Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Janan Sherman

Committee Member

Charles Crawford

Committee Member

Beverly Bond

Committee Member

Beverly Cross


This is a biographical study of George Kelly and his evolution from small-time bootlegger to bank robber to kidnapper. His progression into the criminal world mirrored the society in which he lived. His career began during Prohibition, an experiment in the government's attempt to control morality. A great portion of American society did not want this control and continued to manufacture and partake of the illegal brew. Kelly gladly became the middleman, selling and delivery whiskey. Once sentenced to prison, Kelly took advantage of the education one received when forced to live with those whose criminal activity provides them the experience to become mentors.Upon release Kelly graduated to bank robbery during a time American society, suffering through the Great Depression, saw these thieves as heroes because they attacked the institutions causing so much pain to the common man. Successful as a bank robber, Kelly made the move to kidnapping shortly after Congress passed the Lindbergh Kidnapping Law in 1932 in response to the public's outcry over the growth of violent crime. It was this law that enabled the Bureau of Investigation to cross state lines to capture Kelly and see him sentenced to life imprisonment. The society in which Kelly began his criminal career changed to a public that desired protection from that element of society.As Kelly's criminal career evolved, J. Edgar Hoover worked to build a federal police force thatthe public admired and respected. Hoover's disregarded Bureau of Investigation lacked support from the government and the American people. Many feared the idea of a federal police force, but as the public turned from its criminal heroes, Hoover hoped to make his agents the new champions for society's security. There were few federal laws and each investigation in which the BIparticipated proved to be a failure for Hoover. Kelly and his ill-timed kidnapping of oilman Charles Urschel provided Hoover the crime his agents finally solved that served as the catalyst for support and formation of the police force now called the Federal Bureau of Investigation and placed Hoover in the position of power he so desired.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.