Public Enemy No1

Alvin Karpis - Memories of Torremolinos

As many of us were enjoying our 8th or 9th Summer holidays here in Torremolinos or elsewhere in the Costa del Sol I am certain none of us would have been aware of the death of a very colourful Torremolinos resident.
On Wednesday August 29, 1979 a Montreal-born man named Alvin Francis Karpowicz died in his Torremolinos home, aged 79.
Karpowicz was a charming unassuming pensioner who had moved to Torremolinos in 1973.
But before his relocation to Spain from Canada, for most of his life he had been better known as Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis, Canada’s most notorious criminal a renowned depression era outlaw in the USA.
Karpis was a one-time US Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the FBI) Public Enemy No.1 – one of only four in the 1930s – a  feared gangster and member of the infamous ‘Ma’ Baker Gang (also known as the Karpis-Barker gang) in the US.
Alvin Karpis - Memories of TorremolinosThe violent gang of bank robbers made headlines terrorizing towns across the mid and southwestern USA in the early to mid 1930s.
He was once quoted saying he found some of his criminal activities ‘exciting’: “But even bank robberies can get dull.”
After a series of film-like shootouts, he was ‘arrested’ o May 1 1936 by the bureau director J. Edgar Hoover. I’ll explain the quotation marks…
Even in his arrest the story gets interesting. Hoover had been criticized for being all brain and no brawn, due to his not having arrested anyone himself, leaving all the work to his famous G-Men.
Eager to prove himself some say he staged a ‘hero’s arrest’ photo op in New Orleans. As Karpis walked out of his apartment he was restrained by the G-Men and handed over to Hoover to make the arrest.  
One account claims that Hoover’s men did not have any handcuffs as they were on a kill mission and had no intention of taking him alive. So when Hoover demanded he be handed over cuffed his hands had to be tied using the neck tie of an agent.
Karpis was later sent to Alcatraz prison on the San Francisco bay where he spent 25 of his 33 years in prison among some of the most infamous gangsters and criminals of his time.
He was released in 1969 and immediately deported to his native Canada.
In Montreal Karpis enlisted the help of local reporter Bill Trent to write a book about his life of crime.  ‘Public Enemy Number One: The Alvin Karpis Story’was released in 1971.
In the mid 1970s, retired in Torremolinos, Karpis’s landlord  contacted Robert Livesey a high school teacher and textbook writer in Ontario telling him Karpis wanted him to write a book about his time in Alcatraz.
In his fascinating website Livesey explains: “I agreed to travel to Spain for a week to meet Alvin Karpis. I did not want to commit myself to writing a book with a former criminal and killer without first meeting him face to face and deciding whether or not he had a story to tell.”
Livesey writes that when he met with Karpis in Torremolinos the former Public Enemy No1 was not what he expected.
He described Karpis as a “pleasant, grand-fatherly individual who was well read and informed (due to 33 years in prison with nothing to do but explore the prison library). He could communicate at ease with all types of individuals.”
Livesey agreed to write the book and during one of the many times the two met, in Spain and Canada. During one of the ex con’s visits Livesey arranged for him to make a documentary Alvin Karpis: Public Enemy #1
While Karpis waited for the publication of ‘On the Rock’ he was found dead having suffered a heart-attack. A Chicago Sun-Times report, later retacted, initially suggested a ‘mystery death’, even suicide.
This was because of a bottle of pills found by his bedside, which it later transpired that had belonged to his girlfriend.
Even after his death the whereabouts of his remains is still, to this day, a mystery.
He was laid to rest in nicho (niche) #2300 at Malaga’s San Miguel cemetery which, according to Livesey, despite several efforts has not been located. It is understood that in 1999 his ‘permanency’ had expired, and as no one claimed his remains, he was buried in a mass grave.
In his website  Livesey concludes: “The elusive Karpis will never be found, even after his death.”

Interesting 11 minute video about Alvin Karpis:

Further reading

On The Rock - The prison story of Alvin Karpis as told to Robert Livesey

This is the personal story of Alvin Karpis, Canada's most notorious criminal, and Alcatraz, America's most famous prison.In the 1930's Crime era, the FBI tagged only four men as Public Enemy No 1 John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Canadian-born Alvin Karpis. All but Karpis met violent ends.
In 1936 the FBI arrested Karpis in New Orleans. He received a "life" sentence on a kidnapping charge to be served in the mysterious superprison in San Francisco Bay - Alcatraz.
For twenty-six years Alcatraz housed America's most dangerous criminals, and inside the walls and cells bloody death, sexual perversity, and the brutality of the guards were commonplace. Karpis describes the black hole - solitary confinement - and tells of the violent deaths of the cons who failed in their escape bids.
--- Special Edition 2008
Includes author's appendix about the life of Alvin Karpis after prison (1969-1979) and his death in Spain.
ISBN : 978-0-919788-17-6  / List Price :$14.95 US
To order:



  1. In the 70's there was this group of Brits, older than I. They spoke with what I thought was a cockney accent and were very pleasant---maybe 3 or 4 of them---sort of biggish fellows. They frequented the bars, but didn't seem to be really after the women. I didn't know them well but they knew me by name, and I knew them by name. Darned if I can remember what the names were. I once asked them what they did back in Britain, and they replied, "we're in the junk business". Years later, I read that the fellows who robbed a Barclay's bank in England had been hiding out in Torremolinos and been caught as they returned to England.

    Wikipedia: "On 9 February 1970 Smalls led a team of robbers from The Wembley Mob, including Mickey Green, on an insider-led raid on a branch of Barclays Bank at 144 High Road, Ilford. The gang got away with £237,736 – a record at the time.

    Most of the team left England via various routes – Smalls via ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, train to Paris and then flight to Torremolinos – for the Costa del Sol, where they read the English newspapers for updates on the police search for them.

    After making an early breakthrough where an informant provided the names of every member of the gang, the police case cooled until the robbers slowly returned to Britain. Smalls was caught in a suburb of Northampton and spent Christmas in police custody in London."

  2. There were some guys who were hiding in Spain at the Duke Bob,Richard,Brian and a fella with slicked back greasy hair who liked ballroom dancing Roy I think?.They never bothered with women guess they thought they'd talk to much?the place was full of cockney small time crooks but in my experience they didn't cause any bother to anyone in fact they were good mates to us girls.always asking if we had money to eat etc.

  3. Mel, I wonder if the fellows you speak of are the same as the one's I knew. Now that you mention it, the names do ring a bell. Do you think they could have been the "Barclays Bank" robbers? Do you remember if one of them had the last name of "Smalls", the "Smalls" mentioned in the Wikipedia article?

  4. Not sure bob!!But thy were wanted for a few heists not just one.Richard was muscly with a broken nose he was in the duke all the time this would have been around 1970 or so? Mel

  5. Bingo!,636696&hl=en

  6. OMG!!Brian Turner was always in the duke of wellington!!!maybe me and Maddie shuda let them sort our spanish bf's out? Mel

  7. Although I really didn't know them well, they seemed like such nice fellows. It's hard to imagine them in ski masks bursting into banks with guns! I hope the one's still alive are well, out of jail, and enjoying their new lives.

  8. I agree Bob they all lived peacefully amongst us!!I would never have imagined them doing anything nasty!I know that here in the UK the laws are ridiculous!!You get more prison time for robbing banks than if you drive when drunk and kill a whole family!!It's shocking!!and back in the day of the great train robbery they were really harsh. Mel