During the 1930s St. Paul, Minnesota was a haven for criminals like Alvin Karpis, Ma Barker, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger.
It all started in 1900, when John O'Conner, the chief of the St. Paul Police Department, started what was termed a "Layover Program" with criminals.
The agreement was that the St Paul Police would not arrest any criminal if they had checked-in with the police when they entered town, paid a protection fee, and then not rob any banks or kill any citizens while they were in town.
So, someone could rob a bank in Rochester, Duluth or Willmar, then drive to St. Paul, check-in with the St Paul Police Department, give them some of the stolen money, and the bank robber would be safe from arrest and prosecution while they remained within the city limits.
In this way St. Paul remained relatively peaceful... and then the Prohibition went into effect in 1919. The prohibition was an attempt to make alcoholic beverages illegal. The intent was to make the United States "Go Dry."
It didn’t work out that way.
It seems the public had an unquenchable thirst for alcohol, either beer or harder liquor, and people were willing to pay serious money to partake of the forbidden drinks. This led to organized crime organizations that centered around making, transporting and serving of liquor - and the St. Paul Police Department was there to help – as long as they got a cut of the proceeds.
St Paul became a safe haven for many criminals if were feeling too much heat in Chicago or Kansas City. Minnesota was like Disneyland for the gangsters and there were a lot of bars, brothels and restaurants that catered to the mob.
For instance, the Green Lantern bar on west 7th street catered almost exclusively to crooks. Castle Royal night club which was built into the caves on Wabasha Street on the west bank of the Mississippi was the scene of a hit job – and a cover-up. There was also a bootlegger named Leon Gleckman, known as the “Al Capone of St. Paul,” ran his operation from a room in the St Paul Hotel. Even Fred Goetz, the man who planned the St. Valentine’s day massacre for Al Capone lived for a number of years in Minnesota and regularly visited the Hollyhocks supper club in St Paul.
In the 1920’s, a Swedish immigrant, Ivar Anderson (1899-1987), was working as an "ice-boy" at one of Al Capone’s restaurants in Chicago. During lunch breaks Ivar would play his fiddle. One of the tunes that he played was "Ulvabodavalsen" which he had learned from his father, a well-known fiddler named Sven Andersson (1851-1921). Al Capone overheard Ivar playing and took a fancy to the tune. The gangster requested that Ivar play his father's waltz whenever he saw Ivar on the premises.
During the depression, sometime in the mid-1930s, Ivar returned home to his family farm in rural Ulvaboda, Sweden and eventually became a well-known folk musician.
During the 1970s Ivar Andersson taught this tune to a fiddler named Magnus Gustafsson, who was recording Ivar’s tunes and stories for Swedish Radio. Shortly thereafter Magnus Gustafsson came to Brainerd, Minnesota to teach several Scandinavian fiddle workshops, part of what he taught was this tune and its story. This tune spread through the Minnesota fiddle community and has been popular here ever since.
Click here to access a pdf of “Al Capone’s Waltz”
Click here to listen to an mp3 of “Al Capone’s Waltz”
This story is not unique. Al Capone was also known to have requested “The Roses of Picardy” from other musicians at other venues
Click here to access a pdf of “The Roses of Picardy”
For more information about St Paul's gangster past read:
“John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936” by Paul Maccabee.
For more information about the Wabasha Street Caves
Thanks to: Arlan Erickson, Paul Wilson and Magnus Gustafsson
by Walter Sigtermans
The Saint Paul Federal Building, now known as Landmark Center, was the headquarters for the FBI and the courtrooms where many criminals were put on trial.
The entrance to "Castle Royal", now known as the "Wabasha Street Caves". These caves are still home to an underground bar, restaurant and dance floor.
In the1920s, J Edgar Hoover and his G-Men set up operations in the Federal Courthouse in downtown St. Paul (now known as the Landmark Center). In 1933 the Prohibition came to an end, so the mob transitioned from bootlegging to kidnapping. William Hamm, owner of the Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, was kidnapped in June 1933 for a ransom of $100,000. It was this kidnapping which was the beginning of the end of the O’Connor system. During the investigation of the Hamm kidnapping, the FBI began a wiretapping and bugging operation targeting the St Paul Police Department which eventually forced out the chief of police and thirteen other officers in 1935. Since that time the St. Paul Police Department has become, and remained, more trustworthy.