Marion County commissioners recently agreed to spend $35,000 on a historic gangster-related tourist attraction that has proven to be quite popular at its new home.
The money will be used to re-wire the antiquated electrical system in the Bradford-Ma Barker House. The 89-year-old structure is famous for the longest FBI gun battle in history on Jan. 16, 1935 that left notorious gangster Ma Barker and her son, Fred, dead inside a front bedroom.
The two-story Cracker-style house, which in October 2016 was moved from private property in Ocklawaha to the Carney Island Recreation and Conservation Area, currently is wired with a knob-and-tube system that has been deemed unsafe. The re-wiring work will repair a variety of lights and receptacles throughout the house.
Since being donated to Marion County by descendants of the Bradford family and moved to its new home, interest in the historic house has increased dramatically. The Marion County Parks and Recreation Department has conducted more than 40 tours with about 474 attendees. Those tours have included groups from the County’s Leadership Development Teams, staff from the City of Ocala and other municipalities, private organizations and charities. Some tours even have been associated with paranormal activities, which have frequently been reported in the structure.
The house originally sat on private property and wasn’t open to the public. That lakefront Ocklawaha property was sold and the former gangster hideout was floated across Lake Weir to the Carney Island Recreation and Conservation area. Visitors can now walk through the life-sized time capsule and see the bullet holes that peppered the furniture and walls during a four-hour standoff with FBI agents and local enforcement officers.
The FBI is believed to have discovered where Ma Barker was holed up after tracking letters she sent to her son, Arthur. She supposedly was writing to him to tell him about a large gator in Lake Weir that everyone had called “Gator Joe,” hence the name of the popular local restaurant named “Gator Joe’s.”
After the shootout, the bodies of Ma Barker and her son, Fred, were found in the same front bedroom. Fred’s body was riddled with bullets but Ma Barker appeared to have died from a single bullet wound. The FBI claimed a Tommy gun was found in her hands.
Both of the gangsters’ bodies were put on public display and then stored until they were claimed on Oct. 1, 1935 by relatives, who had them buried at the Williams Timberhill Cemetery in Welch, Okla. They were laid to rest next to the body of another son, Herman, who died in August 1927 after committing suicide during a shootout with police.
To learn more about touring the Bradford-Ma Barker House, click HERE.