Alvin Karpis, better known as “Creepy,” was a notorious gangster and a founder member of the infamous ‘Barker–Karpis Gang’ that was dreaded for its ruthless activities in the US during the 1930s. He stared his criminal career at a young age and associated with gamblers, pimps, and bootleggers. He was arrested for the first time for burglary and was sentenced to 10 years at the ‘State Industrial Reformatory,’ from where he later escaped. He came into contact with Fred Barker, of the notorious ‘Bloody Barkers,’ when he was serving a sentence at the ‘Kansas State Penitentiary.’ His gang was initially involved in bank robberies but soon found kidnapping to be a more lucrative prospective. They kidnapped millionaires William Hamm and Edward Bremer and extorted ransoms of $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. The ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ (FBI) launched operations to capture Karpis and succeeded in trapping him in New Orleans. He was tried at the ‘St Paul Federal Courts’ and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent 26 years in Alcatraz. When Alcatraz was shut down, he was transferred to the ‘McNeil Island Penitentiary’ in Washington. He was later granted bail and deported to Canada. He moved to Spain toward the end of his life. He died of an overdose of pills in 1979.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born Albin Francis Karpavičius on August 10, 1907, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to John and Anna Karpavičius, who were immigrants from Lithuania. He was raised in Wichita, Kansas. He began associating with gamblers, pimps, and bootleggers at the age of 10.
Before he turned 20, he was arrested on charges of burglary and was sentenced to 10 years at the ‘State Industrial Reformatory’ in Hutchinson, Kansas. He escaped from the reformatory, along with a friend named Lawrence De Vol, and went back to committing crime with his associate, till Lawrence was arrested.
Alvin moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was arrested for stealing a car and was sent to the ‘Kansas State Penitentiary’ in Lansing, where he came into contact with Fred Barker, who belonged to the notorious gang ‘Bloody Barkers.’ At that time, Fred was serving time for a bank robbery.
The members of the Barkers family were gradually eliminated. Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis joined forces in 1931 and formed the ‘Barker–Karpis Gang’ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The gang became one of the most-feared organizations that was ruthless in its ways and did not hesitate to kill.
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In December 1931, Karpis and Fred killed the sheriff who was investigating the robbery of a store, in which the gang was involved. This caused some trouble for the gang. Subsequently, the gang dispersed for a while and waited for the situation to improve.
Karpis became the leader of the gang and was known for his sharp memory and presence of mind that gained him the respect of the other members of the gang and helped him evade the authorities. From robbing banks, they soon graduated to kidnappings and extortions as a lucrative business.
The gang kidnapped William Hamm, a millionaire brewer from Minnesota, in 1933, and extorted a ransom of $100,000 for his release. They gained confidence and soon abducted Edward Bremer, a rich banker from St Paul. The ransom for his release was $200,000.
Edward Bremer’s father was a good friend of President Roosevelt, and soon, the police department stepped up their operations to put an end to kidnapping in the state. This affected the ‘Barker–Karpis Gang’ adversely.
Ma Barker and Fred were killed in a shootout with the ‘FBI’ in January 1935, and the focus was back on Karpis, who was listed as ‘Public Enemy Number 1’ by the ‘FBI.’ The previous three gangsters on the list had already been eliminated. Karpis continued with his criminal activities. However, he had to maintain a relatively low profile in order to evade the law.
In May 1936, the ‘FBI’ launched operations to capture Karpis and succeeded in trapping him in his car in New Orleans. J Edgar Hoover, who was the ‘FBI’ chief at that time, took personal credit for the arrest, although, according to Karpis, he had arrived at the scene only when the action was over.
Karpis was tried at the ‘St. Paul Federal Courts’ and initially pleaded not guilty. However, on the advice of his lawyer, he later pleaded guilty to the Bremer conspiracy, on the condition that the kidnapping charges would be dropped.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent the next 26 years in Alcatraz. During his imprisonment, he was made to work in the bakery. In April 1962, when Alcatraz was shut down, he was transferred to the ‘McNeil Island Penitentiary’ in Washington. Throughout his jail term, he was often found fighting with other inmates and the authorities.
He was granted parole in 1969 and was deported to Canada. He got a Canadian passport with a lot of difficulty, as his fingerprints had been removed earlier by surgery. He wrote his memoir in 1971, while living in Montreal, and wrote another book that was published a year after his death, in 1980.
His first book, ‘Public Enemy Number One: The Alvin Karpis Story,’ was published in 1971. There is also a TV documentary of the same name. His second book, ‘On the Rock: Twenty-five Years in Alcatraz,’ co-authored by Robert Livesey, was published after his death, in 1980.
His girlfriend, Dolores Delaney, was injured in a shootout in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Karpis had a narrow escape from the law in January 1935. She was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and later gave birth to a boy, who was adopted by Karpis’s parents. During this period, Karpis took refuge with brothel-keeper Edith Barry to remain away from the law.
He moved to Spain in 1973. Despite the criminal life that he had lived, he was known to be a voracious reader, had a good sense of humor, and enjoyed female company. His last girlfriend, Nancy, introduced him to pills and alcohol, and that ultimately claimed his life in August 1979.
His death was attributed to suicide, though Karpis was not the type of person to give up on life or take his own life. According to some sources, the overdose of pills may have been accidental.
It is believed that Ma Barker ruled the gang with an iron fist. However, according to Alvin, they only kept her informed and planned their operations on their own. According to Harvey Bailey, who was another well-known bank robber, Ma Barker was made out to be a mastermind behind the gang’s operations, by the federal agents, when they realized they had killed a 62-year-old mother.
He was nicknamed “Creepy” for his sinister smile and is believed to be responsible for over 10 killings and half a dozen kidnappings between 1931 and 1936.
He met Charles Manson while serving his sentence at the Washington federal prison. He claims to have taught Manson how to play the guitar during that period.