History often has mini-stories unfolding beneath the main stories. These mini-stories become the foundation for the colossal historical moments that dominate the spotlight. We all know of Anne Sullivan. But do we know the part she played in history?
Enjoy Part 4.
Jay wondered if he was about to hear Joann, who claimed to be Ma Barker, tell a story of how she helped the federal government. That would be outlandish, even for her. But she had continued to shock him with her memory of events. Or her supposed memory of events. But he still wondered if she was going to spin a tale that was more believable than what she had already done. He did not have to wait long for the answer.
“Now stay with me, son,” Joann said to Jay. Jay sat across the table from her, ready to write down what she said. “What if another federal agency that oversaw the banks had employees working inside of the FBI. These employees pretended to be FBI. But they were not. They were not among those in the FBI who hunted me down and cowardly shot me.”
Jay squinted. He quickly changed his expression when she paused to look at him. He wanted to be neutral and report the facts. But saying she was cowardly shot was not an accurate assessment. If she was Ma Barker, she knew why she was shot. She was shot because of her and her gang’s deadly violent history. And she and her son, Fred, shot at federal officers.
“I see your disapproving look,” she said. He told her he was just listening. “As I was saying, after the FBI shot Fred and me, what if the other federal agency’s employees came into the house first? What if three minutes went by before the FBI agents entered? And what if the group that was not FBI agents found Ma Barker alive? And unlike the FBI and J Edgar Hoover who wanted me dead, that other agency wanted me alive? Not free. But alive.”
“And why would they have wanted you alive?” Jay asked.
“I sense your incredulity,” Joann said. “I think that’s the word I want. But you asked a good question. The only reason they wanted me alive was to tell them how I planned all those robberies?”
“Are you about to tell me that Ma Barker worked for the federal government?” Jay asked. “You’re really going to tell me that?”
“I understand your skepticism,” Joann said. “But there are things you and the world don’t know about Ma Barker.”
“I’m convinced there are lots we don’t know,” Jay said.
“There is a lot you don’t know,” she said. “Like, I forgot to tell you in 1915, I lived in a shack. All kinds of outlaws visited me. I gave them food and shelter and a place to rest. And I showed them how to plan and commit jobs. You call them crimes. Any bank robberies or money taken off the trains required the person doing the job to give me a percentage of the loot for advising them. Some newspapers called me the brains behind many of these operations. I was almost like an Einstein.”
“So you’re saying a federal agency wanted your expertise in helping them make their banks and trains more secure from outlaws?” he asked.
“You said that,” she said. “I’m saying you need to read more.” Jay squinted. “On June sixteenth nineteen thirty-three President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Banking Act. It was later read to me. A little-known federal program was in that act.” She sucked air through her teeth and grimaced. “It was called the FDIC.”
Jay had just drunk water from his glass and coughed. He put his hand over his mouth and turned his head and kept coughing.
“When you’re finished spitting all over yourself, tell me what you’re saying,” she said.
Jay held his hand up and tried to slow his breathing. He coughed off and on for a minute.
“Alright,” he whispered. “I’m alright.” He cleared his throat. “You’re telling me.” He cleared his throat again. “You…” He coughed more.
“Finish, why don’t you, and then talk,” she said.
“You’re talking about the FDIC,” he said. “The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC insures the deposits.” He rubbed his face.
“Keep your voice down, thank you,” she said. “I know that. I knew it before you were born.”
“Ma,” she said, interrupting him.
“Ma,” he said. “You’re saying the FDIC kept you alive to help them…to improve their agency. You’re saying you and outlaws like you were the catalyst for the FDIC. You’re telling me you assisted in changing banking. Because the federal government, with the formation of the FDIC, was now on the hook for replacing those stolen deposits that people like you would steal from them.”
“I guess you could say indirectly I showed the federal government how to help insure people’s deposits,” she said. “Think about it. If you were the FDIC, wouldn’t you want the best bank robber to show you how to prevent the banks you insure from being robbed?”
Jay mentally threw his hand up. How could he answer that question?
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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and enjoy your holidays.