Little Bohemia Lodge

(715) 543-8800
142 US Highway 51 South | PO Box 443 | Manitowish Waters, WI 54545

History of Little Bohemia Lodge

Historic Little Bohemia Lodge Film Clip

John Dillinger & Little Bohemia Lodge, Manitowish Waters, WIIn 1929, Emil Wanatka purchased land and built the Little Bohemia Lodge, located off Highway 51, in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. When Wanatka needed advice on legal matters he would contact attorney Louis Piquett, who happened to also be John Dillinger's legal counsel. There was a connection between Piquett, Wanatka and Dillinger. Could it just be a coincidence that Louis Piquett represented both Emil Wanatka and John Dillinger? Is it also just a coincidence that Dillinger happened to choose the Little Bohemia Lodge for a vacation spot? No.

John Dillinger & Little Bohemia Lodge, Manitowish Waters, WIIt seems highly improbable that Dillinger would pick this particular lodge, without prior knowledge that Piquett and Wanatka were old acquaintances. Besides, It is no secret that Piquett had helped Dillinger in the past. He provided Dillinger with the wooden gun for the infamous Crown Point Break. He arranged several hideouts for the outlaw, one of which was at the residence of Jimmy Probasco in Chicago. Piquett had known Probasco for some twenty years and knew he could be trusted. Piquett also arranged plastic surgery for Dillinger by Dr. Wilhelm Loeser. Dr. Loeser was a crooked underworld doctor who had served three years in Leavenworth Penitentiary on narcotic charges. Later the truth would surface and the Illinois Supreme Court disbarred Piquett for harboring Dillinger gangster Homer Van Meter. Piquett lost his license to practice law; he was ordered to serve a two-year jail term and pay a fine of $10,000.

John Dillinger & Little Bohemia Lodge, Manitowish Waters, WIPiquett may have made some type of prearranged agreement with Wanatka to help Dillinger. Business had slow during the year and Wanatka was struggling to pay off his mortgage. Dillinger paid Wanatka $500 rent for three days at Little Bohemia, which is equal to $5600 in today's standards. This was a great deal of money for a three-day visit, which suggests that Wanatka probably knew Dillinger's identity in advance. The high dollar amount was common for criminals on the run and in need of a hideout. Piquett may have negotiated this dollar amount, paid to Wanatka. Either way, Wanatka agreed in advance to let the gangster's stay at his resort for a generous fee. Wanatka would wait until Dillinger paid him the $500, before his wife, Mrs. Wanatka contacted the FBI. The outlaws were worth a considerably large amount of money. Dillinger's reward alone was an astonishing $10,000. This was a lot of money in 1934, and would have helped Wanatka considerably. Perhaps this was part of a plan conspired by Wanatka to rid himself of any wrongdoing, and collect the reward in the process. Wanatka knew he could have been charged with harboring a criminal, which was a serious offense. This may have been why he had second thoughts about his guests. Wanatka knew the risks involved, but he also knew about the rewards offered for the gang. Wanatka later described a couple of the outlaws as unfriendly, and one of them was a really mean looking man. This may have been the one reason why Wanatka double-crossed Dillinger and contacted the FBI. Another reason would have undoubtedly been the money that he stands to gain. Later, when the smoke cleared and the outlaws were long gone, Wanatka would convey a fable to the FBI to cover all his bases. If the FBI would have thoroughly investigated Wanatka, I'm sure the agents would have discovered several discrepancies in his story.

John Dillinger & Little Bohemia Lodge, Manitowish Waters, WIThis historical event began Friday, April 20,1934 with the first members of the gang arriving at the Little Bohemia Lodge. They arrived in the afternoon and Emil Wanatka came out to greet them. Three people got out of the car, Homer Van Meter, his girlfriend Marie Comforti and gang associate Pat Reilly. An employee of the Lodge stated one of the outlaws (probably Homer Van Meter) called out to Wanatka saying, "Hello Emil." Van Meter had been sent ahead to check things out and make certain that no Federal agents were snooping around. Van Meter approached Wanatka and asked if the Lodge was serving lunch? Wanatka replied yes, and invited them into the Lodge. After lunch Van Meter asked if Wanatka had room to put up ten guests for a few days. Wanatka was delighted, and showed his outlaw guests to their rooms. George Baszo and Frank Traube (employees of the lodge) carried the luggage into the Lodge. Baszo remarked to Wanatka that one suitcase was so heavy that it felt like it had lead in it. Wanatka told Baszo to mind his own business. Van Meter told Wanatka that the rest of the guests would be arriving later that day. Wanatka's guest played slot machines and fed the dogs, while awaiting Dillinger and the others. Around 5:00 p.m., Dillinger arrived with the rest of the party in two separate cars. Along with Dillinger were John Hamilton, Pat Cherrington, Tommy Carroll and his wife Jean Delaney, Baby Face Nelson and his wife Helen Gillis. Wanatka noticed that all of the guests were well dressed and very polite. Dillinger and some of the other gang members took rooms on the upper portion of the lodge. Dillinger's room was the first on the left just at the top of the stairway. Hamilton and Pat Cherrington took a room at the end of the hall on the left side. Van Meter and Comforti took a room on the right across from Hamilton. Baby Face Nelson, Helen Gillis, Tommy Carroll and Jean Delaney took rooms in the cottage to the right of the lodge. An hour later the guests were served steak for dinner. After dinner the guests unpacked and settled in their rooms. Some of the party went out for a walk to check out the best possible escape routes for a quick getaway. The main entrance to Little Bohemia was the only exit, which the gang seen as a risk. Police could easily block off the road and the outlaws would be trapped. After talking it over, everyone agreed the best escape route would be along the shore banks of the lake. Everyone except Baby Face Nelson; he had his own ideas. Besides, he didn't like taking orders from anyone. Later that evening some of the party relaxed, while others played some hands of poker.

