Wisconsin's Northwoods: the real gangsters' paradise
MINOCQUA (WAOW) -
Wise guys like Al Capone and John Dillinger ruled Chicago in the late 1920's and early 30's. These infamous men reaped riches and often left a trail of destruction.
But when these gangsters weren't out and about on the town in Chicago, they were often in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. During the 20's and 30's, the Northwoods area became a playground for those who made their living in Chicago's underworld.
Brothels dotted the area, catering to their gangster clientele.
In Minocqua, the boathouse of BJ's Sporting Goods was once home to a different sort of business. In the 20's and 30's, it was known as "Trixie's Brothel." According to local lore, when Trixie the matriarch died, her body and her jewels were buried on an island on Lake Minocqua.
When Chicago's most infamous weren't hanging out with local call girls, they were relaxing at the Northwoods' numerous resorts, such as Little Bohemia in Manitowish Waters.
"[It was] a place for the gangsters to get away, a place for everyone to get away," Little Bohemia owner Dan Johns Jr. said.
It was at Little Bohemia that John Dillinger and his gang almost met their end one night in April of 1934.
"The gang was inside, having a good time, always suspicious, but not thinking that anything was going to happen at that minute,” Johns said. “And then the FBI shows up."
A shootout ensued, bullets flying through the windows and walls of Little Bohemia – bullet holes that can still be seen by visitors in Little Bohemia's dining room.
"The gang realized that the jig was up,” Johns said. “So they busted out and started running in all different directions."
Dillinger's gang scattered after their shootout with the FBI, but few know the story of what happened after the escape.
Dennis Robertson, the President of Dillman's Bay Resort, owns a piece of history connected with the plight of Dillinger's gang – a cabin used by George “Baby Face” Nelson as he evaded the FBI. Nelson was wanted for his connections to various murders and bank robberies. After two getaway cars failed on him, Nelson trekked 18 miles in a suit and wingtip shoes from Little Bohemia through the woods until he came upon a cabin inhabited by a local family.
"He had three guns with him,” said Robertson. “And he said, 'I'm going to possibly stay here with you for a little while and nobody can leave.' He ended up staying, what we know of, two nights and three days there. And he finally left and went back to Chicago."
The structure that Nelson stayed in is now known as Cabin Five at Dillman's Bay Resort. Though Cabin Five has been expanded and moved since Nelson's stay, visitors still have the opportunity sleep in the room that once housed the notorious gangster.