Minnesota’s Top Mobsters: When organized crime ruled the state – InForum

Amid the northern pines and quaint Scandinavian communities of the early 1930s, a sinister underbelly of organized crime was brewing in Minnesota.

While St. Paul was considered a con man’s haven for gangsters, the infamous Al Capone was known to wander the North to rest and rest.

Some point to St. Paul law enforcement as the main instigators in making Minnesota welcoming to the crowds.

The O’Connor Stopover Agreement was created by Saint Paul Police Chief John O’Connor in 1900, essentially giving criminals the freedom to lay low in St. Paul.

There were, however, a few details that the gangsters had to follow – they had to agree to pay bribes to the police department, they had to check in at the Savoy Hotel, and they could not conduct their criminal operations in St. Paul, according to Visit St. Paul.

The “deal” didn’t work out well for anyone – the criminals who had made Minnesota their safe space started committing their crimes locally, especially when Prohibition kicked in and O’Connor retired.

In 1920, these criminals began committing other high-profile crimes, including kidnapping, tax evasion, and illegal gambling operations.

Ma Barker’s Boys

In the 1930s, the FBI had it for Kate Barker, the matriarchal leader otherwise known as Ma Barker, who allegedly led the Barker-Karpis gang, known for kidnapping prominent businessmen in the region of Saint Paul.

Like many other organized crime organizations, the Barker-Karpis gang took up residence in St. Paul in the early 1930s. Their hideout house, located at 1031 S Robert Street in St. Paul, still exists today.

The Barker-Karpis gang’s hideout, located at 1031 S Robert Street in St. Paul, still exists today.

Photo courtesy of Google

The gang consisted of his four sons, Fred, Arthur, Lloyd and Herman Barker, as well as a number of accomplices, including the infamous Alvin Karpis and Charles Fitzgerald.

Their crime spree rocked Minnesota in the summer of 1933 when the gang kidnapped William A. Hamm Jr., the president of Hamm Brewing Company as he was leaving his job, according to the FBI.

Hamm Brewing Company was a lucrative beer business in St. Paul, making kidnapping a high-profile crime in Minnesota and beyond.

The Barker-Karpis gang collected a ransom against Hamm after he was forced to write four ransom notes, according to the FBI. He was returned to his family near Wyoming, Minnesota as part of a successful ransom delivery.

Fingerprint technology was advancing at the time, however, and the fingerprints of Karpis and Arthur Barker were extracted from the ransom note, giving the FBI the evidence it needed to prosecute the gang.

A year later, the gang was back. This time they were targeting Edward George Bremer Jr., president of the Commercial State Bank and son of brewery owner Schmidt.

The gang took Bremer on January 17, 1934. He was released three weeks later after his family handed over approximately $200,000.

Through a combined effort that included fingerprints extracted from ransom notes, tips provided by Bremer, and a gas can covered in Arthur Barker’s fingerprints, the FBI had enough evidence to zero in on the Barker gang- Karpis.

And they did.

The Ma Barker’s Boys fled Minnesota in an effort to evade the law. The FBI notes that they allegedly altered their fingerprints and appearance through “behind-the-scenes plastic surgery.”

It didn’t really work, however. Arthur Barker was arrested on January 8, 1935 in Chicago. FBI investigators didn’t stop there — days later they tracked other associates of the Barker-Karpis gang to a hidden Florida cottage. This is where the shootout between the FBI and the Barker-Karpis gang began – and ended with the death of Kate “Ma” Barker.

In April 1936, the FBI approached another key figure in the gang: Alvin Karpis. In a complete Minnesota moment, Karpis was brought back to the scene of Hamm’s abduction: St. Paul.

He pleaded guilty to kidnapping Hamm and was sentenced to life in prison. He was granted parole in the 1960s and eventually made his way to Spain, where he died in 1979.

Leon Gleckman

Leon Gleckman was known as Al Capone of St. Paul because he ran a powerful smuggling operation known throughout the country.

In the 1930s, Gleckman took up residence at the St. Paul Hotel, where he ran his operations. Among those operations was a scheme in which members of his criminal organization would set up shop in the hotel lobby and collect bribes from the police, usually from local businesses, according to a

News article 2010


Pictured is a photo of Leon Gleckman, a notorious bootlegger and organized crime leader who made St. Paul his home in the early 1900s.

Leon Gleckman, a notorious bootlegger and organized crime boss, made St. Paul his home in the early 1990s. Despite multiple prison sentences, Gleckman ultimately died in a single-vehicle car accident.

Gleckman became known in St. Paul as a major player in the world of organized crime long before Prohibition took over in 1920. A business owner with ties to politicians and law enforcement, Gleckman was a savvy player. So when alcohol was banned, he got into the smuggling industry – and started a major nationwide operation. Yet he continued to call St. Paul home.

Gleckman used his political connections and business for his smuggling operation. Simply put, his operation was a success.

This stopped temporarily in 1922 when he was arrested for breaking prohibition laws. While he abandoned law enforcement for years, he finally surrendered in 1927. He served about a year in prison and was released in 1928.

His time in prison didn’t slow him down — he returned to St. Paul, where he operated out of the St. Paul Hotel and bonded with key law enforcement players. This allowed him to control gambling in the city and rise through the ranks of organized crime.

Gleckman returned to prison in 1936 for tax evasion. A year later, he was taken back to St. Paul, where he was found in contempt of court after it was revealed he had paid off a juror in his first tax evasion trial. He was sentenced to six months.

Pictured is a 1932 headline in the Minneapolis Star that reads, "Leon Gleckman challenges the United States to stop him."
Leon Gleckman, considered the Al Capone of Minnesota, operated a successful bootlegging and illegal gambling operation in Minnesota.

Photo courtesy of Newspapers.com Archives

A few years later, he was again serving a six-month sentence for criminal association. As the FBI tried to get Gleckman on anything that could stick, he died in a single-vehicle car accident in 1940.

Al Capone

The Chicago Outfit co-founder was known for taking a break on Minnesota’s quiet North Shore from his criminal counterparts in the bootlegging business.

Capone reportedly had numerous hideouts in the northern woods, ranging from Wisconsin to Minnesota. His story of hiding on the North Shore, away from his Chicago-based smuggling operation, is well known to locals.

Capone and Dillinger were known to get away to the Lutsen Resort, according to Exploring North Shore. Capone also reportedly had a permanent hideout just outside Silver Bay in Finland.

A story in

Savages of the North

provides details of the Lodge, naming the location Heffelfinger Road. The residence consisted of a main pavilion, a swimming pool, a stable and a number of cabins. Most notably, there was also a large underground vault.

The infamous Capone was convicted in 1931 on charges related to tax evasion. He served eight years in prison. He finally died in 1947 of a heart attack.