Gangster tales

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Borrough, though, reveals that the famous nickname for FBI agents did indeed originate with the arrest. He found this quote from a long-lost newspaper interview one of the agents gave just hours after the incident: “Kelly’s wife cried like a baby. She put her arms around [Kelly] and said: ‘I guess it’s all up for us. The ‘g’ men won’t ever give us a break.”
My late father argued that the “g” here did not mean government. Rather, it was Irish slang (Danny Cassidy might have agreed), derived from the “G” division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which battled Michael Collins during the 1919-21 War of Independence and provided some of his spies. The Dublin G-men had many of the same duties as FBI agents, and so it seemed plausible that an Irish Chicagoan picked up the term somewhere along the line and adapted it.
One problem with the theory is that George Kelly Barnes was not raised in a gritty urban working-class environment. He moved with his upper-middle-class family to Memphis when he was 2. Burrough says that the inept Kelly was “never the menacing figure his moniker suggests.” He was “glib, a dreamer and a joker.” And luckier than some in one respect: he lived another 21 years after his conviction for kidnapping, albeit behind bars.
Among those who went down in a hail of bullets in 1934 was Ma Barker, whose fierce posthumous reputation was another invention. The idea that she was found dead with a machine-gun in her hand was “flat-out untrue,” says Burrough. But the FBI had to justify killing a grandmother with no criminal record.
Many of the fallen police officers in the story inevitably have Irish names. But there are Irish cops who lived to tell the tale. Involved also are prosecutor Joseph Keenan; Roger Tuohy, a criminal who served 20 years for a kidnapping he didn’t commit; Dennis Cooney who allegedly ran all the brothels and prostitutes in Chicago; Clyde Barrow associate Jimmy Mullins; a snitch named Art McGinnis and many, many more.
On Jan. 15, 1934, during the course of a bank robbery in East Chicago, Ind., Detective Patrick O’Malley, aged 43, aimed several shots at John Dillinger, one of them hitting his bullet proof vest. “For the first time in his career, he appeared to lose his temper,” Burrough writes. Cursing, Dillinger raised his machine gun and “fired a burst directly into Detective O’Malley. The policeman, a father of three little girls, fell dead on the sidewalk, eight bullet holes across his chest.”
The one place that doesn’t have an Irish presence in this account is the FBI itself. That would change later on. Hoover, who ran the agency for 48 years, once said that his ideal recruit was a “conservative Irishman.”

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