I had no idea that St. Paul actually harbored many gangsters back in the 1930’s! It has been around 80 years since then but some of the more famous criminals that hid out in St. Paul were John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Ma Barker’s gang, Fred Goetz, “Baby Face” Nelson, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Verne Miller. These were criminals responsible for murders, kidnappings and bank robberies, not exactly light crimes! One writer said that St. Paul was best known as a crooks haven. Every important criminal in the 1930’s spent at least some of their time in St. Paul. If it seemed that someone had disappeared, you either looked for that person in St. Paul or in prison! Many of them settled in the Grand Avenue area as there were nice new places to live, plenty of stores and lots of car dealers that were eager to sell the next getaway cars!
So what did these notorious criminals do during their time as Gangsters in St. Paul? Many of them used the city as a place to lay low for a time, a place where they came to get out of sight and plan their next crimes. Some of them even formed new gangs. The most famous crimes committed while they were hiding out in St. Paul were kidnappings for large ransoms such as the son of the founder of the Hamm’s Brewery and the son of the owner of the Schmidt Brewery. The gangsters had an added advantage as they had struck a deal with the Chief of Police in St. Paul and as long as they stayed under the radar the police would leave them alone for the most part.
It wasn’t until later in the 1900’s that people started really talking about this time in St. Paul history as it was always something that shamed the city. Nowadays, there is no more shame and people have really taken an interest in this part of history. The Wabasha Street Caves, big hangouts for these gangsters, were used for speakeasies and were also the scenes of crimes such as murder. You can take gangster and cave tours of this area to learn more about this time in St. Paul History.