Minnesota School of Business-Blaine (MSB) Criminal Justice Instructor, Christine Rued and students from her Security Threat Groups took a trip down memory lane via the “Saint Paul Gangster Tour” last weekend to explore a time when the saintly city wasn’t so saintly.
Students spent two hours learning about notorious gangsters in the area during the early to mid-1900’s, inclusive of the prohibition era. The tour was led by “Baby Face Nelson,” A/K/A Lester Gillis, a notorious gangster who became Public Enemy #1 after the death of John Dillinger who previously held the title. Baby Face Nelson’s fame, however, lasted only four months before he was shot and killed by FBI agents at the age of 26.
While on the tour, students were able to see firsthand the locations where William Hamm Jr. was kidnapped by the Barker gang, the temporary residence of John Dillinger and his girlfriend, Evelyn Frechette, the residence of Ma Barker and her boys, the location of several bank robberies, and the locations of several gunfights between gangsters and police officers.
Criminal Justice student Jesup Studer had this to say in response to the experience, “Going on the gangster tour in Saint Paul was an amazing experience, and I learned so much. It amazed me to learn that gangsters in the United States started in Saint Paul because of the government implementing prohibition.
It was also very interesting to learn about how the Saint Paul Police was so corrupt. The police gave the gangsters all the protection that they needed under a few conditions. These conditions were that the gangsters kept all crime out of the city of Saint Paul, and that they paid for the protection on a regular basis. These are just some of the fun and interesting facts that I learned on this amazing tour.”
They heard stories about the corruption of the St. Paul Police Department, led by Police Chief Tom Brown and John J. O’Conner, who created the O’Connor Layover system that allowed criminals to have a safe haven inside the St. Paul city limits as long as they followed three rules. Those three rules were: no serious criminal activity was to take place within the City of St. Paul, each gang member was to pay a “fee” for their safety from investigation, and they had to check in when they entered the city.
Student Lor Hue reflects, “The gang tour was fun and exciting. We learned about the history of St. Paul and how public enemy number one started in St. Paul with John Dillinger and how the 18th Amendment was established in St. Paul. The one thing that was most interesting to me is that every gangster came to St. Paul to get away from the Federal and other law enforcement for protection by the St. Paul Police department.”
In 1934, St. Paul was considered a “hotbed” for gangster life. The stories told by Baby Face Nelson of the gangster and mobster connections to the politicians took some amazing twists and turns, keeping students on the edge of their “bus” seats.
Studer added, “If you ever have a few hours to spare on a Saturday, I recommend that you go on this tour and learn about this information yourself. It is worth the time, and you will have a blast. I am going to find one of the books referenced by Baby Face Nelson to continue the learning experience.”