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Old 09-04-2009, 05:31 PM   #1
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Gangster Tour

Hideouts, shoot-outs, bank jobs, machinegunnings, bootleg booze, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Al Capone.

I've been doing a little reading about gangsters back in the day and how and where they spent some time in my "neighborhood".

I put together a motorcycle tour around the area and visited some of the sites.

You are welcome to join me in this ride report as I tour around, show some pix, and relate some of the stories about gangsters in Wisconsin.

Bullet holes from a shoot-out with the FBI.

GPX download here.

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Old 09-04-2009, 06:33 PM   #2
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Well alright!

I've been checking and looking for a new post from you, dang glad to see ya back. I'm kicking back and ready for this one.
I started with nothin', and still have most of it.
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Old 09-04-2009, 06:41 PM   #3
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Old 09-04-2009, 06:42 PM   #4
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This has real Potential for 5 stars. Great Idea!

I'm subscribed and looking forward to your posts.
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Old 09-04-2009, 06:48 PM   #5
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Little Bohemia Lodge

In 1931, John Dillinger and some other gangsters were on the run. The north woods of Wisconsin were familiar retreats for gangsters from Chicago.

A guy from Chicago, Emil Wanatka, built a resort at Manitowish Waters that same year. Wanatka was connected with John Dillinger's lawyer. Dillinger's lawyer had made arrangements with people to hide Dillinger out in the past. It is widely believed that Dillinger's coming to the Little Bohemia Lodge was no coincidence. Dillinger paid the equivalent of about $5K in today's dollars for a three day stay at the lodge . . . seems obvious this was an "arrangement".

Dillinger had a $10K reward on his head at that time. The lodge owners devised a plan to contact the FBI to turn in Dillinger (and the others who also had rewards) to cash in. Some say it was to cover themselves on a potential harboring charge, some say it may have been simple greed. That $10K then is about $100K or more now.

Back in the 1930s, this place would have been way out in the sticks on potholed dirt roads.

Even though the hosts were closely watched and phone calls were listened to, Mrs. Wanatka was able to get out to take her son to a birthday party. When she did, she was followed by Baby Face Nelson who kept an eye on her. In the end, and with the help of relatives, she was able to summon the FBI from Chicago who flew to Rhinelander about 50 miles away.

The FBI flew in, set up shop, and started to plan the raid. In the mean time, Dillinger decided to leave early. The Wanatkas were able to get the word to the FBI men who hastily set up the raid.

Without enough agents, enough info, or a good plan, Melvin Purvis and the boys set out to capture the outlaws. The moved in on the resort and as they did they spotted three men getting into a car to leave. Believing them to be the outlaws, they machine gunned the car as it came out the driveway. They killed a Civilian Conservation Corps worker, wounded another, and shot a gas station attendant who were the occupants of the car. These guys had just finished a $1 Sunday night chicken dinner at the resort. One wounded guy got out of the car and made it back to the resort even though he had been shot five times. The other wounded guy got out of the car and made it into the woods. This is the driveway, which would have been a potholed dirt road then, where the FBI shot up their car.


Cannonshot screwed with this post 09-04-2009 at 07:29 PM
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Old 09-04-2009, 07:08 PM   #6
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Little Bohemia Continued

Meanwhile, Dillinger and the boys heard the shots and ran up to their rooms to recover cash and arms. They then slipped out this back window. They left their girlfriends and a bunch of weapons and other stuff behind.

Baby Face Nelson was staying in a side cabin, maybe this one, when he heard the shooting. Being more aggressive than the others, he sought to engage the feds. He took some shots at an agent he saw holding a machine gun that turned out to be Melvin Purvis. Purvis' machine gunned jammed so he shot back at Baby Face with a pistol.

All of the outlaws had reconned escape routes when they first got there. They headed toward a steep shoreline embankment to make their getaway.

Dillinger and some others went north along the shore a mile or so to another resort where they got a car and a hostage and fled. One in this group got separated and went to a different resort to get a car. If you read some detailed stories about this event, it is interesting to read about the conversations and interactions these outlaws had with regular people. They were polite but firm and explained the feds were after them and they needed to get away.

Baby Face went south along the shore on his own after shooting at Purvis. Baby Face eventually got to a house further down the line. The owner had just called the police about some suspicious stuff and just as he hung up the phone, Baby Face entered demanding a car. As Nelson was loading people into the car, a constable pulled into the driveway with two FBI men. The agents had their guns on their laps but were caught unaware. Nelson stuck his machine gun in the driver's window and cut loose. Agents bailed out of the car. The constable was shot in the throat (and recovered) and two of them bailed out of the car and made it about 40 feet before one died and one collapsed with eight bullet wounds. After those two were down, Nelson turned on one agent and gave him a head wound. The agent fired back blindly and managed to crawl through the woods to another resort for help. So after killing one FBI agent, wounding another, and wounding a constable, Nelson took their car and fled.

