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Mas Hideout

A dazzling purple dawn sky faded to vibrant blue as the sun rose, along with the temperature. The days warmth was forecasted to again be a pleasurable 65 degrees before dipping back to an evening chill of about 50 or so. Delightful weather. A typical early March morning in Central Florida.

As another seemingly routine day progressed, nothing foretold the bizarre events that were about to unfold.

After my usual breakfast of bacon and eggs (the excess bacon grease poured over our little dogs dry food, much to her great joy), I took Lacey, our inquisitive fluffy white mini Poodle-Pom mix (affectionately known as a Pom-a-poo) to the local dog park for a romp. While she sniffs around, I sip coffee from a paper cup. We are partners and always begin each new day this way. Bacon fat does make for a very loyal dog. Doggie Run-Run used to be a sprawling horse ranch. Then a transplanted New Yorker got the innovative idea of making it into a place where dogs can run around in expansive pastures. Unlike most dog parks, this one has two distinct areas: fenced-off parts and a wide open and spacious section in the rear . There are three acres for each size dogsmall, medium and large. Including the owners house, and his kennel business, there is a total of ten wide-open acres smack in the middle of Central Floridas horse and cattle country. The business is on a rural back road with a number instead of a name: County Road (CR) 108.

While the dogs frolic pet owners gather in a semi-circle, chatting about whatever comes to mind. The subjects change as fast as the breezes blow across the sprawling meadow.

Lacey tips the scales just shy of twenty pounds, so we usually hang around the small dog section. Sometimes Ill take her in to mix it up with the big boys. Sh e usually holds her own. Sometimes she does get roughed-up a little, but she learns fast.

Some days, I join the circle talk but mostly I like throwing a tennis ball to Lacey to give us both some exercise. Or I talk to Dennis, a guy who works there. His main job is walking around picking up poop with a scoop and filling in holes that some dogs obsessively dig. Dennis refers to these dogs as tunnel rats. He complains that the owners, should fill in the holes themselves, but he continues filling holes anyway and never bothers the customers. Dennis appears to be in his mid-seventies. I enjoy talking with him because hes a Central Florida native, born and raised in the area not a transplant from up north or a snowbird. Hes thin and wiry with faded bicep and forearm tattoos. Hes usually wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt like an old biker guy. His eyes are always disguised behind sleek blue-mirrored sunglasses. The rest of his face holds deep lines from a lifetime of absorbing Floridas intense tropical sun and heat.

We get to talking about food and his favorite local places. He tells me that the best chicken wings in Central Florida, or maybe anywhere for that matter, are served at a biker bar and pub he frequents in a small town known as Fruitland Park, about six miles

up the road. I take note of the name as we continue walking and gabbing. I continue throwing the ball to my dog while he cleans up the poop. A big feature of Doggie RunRun is that for a $3 daily usage fee, you just mark the spot where your dog goes with an orange flag and then Dennis does the rest; a very nice service indeed. By the time we do a full lap together, its getting close to noon and Im feeling hungry. Ive got HOT Wings on my mind, thanks to Dennis. We part company and I drive b ack home and I tell my wife Betty about the culinary discovery offered up to me by Dennis at the dog park. I give it a big build-up and we decide to go.

The place is on a main road, conveniently situated in front of a no name, 1960s-style, drive-up-to-your room roadside motor lodge. Those are extinct in other regions of the country. My first thought isHow convenient for the patrons of the bar who might be in need of a bed to walk to.

Inside, the pub is mainly what you might expect, dark and rustic. All sorts of mismatched antique paraphernalia are nailed on the walls: vintage fishing tackle, a pitch fork, taxidermy (preserved small game urgently in need of a good dusting), pictures of old Florida houses, sepia prints of people trophy fish, citrus groves. The most prevalent decorations are dozens of Florida State license plates dating back to the 1920s and 30s. Many are rusted beyond recognition while others are surprisingly well preserved. A couple of biker-looking men and their old ladies sit at the bar. They dont look menacing, unlike the Hells Angels, who I sometimes see idling outside their clubhouse on East 3rd Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. These men and women here

look more like unemployed, overweight, weekend warriors who like to ride around in bunches and just hang out. They make lots of noise zooming down small-town streets to attract attention, then park somewhere whiling away the hours, checking out each others bikes. Theres no helmet law in Florida, so they ride with bandanas and headbands or just let their hair blow back with the breeze. When they bunch-up and ride in packs they look outlaw-ish and also free, like modern-day American Cowboys. Their leathers often display American Flags, MIA-POW references, a Skull and Cross Bones, and the occasional Rebel Flag.

