Sites of infamous shootouts and debauchery, discover the Wisconsin spots once frequented by Chicago’s most notorious mobsters.
Back in the 1920s and ’30s, Chicago-based rum runners headed north to Wisconsin for recluse and retreat. The state’s dense wooded areas made it easy for them to evade law enforcement and import contraband from Canada, providing a perfect hideaway. When the Great Depression hit the area hard, the mob found the Wisconsin locals to be accommodating and more than willing to look the other way–for a small fee. From Al Capone to John Dillinger, some of the most notorious names of America’s gangster era spent time in Wisconsin. Many of these sites of shootouts, robberies, and hideouts can still be visited today.
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The Site of John Dillinger’s Famous Shootout
WHERE: Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin
In 1934, legendary outlaw John Dillinger and his gang came face to face with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. A shootout ensued, but all of Dillinger’s gang managed to escape, creating an embarrassing situation for the FBI. The shootout was immortalized in the 2009 Johnny Depp film Public Enemies, with some of the scenes being filmed on location. Today, the lodge is filled with John Dillinger memorabilia and touts the slogan “Dillinger only left because he had to.”
INSIDER TIPSome of the original bullet holes from the shootout can still be seen in the walls so look closely.
Baby Face Nelson’s Hideout
WHERE: Lac Du Flambeau, Wisconsin
Escaping the shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge, Baby Face Nelson made it across the Powell Marsh to Dillman’s Bay Resort. He used one of the cabins there as his hideout until his cover was blown. While the cabin has since been moved to a different location on the grounds, visitors still have the option to stay in the same exact cabin as Baby Face Nelson.
INSIDER TIPFor those particularly interested in the resorts gangster past, Dillman’s offers the option to plan a gangster-inspired murder mystery activity for groups.
Al Capone’s Milwaukee Speakeasy and Brothel
WHERE: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Shaker’s Cigar Bar, Milwaukee’s only licensed cigar bar, was once owned by mobster Al Capone. During the days of Prohibition, the Capone family ran a speakeasy and brothel at this location under the guise of a soda bottling operation. The bar retains a strong 1920s atmosphere, transporting visitors back in time.
INSIDER TIPConsidered to be one of the most haunted bars in the country, be sure to check out the bar’s ghost tours after enjoying some vintage spirits and hand-rolled cigars.
A Favorite Gangster Hangout
WHERE: Minocqua, Wisconsin
The Norwood Pines Supper Club is now one of northern Wisconsin’s finest supper clubs, but it was once a popular spot for many notorious names to kick back and relax. A favorite of Al Capone, this establishment became a gangster hangout thanks to the gambling taking place and a brothel upstairs.
Polack Joe’s Retreat
WHERE: Winter, Wisconsin
The Barker Lake Lodge & Golf Course was designed and built for the purpose of being a getaway retreat for Chicago gangster and beer baron Joe Saltis, also known as Polack Joe. It’s located a mere 30 minutes away from rival Al Capone’s northern Wisconsin retreat. Despite retiring here in 1930, Joe remained on Chicago’s “Public Enemies” list.
Home of One of John Dillinger’s Infamous Bank Robberies
WHERE: Racine, Wisconsin
The Racine Art Museum is located in the refurbished building that was formerly home to the American Bank and Trust Co. and once the site of Wisconsin’s most memorable bank robbery. John Dillinger and his gang stormed the building in 1933 with machine guns, making off with over $25,000, taking two hostages, and wounding a police officer.
The Quick Escape
WHERE: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Close to the Illinois border, the Lake Como Hotel, now known as the French Country Inn, in southern Wisconsin was an easy escape for Chicago’s mobster elite. It became a popular spot with Bugs Moran, Baby Face Nelson, and members of John Dillinger’s gang in the 1930s. The gangsters and their families spent so much time at the property that one of the owners, Hobart Hermansen, even became close with Bugs Moran’s wife and married her after their divorce.
Ralph Capone’s Wisconsin Home
WHERE: Mercer, Wisconsin
Al Capone’s older brother Ralph spent a fair share of time in Wisconsin. At one point deemed “Public Enemy Number Three”, Ralph moved to Mercer, Wisconsin after serving a sentence for tax evasion. There, he led a more low-key life, running a couple of bars and slots until his death in the 1970s.
A Vacation Destination for Chicago’s Mobsters
WHERE: Hurley, Wisconsin
When Chicago’s gangsters wanted to unwind, they headed to Hurley, Wisconsin. Both Al Capone and John Dillinger are said to have spent time there enjoying the nightlife. At one point, Silver Street was a hotspot for brothels and saloons catering to mob clientele. While those days are long gone, the small city still boasts a lively nightlife scene.
Al Capone’s Rumored Hideout
WHERE: Couderay, Wisconsin
While there’s some debate as to whether Al Capone’s hideaway in the Town of Couderay is legitimate or if his hideout was an elaborate tourist attraction, the spot is still closely associated with the notorious gangster. The compound overlooks a private lake that was supposedly used to bring contraband in from Canada via seaplane, and the main lodge contains 18 thick walls with a protective guard tower to keep an eye out for unwanted visitors.
INSIDER TIPWhile previously open to the public, the compound was foreclosed on in 2009 and is now private property, so visitors will only be able to view it from afar for the time being.