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 light's 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.

                         
                                                   Nelson

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.

                                           
                                                  Koerner

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.

                               
                                               Baum

"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 cnstable'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


Monday, May 6, 2013

DEBACLE AT LITTLE BOHEMIA - #3

4/22/1934 - Alerted that lawmen are outside by the Federals mistaken shooting of Morris, Hoffman, and Boiseneau, the Dillinger Gang almost instantly springs into action ... Van Meter, Dillinger, and Hamilton follow the agreed to plan, firing their pistols and a machine gun at the movement and shadows at the front of the lodge from the second floor, then exiting the back of the lodge via an upstairs window, crawling along the roof, and jumping down into a three foot tall embankment of snow.  Once down, the men make their way to the lake, then turn right, following the lake shore away from the lodge.  Carroll, in the cabin he is sharing with Nelson, also makes his exit down to the lake and flees right.  

                 
                                Dine, Dance, Swim ... and SHOOTING

As usual, only Baby Face Nelson doesn't stick to the plan ... either from not paying attention when escape was discussed on Friday due to boredom, or anger with Dillinger's room assignment, or just because his blood is up and he enjoys a good fight, Nelson comes out of his cabin, and with his automatic pistol spewing bullets about in the darkness, engages in a shootout first with Purvis, and then with Inspector William Rorer ... in the melee no one is hit, but it isn't for want of trying.  Finally realizing he is alone and totally outgunned, the crazed gunman enters his cabin, grabs more ammo, and exits the back of the unit and makes his way down to the lake ... but turns left instead of right, a decision that will have fatal consequences.

       
                                                            Nelson

And of course, as the chaos is breaking out around the lodge, Reilly and Cherrington show up again to finally marry up with the gang, but are instead met by the two agents at the car blockade closing the road into and out of the property.  Ordered to step out of his vehicle and identify himself, the gopher goes gangster and foolishly does just the opposite; throwing the car into reverse, killing the headlights, hitting a tree and then backing down the road at high speed as his Ford is hit by a load of buckshot that shatters the front window and almost takes off Cherrington's head (she escapes with only a glass cut to the forehead ... and a fractured left shoulder when Reilly's violent maneuvering temporarily flings her out of the car), and by a rifle bullet that flatten's the right rear tire.  Shaking with nerves at the close call, Reilly drives on the rim of his flat tire all the way to the nearby town of Mercer where new rubber is acquired, along with a full tank of gas ... in an evening filled with mistakes, there is no pursuit by any of the Federals at the lodge.  Off again after a thirty minute wait, the pair's driving adventure is not quite over though ... later in the night the Ford will become bogged down in a washed out road and have to be pulled out of the mud by a local farmer's tractor.  Finally back in St. Paul late the next night, scared straight, after dropping Cherrington off at her apartment, the twenty-seven-year-old bartender will return to his home and tell his anxious wife that he wants nothing further to do with the Dillinger Gang.

               
                                                   The Lodge

Not realizing their prey has flown the coop, thanks to the shooting out front and the Federals inability to completely encircle the lodge because of a ditch and a barbed-wire fence on the property, and the embankment behind the structure accessing the lake, Purvis and Clegg have their men pound Emil Wanatka's business off-and-on with machine gun blasts, shotgun pellets, rifle bullets, and tear-gas canisters into the early morning hours of the next day (despite repeatedly being told all the outlaws have fled) when the extent of the fiasco that has taken place begins to become evident.  At dawn, when the lodge is again attacked with bullets and chemical fumes, the building's occupants finally surrender to the Federal authorities and into custody go Helen Gillis (Nelson's wife), Marie Conforti (Van Meter's girl), Jean Delaney Crompton (the paramour of Carroll), and Conforti's puppy, Rex (the Feds also take possession of an assortment of clothes, a .45 automatic located in Nelson's cabin, a .351 Winchester rifle found under Dillinger's bed, and in Carroll's Buick and Hamilton's Ford, six sub-machine guns, four pistols, two shotguns, two revolvers, a rifle, five bulletproof vests, and lots and lots of ammo).  Not surprisingly, Hoover is livid when the news is received in Washington D.C. 