The rest of the lunch crowd are local people mainly dressed in dungarees and faded tshirts, well-worn and comfortable, just like the bar.

The seating choice was bar or booth. We slid into a booth.

What we thought was the slimmest local newspaper in the world, left on our table, turned out to be the menu. It was another clever idea, just like the old license plates. There were some local delicacies, like deep-fried gator-tail bites, and frog legs, but it seemed most people around us had chosen the wings or burgers. The waitress was Florida-friendly and took our order with a warm smile and a big, Thank yall. Thatll be right up and Ill getch-ya drinks first, Darlins. We were pleased with our choice of lunch place and I told Betty that I didnt think Dennis wouldve steered us wrong, being from this area and all.

The cokes came fast. Betty used her straw, but I took a big gulp, holding back the ice with my lower teeth. The dog park walk and talk with Dennis and Lacey had made me thirsty and dry. The catchy Menu-News headline grabbed my attention as we drank:

MA BARKER AND HER GANG SHOOT IT OUT WITH FEDERAL AGENTS AT LAKE WEIR FLORIDA January 16, 1935.

A faded Wanted Poster of the infamous outlaw family matriarch, Ma (Kate) Barker, sat on the wall. Her real name was Arizona Donnie Clark, affectionately called Arrie by family and close friends, and there was the original reward poster from 1935 accompanying her story. Historic photos showed an old two-story Florida-style house on a picturesque lake along with a full color contemporary shot of the property as it appears today.

One picture caption read:

Outlaws Ma Barker and her son Fred die after a record long four-hour gun battle with Federal Agents. 2,000 bullet rounds were exchanged before the Bank Robbers were gunned down in their rented Ocklawaha hideout tucked away on scenic Lake Weir. Other members of the gang including notorious Bank Robber and cold-blooded killer Alvin Karpis, along with Arthur Barker, another one of Ma Barkers five sons, escaped to Miami before the early dawn raid commenced.

What especially caught my eye next was in the very first paragraph of the story:

Lake Weir, just eight miles from Fruitland Park.

Betty, the house where Ma Barker was killed it just eight miles from here! No further words were needed. We both knew what we are doing after lunch. The wings were pretty darn good and extra spicy, just the way I like them. Bettys burger was hearty, as one might expect in the kind of no-nonsense eatery a non-no-nonsense person like Dennis would recommend. We left satisfied with the meal and the local color. My lips were hot from the spicy wings sauce as we started driving the short distance towards Mas House.

Just as The Barkers and other gangsters presumably always carried guns, I constantly have my camera with me because you just never know. Its always handy, slung from my waist belt for a fast draw. One thing Ive learned about photography is that the best shots are often the ones you least expect. I suppose criminals from the public enemy era, on the run from the law, had a similar credo, but with concealed weapons instead of digital cameras that are worn in plain sight. My imagination was beginning to creep back in time to a bygone era. I could feel it starting. The story on the menu had released some chemical activity in my brain that needed to be developed into real-life images.

One item of note for our adventure: the Barker Shootout House was for sale. The NewsMenu reported it at the bargain price of one million dollars, complete with all the original furnishings that were in the house at the time of the infamous raid by G-men back in 35. In this part of rural Florida a million dollars buys a mansion. However, from the appearance of the house in the current FOR SALE color photo the place we were headed to wasnt palatial by any stretch of the imagination. It looked tired, and average in size, like the typical old lake house it probably was.
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Were they aiming to make a killing off of its historic criminal significance?

The Village of Ocklawaha looked as if maybe, thirty or forty years ago, it had made a failed attempt at becoming a quaint resort destination with the crystal waters of circular Lake Weir as its core attraction. Lake Weir is still billed today as the largest pure-sandbottom lake in all of Florida, and one of the best bass fishing spots in The South but all we saw along the lines of tourism promotion was a place renting kayaks along the road, and business was sure not booming there. Another ramshackle roadside stand was offering boiled peanuts. Nothing was happening. The area looked isolated.

