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.
The 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 littlebrick.com 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.”