SUMMIT CITY HISTORY NOTES
The straight story on 'Machine Gun' Kelly
By RICHARD BATTIN
OK, for the last time: George "Machine Gun" Kelly did not rob a bank in
Fort Wayne in 1930. It wasn't him. He was innocent, at least of that
particular crime. It was another George Kelly.
But because the two-bit gangster who held up the Broadway State Bank at the
corner of Broadway and Taylor Street shared a name with the more famous Kelly,
the "Machine Gun" handle eventually was added by those who told the story.
It became common knowledge, however incorrect, that the dastardly Machine
Gun Kelly took $5,912 from the bank on Aug. 20, 1930.
Fort Wayne historian John Ankenbruck attributed the robbery to Machine Gun
Kelly in his 1976 "Twentieth-Century History of Fort Wayne, Indiana."
But by the time Ankenbruck's "The Fort Wayne Story" was published four
years later, the author had corrected the mistake, attributing the robbery
only to "George Kelly and his Chicago mob."
Ankenbruck says someone cleared up the mistake for him and he fixed it in
the second book.
He thought, in fact, it might have been Walter E. Helmke, Mayor Paul
Helmke's grandfather, who set him straight. Walter E. Helmke was the
prosecuting attorney on the case after Kelly was arrested in Chicago and
brought to Fort Wayne for trial.
Walter P. Helmke, the mayor's father, remembers the confusion over the
He was a teen-ager at the time. Many people during those dark days of
The Depression thought of gangsters as heroes, even if they weren't giving
what they robbed to the poor.
It was glamorous to be able to say you saw John Dillinger or Al Capone or
any of the other famous hoods of the day.
If a car backfired while driving by a bank back then, half a dozen
"witnesses" would be telling their friends and neighbors that night that they
And, as the years pass, the stories are embellished. The Associated Press
ran a story recently about an Ohio woman who said she was kidnapped by
Dillinger during a famous bank robbery in a small town there. Newspapers from
that era verify the bank was robbed when she said it was. But Dillinger was in
Chicago at the time.
Michael Hawfield, director of the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical
Society, had been including the Machine Gun Kelly story in talks he gave about
the city, but stopped after he learned the truth.
Stories change. People change. Names change. George "Machine Gun" Kelly, in
fact, didn't earn the "Machine Gun" handle until after he robbed his first
bank in Tupelo, Miss. That wasn't until 1931.
When the State Bank was robbed in Fort Wayne in 1930, the Kelly later known
as "Machine Gun" was finishing up a prison term at Leavenworth, according to
Jay Robert Nash, author of "Bloodletters and Badmen" and the six-volume
"Encyclopedia of Crime."
Kelly was serving time for bootlegging, Nash explains. He had been arrested
by Prohibition agents while driving a truckload of whiskey onto an Indian
After his release, goaded on by a wife intrigued with the exploits of
Bonnie and Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd, Kelly connected with what Nash calls a
"two-bit bankrobbing gang." The few banks they robbed, before Kelly turned his
attention to kidnapping, were in Southern states. They never made it as far
north as Fort Wayne.
The George Kelly who did rob the bank in Fort Wayne was part of a Chicago
gang. But he wasn't their leader. And he didn't carry a machine gun.
The story of the bank robbery and the search for the culprits filled the
front page of The News-Sentinel for days. One man was arrested in Toledo and
brought to Fort Wayne. He was released.
Then, on Sept. 4, Kelly, William Naecker and Abe Shultz were arrested in
Chicago. They were brought to Fort Wayne and positively identified by
witnesses. Walter E. Helmke took over, prosecuting the gang. They were found
guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
So there you have it: The true story of two thugs with the same name. The
next time someone starts to tell you about the time "Machine Gun" Kelly robbed
a bank in Fort Wayne, set them straight. And while we're at it, I'm not sure
Fort Wayne really was seventh on Hitler's list, either.
But let me tell you about the time I met D.B. Cooper on a flight to
--Aug. 9, 1990