     
                                           The Little Bohemia Lodge

One more Houdini moment for Dillinger's criminal resume, after making his way to the Little Star Lake behind the lodge, and reuniting with Hamilton and Van Meter, the trio of outlaws make their way across U.S. 51 to the edge of Rest Lake and the home of seventy-year-old Mr. Edward J. Mitchell and his ill wife, a journey of about a mile.  "I'm Dillinger.  The government is after me and I need your car," Public Enemy #1 tells the couple as he forces his way into the house behind Hamilton's request for a glass of water, tears out the phone, and then to show he isn't all bad, drapes a blanket over the shoulders of the flu suffering Mrs. Mitchell, telling the old lady he just wants to be on his way and will do her no harm.  Unfortunately for the outlaws though, the Mitchell's Model T has spent all winter on blocks and can't be used, and the vehicle of their German handyman (a former pilot of WWI), a Model A truck, won't start.  Desperate for a car to leave the region, the bandits run with their third choice of transportation, a small, dark green 1930 Model-A V4 Ford coupe parked in front of a cabin a hundred feet away, the property of a young carpenter named Robert Johnson.  Rousted from his sleep, a still yawning Johnson, wearing bedroom slippers, is forced to slowly drive the bandits out of the area (odd man out, Hamilton has to shiver in the frosty rumble seat of the vehicle) ... a journey of fifty rough miles on dark country roads that includes a stop in the town of Springstead for ten dollars worth of gas.  Finally, at around midnight, the men give their reluctant guest seven dollars and leave Johnson about three miles from the Pixley power station (it will take him about an hour to reach a phone and notify authorities about the theft of his car), then with Hamilton now inside the warmth of the vehicle and Van Meter driving, the group vanishes into the night, south down Wisconsin Route 13.  

                       
                                                   Slow Escape

Only a few minutes behind his friends, Carroll never catches up with Dillinger and company.  Arriving at the Mitchell property, he does not like all the activity he sees, and keeping to the trees along the main road, the outlaw continues north to Manitowish Waters.  There, at the Northern Lights Resort on the southwest tip of Rice Lake, he hot wires a Packard sedan belonging to Henry Kuhnert and heads out for the refuge of St. Paul, Minnesota (it will not be an uneventful journey though ... turning right at a fork on the road to Mercer, Carroll drives up a dead-end lumber road, has to abandon the sedan when it breaks down, and hoofing with his thumb out, eventually hitchhikes his way back home the next day).

                  
                                                     Carroll

Carroll, Dillinger, Hamilton, and Van Meter are now all vacating the area in stolen automobiles, with only Baby Face Nelson still afoot.  It is a little after 10:00 in the evening and the maniacal gunman is not happy about his situation at all! 
  
              
                                                       Nelson

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

DEBACLE AT LITTLE BOHEMIA - #2

4/22/1934 - For the flying members of the FBI attack squad, the trip to Rhinelander is an air-bag rollercoaster nightmare (even the co-pilot of the plane becomes ill in the extreme turbulence), and things do not get much better once the team is on the ground, some surviving a near crash when there is a brake failure in one of the planes and it spins 360 degrees twice before coming to a stop.  Down in disarray, Voss is soon located and quickly diagrams the lodge so Clegg and Purvis can put an arrest plan together, but fails to note a barbed-wire fence on the right of the main building, a ditch on the building's left side, and an embankment behind the structure leading down to Little Star Lake, nor does he mention that Nan Wanatka's has two collie watchdogs, Shadow and Prince ... all will play a part in the coming fiasco.  The government men also find out they are in a race against time ... as related by Mrs. Voss to her husband whom she encounters on the road back to Manitowish Waters, instead of staying through Sunday night as he has paid for, Dillinger has decided to pull up stakes once more, leaving as soon as Pat Reilly and Patricia Cherrington return to the lodge from their St. Paul errands.

               
                              Clegg                          Purvis

Using the information they have, Clegg and Purvis come up with a simple plan, the element of surprise in their favor, the one road leading into and out of the lodge area will be blocked, teams of agents will set up at the front and on the sides of the building complex, and an attack squad of men wearing twenty-four pound armored vests and carrying machine guns will storm the main lodge ... surrounded on three sides with Little Star Lake forming a fourth and final barrier, the Dillinger Gang will be trapped and eradicated once and for all.  In Washington D.C., Hoover is so confident of the outcome of the coming raid that he tells newspapermen to stand by for a major story out of Wisconsin ... and in that he is right, the events soon to take place at the Little Bohemia Lodge will be front page headlines for every newspaper in the country the next day, but not in a way that will please the FBI boss!  Sadly, not wanting to share any of the credit for taking down the notorious outlaws, neither Clegg nor Purvis ask local authorities to set up roadblocks or assist in the coming confrontation ... and full credit is indeed what the government agents, and their boss Hoover, will receive for the debacle in which they are about to participate.

