Travel, History & Culture in America's Dairyland



        Valley of the Molls - Part I  


Fish Frys

  On Monday evening, April 23, 1934, a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal stood outside the Dane County jail in the shadow of big things. Across the street, the imposing face of St. Raphael's Church towered over him, its steeple paralleled by the state Capitol dome one block away, both structures rising high into the cold night sky above Madison, Wis.

About 9:30 p.m. a pair of mud-splattered sedans rolled into the driveway where the reporter was waiting. Five men wielding shotguns bounded from the cars. After coaxing three women from the vehicles, the group moved quickly to the jail entrance. 

The front doors were locked.

The reporter peppered the group with questions. 

"The chiefs are the only ones who do the talking," snapped one of the men, a federal agent. The entourage spun around the building to the residence in back, where Sheriff Fred Finn was caught unaware of his latest guests.

"The girls, all of whom appeared to be still in their teen age," the reporter wrote, "were nattily dressed in puttees and sports attire. They were hungry and haggard after a long days' excitement. Sheriff Finn ordered food prepared for them. They ate heartily."

Finn realized the implications of hosting the three women in his jail. All roads led to Madison now. 

The women were placed in the jail's "best" cells while the federal agents deposited a small arsenal of arms and ammunition. Located in the middle of the building, the cells lacked windows for easy escape -- unlike the street-side cells, in which prisoners could talk to pedestrians through the windows.

Finn ordered visitors out of the building and positioned two county highway officers with shotguns in the jail office. Two more officers were secreted in the courthouse overlooking the jail entrance. It was everything the sheriff could muster, except to wish out loud that the newspaper wouldn't announce the women's arrival.

"Think there could be a raid?" the reporter asked.

"Well, you can't tell what they will do," Finn responded. "It wouldn't be a pleasant sensation to have five or six of those fellows come here and stick guns in your stomach." 

The Wisconsin State Journal had its scoop, a big one, and to Finn's dismay, the next morning's headline stretched across all eight columns: Dillinger Gang Molls Behind Bars Here.



Valley of the Molls recounts the hysteria that befell Wisconsin's sophisticated university and government town when Dillinger and his gang were expected to spring three gang "molls" from the local jail. The story is complete with dueling newspapers, mysterious federal agents, mistaken identities, a crafty local sheriff, and three anonymous women caught in the eye of a massive manhunt...


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