Thursday, July 28, 2011



Last week I wrote about the Dillinger hideout near Cuba City, and introduced Louis P. Piquette, Dillinger’s lawyer who was from the Platteville/Benton area. Piquette was an interesting man. Those who watched him in a courtroom universally described him as “flamboyant”. The son of a blacksmith, he was described as a "short, chubby, middle-aged man of vitality and charm." He was well depicted in the 2009 movie “Public Enemies” by actor Peter Gerety

Louis Piquette never attended law school, but did pass the Illinois Bar Exam on his fourth try. He actually was an attorney in the City of Chicago Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. His time as a prosecutor did not last long. He was soon part of a group of law enforcement officials who attended banquets thrown by Al Capone, and he was indicted along with a number of politicians for taking “rake-offs” from coal sales to city schools. He was never found guilty but decided to become a defense attorney in 1922, setting up his own practice with Arthur O’Leary as his investigator. Both men were “shady” and were more than willing to bend rules to make a buck.

Piquette soon became the preferred defense attorney for organized crime figures. On June 9, 1930, “Jake” Lingle, a veteran crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was shot and killed. Leo V. Brothers, described as a union thug was accused of the crime and Piquette unsuccessfully defended him. In 1928 Piquette represented David C. Rockola, a slot machine mechanic who had promised to witness for the prosecution against James “High Pockets” O’Brien, a mobster who was paying off police to return impounded slot machines. At trial, Rockola took the fifth and refused to testify, ruining the prosecution. He later made millions manufacturing jukeboxes. Piquette is often alleged to have given Dillinger the wooden gun he used to escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point Indiana. That allegation is doubtful.

Piquette seems to have genuinely liked Dillinger, or was delusional about his character. In 1934 a widow, Eulalia Callender wrote him a letter saying that Dillinger could only have escaped from Crown Point with God’s help. Piquette replied: “I, like you believe that it was the hand of God that enabled this young Christian soul to live on. From my experience with the party in question, I can safely tell you that he will rob no banks, but it is his firm intention to travel in the path of righteousness. He is a great student of the Bible.”

To escape the pressures of the big city, Piquette often returned to Platteville where the bulk of his family lived. For instance, on July 19, 1934 he left Chicago to visit his family. This was the same day that Anna Sage Betrayed Dillinger’s whereabouts to Melvin Purvis, leading to his death at the Biograph Theater on July 22.

From the Dubuque telegraph Herald Christmas Day 1932

Louis Piquette arranged for Dillinger to hide out in the home of James “Jimmy” Probasco on May 24, 1934 in Chicago, and arranged during the period following for the Plastic surgery and fingerprint removal done by Dr. Wilhelm Loeser and Dr. Harold Bernard Cassidy. During this period Dillinger and Homer Van Meter, a fellow gang member, were planning more bank robberies. One of those plans involved Platteville, Wisconsin. This is the story as related by Allan May and Marilyn Bardsley in “John Dillinger”:

On a sort of comical note, O’Leary one day returned to the law office and informed Piquette that Dillinger and Van Meter had formulated a plan to rob three banks at once in the town of Platteville, Wisconsin — the attorney’s home-town. Piquette and O’Leary drove immediately to the Probasco home where the lawyer pleaded with the two bank robbers to abandon the plan because his family and friends could be affected and that it would appear as though he had “cased” the banks for them. After Piquette threatened to drop him as a client, Dillinger relented. As Piquette and his investigator left the house, Van Meter glared at O’Leary and grunted, “Why don’t you keep your mouth shut, anyway?””

After Dillinger’s death, the law came down on Piquette and those he had recruited to aid “Public Enemy Number One”

June 27th 1935

Louis Piquette entered Leavenworth on May 9, 1936, convicted of harboring fugitives. He was released January 11, 1938. There is no doubt of his guilt.

It seems that Grant County must claim an infamous son along with those celebrated more conventionally. Louis P. Piquette died of a heart attack in his apartment at 661 W. Sheridan in Chicago on December 12, 1951. Piquette is buried at Hillside cemetery in Platteville.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


It was May 1934 and Grant County was crawling with agents of what was soon to be known as the F.B.I. John Dillinger was public enemy number one, and word had gotten to J. Edgar Hoovers “flying squads” that Dillinger was hiding out in an abandoned Mine shack four miles northeast of Cuba City, near Jenkinsville after the shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge near Mercer on April 22, 1934. Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, and John “Red” Hamilton had escaped, but Hamilton had been shot in the back from long range by local police while sleeping in the car.Needing a place to hide, Dillinger had either found, or more likely been directed to the abandoned shack. Perhaps he had known of it before the battle at Little Bohemia. Agents searching the area did not find Dillinger or his gang but found evidence, including clothing that convinced them that this indeed had been a hideout for Dillinger’s gang. Possibly they found the bloodied clothing of Hamilton who died six days after being shot. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald of May 18, 1934 reported that “The discovery of a blood soaked automobile abandoned by members of the Dillinger gang in Chicago of a Telegraph Herald and Times-Journal published the day after Dillinger escaped the trap (at Little Bohemia) and a Shullsburg, Wis. Weekly of the week before satisfied officers that members of the gang had been in this vicinity”.

