State lawmakers are facing a decision over whether to purchase and preserve an historic home in the Florida town of Ocklawaha near Ocala. It's the site of an important battle for the FBI.
On January 16, 1935, J. Edgar Hoover ordered a surprise attack on the infamous Ma Barker gang. Agents had caught one of the Barkers with a map that ultimately led the FBI to the gang's rented Florida hideout. Most of the gang members left before the FBI raid. They surrounded Ma Barker and her son Fred, who refused to surrender and fought to the death.
"She was a tough cookie, and didn't go down without a fight," said George Albright, a former state lawmaker who is familiar with the history. "It's the longest gun battle in FBI history."
Records show the standoff and gun battle played out for more than four hours. One neighbor hid in his stove to dodge the gunfire, while another felt a bullet cut through her hair. The press called it the Battle of Ocklawaha.
The FBI drilled more than 2,000 rounds into the house until Ma Barker and her son Fred stopped shooting back. Agents found the bodies of two of America's most-wanted gangsters, a scattered fortune in cash, and an arsenal of rifles, pistols and Tommy guns.
Bullet holes still remain in the walls from the 1935 gun battle. And based on pictures taken after the raid, much of the house looks just as it did the day of the battle.
"I would say 85 to 90 percent of what's in there today are piece by piece what you see in the pictures," said Albright. "It is an amazing story."
Albright is Marion County's tax collector, a former state legislator and history buff, who is trying to preserve this property.
It's for sale and Albright wants to make sure it is not sold and demolished for condos. He is urging the state to purchase the home and property on Lake Weir, and convert it into a history center and memorial to law enforcement.
"Yes, there was a gangster killed there, but the good guys won. The American people won," he said.
J. Edgar Hoover called Ma Barker the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the 1930s. Historians say she may have been more of an accomplice, while her sons were the real masterminds. Either way, the gang unleashed a reign of terror across much of the nation. And the Battle of Ocklawaha was a big win for the FBI, and a turning point that helped lead to the demise of the Depression-era gangster movement.
The original owner of the Barker hideout did not realize he had rented it to Ma Barker in 1934. It has been passed down through the owner's family. Now it's for sale. The owners have lowered the price to $848,000.
This year, the legislature approved $250,000 to go toward the purchase of this property to preserve it. But that money was vetoed by Gov. Scott.