A good choice for a hideout, even today, I thought.

Actually it was an impeccable choice that the Barkers had made. Back then Ocklawaha was about as remote a spot as one could find in America. It was accessible only by dirt roads, surrounded by farms, cattle ranches, and citrus groves. Even better, it was mainly known only to North Central Floridians, and a handful of Midwestern winter residents, and it was known only as a good fishing spot for the weekends and a summer place where people minded their own business.

So then how did they get caught?

It turns out the only one who was going to take down Ma was Ma Barker herself, and thats pretty much how it went.

You see, Arrie (Ma) had a soft spot for all of her five sons, who were named Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, Doc, Fred, and Willmar. She raised them up in Tulsa City, Oklahoma, and kept them safe from abusive, alcoholic father George Barker.

Even when they turned to lives of crime, or were locked away in Leavenworth and Alcatraz, as Lloyd and Arthur were, she did her best to look after her boys, no matter what. As a prelude to Mas own ferocious siege by law enforcement eight years la ter, her oldest son Herman and estranged husband George were killed hourslong shootout in Wichita, Kansas. Realizing that there was no escape and vowing never to return to The Federal Penitentiary, the father and son committed suicide with bullets to the head. Years later, and unlike her drunk husbands style, Ma went down, too, with son Fred but rest assured she was blasting away with machine guns at the time, not aiming a pistol at her own head. Ma was a letter writer, thats how she kept in touch with her brood when the gangland family were separated, on the run, in the Pen or pulling jobs in different cities and then laying low.

Besides the Barker clan, it turns out that Lake Weir, Florida, in the winter of 1935, had another infamous resident lurking in its midst: One-Eyed Joe the Giant Alligator. The 18foot-long 2,000 pounder got his nickname because a bass fishing boat smashed into his head when he surfaced at the wrong time, and that collision gouged out an eye. From that day on the one-eyed legend grew far and wide around Central Florida.

Ma liked to go out to the end of the dock and write her letters from there. One day she saw One-Eyed Joe surface just off the pier. She wrote about that in the letter she was composing that afternoon to her son Arthur Doc Barker, who was in Chicago at that time. The G-men had their eyes on Doc just as keenly as the residents of Lake Weir had theirs out for One-Eyed Joe the alligator. So of course the Feds were intercepting Docs mail, carefully opening and reading it, searching for clues and then quietly delivering it back to Doc, seemingly untouched by federal hands. They hoped to learn the whereabouts of his mother and brothers, who were still at large and undoubtedly planning more stick-ups.

Ma was careful to have the boys drop her letters from different cities so as not to give away their location, but the legend of One-Eyed Joe turned out to be a sharper clue for her pursuers than any postmark might have been. The Feds, already suspicious that Ma and the boys could be on the lam down south, read that letter with great interest, particularly where Ma described seeing the giant gator known as One-Eyed Joe, and promptly dispatched some top-notch agents down into the lake, swamp, and gator region of Central Florida to do some snooping.

Knowing that Fred Barker loved to fish and hunt, they started showing his WANTED photos around at bait-and-tackle shops, hoping for a break in the case. One day they wandered into a shack of a place in the quiet hamlet of Ocklawaha selling worms and hooks. By sheer determination and good old-fashioned gumshoe road pounding, monotonous detective work, and canvasing small town by small town, they had tracked

down One-Eyed Joe to Lake Weir, Florida. They now sensed they were hot on the gangs trail, and closing in fast.

The G-men showed the bait store proprietor WANTED posters of the Barker Boys, Ma, and Karpis, as they had done in countless other tackle joints and hunting shops all over the Florida boondocks. The man said he knew about the Barker Gang from the papers, but he didnt recall ever seeing them in his store, or about town.

