Duhaime's LawGallery - The Law In Pictures


Alvin "Old Creepy" Karpis

  • Object type: Photo
  • Formal Title: FBI images of Canadian gangster Alvin Karpis
  • Creator: FBI photographers
  • Date Created: 1936
  • Origin: FBI
  • Current Location: FBI

It was a violent era of crime, the era of machine gun crimes, of gangs and bootleggers, a plague throughout America.

It was also a time when photography was able to record some of the events, such as the arrest of Public Enemy #1, Canadian Old Creey Karpis.

Montrealer Alvin Karvis holds many distinctions in the world of outlawry. Nicknamed Old Creepy, he is the prisoner who spent the most time in the infamous Alcatraz prison off San Fransisco.

Born in Canada in 1907 as Alvin Karpavicz, he moved with his family to Topeka, Kansas as a boy.

He was arrested in 1926 for burglary and given a 10-year jail term. But he escaped custody and joined the Ma Barker gang, later known as the Barker-Karpis gang. His skill was the organization of armed bank robberies.

He rose to prominence in the criminal underworld and attracted national law enforcement attention in 1933 when he perfected a lucrative scheme of kidnapping and ransoming rich people such as William Hamm Jr of the Hamm's Brewing Company, who was rensomed for $100,000. Another victim was Edward Brenner, the president of a Minnesota bank: $200,000.

Old Creepy changed his name to Edward O'Hara and had his fingerprints altered so that they wouldn't match FBI records - as one of the images testifies. Karpis later claimed that he killed the surgeon.

Karpis wote on an incident in 1934:

"Freddie and I took Ma to a movie and a special announcement was flashed on the screen. These men are public enemies, it read. And then came the pictures: John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Doc, Freddie, and me. The punch line was: 'Remember, one of these men may be sitting beside you'. The lights went on in the theatre. The audience looked around and giggled."

Karpis worked hard at passing-off as a fisherman. But so too was the FBI; in 1934, they killed notable gangsters John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd.The FBI was moving in on Karpis and had arrested many of the Barker gang.The takedown of Karpis is often described as a marking point of the end of the gangster era in American history.

But the FBI nabbed him on May 1, 1936 when he topped their Most Wanted list. When Karpis was tracked down at #3 at 3343 Canal Street, New Orleans thanks to FBI informants, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover flew down to personally join the take-down team. Public Enemy #1 was arrested as he left his apartment and started his car, a Plymouth coupe.

An unusual anectodote: none of the 26 FBI officers had thought to cary handcuffs so Karpis' hands were secured behind his back with a necktie.

He plead guilty to the Hamm kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison. His first prison was Leavenworth in Kansas but not for long; he arrived at Alcatraz where he stayed until 1962 when he was trabsferred to a prison on McNeil Island in the state of Washington. There, he befriended a young fellow prisoner Charles Manson who he taught how to play the guitar. He qrote a biography, the Alvin Karpis Story.

In 1969, he was paroled and deported back to Canada where according to the FBI, he died in 1972 - again on May 2. But other sources have his death occuring in 1979 and in Spain.


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