Travel, History & Culture in America's Dairyland



        Valley of the Molls - Part I      

Fish Frys

  For one year John Dillinger owned the attention of the nation if not much of the world. From June 1933 to July 1934, Dillinger and his confederates terrorized the Midwest, leaving more than a dozen men dead or wounded in their wake. They robbed hundreds of thousands of dollars from at least 10 banks, staged spectacular jailbreaks, and knocked over police arsenals at will.

By the spring of 1934, in the dreary reality of the Great Depression, Dillinger's exploits were becoming folklore. At a rustic northern Wisconsin lodge called Little Bohemia, the Dillinger mystique would reach epic proportions. 

Dillinger had checked into the lodge April 20 with his full accompaniment of well-dressed associates: Homer Van Meter, John "Three Fingered Jack" Hamilton, Tommy Carroll, and the killer's killer himself, Lester Gillis, aka "Baby Face Nelson." Little Bohemia's owner recognized the outlaws. The owner also recognized that each man had bulging armpits, a fashion resulting from carrying .45 caliber handguns in shoulder holsters. Through a daring trip into nearby Mercer and by smuggling messages written in matchbook covers, Little Bohemia's owner secretly notified relatives, who contacted the Chicago bureau of the federal Justice Department. 

On Sunday night, April 22, dozens of government agents, "G-men," converged on Little Bohemia. Nervous and cold, agents failed to surround the lodge in the pitch-black woods. Chaos erupted as agents opened fire on three Civilian Conservation Corps workers leaving the lodge bar, killing one of the workers and injuring the others. The gang returned fire before escaping through back windows and disappearing into the woods. Later that night, at another resort, Baby Face Nelson shot a federal agent in the head at point blank range.

Ten hours later, the G-men were still shooting at Little Bohemia, believing they had the gang cornered, when a voice came from the basement.

"We'll come out if you stop firing."

The desperate cries of desperate men it was not. To the horror of the law-abiding world, emerging from Little Bohemia through the early morning haze and tear gas were not the most notorious gangsters of the day, but three young women, two of them dressed in pajamas, and another holding a Boston bull terrier named Rex.


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