Dillinger with carved gun used to escape jail

The Feds, through Melvin Purvis, also said the shack and mine matched exactly the description given by Edward Bremer of the place he had been held after being kidnapped. Bremer, a St. Paul, Minnesota banker was kidnapped in January 1934 and held for 23 days before a $200,000.00 reward was paid. Bremer, an heir of the Schmidt Brewing fortune was kidnapped on the street after leaving his daughter at school. This was the act, not of Dillinger, but of the Karpis-Barker Gang. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Fred Barker, son of “Ma” Barker had planned the job while living nearby. This gang was one of the worst of the era, and Karpis was the last of Hoover’s “public enemy’s”. Hoover said of this gang: “Ma Barker and her sons, and Alvin Karpis and his cronies, constituted the toughest gang of hoodlums the FBI ever has been called upon to eliminate…Looking over the record of these criminals, I was repeatedly impressed by the cruelty of their depredations…murder of a policeman …murder of two policemen ….machine gun murder of an innocent citizen who got in the way during a bank robbery …kidnapping and extortion…train robbery…mail robbery ...the protection of high police officials bought with tainted money…paroles bought.”

Did Karpis and Fred Barker keep Bremer at the mine shack? We will never know for sure. Certainly Dillinger and Karpis were known to each other, and had friends in common. Baby Face Nelson had met Karpis and the Barkers in Reno in 1932. Volney Davis, an Oklahoma bank robber and outlaw knew Dillinger, and was a member of the Karpis- Barker Gang. In late April 1934 Dillinger had visited Davis with the injured John “Red” Hamilton in Aurora, Illinois. Davis girlfriend, Edna Murray was believed to have nursed Hamilton until he died. Volney reportedly helped Dillinger dispose of Hamilton’s body, which was never recovered. Fred and Arizona “Ma” Barker were killed in a gun battle with the FBI in Florida in January 1935. Dillinger was shot in the back by federal agents while leaving The Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934.

Arthur “Doc” Barker, Volney, and Karpis were captured and sent to Alcatraz. Arthur died trying to escape from the rock in 1939. Most of the ransom money was never recovered.

The Midway tavern sits between Lancaster and Potosi on Highway 61. Oral tradition has it that Dillinger was a visitor in the 1930’s. A written piece on display at the Passage Thru time Museum reads: “A frequent visitor to the tavern in the 1930’s was John Dillinger. The current owner, then a child, tells of seeing a limousine pulling into the tavern and filling up with gas. The sheriff at that time, Joe Greer would meet this well dressed person. The storyteller goes on to say that he would ask his father who that well dressed man was in the big car with the smoky colored windows. His father would say “never mind, I will explain to you some day”. This well dressed man, John Dillinger used to give the youngsters in the area a dollar to buy candy and pop”.

Could it be that Greer and Dillinger had an understanding? In fact, that was exactly the case in St. Paul, where Police Chief John O’Connor had an agreement with the gangsters of the era that, according to Tom Brady of the Minnesota Monthly went like this: “You’re welcome to visit and enjoy the pleasures of our city. Just let us know you’re here, and don’t bother us once you pull in”. Needless to say, St. Paul became a notorious refuge for those on the run from the law. When the Federal agents descended on the area Sheriff Greer was not informed or made privy to what was found.

Sheriff Greer on Right

An interesting aside: Dillinger’s lawyer was the flamboyant Chicago attorney Louis P. Piquette. He was born in Benton Wisconsin and grew up in Platteville. He was convicted after Dillinger’s Death of harboring a fugitive, Dillinger, and arranging his plastic surgery. He was disbarred and sentenced to a two year term in Leavenworth Prison. When he was released he found work as a bartender. Early in 1951 President Truman pardoned him, and he applied for reinstatement to the Bar. He died the same year of a massive heart attack, and is buried in Hillside Cemetery in Platteville Wisconsin. Perhaps he, being a native of our area, had directed Dillinger to the Abandoned mine five miles from his family home. The answers will never be known.