“Creepy” Alvin Karpis — Public Enemy No. 1


When gangsters flourished in the Middle America during the Great Depression, none was more cold-blooded than Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. Public Enemy No. 1, Karpis is briefly profiled in the movie of the same name, starring Johnny Depp, as John Dillinger.*

Born in Montreal on Aug. 10, 1907, Karpis grew up in Topeka, Kansas — America’s Heartland.
After he joined up with Fred and Doc Barker of the Ma Barker gang, Karpis became a notorious killer and kidnapper — on top of being a bank robber.
In all, Karpis was believed responsible for 10 killings and a half dozen kidnappings between 1931 and 1936.
In 1936, Creepy was sentenced to life for kidnapping William Hamm, of Hamm’s Brewery.
The FBI’s own head, J. Edgar Hoover took credit for arresting Karpis, although in his biography, Karpis said he was surrounded by a team of agents who alerted Hoover when the scene was secure.
Karpis ended up in Alcatraz for 25 years. When the Rock finally was shut down, Karpis spent time in a state of Washington federal prison. There ol’ “Creepy” met someone even creepier — Charlie Manson. Karpis takes credit for teaching Manson how to play guitar.
There’s some interesting Web pages about Karpis and more photos.
Here’s some links:
FBI summary of the Barker-Karpis gang’s activities
True Crime Library — story of Alvin Karpis
Google timeline search — pretty interesting way to look at Karpis biography.
AP article on Karpis 1979 death from the Toledo Blade
Photos of Karpis in Spain in late 1970s
(FYI: between now and Friday I’ll run profiles of 1930s gangsters including Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly and others. I think there are some interesting parallels between that era and our own)
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7 thoughts on ““Creepy” Alvin Karpis — Public Enemy No. 1

  1. Frank: The new Johnny Depp movie is about John Dillinger, not Alvin Karpis. From what I can tell, he is not mentioned in the movie.

  2. The next few weeks should be very interesting in the World of Bank Take-Over Robberies. We’ll see how many wannabes jump in on this one like all the gang slice & dice movies in the past.
    Dillinger & Crew, by FBI accounts, are credited with the first “jumping over the counter M.O), using military auto rifles and murdering anyone in the way. Now it’s called Bank Robbery Terrorism.
    But sadly the Banks still regard it “Cost of doing business’, no security improvements in 70 years, teller still presses ‘Alarm Button’, but now they get great digital picture of gun in tellers face.
    Pull-up bank robbery websites for great photos, videos & audio: http://www.scorpio-security.com and bank211s-mike.blogspot.com of our real world.

  3. karpis is mentioned in the movie; dillinger meets with kreepy right before he gets up to talk to billie frechette. the actor playing kreepy is giovanni ribsi.

  4. Also, before Dillinger returns home, before he goes to the theater, he meets with Karpis on the roof who is planning to cut him in on the job to rob the train.

  5. This account has been DEBUNKED.
    It is well-documented that Manson was already playing guitar and writing really bad songs well before the Tate/LaBianca murders that sent him to Alcatraz, and prsion guards who knew them both say the story is one of Manson’s made-up delusions. Karpis was released and deported and wanted nothing to do with Manson.

    • WRONG. Manson was never in Alcatraz, and Karpis did indeed teach Manson chord construction and music theory in USP McNeil Island on a steel guitar. Karpis referred to Charlie as “shiftless” and “meek”.

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