If the Old West Outlaws get a lot of historic attention, a close second are the gangsters of the 1920’s Prohibition era and the 1930’s Depression period. Feared and revered, these American gangsters often controlled liquor sales, gambling, and prostitution, while making popular, silk suits, diamond rings, guns, booze, and broads.
These many men, though often murderers and outright robbers, were sometimes also involved in the political, social, and economic conditions of the times. Infamous names of the era included people such as Al Capone, Vito Genovese, Dutch Schultz, Jack “Legs” Diamond, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, John Dillinger, Bugsy Siegel, and many more
The Depression created yet another type of outlaw, fed by both need and greed. Though not as “revered” as the 1920’s gangsters, Depression-era outlaws with names like Bonnie and Clyde, “Baby Face” Nelson, Ma Barker, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd, also became legends, as their deeds included some of the wildest and deadliest stories ever to hit newspaper front pages.
Much like the days of the Old West following the Civil War, these were difficult times for the vast majority of Americans and like the gunmen before them, the outlaws of the 1920s and ’30s gained fame among those who dreamed of individuality and fast money. The “romance” of the lifestyle and resistance to the socially imposed rules of the times led numerous men and a few women into a criminal life that included bank robberies, illegal sales of alcohol, gambling, prostitution, and black market drugs.
With it came violence, spawned mostly by bitter gang rivalries in the 1920s. In those days, gangster killings were unlike those of the Old West or those of today. They generally calculated business practices rather than personal vendettas, where one gang would line up rival gang members and shoot them down, or make a surprise attack on them, blasting or bombing until their rivals were dead. In the 1930s, the violence was more desperate as outlaws were determined to have their way at any cost.
Though these men and women were violent criminals, like their predecessors in the days of the Old West, the public couldn’t get enough of them – craving the news stories, photographs, tales of luxurious living, and the morbid facts of violent deeds.
In the end, most of these outlaws were sent to jail, killed by rival gangsters, or killed by law enforcement, but their legends live on.
Arthur R. “Doc” Barker – Member of Barker-Karpis Gang
Barker-Karpis Gang – Terrorized the Midwest
Bennie Iva “Blanche” Caldwell Barrow – Barrow Gang Member
D.B. Cooper – Airplane Highjacker
Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone – Chicago Mobster
DeAutremont Brothers – Train Robbers
Matthew Kimes – Bank Robber
James C. “Tex” Lucas – Bank Robber
Charles “Lucky” Luciano – Mafia
Typhoid Mary Mallon – Spreading the Fever
Henry Methvin – Barrow Gang member
Giuseppe “The Clutch Hand” Morello – Member of the Morello crime family
George “Baby Face” Nelson – Bank Robber
Purple Gang – A mob of bootleggers and hijackers
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel – Jewish American mobster
Giovanni “Johnny” Torrio – Italian-American mobster
Roger Touhy – Irish-American mob boss
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.