John Dillinger & Little Bohemia Lodge, Manitowish Waters, WIWanatka joined in to play a few hands but soon declined because the stakes were too high. Wanatka later recalled, when Dillinger leaned over to collect his winnings, he noticed two forty-five automatic's concealed beneath his coat. Wanatka must have been mistaken, because there is undeniable evidence that Dillinger was always partial to .38 revolvers throughout his career. Furthermore, forty-five automatic's weren't that popular in the early nineteen thirties. Even the FBI carried .38 revolvers. Perhaps Wanatka had seen the two forty-five revolvers carried by Baby Face Nelson. Wanatka also stated he soon noticed that all of the men were packing guns. After noticing the guns, he grew suspicious of his guests. He went into the kitchen and looked through some newspapers where he found several pictures of Dillinger. That evening, Wanatka and his wife couldn't sleep. Throughout the night they heard constant sounds of feet walking up and down the hallway, keys jiggling, and the dogs barking outside. After a restless night Wanatka got up early to find that Tommy Carroll was already up and abou.t

Carroll told Wanatka that he really slept well and asked, "How bout some breakfast?" Wanatka asked him to wake up the rest of the party, and he'll start breakfast. Carroll went up the stairs and woke everyone. Later when Dillinger was alone, Wanatka confronted him and said he recognized his picture in the newspapers. Wanatka told Dillinger that his home and his family was all he had, and he didn't want any trouble. Wanatka said that Dillinger responded in a calm and friendly manner assuring him that there would not be any trouble. He went on to say that the boys needed some rest and would only be staying a short while. Although Wanatka seemed to be a man who could be trusted, the gang kept their eyes and ears open. In Dillinger's line of business he had to be extremely cautious of people around him. While Dillinger always seemed to be cool and calm, the rest of the gang members were uneasy and nervous. When the phone would ring there was always someone close by trying to ease drop. When a guest or visitor would arrive at the lodge Wanatka would be asked, Who's that? Do you know this person? Dillinger knew Wanatka was worried, and he kept trying to cheer him up. Dillinger even played Wanatka's favorite game of Pinochle. After breakfast Wanatka was asked if he owned a gun? He replied that he had a .22 rifle and everyone went outside to target practice. A tin can was set up on a snow bank and everyone took turns shooting the rifle until it jammed.

Dillinger asked Van Meter to get one of their rifles out of the car. Wanatka claimed that only he and Van Meter were good enough to hit the target. Meanwhile, eight-year-old Emil Wanatka Jr. was throwing a baseball and playing catch with Baby Face Nelson, but eventually quit playing because Nelson was throwing the ball too hard. Mrs. Wanatka had planned to take Emil Jr. to a cousin's birthday party at the home of her brother, George Laporte. The Party was also a good excuse to leave for a while and ask relatives for advice on contacting the authorities. Mrs. Wanatka walked up to Dillinger, who was sitting at the card table, and asked him for permission to drive Emil Jr. to the event. Dillinger put his trust in Mrs. Wanatka and gave her the Okay. He told her to just continue her normal routines. The women in the gang offered to do the cooking and cleaning, while she attended the party. This act of good faith doesn't sound like a family being held hostage and terrorized by the outlaws, as Wanatka would later tell Authorities. Although Dillinger seemed to trust Mrs. Wanatka, she thought someone was following her during the journey.

