Kathryn Kelly: The Moll Behind Machine Gun Kelly

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The amazing true story of Kathryn Kelly: By Barbara Casey.

You’ll love this true-life story. Have you heard of Kathryn Kelly? I hadn’t until I read this book and yet she was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about.

Destined to become a gangster’s moll, Kathryn is a far more fascinating character than her counterpart, Bonnie Parker. Bonnie and Clyde caught the imagination of the public in the nineteen thirties but so did Kathryn, yet she is hardly remembered these days.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Barbara Casey for bringing Kathryn’s story to light. Believe me, this true story would make a far more thrilling film that the Bonnie and Clyde legend. (Let’s hope that happens one day). In fact, it seems that Kathryn was no mere ‘moll’ but was the brains behind the crimes that she and her husband George committed.

George was known a ‘Machine Gun Kelly’ but it was entirely due to Kathryn that he became known by that name. It was she who presented him with a secondhand Thompson machine gun and insisted that he learn to use it.

Kathryn was an expert shot herself and it seems that she was also her husband’s publicity machine. She soon spread the word about her tough and brutal partner. However, as far as we know, George Kelly didn’t kill or even shoot anyone during his career of crime.

But he was  successful and Kathryn enjoyed the trappings of success. But where did she come from?

The early days of Kathryn Kelly

When you first start to read this book and learn about her earlier years, you know you’re going to be reading the story of an action-packed life. Even her name gave some indication of what was to come. She was named Cleo Lera Mae – after Cleo Epps, a woman who was referred to as ‘the queen of the bootleggers’ and whose murdered body had been found in the bottom of a septic tank.

As Cleo Lera Mae grew, she decided that her name wasn’t quite glamorous enough so changed her name to Kathryn. It was as Kathryn that, at the tender age of fourteen, she married her first husband. The couple had a daughter but the marriage was a quick one and Kathryn was soon divorced and remarried.

But that marriage was a short one too and Kathryn then proceeded on to husband number three. This time, she had married a bootlegger – quite a common occupation in those lean times.

Did Kathryn Kelly murder her husband?

This marriage was no more successful than her previous attempts as she soon discovered that her latest husband was cheating on her. Shortly afterwards, husband number three, Charlie Thorne, was found dead – shot by Kathryn’s gun.

Incredibly, the coroner ruled that Charlie had shot himself. The ‘evidence’ for this was the fact that a typewritten suicide note had been found. This ruling was thought to be very suspect for the following reasons:

  • Kathryn had often threatened to kill her husband
  • He was shot with her gun

And maybe even more tellingly:

  • He could not read or write so the suicide note was very suspicious indeed
  • It was generally thought locally that Kathryn and the coroner were involved in their own illicit relationship

In her family background, illegal activity was rife. Kathryn’s own mother and a cousin were bootleggers, she had uncles who were serving time for automobile theft and counterfeiting and she had an aunt that was a prostitute. It was therefore almost natural that the now-widowed Kathryn would embark upon her own crime spree.

Then she met George Kelly

When I tell you that the above facts about Kathryn and her life are explained in the first dozen pages of The Moll Behind Machine Gun Kelly, you can tell what excitement is in store for the rest of the book 🙂

By 1933, the couple had decided that kidnapping would be a lucrative form of work for them and before long, the were pulling off a kidnapping that became front page news.

What happened next? Hey, you’ll get no spoilers from me. You can find out more and order the book here. You’ll be intrigued by this fascinating, true life account.

Author’s Bio:

Barbara Casey is a partner in Strategic Media Books, and president of the Barbara Casey Agency, representing authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. She is also a manuscript consultant and the author of numerous articles, poems, and short stories.Barbara Casey 2

Her award-winning novels have received national recognition, including the Independent Publishers Book Award. Her novel, The House of Kane, was considered for a Pulitzer nomination, and The Gospel According to Prissy, also a contemporary adult novel received several awards including the prestigious IPPY Award for Best Regional Fiction. Her most recent young adult novel, The Cadence of Gypsies, received the Independent Publishers Living Now Award and was reviewed by the Smithsonian for its list of Best Books.

Ms. Casey makes her home on the top of a mountain in northwest Georgia with her husband and three dogs who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix, Fitz, a miniature dachshund, and Gert, a Jack Russel terrier of sorts.

Connect with the author:   Website



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. It is so wonderful to be hosted by you again. I appreciate very much the time you have put into showcasing my book, KATHRYN KELLY: THE MOLL BEHIND MACHINE GUN KELLY as well as your kind praise. Thank you. All my best to you and your bloggers.


    • It’s a fabulous book, Barbara! What a truly fascinating story and a great read.

      I’m looking forward to more from you 🙂

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