The Midwestern Crime Wave
All across the nation during the Great Depression people were jobless, homeless, and starving; nowhere was this truer than in the American Midwest. Not only did the farms and cities of the Midwest have to deal with the poor economic conditions but the Midwest's main source of income, agriculture, was being ravaged by the natural phenomenon now called the Dust Bowl. On top of low crop prices and a lack of employment farmland was ruined, went unplanted, and was often foreclosed on. These extra difficulties left the inhabitants of the Midwest with added resentments and frustration with businesses and government that seemed unable or unwilling to help. Out of this extreme hardship came a group of people who for many different reasons chose to make their own rules and live outside the law. These gangsters' exploits seemed to have been focused in Middle America from as far as Minnesota and Wisconsin to Texas and Louisiana. The Midwestern crime wave, which captivated a disenchanted public, involved brazen but personable gangsters who shot and robbed their way across country.
Crime has been no stranger to American history, from the very beginning there has been thieves, smugglers, and murderers, but rarely had they captivated the attention and sentiment of the public the way they did during the 1930s. Anyone living during the Great Depression had heard of gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and many more, but even though they were known criminals the public was able to sympathize and identify with them. During the Great Depression much resentment was felt towards the financial establishment and government. The popular opinion at the time was that the Federal Government and the banks were to blame for America's financial woes, because of this there was a bitterness and distrust for them. This in turn made the public feel that those robbing banks and kidnapping the rich were striking out for the poor against the wealthy. With the masses on their side these outlaws had many supporters among the American public. Claire Potter described the difficulty police had in obtaining information on gangsters from everyday citizens. She wrote about police who were questioning a witness whose only answer was to ask "why we do not put all the bankers in jail who stole the people's money?"(147) On top of this, the gangsters also offered some sensation and drama to the people of the Great Depression. Since fulfilling one's basic needs was so difficult the public had little time or money for recreational activities. The stories of the wild shootouts and daring holdups then gave the public something to talk about offering a little escape from the difficulty if their daily lives. These two aspects allowed gangsters to make many friends and find support easily while trying to elude authorities.
Armed robbery and kidnapping were the specialty of those that participated in the Midwestern crime wave. These crimes are...