However, the tenacious G-men had one more picture. One gangster they were hunting for had a tattoo of a red heart on his lower-right forearm, on the part he might extend if he were handing over cash, or lighting a cigarette. Now, I seen that Tattoo! That one comes in here to get bait bout once a week...a quiet nd polite feller. Hes staying up the road a piece; renting the Carlson place with his Mom and brothers Im told...nice wealthy folk, I hear tell, from Chicago, down here for the winteris what I know. The mans story was not far from the truth. An Ocklawaha real estate agent had been approached by a woman and man saying they were from the Midwest and needed a quiet place for rest and relaxation. The couple made the unsuspecting broker a cash offer he couldnt refuse and rented the Carlson place for four months. The couple turned out to be none other than Arizona Donnie Clark (Ma Barker) and her son Fred, Gangster-Killers on Americas Most Wanted List.

Back then the Feds only made dawn raids, so after making the red-heart tattoo discovery at the bait shop, they planned to spring a raid on the newly discovered
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hideout at first light the following day. Unbeknownst to the Feds, and in a stroke of sheer luck for, Alvin Karpis and one Barker brother, both men had slipped away on a prescheduled trip to Miami just before the raid, leaving Ma and Fred in the house at dawn. Since the gang had such a large stockpile of weapons it took a few hours after the shooting started up for the G-men to figure out that they were only in a gunfight with two people, the desperate and dangerous Ma and Fred Barker, and not the entire mob. Ma and Fred ran from window to window blasting away, as if hired guns were entrenched all over the house. To this day bullets are in the trees about the property invisible to the naked eye after 78 years of growth, but nevertheless deep in the live oak wood.

They were not to be taken alive.

The rest is history. After four hours of gunfire and 2,000 bullets discharged, Ma and Fred lay dead in second floor bedrooms at 13254 Ocklawaha Highway, overlooking the white sands and aqua-tinted, spring-fed waters of Lake Weir.

Since the Barker place was FOR SALE, we had no trouble (unlike the G-men of 78 years ago) finding it by using our smart phone apps. All of the houses in bucolic Ocklawaha surround the lake, and Ocklawaha Highway goes around Lake Weir in one big circle. Even with all this navigational information, however, we ended up passing 13254 (12345) Ocklawaha Highway, so we did a U-turn and came back to it. Betty was driving. I had Lacey on my lap. I was snapping pictures out the window of whatever we were passing.

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Betty spotted the house from the picture and pulled up onto the wide grassy shoulder. I got out, camera in hand. I was eager. A metal, chest-high cyclone fence surrounded the large plot roughly ten acres of land and beach, using the dog-park fields as a comparison.

Mature oak trees shaded much of the property, with solid limbs extending over the house, littering its rusting metal roof with droppings and debris. Lake Weir was in the background. I began snapping away as I bounded towards the open gate. NO TRESPASSING signs were clearly posted on the enormous oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss. I would learn later that back in the1930s the house was completely obscured from the highway by heavy underbrush and a forest of towering bamboo. The property directly across the street was undeveloped and looked like the jungle from a Tarzan movie. It would be completely impassable by foot. Again, the perfect hideout choice for Ma and the Gang back then.

Normally, these sorts of signs (except BEWARE OF DOG) do not dissuade me from getting my pictures. My reasoning to that my camera entitles me to go where others would be considering trespassing, for the sake of Art and Photography. Frankly, Im surprised Ive not been beat up, shot at, or arrested by now.

For some reason, maybe due to the violent and shadowy history of the property, I decided to obey the NO TRESPASSING signs for once. That turned out to be a fortunate decision.

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With an eye out for stinging red ants and venomous snakes, I resolved to kneel down in the uncut grass and poke my slender telephoto lens through the chain-link fence, settling for unappealing long-distance shots under the tree cover of the old hideout in the distance. I yearned to get closer; touch it, feel it, smell it and experience its aura. I wanted more of Ma.

Betty inched the car up and past the grassy dirt driveway so as not to block it, and waited with the dog in our late-model, white Nissan Infinity sedan with standout New York license plates. I figured she was doing a Google search on her smartphone to learn more about Ma Barker. She likes old historical places, especially mysterious locations like the one we were directly in front of, seemingly all by ourselves. Little did we know that we were in the crosshairs of menace.

With my face pressed to the fence I suddenly became aware of the roar of a powerful engine racing towards me. I sensed speed, size, weight, and danger as mechanical vibrations coursed through the air, into the ground, up through the fence and into my brain. I snapped my head around, and, coming straight for me was a Hungry-Man-size, ultra-heavy-duty, bright-red Dodge pick-up truck. I was about to be crushed like a miniature designer dog by this beast of a V8. Say goodbye!

