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Gangster Walking Tour

Printable Gangster Tour w/ map (PDF)

Why Were the Gangsters in St. Paul?

A corrupt St. Paul police department led by Police Chief John O’Connor provided a safe haven to gangsters in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  The O'Connor System, as it was known, allowed criminals to live in St. Paul as long as they kept out of trouble and obeyed the law during their stay. Because of this, notorious gangsters like Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, the Barker Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Baby Face Nelson lived in Saint Paul. The system fell apart when crimes began to be committed in St. Paul like the high profile Hamm and Bremer kidnappings.

St. Paul played host to many famous names from the ‘romantic era’ of organized crime.  This short walking tour is designed to present history snippets from that era.  Enjoy a leisurely stroll through scenic Summit Hill and Summit-University, two of St. Paul’s most historic neighborhoods, while learning a bit about the dark side of St. Paul’s past.

 The following notes correspond to the numbers on the map Printable Gangster Tour map (PDF)

u Commodore Hotel, 79 Western Avenue
Northwest corner of Holly and Western.  Built in 1920, this hotel with an art deco bar played host to a number of colorful characters. From F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis to Al Capone and Fred Barker, the Commodore patron list read like a who’s who from St. Paul’s colorful past.

vHolly Falls Apartments, 562 Holly Avenue
Look under your feet, the sidewalk in front of this building is the crime scene!  In 1934 Roy McCord was shot by Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis on his way home from work.  Karpis had mistaken McCord’s Northwest Airlines uniform for that of a police officer.

 w The Kennington, 565 Portland Avenue
The Barker-Karpis Gang, known for a spree of robberies, kidnappings and other crimes, used Apartment 104 as a hideout before the Bremer kidnapping.

 x Summit Terrace, 616 Summit Avenue
This 1927 building was still relatively new when it was home to violent criminal Tommy Holden.  Holden later served a term in Alcatraz.  After his parole in 1947, Holden killed his wife and her two brothers in a fit of rage at a family gathering.

y Dale Apartments, 628 Grand Avenue
This 1919 apartment was used as a home base by the Barker-Karpis Gang while planning the kidnapping of Edward Bremer, a member of the prominent St. Paul banking and Brewing family.  Read more about the Bremer family in Ramsey County History, volume 23 #1

 z Lincoln Oaks, 572 Lincoln Avenue
This complex played host to the ‘unlucky bank robber’ Charlie Harmon and his wife, Paula "Fat-Witted" Harmon.  Harmon came to St. Paul after being released from Leavenworth prison in 1930.  He was later killed in a bank robbery in Menomonie, WI.  Fat-witted Paula would quickly move on to another ill-fated love affair with Freddie (son of ‘Ma’) Barker.

 { 706 Lincoln Avenue
This brick home was built in 1909 and was the long-time residence of Dr. Henry Nippert, the Bremer family physician.  In 1934 Edward Bremer’s ransom letter was delivered to this house… thrown through the front window in a bottle.

 | Kensington Hall, 928 Grand Avenue
Originally the Ann Bee Arms apartments, this 1922 semi-art deco building was unsuccessfully used as a hideout by one mobster.  Larry De Vol was pulled from the apartment building by police in a drunken stupor after the third robbery of the Northwestern National Bank.

Major Gangster Sites (off the map)

Landmark Center
Many gangsters were tried in Landmark Center, the former Federal Courts Building. The 1934 trial of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, who was charged and convicted of harboring a criminal, took place in Room 317.

 Lincoln Court, 93 Lexington Parkway S.
John Dillinger and his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, lived on the third-floor of this apartment building. On the morning of March 13, 1934, FBI agents and police knocked on their door at the request of a landlady who reported a “suspicious character”… a shootout ensued. The couple escaped through an unguarded back door.

 Castle Royal, 215 Wabasha Street S.
Castle Royal, a favorite night spot for gangsters, was opened in October 1933.  The caves that made up the night club hosted performers like Cab Calloway and the Dorsey Brothers in the public club space, and illegal gambling in the back rooms. It is now home to the Wabasha Street Caves.

Hollyhocks Club, 1590 Mississippi Blvd S.

The Hollyhocks Club was a favorite hangout for gangsters including members of the Dillinger and Barker-Karpis Gangs. Now a private residence.

Enjoy projects like this Gangster Tour and others like it by joining the
Ramsey County Historical Society.



Our Mission
"The Ramsey County Historical Society inspires current and future generations to learn from
and value their history by engaging in a diverse program of presenting, publishing and preserving." 

The place for St. Paul & Ramsey County, Minnesota history.
Ramsey County Historical Society programs include a research center, St. Paul & Ramsey County MN history magazine, 
historical exhibits, historic site attraction the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life.

323 Landmark Center, 75 West Fifth Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102    
Phone: (651) 222-0701, Fax: (651) 223-8539

Copyright 2012

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