By the way, Nelson got his later. In July 1934 two FBI men spotted him in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, but Nelson gave them the slip. Thinking he was headed back to Chicago, the agents in WI alerted the Chicago FBI who hit the road looking for him. When Nelson passed their car near Chicago, he recognized the FBI men, did a u-turn, and eventually got into a gun battle with them. Using his machine gun he killed one agent outright, mortally wounded the other and escaped. Nelson had 17 bullet wounds as a result of this shoot out. He died a few hours later in Wilmette, IL, and his body was later found dumped in a ditch.

Two outlaws that left the resort earlier to get some money that a crook in Minneapolis was holding for them got back to Litle Bohemia just as the shooting started. They doused their headlights, made a u-turn, and hauled ass. What are the odds of that kind of timing?


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Old 09-04-2009, 07:26 PM   #7
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Little Bohemia continued

As I researched these stories, I found there were several different versions - depending on who was telling it. I also found out by talking to a local that there may be some ill-will around the neighborhood about all of this and who played what role, etc. So, I pretty much just stuck to the basic story for this ride report. You can read more by searching around on your own.

Anyway, the only shooting by the gangsters was by Baby Face Nelson. The others just lammed it. The people inside the resort headed for the basement (per the plan) once the shooting started. The FBI then lit into the resort. It seems like the gunfire only lasted 15 minutes, but they lobbed tear gas in most of the night.

Actual bullet holes from that night.

When the boys left, they left a lot of stuff behind. The FBI snatched the weapons and the resort owner snatched the rest. Eventually he ran a museum of Dillinger stuff on the grounds. Some of the stuff is still on display.

Baby Face Nelson

By the way, newspapers around the country got on J. edgar Hoover's case about this botched raid and called for his resignation. Keep in mind that Dillinger had already busted out of a jail. This stuff was getting embarrassing to law enforcement.

The resort owner's museum got him in trouble. He had a bullet proof vest and revolver on display that he claimed belonged to the slain FBI agent. The FBI got word and after a careful inventory of their equipment they paid a visit to Wanatka to tell him to knock it off.

The movie "Public Enemies" shot some scenes here last year. In fact, they shot a lot of stuff in Wisconsin. I'll visit a few of the movie shooting sites. Little Bohemia was prominently featured in the movie.

Movie bullet holes.

Some of the fictional "shootout" here, as depicted in the movie, was shot in this bar room. There is also an intact set upstair of Dillinger's room that you can pay to see.

More gangster sights and stories later.

You can visit the web site for the movie "Public Enemies" to view a trailer to "put you in the mood" for a gangster story.

But more interesting than that is to visit the "Crime Wave" page on that site that has an interactive map of John Dillinger's escapades.

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Old 09-04-2009, 07:35 PM   #8
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This is highly entertaining.
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Old 09-04-2009, 10:16 PM   #9
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Great so far, I'm in!
"A man turns his back on the comforts of home, and when the dust all settles and the story is told, history is made by the side of the road..." - DBT

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Old 09-05-2009, 12:55 AM   #10
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cool trip...!
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Old 09-05-2009, 05:21 AM   #11
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Great write up! Pix, history, shoot outs, little bit of everything...keep it coming
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Old 09-05-2009, 06:10 AM   #12
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Cool report. Makes me wish you could still order a Tommy gun through the mail.
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Old 09-05-2009, 06:21 AM   #13
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Very cool stuff. Cannonshots ride reports are always second to none.

More please!
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Old 09-05-2009, 07:57 AM   #14
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Gangster Tour

Love this one!
Originally Posted by nevada72
Another great ride report! Good timing for the rally next week too.
Just another Expedition! This time on a Motorcycle!
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Old 09-05-2009, 09:34 AM   #15
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Thumb gangster tour in action

hey cannon, any chance you would be willing to actually lead a gangster tour on friday or saturday next week? would be fascinating and fun for many of us. i have been up there (actually spent some summer vacation in high school and my honeymoon at whitecap mountain outside of hurley) but don't have near the knowledge of the area that you do. anyway just a thought and could really put a neat twist on the cadvr rally! in any event thanks for the great read and pics, keep it up. looking forward to meeting you next week!
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