What Machine Gun Kelly's Life In Prison Was Really Like

The infamous Machine Gun Kelly was a man whose reputation truly preceded him. According to All That's Interesting, there's no doubt that Kelly was a criminal. But a killer? Not so much. Born in 1895, George Kelly Barnes was a bootlegger who did a stint in prison after being caught selling illegal liquor (via Biography). While he was locked up, he befriended bank robbers who taught him the ropes. When he was released in 1930, Kelly married his girlfriend, Kathryn Thorne. She not only encouraged his criminal career, Thorne also created Kelly's reputation. It's believed she bought him his first machine gun and gave him the nickname George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Per Showbiz Cheatsheet, he went from committing a string of robberies to kidnapping. In 1933, Kelly abducted wealthy oil tycoon Charles Urschel from his Oklahoma City home. Days later, Urschel was released after Kelly was given the $200,000 ransom he demanded. However, this was the beginning of the end for Kelly's criminal career. Serial numbers on the bills given in the ransom, along with Urschel's tesitomy and a tip to the FBI, led them straight to Kelly and Thorne. After a week-long manhunt, Kelly and Thorne were found in Tennessee. Both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Kelly was then sent to Alcatraz.

Machine Gun Kelly was imprisoned at Alcatraz

Referred to as prisoner #117, Kelly was 39 years old when he first arrived at Alcatraz in 1934 (via City Experiences). According to All That's Interesting, his fellow inmates called him "Pop Gun Kelly," as they didn't seem to take him too seriously. While some of his friends at Alcatraz believed him to be intelligent and well-liked, others felt like Kelly was out of a place. They also noted that after one of his companions died, prison life seemed to take a toll. Despite this, Kelly was a model inmate, per Alcatraz History. He worked in the laundry and became an altar boy at the prison chapel. He played bridge on the weekends and often read.

SF Tourism Tips states that life at Alcatraz, however, was incredibly hard. This undoubtedly contributed to Kelly's depression. Prisoners followed a policy of silence. Moreover, their day began at 7 a.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m. Later in his sentence, Kelly began to be remorseful for his crimes and believed both he and Thorne were punished too Harshly. He even wrote to Urschel but never got a reply. Kelly spent 17 years at Alcatraz before he was transferred to Leavenworth prison in Kansas. He died there on his 59th birthday in 1954 from a heart attack. He never saw Thorne again. Crime Museum states that she was released after serving 25 years and went on to live a quiet life in Oklahoma.