Monday, April 29, 2013


4/22/1934 - Just outside of Chicago, trying to determine what their next move should be, for the first time in three weeks the members of the Dillinger Gang reunite, meeting over grilled steaks and drinks at the Fox River Grove restaurant of underworld character Louis Cernocky's Crystal Ballroom.   

Underworld Hangout

With the weekend approaching it is decided that the group needs a safe place to relax and plan their next job.  The where is supplied by Cernocky when he says he knows of an isolated location in the midst of its off-season that wouldn't have a lot of visitors or large police presence to worry about, a spot in the pine forests of upper Wisconsin with good fishing run by an emigrant friend from the Austro-Hungarian province of Bohemia, a former bar and nightclub owner with ties to many Chicago racketeers named Emil Wanatka ... if the gang wanted a safe spot away from all the hunters seeking their captivity or deaths, waiting only 400 miles distant, the men should make a visit to the Little Bohemia Lodge on Little Star Lake in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin.

The Lodge

Sold by Chernocky's tales of the location and his friend's many adventures during the Prohibition years, and given a letter of introduction to Wanatka saying the gang should receive premiere treatment, the group decides that Little Bohemia will indeed be their next destination, and after eating breakfast and running various last minute errands, on Friday morning the outlaws and their girlfriends, a party of ten, begin heading north in a spread out caravan of four cars ... Baby Face Nelson (calling himself Jimmie during the visit to Wisconsin) and his wife, Helen Gillis, in a Ford sedan, Tommy Carroll and his girlfriend Jean Delaney Crompton in a Buick coupe, in a black Ford V-8 driven by St. Paul bartender and gang gopher Pat Reilly, Homer Van Meter (using the alias of Wayne), his girlfriend Marie "Mickey" Conforti, and Conforti's black Boston bull terrier puppy, Rex, and John Dillinger (with his hair dyed red), John Hamilton, and Hamilton's girlfriend Patricia Cherrington in yet another black Ford sedan.  
 Baby face nelson.png Image result for helen gillis
Baby Face & Helen

Homer Van Meter.jpg
Van Meter              
Hamilton, Patricia and Dillinger

The journey into Wisconsin is uneventful with one exception ... near the small town of North Leads, Wisconsin, Nelson collides with another car on the road and is forced to leave the vehicle behind for repairs while he and Helen make the rest of the journey north in Carroll's Buick.  With the Van Meter group arriving first at around lunch, the entire gang is checked in by 5:00 in the afternoon (again the only problem comes from Nelson, who throws a hissy-fit for not being put in the room that has been allocated to Dillinger), and after walking the grounds and formulating an escape plan (after putting down a few seconds of suppressing fire, everyone is to exit the back of the lodge, move down the ten foot embankment to the lake, and follow the shoreline to the right), ready for dinner and an evening of cards.  Paying $500 for the weekend, Carroll and Nelson are put up in a three-room cabin off the main building, while the rest of the gang receive small rooms on the second floor of the lodge.
Little Bohemia rear, FBI
Little Bohemia Lodge Cabin

Built in 1931 and situated on acres of forested land with Little Star Lake behind, the Dillinger Gang's latest hideout is a two-story log building (and accompanying cabins) 600 feet and out of sight from the nearest road, U.S. 51 ... on its main floor are a kitchen, dining room, bar, and large recreation area, while upstairs are a series of rooms either looking out on the gravel parking lot, or to the rear, on the lake.  The outlaws and their girlfriends are the only guests ... but soon the site will be swamped with unwanted company.
Public Enemy #1

The visit starts off well enough, with forty-seven-year-old Wanatka, his wife Nan, and employees, twenty-six-year-old George Baszo and twenty-three-year-old Frank Traube, at first pleased with the friendliness and money being spent by their guests (though there is some minor grumbling at the weight of the luggage the men carry upstairs, luggage containing ammunition and several Thompson sub-machine guns), but that begins to change when during a poker game that evening in which the innkeeper participates, Wanatka notices all the men are carrying weapons in shoulder holsters. Two-and-two put together, and recent newspaper photos checked, Wanatka soon comes to the conclusion that he is harboring John Dillinger and his gang ... a fact which the bank robber verifies the next morning in the kitchen when Wanatka confronts the outlaw as to his identity (Dillinger tells him they have no intention of causing any problems and will be gone in a day or so).  Alternating between fears of going to jail if the authorities find out or losing their life savings if the place is shot up, and dreams of collecting the wealth authorities have put on the bandits' heads, Wanatka and his wife decide to contact the FBI about their guests.  But how?  The outlaws listen in on every phone call, hover about conversations, and demand information on every visitor to the lodge ... they are alert and just waiting to unleash their weapons should they be betrayed.  

Along with keeping an eye on the Wanatkas, Saturday has the gang shooting at tin cans, playing catch with a borrowed baseball (eight-year-old Emil Jr. abandons the game with the gunmen when Nelson burns every throw into the boy's mitt, hurting his hand), more card games, and watching the sky begin to snow ... and Pat Reilly leaves on a mission for the gang, returning to St. Paul for money, ammunition, and to take a sick Patricia Cherrington to a doctor.  An opportunity to let the authorities know about the menaces staying at the lodge finally presents itself to the innkeepers by way of a local birthday party Emil Jr. is to attend, and risking life and limb, despite Baby Face Nelson lurking about, a message for help is written and smuggled to Nan Wanatka's brother-in-law, Henry Voss, using a pack of passed about Marvel cigarettes that an alert is secretly hidden within. 

Faked photo - Super-imposed head of Dillinger
on guest standing beside Wanatka

Message received, to avoid the outlaws listening in on the region's party line, Voss drives fifty miles away to the town of Rhinelander. There he first contacts a local real estate agent who gives him the number of his U.S. Marshal father in Chicago, H. C. W. Laubenheimer ... and when Laubenheimer is contacted, he passes the information on to the man running the FBI's Windy City office, Special Agent in Charge, Melvin Horace Purvis, Jr. 
Melvin Purvis profile.jpg

"The man you want most is up here," Voss tells Purvis at around 1:00 in the afternoon on Sunday, along with other details about Dillinger and his confederates.  Purvis says he will meet Voss at the Rhinelander airport, the nearest plane stop to Manitowish Waters, at around 6:00 in the evening, and for recognition purposes, Voss should wear a handkerchief around his neck.  That bit of business done, Purvis next contacts his boss, J. Edgar Hoover in Washington D.C., gets a green light for the Wisconsin raid, and then begins coordinating the government's attack on Dillinger and his buddies with the Special Agent In Charge of the St. Paul office, Hugh Clegg.  Sunday suddenly disrupted, agents gather in Chicago and St. Paul, arming themselves with pistols, machine guns, and gas grenades ... Clegg arranges a thirty-five-cent-per-mile plane charter from Northwest Airways that will take him, Inspector William Rorer, and three other agents north, Agent Werner Hanni and three other men with fear-of-flying issues will drive to the lodge from St. Paul, and Purvis, with eleven of his Chicago men, will make the three hour flight to Rhinelander in two planes.

Twenty-one heavily armed men intent on putting an end to the John Dillinger Gang are on their way to the Little Bohemia Lodge ... what they actually almost end though is the reign of Hoover at the Department of Justice.       

No comments:

Post a Comment