Get an inside look at one of Central Florida's most notorious houses

Ma Barker House Museum, home of 1935 shootout, offers tours in Marion County

By Carolina Cardona - Reporter

MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Florida is home to so many historical sites, including an  infamous house in Central Florida that once served as a hideout for a notorious criminal family. 

It was home to Kate "Ma" Barker and her sons. It was in the 1930s that she was called public enemy No. 1.

Ma and her son Fred fled to Florida after a series of vicious crimes in several states.

"Because that has never been redone, that floor, whereas this has, that’s the original and so you’re able to see the blood," Joe Voge, a volunteer for Marion County Parks and Recreation said about the site.

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It's where a historical FBI shootout -- one that took several hours and about 800 rounds fired to capture Ma Barker and her son -- took place on Jan. 16, 1935. 

You can still see blood stains inside a bedroom closet. Just outside the door, Ma Barker's body fell to gunshots after she and her son refused to surrender to authorities. 

"Fred would run around to all the rooms. He would shoot out the windows. The FBI at the time, the Department of Justice, they shot approximately 500 shots at this house, and the Barkers shooting out was 250 shots," Voge said as he gave News 6 a tour of the house.

Voge said that in the two months prior to being discovered, the Barkers lived as part of the community.

"(They) went to the local church here, they hunted regularly with the Abshers. The Abshers, of course, not knowing who they were because their name was Blackburn when they were staying here," Voge said.

Little did the community know, the Blackburns were the Barkers: a notorious family responsible for several crimes. 

"They moved constantly, but they were in Miami when they heard that this place may become available," Voge said about how the Barkers ended up in the quiet Central Florida town.

Located near Ocala, Ma and Fred rented the house after the Barker-Karpis gang split up in the summer of 1934. 

Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis, along with other criminals, had murdered people, robbed banks and trains and orchestrated two major kidnappings of rich businessmen in the 1930s.

"They killed 14 law enforcement officers and 16 civilians," Voge said.

He said it was believed that Ma Barker didn't commit any crimes, but she served as a coverup.

"She was reaping the benefits, and they needed her because they could move easily, where it looks like Ma and her sons and the law is out to catch them and they have a cover like that. She was taking advantage of the fact that they were bringing in the money -- and they were," Voge said.

The two-story house was donated to the county by the owner. Today, it's a museum with many of its original furnishings.

"It’s really nice and really neat. It’s got a lot of history. You can see the pictures and line up the bullet holes," said Jeremy Hayden, who was part of a tour at the museum.

"The first thing that people try to see when they walk into this room is bullet holes," Voge said. 

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Several bullet holes can be seen throughout the house. Others were patched up by the original owners.

"The door was actually closed, and so the bullets -- they were 35 yards out there. They were shooting up in an angle and so the rips would come right through here. There’s a number of holes," Voge said.

It's a house that seems to have stopped in time, still sparking curiosity because of the deadly shootout in 1935.

The Barkers were found after FBI agents arrested one of the gang members in Chicago.

Inside his apartment, they found a map of Florida with Lake Weir circled that eventually led them to Fred and Ma barker.

The Ma Barker House Museum is open to the public with a limited number of scheduled tours.

Marion County Parks and Recreation officials said they hope to have significant restorations done within the next year. 

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