Friday, July 29, 2016

The Year of Fear by Joe Urschel

In the 1930s, American gangsters needed to find a new source of income. The end of Prohibition put a stop to bootlegging and, due to the Great Depression, many banks were not worth robbing. Kidnapping became the most lucrative crime and many wealthy men or their family members were snatched and held for ransom. Law enforcement was practically helpless in the face of this crime. Local police could not pursue criminals across state lines and often cooperated with the criminals. In Washington, D.C., J. Edgar Hoover was trying to turn the Bureau of Investigation into an incorruptible national police force that could take control of criminal investigations before local authorities could mishandle the evidence, or worse, abet the criminals.

When George "Machine Gun" Kelly and his wife, Kathryn, kidnapped wealthy Oklahoma oilman, Charles Urschel, Hoover and his agents were ready to enforce the newly enacted Federal Kidnapping Act, rescue Mr. Urschel and catch the perpetrators. Once the ransom was paid and Urschel was released, the agents began to track down the criminals. Using clues provided by the alert and observant victim, the agents began at the farm in Texas where Urschel had been held and crisscrossed many states to the east, finally nabbing the Kellins in Memphis, Tennessee. Their capture was the first major case solved by Hoover's newly named Federal Bureau of Investigation and the first case prosecuted under the federal kidnapping law.

"Machine Gun" Kelly and his wife Kathryn were colorful characters--charming, good-looking, and fond of elegant clothing and expensive cars. J. Edgar Hoover was a beleaguered and maligned civil servant, disliked by many powerful people. Due to Hoover's doggedness, their fortunes were reversed. In The Year of Fear, author Joe Urschl combines their compelling stories with American history, creating a fascinating true crime book.