Al Capone, Alcatraz escape and kidnappings: Top 7 mobster and gangster stories - Best of The Vault 2022

Where did Al Capone and other mobsters hunker down in in the Upper Midwest? Who was 'Creepy' Karpis? What happened in the Bohn kidnapping? All these stories and more in Best of The Vault 2022.

Pictured is Al Capone, along with two photos of the Naniboujou Lodge, where he is rumored to have stayed. The Lodge is located along Minnesota's North Shore.
Pictured is Al Capone, along with two photos of the Naniboujou Lodge, where he is rumored to have stayed. The Lodge, built in the late 1920s, is located along Minnesota's North Shore.
Photos illustration - Trisha Taurinskas/Photos courtesy of FBI and Naniboujou Lodge

While Minnesota and the Dakotas are likely the first places that come to mind when people think "mobsters" and "gangsters," the region has seen its fair share of organized crime and conspiracy.

Our Best of The Vault 2022 include the following seven stories featuring notables such as Al Capone and less notables such as 'Creepy' Karpis and others who terrorized the Upper Midwest in their time.

Editor's note: Some of the below links may open in other Forum Communication Co.'s sites.

1. Al Capone slept here

al-capone hideout.jpg
Living room at "the Hideout," the Northwoods retreat of Chicago gangster Al Capone during Prohibition, Couderay, Wisconsin, in 1980.
Courtesy / Carol M. Highsmith via Library of Congress

Many mobsters cooled their heels at lodges at the lakes, shores and northwoods of the Upper Midwest, including perhaps the most famous of them all: Al Capone.

Some of these sites are still active destination for us non-mobster types, while others locations are now local legends, including one forest ruin.


2. The Bohn kidnapping

Displayed is a collage of photos, including an image of the house Haskell Bohn was held hostage for six days in 1932.
Haskell Bohn was held hostage for six days in a Minnesota basement in1932. The son of a Minnesota millionaire, the gangsters who kidnapped him demanded his father pay $35,000 for his safe return.
Photo illustration - Trisha Taurinskas / Photos courtesy of David Bohn

How do you know you're a bad kidnapper? When you score a ransom and still the story of the kidnapping is the degree to which the job didn't pay off.

That's the tale of the Haskell Bohn kidnapping in 1932. Bohn was a scion of a wealthy Minnesota family founded on a refrigeration fortune.

As it turns out, that didn't necessarily make him the best target, or set his kidnappers up for a lifetime on Easy Street.

3. 'Creepy' Karpis

Karpis - ruth.JPG
In 1971, after nearly 40 years, Ruth Whipps, lays eyes again upon the gangster who kidnapped her during a bank robbery in 1932.
The Farmer-Globe archives

In the fall of 1932, 46-year-old bookkeeper Ruth Whipps was the only woman who worked at Citizen’s National Bank in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

On Sept. 30, she was grabbed by a bank robber, forced to cling for dear life to the outside of his speeding getaway car, and riddled with bullets.

For decades, she never knew the identity of the man. But as it turns out, the man who took her hostage was one of America’s most notorious gangsters, “Public Enemy No. 1.”

4. The Alcatraz escape

Cell of Alcatraz Escapee John Anglin (1).jpg
John Anglin escaped from Alcatraz Prison in 1962 by making a plaster head of his likeness and putting it in his bed to fool the guards. Evidence in the last few years suggest he fled to North Dakota in the years after the escape.

Three men pulled off the impossible in 1962 and escaped Alcatraz, the legendary maximum security prison in San Francisco Bay. What happened to them remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the U.S. prison system.

Their story became the inspiration for the 1979 hit movie starring Clint Eastwood: “Escape from Alcatraz.” And as it turns out, there are tantalizing clues about where the three real-life prison escapees ended up, including ... North Dakota?


5. The teenage bootlegger

Engolf Snortland started a life of crime as a teenager in North Dakota. He'd continue it with kidnapping and robbery in Idaho. But his return to North Dakota ended up inspiring a change in the law.
Idaho Historical Society

In the 1920s, Engolf Snortland started running with a bad crowd, later kidnapped the wrong man, and went to prison. He moved home to North Dakota for a fresh start, only to be shot dead.

In the years to come, the fallout from his unusual case would reach the state Supreme Court and inspire groundbreaking legislation in North Dakota.

6. The O'Connor 'Agreement'

Pictured are infamous mobsters that made their way to Minnesota in the early 1930s. From left to right: Al Capone, Kate "Ma"Barker, Alvin Karpis, Leon Gleckman
Pictured are infamous mobsters that made their way to Minnesota in the early 1930s. From left to right: Al Capone, Kate "Ma"Barker, Alvin Karpis and Leon Gleckman.
Photo illustration - Trisha Taurinskas/Photos courtesy of FBI and archive

It became a glorified permission slip for mobsters.

What was known as "The O’Connor Layover Agreement" was created by Saint Paul Police Chief John O’Connor in 1900. It essentially gave criminals free rein to lay low in St. Paul, as long as they followed some rules, kicked some bribes over to the police department, and didn't commit crimes in the city.

Everywhere else, though, was fair game — and it made Minnesota a hub for organized crime.

7. The 'Beer Baron'

Jake Schumacher mug shot

No one can quite figure out why the kingpin of one Minnesota town's illegal liquor business would mastermind a bank robbery, then try to attract the attention of the police on the way out of town.

No matter why he did it, Jake Schumacher helped put the nail in the coffin of gangster life in town.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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