                          
                                      Purvis & Hoover

The next order of business is procuring vehicles to take the team on the ninety-minute journey from Rhinelander to Manitowish Waters.  Flexing government muscles, from local citizens and a Ford dealership, five cars are procured for transportation, including from a very upset twenty-two-year-old local named Isidor "Izzy" Tuchalsky, a brand new black 1934 Ford Deluxe coupe with a custom high compression engine and altered rear end that will allow the vehicle to top 100 mph.  Off for Little Bohemia, the trip becomes a new nightmare for the flight woozy lawmen ... dark, bumpy, and icy, one car breaks down and another blows out a tire, forcing three cars to do the duty of five, and causing several agents to go forward riding on running boards, hanging on for dear life in freezing temperatures. 

                          
                                   Manitowish Waters Region

At the lodge, Dillinger and company await the return of Reilly, not knowing the young bar tending gopher has already shown up on the doorsteps of the lodge earlier in the afternoon, but turned around in full panic mode, thinking a police trap might be in place or that the gang has fled, when none of the gang's vehicles appear to be present (Dillinger has had them hidden in the garage of the complex).  Once it is dark, he decides he'll return to check out the situation.  And so the gang waits, mingling with the seventy or so locals who stop by for the lodge's Sunday night dinner special ... one dollar for roast duck with liver dumpling soup, mashed potatoes and vegetables (instead of going with the special, the gang dines on garlic butter steaks).  As the crowd thins as the evening progresses, the bandits finish their packing, partake in libations at the bar (not wanting to cause trouble, Hamilton buys a round of drinks when a local tavern owner gets upset with the outlaw for refusing to participate in a shot downing contest, along with purchasing four tickets to a benefit dance scheduled for the next weekend), and watch as Nelson downs three slices of Nan Wanatka's freshly baked apple pie (tipping the princely sum of $10 for his delight with his dessert). 

              
                                       The Little Bohemia Lodge

At around 9:00 the last of the locals decide to leave ... twenty-eight-year-old John Hoffman, a gas station operator from the nearby town of Mercer, thirty-five-year-old Eugene Boiseneau, a logger at the government's Mercer CCC camp, and John Morris, the fifty-nine-year-old cook at the CCC camp.  To the crazed barking of the Wanatka pooches, as Baszo and Traube say good evening to their customers, the trio leaves the lodge and get into Hoffman's 1933 Chevy coupe.  Turning the ignition on, the car's radio instantly comes blaringly to life, drowning out any sounds that might be coming from the surrounding Wisconsin darkness ... sounds like demands that the men should stop and get out of the car.  The FBI has finally arrived at the Little Bohemia Lodge ... and so has death! 

                
                            Nan Wanatka and the feisty Shadow and Prince

Following their plan, the lawmen make their final approach with lights off in their commandeered vehicles, and on arrival, the team blocks access to the lodge by parking two of the cars in a "V" (and manned by two agents armed with a shotgun and a rifle), then creep forward into positions in front and to the sides of the lodge, movements that cause the two alert collies to go wild ... actions that exactly coincide with five men coming out of the lodge.  Not yet ready for their raid to begin, nerves jangled from the trip to Wisconsin and then the bumpy night journey to Manitowish Waters, thinking that the dogs have alerted the gang, three of whom are in the process of attempting to flee, when the "STOP" order is ignored and the Chevy containing the lodge patrons begins to move forward, Clegg and Purvis both yell "FIRE!" ... a command that instantly brings a deluge of pistol, shotgun, and machine gun lead down on the car.  Windows shattering, tires blowing, and metal holed, Hoffman slams on the brakes and leaps out of the car, fleeing into the night with wounds to his right arm and right leg, along with facial cuts caused by the explosion of the vehicle's windows, while Morris tumbles out of the front passenger door bearing two machine gun slugs in his right shoulder and buckshot pellets in his right hip, groaning as he identifies himself as John (which doesn't help matters) and takes a long pull of whiskey from a metal flask he pulls out of his back pocket (a move which almost gets him shot again).  Only Boiseneau doesn't move ... sandwiched between the two men in the front seat, the CCC worker is dead from bullet strikes to his head and chest.  Lasting only a matter of a few seconds, the FBI has mistakenly shot the shit out of three innocent citizens.

               
                                   The bullet torn Chevy

But before the Federals can react to their horrible error, more gunfire from automatic weapons suddenly erupts from the lodge and one of the cabins ... warned by the shooting outside, the real prey of the raid is now aware of the presence of lawmen on the property ... and responding with bullets.


                  
                                             Dillinger