Society has been infested with an incurable disease that has plagued us since the dawn of man. It has infected the young and caused irreparable damage to young and old alike. When the affliction hits more than one family member it gains more media attention, but the devastation resulting from this is often more than the mind can comprehend. That disease is crime.
The first serial killers to make history in the United States (and one of the bloodiest) were two cousins by the name of William and Joshua Harpe. According to Illinois history, they migrated to America with their Scottish parents as young children, and passing themselves off as brothers, proceeded to murder some forty men, women and children in less than nine months. The gruesome details of their carnage includes the story of two women that they held captive for several years. After impregnating both women twice, these vengeful men murdered their newborn babies.
The Harpe boys were successful in eluding the law, but not as lucky at cheating death. William (also known as Micajah or "Big") met his demise when he was shot by one of his victims and his severed head was placed on a stick and displayed. Joshua (also known as Wiley or "Little") was eventually apprehended when he presented the head of another outlaw and attempted to collect a reward. He was eventually hung for his crimes.
By the middle of the 1800's the notorious James brothers came unto the scene. Along with Jesse's brother Frank, and brothers Cole and Bob Younger, they spread terror over several states, robbing banks and killing anyone that got in their path. They are credited for pulling off the first daylight bank robbery in U.S. history during peacetime.
Legend tells the story of a would-be reward seeker that killed Jesse while he stood straightening a picture in his own home. Ironically, Ford was later charged with his murder and then pardoned by the governor of Missouri. There are some that theorize that the whole story was a made-up tale, and that Jesse actually died of natural causes at the age of 103.
Frank was the more conservative of the two brothers and had visions of becoming a schoolteacher before taking on a life of crime with his brother. Several months after Jesse's death Frank turned himself in but was later acquitted. He died at the family farm at the age of 73.
Arizona Donnie Clark was also born to Scottish parents in a small farming community in Missouri. She attended church every Sunday, read the bible on a regular basis, and shared her musical talents with the congregation. Her parents taught her hard work and honesty, and a firm set of morals. In 1892 she married a farm laborer by the name of George Barker, and they went on to have four sons: Herman, Lloyd, Arthur and Fred. Thus, was the beginning of the infamous Bloody Barkers.
To this day there remains a great deal of controversy over Ma Barker and her role in the gangs' activities. Although she smothered her boys with attention, there is no evidence of her ever having committed a crime. Her worse offense appeared to be that of protecting them, and she harbored them to the point that she was killed in a gun battle with police alongside one of her sons.
Psychologists have tried to establish evidence to prove that criminal behavior is the result of a gene, but thus far this cannot be proven. In the 1960's the XXY syndrome was introduced, suggesting that it was the cause of certain behavior patterns in individuals. Despite another study, involving identical twins that were reared in different environments, there is nothing concrete to differentiate these criminals from anyone else.
One thing that is certain in crime families is that the behavior is learned. Just as a young boy that wants to grow up to be a doctor like his dad, a child that grows up in a home filled with criminal activity is more likely to follow the path that they are most accustomed to. While most children are taught to have good moral standards, these children see this lifestyle as being the norm.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of all juveniles in custody have another relative that is, or has been, incarcerated. Just as in a normal family, those involved in crimes can form a very close bond. The old adage that "blood is thicker than water" probably holds more weight in the latter respect due to the constant threat of being caught. Much like Ma Barker, they protect one another and stand firm to the family code.
In today's society family crime has taken on a different role. Gang affiliations teach that it's cool to do time, and unless you sport at least one tear drop (a facial tattoo that indicates a five-year sentence), you don't fit in. Where once there was one family member associated with a gang, there are now brothers, sisters and cousins taking up the role. Why? Because it's the cool thing to do, and because the family bond is ever so strong.