Phoenix's Own "Ma Barker" a Villain, Cops Say, But Not as Bad as Real Depression-Era Gangster


A Phoenix woman who coached boys -- including her teenaged sons -- on the fine art of armed robbery wasn't quite as bad as the real Ma Barker, says a weekend story by the Associated Press.

We covered the case for you last month after police announced the arrests of Cynthia Roberson, 51, [pictured], and several of the suspected robbers. At the time, police were saying as many as 40 people were roughed up or robbed in a two-week crime spree.

AP's article by Amanda Lee Myers says Roberson directed the robberies and even instructed one boy as he committed a crime.  During one assault, a teenage boy with nothing on him but a lollipop was beaten.

By comparison, the real Ma Barker was more sophisticated and ruthless, the article explains. The infamous gangster from the 1930s trained her kids in crime before they reached puberty, and the boys went on to kill someone "almost every time they went out," according to one historian.

Ma Barker was killed, machine gun in hand, during a shootout with the feds.

Roberson looks to be going down in a blaze of shame.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.