At the final moment before impact the big knobby tires dug into the turf like bear claws, stopping the bouncing Ram truck mere feet from my crouched, camera-toting body. The Dodge body shook on its frame from the jolting halt. I looked up and saw a big silverhorned Ram hood ornament glaring back at me and I rose to greet my fate.

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Florida is a popular gun state, so of course my next thought was something like, Was I spared being run over just to be shot? AND WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOURE DOING? the driver of the Ram barked at me like a slobbering Bull Mastiff. Whoever he was.

A silver skull swung from the rear-view mirror like a pendulum of death. The man had a long graying handlebar moustache to complement his angry down turned mouth, quivering lower lip, and watering bloodshot eyes. He had a full head of gray hair, parted straight down the middle, 1970s style.

I think because I was still feeling grateful for being alive, I did not feel dread. I approached the drivers side of his oversized monster pick-up truck. From the dog park I learned that animals can sense fear instantly, and then prey on the weak. Purposely, I had been taking little Lacey into the medium- and big-dog sections to give her more confidence around big dogs, who intimidate with loud, deep barks and antagonistic posturing. I guess I also learned a thing or two about aggressive animal behavior from the Doggie Run Run. I didnt speak at once to answer his demand. Instead I looked him square in the eyes. Seconds of tense silence ensued. Will he draw down with a weapon? Grab me, or just bark some more? What kind of dog is this? Im taking pictures of the Barker House. I said, freakishly calm. I caught him way off guard. He was looking for a fight. I could feel it in my bones. But that takes two. We

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stared some more. His handlebar moustache rose a bit as his jaw and straining neck relaxedjust a hair.

I noticed his black t-shirt had an image of a skull with a WWII style army helmet on it cocked to one side, and a tattoo of a cobra snake curled up around a dagger on his forearm.

He definitely liked skulls and other ghoulish imagery.

He broke our locked stare first, nonchalantly turning his head to our white sedan with the NY plates, disdainfully. Whos that? He motioned with his head toward the car. My wife and my dog. Oh yeah? he mumbled. Yes, I returned directly. Cant you read? NO TRESPASSING? Sure, I can read. Thats why you saw me taking pictures from this side of the fence.

His moustache was almost back to straight now and the swinging skull was just about motionless.

More silence, so I just I waited. I said my piece. It was his move.

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I catch lotsa people drivin right in here and dead-on up on my property. Walking all around nd checkin out Mas house like they own the place or somethin. Some come drunk and get nasty with me when I tell em to git.

I waited to make sure he was done; and then spoke. Well Im not drunk and were not trespassing either.

I began to sense that both he and his Dodge Ram V8 engine had begun to cool off one heat contraction metallic click at a time.

He took another protracted, uncomfortable pause and then abruptly switched gears. You got twenty bucks? Yea, why? How bout you pay me twenty bucks, ten for you and ten for your wife? For what? For me givin you a private tour of Mas house. Thats what you want, ain it? Wellwe werent expecting it, for sure, but since you mention it... Ill show you FBI files, pictures from the shootout, bullet holes in the walls, and the place where Ma and Fred Barkers bodies were found all shot up.

Another one of his long pauses and then more words drifted out.

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You can take pictures in there, and whatever, but the little dogs gotta wait in the carDeal? Sure youve got a deal! I quickly accepted his out-of-the-blue offer. Goodhand over the twenty and follow me. Its my house and been in the family for over 100 years. Ma and her boys rented the place from my Grand Daddy for the winter back in 1935. I only did this a few times. Did what? Givin a private tour like, he said. Like what? I quizzed. Like as inyoure just lucky Im in a good mood today.

I simply had no idea how to respond to that, so I remained silent and kept walking with him until he began speaking again. Youll notice when we get in there that little has changed since January 16 , 1935the day of the shootout, which til now still remains the longest one in recorded FBI history. In each room are crime scene photos taken that day. You look at those, and then look around the rooms, and youll see all the same furniture and pictures and lamps just the way they were. Amazing. Howd you manage that?

