StarTribune has an article about the “dark” history of the White Bear Lake area. Mainly hits on the gangster activity during the 1930s. A copy of the article is in the cut below.
Last update: June 27, 2006 – 10:29 PM
The racket next door
In the 1930s, St. Paul’s corrupt police provided a safe haven for some of the nation’s most-wanted, and best-known, gangsters. And when the likes of John Dillinger, Ma Barker and Alvin Karpis wanted rest and relaxation, they headed to communities like Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake.
David La Vaque, Star Tribune
In the early 1930s, resort towns like Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake were summer hideouts for some of the nation’s most-wanted, and famous, criminals.
Residents found themselves living among the likes of John Dillinger, Ma Barker and her sons and Alvin Karpis. Though quiet and well-mannered toward their neighbors, they were bank robbers, kidnappers and murderers. To some, they are a black eye on these cities’ histories. But even black eyes can make for interesting stories.
More than 70 years later, the tales are still circulating. Some are firsthand, others passed down. Some are true, while the details of others have been made fuzzy over time. But all are the stuff of legend.
‘You live in a famous house’
The Barker-Karpis Gang, which included Kate “Ma” Barker, her sons Arthur and Fred, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, spent time in two area cottages: the John Lambert Cottage in Dellwood in 1932 and the Idlewild Cottage in White Bear Lake Township in 1933.
During their three-week stay at Idlewild, the gang planned the June 15, 1933, kidnapping of William Hamm Jr., president of St. Paul-based Hamm Brewing Company.
Homeowners Jim and Peggy Senesac learned of the home’s history a few months after buying it in 1974.
“A kid who was an instructor for one of our sailing classes had his bike stolen from our driveway,” Peggy said. “We called the sheriff, who told us, ‘You live in a famous house.’ Then we started asking our neighbors and hearing stories.”
Clifford Allan “Al” Lindholm, 78, has lived across the street from the cottage his entire life. As a 7- or 8-year-old boy, he was asked by Ma Barker (known by her “Wilson” alias) to mow the lawn. He received a princely Depression-era sum of $5.
“My mother saw the money and said, ‘Oh, that kind old lady probably meant to give you a dollar.’ So I went back, but Ma Barker just tapped me on the head and said, ‘No, sonny, that’s yours.’ We thought they were rich.”
‘They left in a hell of a hurry’
There are stories of Barker-Karpis gang members stopping to pay ice bills as they bolted town to evade capture. But Robert Markusen, who has lived in White Bear Lake since 1968, said his uncle was never paid for his services when the gang hurriedly left their hideout at 1031 S. Robert St. in West St. Paul in 1932.
“My Uncle Stanley was a paperboy for the St. Paul Daily News, and he always collected money before school. There was no answer at that address one morning, and when he looked in the window he could tell the people living there made a quick departure. A neighbor said, ‘They left in a hell of a hurry.’ Then my uncle could hear police sirens, and about a dozen cars pulled up to the house. He never did get paid, so the joke in our family is that he was held up by the gang.”
Public Enemy No. 1
It’s known that John Dillinger resided in St. Paul for a time in 1934, but did he venture north to hide out on Big Marine Lake near Marine on St. Croix? Local resident Ruby Remick, 88, said she rode in a truck driven by Public Enemy No. 1 himself.
“Grandpa owned a farm, and he asked my brother Leroy and I to go down by the lake and check on the cows. We were walking down there when a man in a big, black truck asked if we wanted a ride. I was sitting in the middle, and the man offered each of us a sucker. Mine was red. My great uncle, Joseph Dahlquist, told us later that the man was John Dillinger. People around the area knew who he was but kept it to themselves. He stayed in the Rutherford Cottages and had a lot of chickens.”
The short, but colorful, era included activities not tied to any specific gang. Sara Markoe Hanson, executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society, said members of her family were victims of a random robbery.
“My dad was born in 1930, and he remembers driving as a young boy with his dad in the new family car to drop off Christmas presents at a relative’s house. They went inside and left the car running. It was stolen, and a few days later was found near Hastings with bullet holes in it.”
Where gangsters go to golf
Other places the gangsters were reputed to frequent included Wildwood Amusement Park, Dick’s Inn and the Picadilly Inn in Mahtomedi. In White Bear Lake, gangsters dropped by the Plantation Night Club, where Lions Park now sits. Nefarious types were said to have played at Keller Golf Course in Maplewood. And in Shoreview, Harry “Dutch” Sawyer owned a farm that doubled as a hideout and meeting place for gangland associates.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574
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