Stories about history are retold so many times facts and fiction start to blend. The truth fades into fiction. Fiction fades into truth. Then the questions come. “Who Is This Person? Really?”
I’ll leave it up to you to find out. Enjoy part 3 of MA BARKER AND THE FEDS
JAY HAD LISTENED TO MA BARKER, or Joann, talk about men of integrity. How it was important for a person to live up to their word. He wondered how she squared talk about integrity, considering the life she led. Then he caught himself. He could not simply believe she was Ma Barker because she said it.
“Most of what’s in the history books,” Joann said.
She paused to pick up a piece of pie with her fork. She put it in her mouth and chewed gingerly. She tilted her head sideways as if that lessened the pain in her teeth and gums. She swallowed and drank some water. Jay waited for her to finish.
“Lots of times, those history books aren’t true,” Joann said. “They’re missing important parts of my life. A lot of it is made-up.”
“For example, what?” Jay asked. He still found her fascinating. And he had done some quick math in his head. If she was telling the truth, she was older than one hundred. But her storytelling skills were remarkable. She may have been a writer or reporter herself.
“I did have four sons,” she said. “My boys stayed in trouble. But that was partly my fault for not disciplining them. But I also had a hot temper at times. They got their rebellious streak from me. Maybe that’s why George left me. I think he left in nineteen fifteen.”
“So you were married only once?” Jay asked.
“Marriage isn’t all there is to a woman,” she said. “I had my share of lovers. I was something in my prime. I can’t say this is how I wanted my life to end up. I would’ve like to have done more. But.” She shrugged. “You know?” She paused. “I was famous for a while. “J. Edgar Hoover once called me a mean, vicious beast of prey…a she-wolf. I made him mad, I suppose. But in my day, I had one of the toughest gangs around. So I guess I earned his ire.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Barker,” Jay said. “I don’t want to dispute what you’re saying. But you died in January nineteen thirty-five. You and your son Fred were shot to death by FBI agents in Oklawaha, Florida. You’re now sitting in New Jersey. This is nineteen eighty-three. And by what you told me,” he flipped through his notes, “you’re one hundred and ten years old. You see where I’m going?”
“You’re calling me a liar again is where you’re going,” she said. “You’re on what they say is thin ice.”
“But…” Jay said.
“But nothing,” she said. “Listen. They’ll be coming and getting me soon. So listen good. You want my story? Then tell it right.”
Jay was ready to write. She was interesting. But he did not know how to take this woman. Part of him said she could be real. Part of him said she was senile. But she was too together for that. But logic said it was impossible to believe what she had said so far.
“Okay,” she said. “What if I told you my son Fred died that day in Oklawaha, Florida?” She wiped her eyes with a napkin. “What if I was shot three times but lived? And what if the federal government agencies lied to each other and the public?”
“Why would they do that?” Jay asked.
“Some federal agencies wanted Ma Barker dead,” she said. “They wanted to show they were tough on outlaws. The only good outlaw was a dead outlaw.” She put another fork of pie in her mouth and chewed slowly. Jay waited patiently while she swallowed.
“But what happens when one federal agency, a powerful one, more powerful than the others, decides to keep a secret?” she asked. “Because they see something others don’t. They see a solution to a problem. They see a feather in their cap. So they tell the world the notorious Ma Barker is dead. Then they announce the rest of her gang will soon follow her. That’s the story they feed the public. But the real story they keep secret. And only a few know that story. And only one is still living to tell it. And that’s me. Ma Barker.”
Jay did not dare to dispute her. The primary reason was that she was about to make sense. He could feel it. The question that nagged at him was whether what she would say would be true.
I hope you like the story so far.
If you want to share it with friends, please pass it along and sign up to follow me on my blog.
I’ll see you tomorrow.
Have a good day.