Organized Crime and the Great Depression

By the mid 1920s there were over 1,200 gangs in Chicago, Illinois (“The FBI and the American Gangster” 1). While the United States was struggling through the hardship of the Great Depression, the United States was also having trouble keeping up with the rising crime rates. There were several other criminals all around America such as the infamous John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow. The rising crime rate in America impacted how the government and people of America responded to the Great Depression.

One of the most wanted men by the FBI was a man named John Dillinger. He was born on June 22, 1903 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was a troublemaker throughout his life. Dillinger dropped out of school and later joined the Navy. After getting into trouble, he deserted the Navy and returned home to Mooresville, Indiana. His crime spree started when he, and a friend attempted to rob a local grocery store (“John Dillinger” 1). Dillinger was sentenced to eleven years in prison but only had to serve eight and a half then was put on parole.

After being paroled, he instantly went to rob a bank and was put in jail again. While awaiting trial, some friends, who before broken out of jail, came and broke him out while locking up the deputy and sheriff’s wife, and killing the sheriff. Later, his gang killed two cops and robbed some banks. When a fire erupted in a hotel, the hotel owner and firemen recognized them for their picture and they were arrested.

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Again, while awaiting trial he was able to trick some guards into letting him out of a cell. He robbed the arsenal of machine guns, ran, and stole the sheriff’s car. This escape was enough to put him in the FBI’s radar and sparked a nationwide search.

Dillinger had new gang members, who consisted of Lester Gillis, Eddie Green. Tommy Carroll, and many more(“John Dillinger” 1). With this new gang, hecouldo rob numerous banks for large sums of money. While hiding in the Lincoln Court Apartment, with his girlfriend under the name Hellman, the manager reported suspicious actions. The next day, the FBI knocked on the apartment door, Frenchette answered the door and immediately shut it closed. Reinforcements were called to surround the premises; they could escape through a back door. Evelyn Frechette was arrested for protecting a fugitive and given a sentence of fifteen months.Again, the FBI got a tip from someone who reported suspicious actions and guests in the Little Bohemia Lodge. The person who sent in the tip said one of the quest sounded like Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. The FBI went to surround the premises, right before the agents were able to surround Dillinger and some friends were able to escape through a window and drove off. Baby Face Nelson was in a separate car and while escaping he killed Special Agent W. Carter Baum while severely injuring the other agent and constable. Samuel A. Cowley was then assigned to this case (“John Dillinger” 1). Some time later they got a tip from a lady who called herself Anna Sage. Anna Sage said she would be going to the theatre with Dillinger and another woman named Polly Holland. The agents were told that she would go to the theatre, although she did not know which one yet, and they would be able to catch him. After they were able to narrow the location to two theatres. The FBI agents surrounded both theatres, as Dillinger and the two ladies exited the theatre the FBI shot him three times and he hit the floor facedown (“John Dillinger” 1).

One of the most wanted Southern couple was Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Bonnie Parker was born October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas; Clyde Barrow was born March 24, 1909 in Ellis County, Texas. The couple first met in Texas, January 1930, but soon after their meeting Clyde was arrested for burglary. In February 1932 he joined Bonnie to start their life of crime. Their story begins when they started traveling with Raymond Hamilton, he was later replaced by William Daniel Jones. Clyde’s brother Ivan M. “Buck” Barrow joined them, along with his wife Blanche, after being released from Texas State Prison. Now with five members gang, they made pronounced robberies, escaped capture, and participated in a shootout (“Bonnie and Clyde” 1). In one shootout Buck Barrow was wounded and Blanche captured. Jones was later captured by the Houston Sheriff’s office. Now on their own Bonnie and Clyde still on the commit crimes. In November 1933 the Dallas Police set a trap, hoping to catch the two. Bonnie and Clyde took an attorney’s car and dropped him off in Oklahoma. The couple also accomplished freeing prisoners, including Raymond Hamilton, from the Eastern State Prison Farm at Waco, Texas.

On April 1, 1934 Bonnie and Clyde shot two young highway patrolmen in Grapevine, Texas. Fave days later, in Miami, Oklahoma, they shot the chief of police and one of the constables. The FBI later got all jurisdiction on the transportation of the stolen automobile charge on Bonnie and Clyde. The Barrow gang was wanted and, “All officers were given “Wanted notices” furnishing fingerprints, photograph, description, and criminal records,”(“Bonnie and Clyde” 1). Agents were searching many states and one state that was getting many reports was Louisiana. The FBI was able to use a connection between the couple and a man by the name of Henry Methvin. On April 13, 1934, and FBI agent obtained information about the definite place of Bonnie and Clyde. The couple was continuously going to Louisiana and back to Texas, taking Methvin with them on occasions. The FBI and local police strongly believed Bonnie and Clyde were near the Methvins’ property. They, the FBI, learned Bonnie and Clyde had driven to a party in Black Lake, Louisiana on May 21, 1934 and were supposed to return May 23. On the morning of May 23, 1934 police from Texas and Louisiana lined the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. As expected Bonnie and Clyde appeared in their vehicle and while trying to escape the police opened fire and killed the couple instantly (“Bonnie and Clyde” 1).

The rising crime rate in America impacted on the way the government and people of America responded to the Great Depression. One criminal who was frequently stealing from banks and murdering people was John Dillinger. Another couple who stole and murdered people were Bonnie and Clyde. These and many more criminals stealing money from the government and killing people kept the country from moving forward and out of crisis.

Work Cited

  1. Associated Press. “John Dillinger’s Relative Faces Criminal Theft Charges.”, NWI Times, 23 Feb. 2016
  2. Benson, Sonia, et al. ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation.’ UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History, vol. 3, UXL, 2009, pp. 538-539. Student Resources In Context, Accessed 23 Jan. 2019.
  3. “Bonnie and Clyde.” FBI, FBI, 9 Oct. 2017,
  4. ‘EDITORIAL: With poverty so high, why isn’t crime exploding?: Perhaps because there are other factors, such as character.’ News-Sentinel [Fort Wayne, IN], 6 Jan. 2010. Student Resources In Context, Accessed 23 Jan. 2019
  5. Editors, “Crime in the Great Depression.”, A&E Television Networks, 8 Mar. 2018
  6. “LibGuides: American History: The Great Depression: Gangsters and G-Men.” Home – American History: The Revolutionary War – LibGuides at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
  7. “The FBI and the American Gangster, 1924-1938.” FBI, FBI, 3 May 2016

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Organized Crime and the Great Depression. (2021, Apr 06). Retrieved from

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