She was right; Baby Face Nelson had been following her. Nelson was the suspicious one of the gang, and this time he had good reason. Mrs. Wanatka drove to Manitowish to pick up her brother Lloyd Laporte, and then headed to Mercer to mail a letter addressed to George Fisher, the Assistant District Attorney of Chicago. In the letter there was a statement informing Fisher that Dillinger was at the Lodge. At the party, Mrs. Wanatka discussed the situation with her Brother in-laws Henry Voss, Lloyd, and George Laporte. A plan was put into action. Voss would to call the Milwaukee Police Department on Sunday, if Emil Wanatka agreed with the plan. A pack of cigarettes with a note hidden inside would give Lloyd the answer early Sunday morning, and Voss would make the call. To avoid the possibility of being followed by gang members, Voss would then drive sixty miles away to make the phone call. Milwaukee Police told Voss to also contact Special Agent Melvin Purvis of the FBI in Chicago. Around ten o'clock in the morning, Pat Reilly and Pat Cherrington drove to St. Paul to pickup $2,500 from a night club owner. The man whose identity is unknown was holding close to $10,000 for Homer Van Meter for safekeeping. Voss spoke with Purvis, the G-man announced that he would be chartering two airplanes full of agents to Rhinelander Airport. Purvis requested that Voss meet agents at the airport and he agreed. The Little Bohemia Raid was beginning to take effect. Agents in the surrounding communities were also summoned to join forces and assist in the raid.

Hoover put Assistant Director Hugh Clegg in charge of the operation, which made Purvis second in charge. This was Hoover's way to keep Purvis out of the public's eye. But regardless of what Hoover tried to do about Purvis, he was running the show at the Little Bohemia Lodge. Snow was falling, when Purvis arrived at Rhinelander Airport; other Forces were already waiting along with Voss and Laporte. Back at the lodge Dillinger told Wanatka that he had a change of plans and decided to check out as soon as Pat Reilly returned. This was a Dillinger trademark, he was known for changing his plans at the last minute. This move would often leave police officers disarranged. Dillinger requested an early dinner of steak and garlic to be served at 4:00 p.m. Mrs. Wanatka needed to tell Henry Voss' wife that Dillinger had a change of plans, so she could get word to her husband. She invited Mrs. Voss into the kitchen and told to help herself to some meat in the freezer, because she had bought too much. In the kitchen, Mrs. Wanatka told her Dillinger was about to leave. Mrs. Voss jumped into her car, and raced to Rhinelander Airport without a moment to waste. Meanwhile, Purvis was busy trying to get the agents organized for the raid. They seemed to have a big problem; the agents only had one car. A few of the agents were sent out on a mission to find cars for rent. The raid was set for Monday morning; Purvis had Dillinger right where he wanted him, except for some minor details and planning to achieve a surprise attack. A short time later, Mrs. Voss arrived, and gave her husband the news. Then she telephoned Mrs. Wanatka and persuaded her to leave the lodge immediately. The news made Purvis worried, he knew he had to act fast. He learned that even if agents left immediately, they wouldn't arrive until 8:00 p.m., and Dillinger would probably be long gone. Finally four more cars were located, bringing the total to five. Voss drew Purvis a quick diagram of the lodge; leaving out some very important details, such as a ditch on the left side of the lodge, and a barbwire fence on the right. Voss also forgot to inform Purvis that Mrs. Wanatka had two very alert watchdogs. It was a just after 7 p.m., before agents left the Rhinelander airport in route to Little Bohemia. The roads were bad, covered with melted snow, mud, and several holes. Two of the cars broke down along the way and were left behind. Several agents had to ride on the running boards of the three remaining cars. Agents eventually arrived at the Birchwood Lodge, only a couple miles from Little Bohemia. While agents were at the Birchwood Lodge Purvis received word that Dillinger had not left yet. Agents then headed out to Little Bohemia. As they drew closer to the entrance of the Lodge, Purvis ordered headlights of the cars turned off and all cigarettes put out.

The night was pitch dark and the air was cool with patches of snow falling on the ground. Two cars were used to block the entrance of the lodge to prevent any possible escape attempt. Agents proceeded on foot, walking quietly through the woods. As they reached the lodge, Purvis gave orders to spread out and take positions. Protected by bulletproof vests, and armed machineguns, revolvers and tear gas, agents surrounded the residence.

Suddenly, Mrs. Wanatka's dogs began barking hysterically at agents. Inside the Lodge, two Civilian Conservation Corporation (CCC workers), and a salesman named John Hoffman had just finished their Sunday dinner and were about to leave. The two CCC workers were John Morris and Eugene Boisneau. The three men walked out carrying rifles and got into a 1933 Chevrolet coupe. George Baszo and Frank Traube followed the trio outside to the porch. Hoffman was driving; Boisneau sat in the middle with Morris sitting on the passenger side. As Hoffman started the vehicle the radio blasted on loudly, they began driving away. The men drove towards the entrance to Little Bohemia, which was blocked by agents. Believing the trio was Dillinger and members of the gang; agents commanded the car to "Halt!"