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Well you see, this was a winter place for my Grandfolks. After the shootout they patched up the bullet holes, as youll see. They didnt do a very good job. The Grandfolks came back down for a few years following the raid, and after the place got fixed up, but they kept hearing strange noises like doors slamming, footsteps and, well, just lots of weird stuff going on. They had pretty good money back in those days so they just boarded it up and left it that way for years and years. After they passed, my Mom and Dad inherited it and they tried renting it out, but they had the same problems with vacationers, cause of all the same weird happenings, so Dad let it sit and built the smaller place next door. Thats where I live now. Mom and Dad are gone now too. Im trying to sell Mas house. The taxes are killing me. I could use the money real bad right now. Times are tough. Right there, thats were you live? I pointed to a brick ranch-style house about fifty yards up the lakeshore from the Barker house. Yep. Dad built that place back in the 70s after we had aI forget what you call itwhen psychic people come in with candles and stuff. A sance. Yea thats it, a Sance. And howd that go? We neared the old, weather-beaten front stairs leading into a screened porch.

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Well its a well known fact that shethe psychic, that iscontacted Fred Barker and asked him to leave the house and stop bothering the people who stay there, and he agreed. So I guess he finally went off to rest in peace. Then they tried to contact Ma next to git her to leave too but they had no luck, so they got back Fred again and asked him to be like a middleman. Intermediary? I offered. Yea, thats what they called itright; and asked him to ask Ma to leave the house too. And howd that work out? Well Fred comes back. The candles flickering and curtains are fluttering, you know, and he says Ma told him she aint never leavinthat its her house. And Fred repeated that Ma said if they go ahead and knock it down and build something else on that spot shes gonna move in there and if they just leave it bare ground shes gonna be there too. In other words, she told Fred that she aint ever leavingever!and that was that. Mas word was final!

I drew my camera from its holster and we followed him toward the house, which has stood in a time warp for 78 years, bullet scars and all. Immediately, I recognized the wooden steps from a picture we saw back at the bar, where the G-men had laid out the Barkers WWI platoon-sized arsenal of machine guns, pistols, rifles, shotguns, and ammo seized after the raid. The G-men had it all laid out there for a good PR shot so that The Director, Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, could show the general public that he was winning the war on crime.
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In fact, some have suggested that the myth that Ma Barker was in on her sons Bank Robberies and Murders was encouraged by J. Edgar Hoover and his fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to justify his agencys killing of an old lady. Notorious robber Harvey Bailey, who knew the Barkers well, corroborates this view of Ma B. He observed in his autobiography that Ma Barker couldnt plan breakfast, let alone a criminal enterprise. Regardless of Mas standing in the gang which did bear her name, giving rise to her as a criminal legend, there is no question that on January 16, 1935, Ma Barker went down in a hail of bullets, Tommy gun in hand. Our feet touched that arsenal photo opportunity spot, and we entered Mas 1935 Hideout.

Our guide, now quite friendly, held the rickety screen door open. It led through the front porch and then into the parlor. Ill take yall up to the bedroom first where Ma got it, he boasted.

He took the lead up the narrow old staircase and we filed in behind him. This is Mas room right here, he reported. The bedroom was small, so we needed to crowd in. I stood in the corner across from the window.

Sure enough, there was a picture as promised of what the room looked like in 1935. Nothing had changed: same dresser, pictures on the wall, lamps, bullet scars in the wall, jagged holes in the headboard where rounds had blasted through. And, there in
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the old black and white, was Mas dead body, sprawled up on the floor in an enormou s pool of blood. So this is the window where she did the shooting? Betty asked. Yepwhere she did most of it, he replied. And the body was found? Right where youre standingthere! What? I wretched back and started shuffling my feet in the corner of Ma Barkers bedroom room. Looking down, I noticed that the floor was still stained, presumably with her blood. Now let me show you two where Fred got itfollow me. I fumbled to draw my camera from its holster to start shooting in Mas room and they left me there alone. At that moment I had an eerie sensation, like standing on someones grave, but worse, so I quickly backed off from the wooden floor where Mas body had dropped 78 years ago, riddled with bullets holes from the G-mens Tommy guns and onto an antique area rug.

I wanted more of Ma and I got it. I felt her. Ma was here!

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As we left, I wondered who might ever buy this place. And if someone did, could they make peace with Ma Barkers undying spirit? A day to remember, for sure!

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