George W. Barrett

George W. Barrett (February 28, 1887 – March 24, 1936), also known as "The Diamond King" and "Bad George,"[1] was an American car thief and murderer who became the first person sentenced to death by hanging under a congressional act that made it a capital offense to kill a federal agent.[1][2]

George W. Barrett
BornFebruary 28, 1887
DiedMarch 24, 1936(1936-03-24) (aged 49)
Marion County Jail, Indianapolis, Indiana, US
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
OccupationStreetcar conductor
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)First degree murder of a federal employee (18 U.S.C. §§ 253 and 452)
Criminal penaltyDeath

Early lifeEdit

Barrett was born in Kentucky, one of at least seven children of William Barrett and Nancy Jane Bowling. He had worked as a streetcar conductor in Cincinnati and was a "career hoodlum, moonshiner, car thief and murderer" prior to killing the federal agent. He was known as the "Diamond King" because he supposedly carried diamonds in his pocket.[3][4]

On September 2, 1930, Barrett shot and killed his own 71-year-old mother (who had reportedly whipped his 11-year-old son) and pistol whipped his sister Rachel, who was shot through the ear.[5] His two brothers posted a $500 reward for his capture.[6] After eight months of being on the run, he turned himself in the next spring and was charged with killing his mother and wounding his sister.[7] The trial resulted in a hung jury. It was later reported that he had been tried for killing both his mother and sister, however, while he later admitted he had shot his mother in self-defense, he denied killing his sister, who he said died of pneumonia.[3] (According to records, Rachael Barrett Maupin did die of double bronchial pneumonia on October 18, 1930, a month after the attack.)[8]


Barrett came to the attention of the FBI because he was wanted for car theft and interstate transportation of vehicles as far as California.[2] Barrett would buy a model of a popular car and then steal an identical one. He would then sell the stolen car to an unsuspecting buyer using the papers of the car he bought legitimately. He had warrants for his arrest in San Diego and in Indiana.[4]

On August 16, 1935, FBI agents Nelson B. Klein and Donald McGovern had tracked Barrett to West College Corner, Indiana, and called the sheriff for assistance. Klein spotted Barrett standing by a car and gave chase on foot, not realizing that Barrett was armed with a .45 caliber Colt revolver. Barrett ran to a home owned by Mrs. Agatha McDonough and barricaded himself behind a garage, where he began to shoot at Klein and McGovern. Klein, a 37-year-old agent from Cincinnati, was shot six times in his chest and arms. The mortally wounded Klein fired back, along with McGovern. Barrett was shot in the knees and had two broken legs.[3]

Klein died on the spot. Homeowner Agatha McDonough was the first to reach Barrett, who was lying wounded in her yard. According to McDonough, Barrett bragged to her, "I beat him to the trigger. I shot him."[3]

Shortly thereafter, the local police arrived, and Barrett was taken to a local hospital and treated for his wounds. After several days he was released and then taken to Indianapolis, where he was tried and convicted of the murder of a federal agent.[4]

Trial and executionEdit

On December 7, 1935, he was convicted of first degree murder in the death of special agent Nelson B. Klein by a federal jury.[9]

The state of Indiana had adopted the electric chair as a method of execution in 1913, and was unprepared to carry out Barrett's preference for hanging as the method of execution.[1] On March 24, 1936, a farmer, Phil Hanna, who had taken up the study of hanging executions as a hobby, was called upon to perform the execution by the method required by the sentence. Before the trap was sprung at 12:02 pm, Barrett was asked if he had any last words, but did not respond. Barrett was still crippled from his wounds at the time of his execution, and had to be carried to the gallows on a stretcher and supported by deputy marshals. Barrett's last request was to see his younger brother, John, but no response was received to a telegram sent before his execution. There were approximately 50 official witnesses to his death. He was 49 years old at the time of death.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Palm Beach Post accessed April 6, 2009
  2. ^ a b William B. Breuer (1995). J. Edgar Hoover and his G-men. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-275-94990-7. Retrieved April 10, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d "Demand Death Penalty in Slaying of G-Man – Barrett Held, Shot by Wounded Officer". The Journal News. Hamilton, Ohio. August 17, 1935. p. 16.
  4. ^ a b c "Agent Recalls FBI Shootout". The Akron Beacon Journal. Akron, Ohio. August 25, 2015. p. B4. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  5. ^ "Madison Co. Man Slays Mother, Wounds Sister". Messenger-Inquirer. Owensboro, Kentucky. September 2, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  6. ^ "George Barrett Charged with Heinous Crime". Kentucky Advocate. Danville, Kentucky. September 2, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  7. ^ "Mother Slayer Will Surrender". Messenger-Inquirer. Owensboro, Kentucky. April 28, 1931. p. 1. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1965
  9. ^ "Barrett v. United States, 82 F.2d 528 (7th Cir. 1936)". Justia Law. Retrieved 2022-04-06.
  10. ^ "Murderer of G-man is Hanged in Indiana" New York Times