Thursday, May 9, 2013
DEBACLE AT LITTLE BOHEMIA - #4
4/22/1934 - After engaging in an exchange of lead with Federal raiders, Baby Face Nelson, wearing a brown suede jacket, flees out of the back of his cabin and heads south, in the opposite direction his bank robbing confederates have taken. For roughly ninety minutes, the outlaw flounders through the dense Wisconsin woods, finally emerging on Manitowish Lake, only a mile away from the Little Bohemia Lodge, at the lakeside home of Mr. and Mrs. Paul W. Lang. Pausing only a few seconds to pet the couple's dog, with his .45 automatic as persuasion, Nelson commandeers the couple and their 1932 Chevrolet. Creeping along a short distance at only 15 to 20 mph in a car with failed headlights, the bandit sees the lights of the Koerner family's white, two-story home on the left side of the highway ahead and decides that there he might be able to steal a better escape vehicle. Stopping, the trio leaves the Chevy, cross over Highway 51, and make their way up to the brightly lit building.
On the alert from the gunfire at the lodge earlier in the night, hoping to get in touch with the government agents in the region, Alvin Koerner, who runs the region's telephone exchange, calls the nearby Birchwood Lodge and speaks to Special Agent Jay C. Newman, reporting a suspicious car with its lights out that has just parked across the highway from his property. Information given, seconds after a promise is made to check out the report as soon as possible and the call is ended, there is a knock on the front door which is answered by Koerner when he recognizes the voices of his neighbors, the Langs, pleading to be let in. Door opened, a third guest then steps out of hiding from behind the couple and also demands admittance. It is trigger happy Baby Face Nelson. The tired and desperate outlaw is now in possession of seven hostages, the kidnapped Langs, Mr. and Mrs. Koerner, the Koerner's two children, and the Koerner's maid, but not a reliable vehicle ... moments later though, not only will an escape car be provided, but more hostages too.
Waving his pistol about, Nelson demands that Koerner and his wife drive him thirty miles south to the town of Woodruff, but in a show of either bravery or foolishness, the couple refuses, stating they can't leave their sleeping children. In the midst of arguing over the transportation issue, a car pulls up to the gate leading to the Koerners' front porch. It is the Ford sedan of George LaPorte (the brother of Nan Wanatka), and along with LaPorte, contains CCC stationmaster C. J. Christianson, Little Bohemia Lodge owner Emil Wanatka, and Wanatka's two bartenders, George Bazo and Frank Traube. Fresh from Little Bohemia, the men are intent on getting away from the stupidity being shown by the government agents back at Wanatka's lodge, and in search of warm clothing (not expecting to be outside in freezing temperatures when the bullets began flying at his establishment earlier in the night, Wanatka and his bartenders are hatless and dressed in short sleeve shirts). Instead of warmth though, they get a cold greeting from the lodge patron and excellent tipper named Jimmie they had enjoyed bantering with just hours before ... masquerade dropped, he is now Baby Face Nelson once more.
The Koerner Property on Spider Lake
Deciding he now wants LaPorte's car for his escape, Nelson gets his hostages situated for a journey out of the state ... Christianson and Mr. Koerner will occupy the back seat, Wanatka will drive, and Nelson will supervise with his automatic pistol from the front passenger seat. Grand Central Station Wisconsin, the group is just about ready to leave when yet another vehicle shows up unexpectedly at the Koerner property. Running errands for the raiding party and checking out outlaw sightings in the area using the commandeered Ford Deluxe of Izzy Tuchalsky, the car is there in answer to Koerner's call of only minutes before to the Birchwood Lodge and contains Special Agent Jay C. Newman, Special Agent W. Carter Baum, and local constable only a month into his duties, thirty-two-year-old Carl C. Christensen. A young man of twenty-nine with a law degree from George Washington University and four years of service in the Department of Justice, Baum has been sent off by Melvin Purvis to get the distraught agent away from the mayhem at the Little Bohemia Lodge ... mayhem Baum helped create by being one of the men that mistakenly fired into a group of civilians leaving the lodge earlier in the evening, killing CCC worker Eugene Boiseneau. All three men are armed, with Baum carrying the most firepower in a Thompson sub-machine gun. It is about 11:00 in the evening and death is about to return to upper Wisconsin.
"We're Federal officers. Where is Mr. Koerner?" Newman asks as he pulls up next to the Ford in Koerner's driveway; seconds later the night erupts with gunfire. "I know you bastards are wearing bulletproof vests," Nelson screams as he comes around LaPorte's vehicle and sticks his machine gun pistol in Newman's face, "so I'll give it to you high and low." And as the agent steps out of the car, that is exactly what Baby Face Nelson does. Opening fire with a pistol converted into a machine gun by San Antonio gunsmith Hyman Lebman, Nelson's first bullet hits Newman in the head, a glancing blow over his right eye that travels along his temple and causes the stunned agent to fall face first into the gravel of the Koerner driveway. Then Nelson pivots and fires into the Ford as Christensen and Baum attempt to flee out the passenger door ... Baum is struck three times in the neck and topples over a nearby waist-high white rail fence a few yards away, while Christensen is hit in the right elbow, takes another round in the back, and then is dropped into a ditch by strikes to his chest, left hip, arms, and legs.
Machine Gun Pistol
Impossibly lucky to survive the encounter with the crazed Nelson, Christensen is hit nine bone shattering times, including by a bullet directly over the lawman's heart that is deflected by a shirt button, and has his liver and both lungs punctured ... it will take him a year to recover. Baum is not as fortunate, one of the rounds that hits his neck spirals downward, skirting the agent's bulletproof vest, and buries itself in his heart. Dead by the time help arrives, Special Agent W. Carter Baum is survived by his wife Mary, and his two daughters, Margaret, two, and Edith, eleven months.
Weapon finally empty after firing his last rounds at Emil Wanatka as the lodge owner flees back towards Koerner's home, Nelson takes command of the lawmen's Ford, a vehicle capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph, the perfect getaway car. Jumping in and throwing the car into reverse, the outlaw puts his foot to the floor and speeds out of the driveway, spraying gravel in all directions, as a now conscious Newman empties his .45 in the killer's direction (missing the outlaw with all his shots, the government agent adds insult to injury and does manage to inflict one final wound in Christensen, blowing a hole in the already Swiss cheesed constable's foot). Swerving just in time to avoid hitting the parked vehicle belonging to the Langs, Nelson turns south and disappears down Route 51. The debacle known as the Battle of Little Bohemia is over and the scorecard is not pretty ... two civilians have been wounded, two lawmen have also been wounded, one special agent is dead, and not a single member of the Dillinger Gang has been captured or killed ... and across the country, special edition newspapers blare the news!
Baby Face Nelson