Missouri Outlaws and Gangsters

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Thanks to Shakespeare, the Ides of March have come to symbolize treachery, betrayal and murder…so it seems only right that this time of year would make me think about Missouri’s own outlaws and gangsters, and their local reigns of terror.

I have a personal interest in outlaws, specifically Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and their gang. Growing up, I always heard the story of the gang who ended up killing my great-great grandfather. Dallas Humphrey, was a constable in Alma, Arkansas when the group came through town. When he tried to stop the gang he ended up in a shootout that ended tragically for Dallas. During a recent trip to Joplin I was again reminded of my great-great grandfather’s history when I learned this Missouri town has a Bonnie and Clyde connection too.

The couple rented a garage apartment in Joplin where they spent several weeks until the police were tipped off about their hideout. Another shootout ensued here, resulting in the tragic death of two officers. The couple escaped but left many of their possession behind, including a camera that left a slight glimpse into the life of the famous outlaws. The garage apartment is still standing at 215 W. 34th Street. While the property is privately owned and in no way open to the public, visitors like to drive by the historic property and imagine the lives of the outlaws.

Bonnie and Clyde are not the only famous outlaws you will find tied to Missouri. Head to the northeast town of St. Joseph and see where the famous Jesse James was killed. The Jesse James House has been transformed into a museum showcasing his the life and death. In the house, see where Bob Ford shot James in the back while he was fixing a crooked picture. Be sure to check out the Pattee House while you are there. This house was once the World’s Hotel where James’ mother, wife and children lived after he was shot.

Take a trip just about an hour south to Kansas City to learn about the famous Union Station massacre. In June of 1933, the FBI was escorting convicted mobster Frank Nash to Kansas when a shootout occurred between the outgunned FBI and Nash’s mob buddies. Four law enforcement officers were killed that day and as result, the FBI worked to strengthen their power against the mob. Some claim you can see marks on the outside of the building that are bullet holes from the machine gun shootout. Experts say these marks are not bullet holes, but we can imagine, right? If you want more mob history, try the Kansas City Gangster tour of mob homes and hangouts, along with the locations of turf wars.

If these outlaws don’t catch your attention, maybe those who served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary will. Tour the prison that shut down in 2004 and learn about some of the famous prisoners that spent time here. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd spent time in the prison after pleading guilty to his first offense, a St. Louis payroll robbery. After his release, Floyd went on to become known to law enforcement as the “most dangerous man alive.”  He is even thought to be involved in the Union Station Massacre and attempted rescue of Frank Nash. Other famous inmates include Charles “Sonny” Liston, who became a famous boxer in prison, and James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.

Whether you are interested in learning about the old time outlaws, the ghastly gangsters or the past prisoners, Missouri’s history is calling your name.