets of Alcatraz

By Linda Kirkpatrick
Did you know that I spent time in Alcatraz? And did you know that during my time there I tied up some limbs broken from the old family tree? Yep it is all true. And I might even add that the ghost of Machine Gun Kelly helped to bring it all together.
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick
For many years I have kept a file of lost Kirkpatrick’s because I just had a feeling that these folks belonged in my tree but could not prove it. There are names like A Kirkpatrick, Dewitt Kirkpatrick and Cicero Kirkpatrick but a connection could not be found, then up popped the name E. E. Kirkpatrick, a poet and crime writer. I corresponded a few times with a descendent of his line but still was not able to make the necessary connection. I kept track of E. E. because he was such an interesting person and after all, we did share the same last name.

A few weeks ago I spent a few days in San Francisco and while there made a trip to the Island of Alcatraz, the Rock, the ruins of the once Federal Prison. I strolled the same halls that the hardest criminals in the United States once strolled including Machine Gun Kelly, The Birdman and many other bad men. I just loved it!

Machine Gun Kelly

George R. Kelly, aka Machine Gun Kelly, left a secure family and began a life of crime. He became the bad apple from the Kelly family tree. He was a very established criminal on the Saturday of July 22, 1933 when he and his partner in crime, Albert L. Bates burst into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Urshel of Oklahoma City. As it happened the Urshel’s were in the middle of a bridge game with their friends Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Jarrett. I guess that I should mention that Charles Urshel was a smart, wealthy oil man.

Kelly intended to kidnap Urshel and collect a ransom but back to the smart oil man. Neither Urshel nor Jarrett would admit to being Urshel even though Kelly brandished his trademark Tommy-gun, they were not afraid. Kelly and Bates loaded both men in the get-away car and sped away to the outskirts of the city. A quick frisking of the two men revealed the real Urshel. Kelly released Jarrett immediately but not before he lifted a total of $51.00 from the man’s wallet.

The get-away car then headed south to Paradise, Texas. There Kelly hatched his ingenious plan or so he thought. On July 26, Kelly sent his instructions to J. G. Catlett an oilman and personal friend of Urshel. The packet contained letters of instruction for Catlett to act as an intermediary and a letter to Urshel’s wife both written by Urshel. Kelly wrote demanding instructions, telling Catlett to not communicate with the Urshel family, the packet included a typewritten letter addressed to E. E. Kirkpatrick, demanding that he gather up $200,000.00 in unmarked twenty dollar bills and then wait for further instructions. Kirkpatrick followed the instructions but the exchange was botched and had to be rescheduled. The second attempt was successful and Kelly released Urshel. Within a few months the G-men captured Machine Gun Kelly and hauled him off kicking and screaming to not shoot him. Urshel, being blindfolded the entire time of his captivity, made mental notes of sounds and distances which became a great asset to the FBI in figuring out where he had been held captive.
E. E. Kirkpatrick’s recounts the transfer of money in his book “Geese Flying South.”

“On Saturday night, July 29, 1923, I stood in the vestibule of a Pullman on the Katy train, leaving Oklahoma City for Kansas City, with a Gladstone bag containing $200,000.00 in $20.00 bills. My instructions from the gangsters, who had kidnapped my friend and partner, were to watch for two flares on the right side of the tracks and at the second flare to drop the money in the middle of the track. The flares never appeared. I was also to light a cigarette at each stop at a station. Throughout the long night and the passing of 51 stations I did that.
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I had left a letter to my wife to be delivered to her on Tuesday, if I had not returned. In it I told her I would most likely never return. I was carrying a fortune to deliver to gangsters in a city under the unspeakable Pendergast administration. I had learned from the underworld that the top price for murder in Kansas City at that time was $500.00 I dreaded the thought of being murdered by gangland without a change to fight back.

The long grueling hours were torture. At 4:00 o’clock in the morning I came to a decision. I made up my mind I would not worry. I would put my trust in God to take a hand in my behalf. Sitting on the bag of ransom money I composed the lines of “Faith.”

At sundown, following telephone instructions from the gangsters, I walked down Linwood Boulevard and delivered the money under menacing machine guns. Back in my room at the Muehleback Hotel I sat at the desk and finished the following poem—“Faith.”

If God in His infinite wisdom
Takes care of the sparrows that fall,
And tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,
And loves little children and all.

Then why should we weak grown-up mortals,
With doubt and misgivings and fear,
Shrink back lest our cause be unworthy
As the end of our life span draws near?

An, man with his power to reason,
And his strange predilection to sin
Finds death a life problem to fathom,
And life a death struggle to win.

And each in his own little cycle,
And each with his puny brain cells
Spends life trying to vision a heaven
And praying to miss future hells.

While children, the lambs and the sparrows,
In stormy old weather or fair,
Live their lives with a faith without question-
With a faith that suffices for prayer.”
But back to the Kirkpatrick family tree, I emailed my contact after the big trip to The Rock just wondering if any new developments had been made in the E. E. Kirkpatrick line. My email, loaded with unanswered questions about his family line, was promptly answered. I hoped to learn a little about these Kirkpatrick’s and to understand a little more about E. E. Kirkpatrick. E. E. wrote three books, “Crimes’ Paradise”, “Voices from Alcatraz” and “Geese Flying South.”
E. E. Kirkpatrick
E.E. Kirkpatrick
From a Kirkpatrick family photo. Submitted by author.
Another story from “Geese Flying South” by E. E. Kirkpatrick.

“The experience of ransoming my friend from the gangsters was the inspiration for writing the poem “Faith.”

Some time later I had a conversation with one of these same gangsters in Alcatraz Prison. The following poem relates, in practically his own words, many of this gangster’s experiences, and expresses his attitude and philosophy of life.

It also expresses his miserable memories and remorseful reflections which create for him a living Hell-the logical consequence of such a hellish life.”
“Echoes From Alcatraz”

I’ve robbed and I’ve raped and I’ve rutted;
I’ve murdered and cheated and lied;
I’ve lived by the sword and I’ve glutted;
Oh God! How I wish I had died!

I’ve thrown the death slugs from machine guns;
I’ve stabbed with cold steel from the dark.
I’ve held up poor beggars just for the fun-
In those years I deemed it a lark.

I sit day and night without pleasure;
A glance at the sun would be swell;
But the G-men have taken my measure,
And I’m already living in Hell!”
Kirk and I tossed emails back and forth. In one email Kirk mentioned that E. E. Kirkpatrick’s grandfather, Lewis Albert Kirkpatrick and a brother by the name of Jawhew (Jehu) came to the San Saba, Texas area. As I read this email I began to get excited because Jehu is my grgrgreat grandfather! So what does this all mean? Well, I have tied up several loose ends on the family tree and I can actually claim kin to E.E. Kirkpatrick, the man who carried the ransom to Machine Gun Kelly! And of course there is more to the story and those words will find their way to paper in due time.
Copyright Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West January 4, Column

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