Year
1939

Doc Barker is killed by prison guards as he attempts to escape

Arthur “Doc” Barker is killed while trying to escape from Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay. Barker, of the notorious “Bloody Barkers” gang, was spotted on the rock-strewn shore of the island after climbing over the walls. Despite the fact that guards were ordering him to surrender, Barker continued tying pieces of wood together into a makeshift raft. As he waded into the water, the guards shot and killed him.

Doc Barker, along with his brothers Herman, Lloyd, and Fred, and their mother, the infamous Ma Barker, formed one of the more formidable criminal gangs of the 1920s and 1930s. Carrying out a series of bank robberies and kidnappings throughout the Midwest, Ma shrewdly paid off officials in towns all over the region, allowing the gang to avoid the law for long stretches of time.

In 1934, with their pictures in all of the newspapers, Doc and Fred Barker tried to change their appearance through plastic surgery. They enlisted Dr. Joseph Moran to conduct the operations, including removing their fingerprints. But the plan was a disaster, and each ended up with terrible scars, infected fingers, and recognizable faces anyway. Dr. Moran was adopted into the gang as a matter of necessity, but when he started to talk about their activities to a prostitute, the Barkers killed him.

On January 8, 1935, FBI agents, led by Melvin Purvis, captured Doc Barker in Chicago, Illinois. As he searched Barker, Purvis reportedly asked, “Where’s your gun?” Barker replied, “Home—and ain’t that a place for it?” Eight days later, Fred and Ma Barker were pinned down at their hideout in Florida. A massive gun battle left both of them dead.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Stephen Foster dies

In the charity ward of New York’s Bellevue Hospital, Stephen Foster, America’s first professional songwriter, dies at the age of 37.Stephen Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1826–the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He ...read more

Sole British soldier escapes Kabul

On January 13, 1842, a British army doctor reaches the British sentry post at Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the lone survivor of a 16,000-strong Anglo-Indian expeditionary force that was massacred in its retreat from Kabul. He told of a terrible massacre in the Khyber Pass, in which ...read more

James Joyce dies

James Joyce, widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest author, dies in Zurich, Switzerland, at the age of 58. One of the most brilliant and daring writers of the 20th century, Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses is ranked among the greatest works in the English language.Born in Dublin in ...read more

Pope recognizes Knights Templar

On this day in 1128, Pope Honorius II grants a papal sanction to the military order known as the Knights Templar, declaring it to be an army of God.Led by the Frenchman Hughes de Payens, the Knights Templar organization was founded in 1118. Its self-imposed mission was to protect ...read more

First Operation Farm Gate missions flown

In the first Farm Gate combat missions, T-28 fighter-bombers are flown in support of a South Vietnamese outpost under Viet Cong attack.By the end of the month, U.S. Air Force pilots had flown 229 Farm Gate sorties. Operation Farm Gate was initially designed to provide advisory ...read more

Michael Jordan retires for a second time

On January 13, 1999, the National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls announces his retirement from professional basketball, for the second time, in front of a crowd at Chicago’s United Center.Jordan had an outstanding college career, but ...read more

Wyatt Earp dies in Los Angeles

Nearly 50 years after the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp dies quietly in Los Angeles at the age of 80.The Earp brothers had long been competing with the Clanton-McClaury ranching families for political and economic control of Tombstone, Arizona, and the ...read more

Zola’s “J’accuse” letter is printed

On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola’s inflammatory newspaper editorial, entitled “J’accuse,” is printed. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a ...read more

Plane crashes into Potomac

On this day in 1982, an Air Florida Boeing 727 plunges into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., killing 78 people. The crash, caused by bad weather, took place only two miles from the White House.The Air Florida flight took off from Washington National Airport in Arlington, ...read more

The Manuel Massacres

Peter Manuel is arrested in Glasgow, Scotland, after a series of attacks over two years that left between seven and 15 people dead. Manuel, born in America to British parents, established himself as a career criminal early in life. He received his first burglary conviction at age ...read more

Napoleon Bonaparte Buford is born

On this day in 1897, Union General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford is born in Woodford, Kentucky. Buford held many commands in the West and was a hero at the Battle of Belmont, Missouri,early in the war.Buford attended West Point and graduated in 1827. After a stint with the frontier ...read more

Comedian killed in Corvair crash

On this day in 1962, Ernie Kovacs, a comedian who hosted his own television shows during the 1950s and is said to have influenced such TV hosts as Johnny Carson and David Letterman, dies at the age of 42 after crashing his Chevrolet Corvair into a telephone pole in Los Angeles, ...read more