The occupants of the fleeing vehicle couldn't hear the order with the radio blasting and the falling snow dimmed their vision. Agents opened fire and bullets tore through the steel of the vehicle hitting its occupants. Later, Purvis would claim that agents meant to shoot at the tires, but all the bullets hit the middle and upper portion of the car. Morris climbed out the right door of the car and stumbled through the dark until he reached the kitchen porch of the lodge. He had been shot four times by FBI bullets. Hoffman who had also been wounded jumped from the car, and fled into the woods. Boisneau was mortally wounded, and would die from his wounds. At the time Dillinger playing cards, he heard the dogs barking but paid little attention. It was not until shots were fired before the outlaws were alerted.

Dillinger shut out the lights, ran upstairs with Van Meter to quickly grab money and weapons. Witnesses in the Lodge later told agents that the outlaws never fired a shot during their escape from Little Bohemia. Van Meter and Hamilton escaped out an upstairs window at the rear out the lodge. Forensics would argue that Hamilton could not have possibly jumped off the roof, after injuries he received on January 15, with shot four wounds to the groin and the loss a finger. Reports stated that Dillinger ran down the stairs and escaped out an unguarded back or side door. Wanatka, along with three women ran to the basement for cover. Moments later, Baszo and Traube joined Wanatka in the basement, as agents opened fire on the lodge with a hailstorm of bullets.

The FBI surrounded the Little Bohemia Lodge on April 23, 1934, and opened fire after learning that Dillinger was inside.

The nightmare had begun, as bullets ripped through the Lodge shattering windows and destroying everything in its path. Pat Reilly and Pat Cherrington were just returning to the lodge from St.Paul, when the shooting began. As Reilly approached the main entrance of the lodge, federal agents appeared out of the dark. A fast thinking Reilly reacted by shutting off the headlights, and jamming the car into reverse. He backed the car quickly onto the highway and spun the wheels to freedom, followed by FBI bullets. In doing so, he blew a rear wheel but managed to escape. After replacing the tire Reilly sped down the road and got struck in the mud. A farmer helped Reilly get the car out of the mud and then the outlaw headed for St. Paul. Dillinger, Van Meter, and Hamilton had slid down the steep shore banks at the rear of the Lodge, and headed north along Little Star Lake. They ran through the woods in pitch darkness for about a mile, and found their way to the highway on U.S. Route 51. The outlaws were in desperate need of a car when spotted a Model T across the highway at Mitchell's Lodge. They knocked on the door at the home of E.J. Mitchell and his wife. Mrs. Mitchell was very ill, and was lying on the couch when the outlaws arrived. The elderly couple opened the door and was greeted by three men. One of the outlaws, (Presumably Hamilton) asked if they could get a drink of water. As Mitchell let them in, Hamilton calmly walked across the room and jerked the phone out of the wall.

Mrs. Mitchell recalled Dillinger as saying, "We don't want a drink, what we want is a car to make our getaway, because the federal officers are after us. Now I'm John Dillinger but I don't want you to be afraid, we're not going to hurt you any. We just came here to get a car, and I'm not as bad as they have me pictured. Now mother don't be afraid." Mrs. Mitchell described Dillinger as polite and the well mannered of the three men. The couple told Dillinger that the Model T hadn't ran all winter. When they acquired about the 1930 Ford Coupe parked outside, Mitchell told them the car belonged to Robert Johnson, who lived in a nearby cottage. Dillinger stayed with the Mitchell's, while Van Meter and Hamilton paid Robert Johnson a visit. They knocked on the door and told Johnson that Mrs. Mitchell was ill and needed a ride to the hospital. Johnson quickly dressed and raced out the door to find Van Meter pointing a gun at him. He was ordered to drive the outlaws out of town.

Before leaving, Dillinger ordered everyone outside on the porch. Mitchell objected because his wife was too ill, but Dillinger wrapped a blanket around Mrs. Mitchell, and helped her to the porch, before departing. Tommy Carroll had also headed North along the shore banks; he tried to catch up with Dillinger but soon realized he would have to make the escape alone. He walked two miles down the highway past Mitchell's resort until he came to the Northern Lights Resort. He spotted a Packard parked just outside the lodge, hot- wired the car and completely disappeared. Nelson, who could not refrain himself from battle with agents, was the last outlaw to escape the resort. The hostile outlaw grew angry with engaging agents, and became the aggressor and displaying extreme repugnance against his assailants. Before departing, Nelson exchanged gunfire with Purvis and then disappeared into the woods. After agents fired hundreds of rounds into the lodge for several hours, they heard a voice yell out from the lodge. Someone yelled, "Quit shooting and we'll come out!" Wanatka, Baszo, and Traube came out with their hands high in the air, followed by John Morris, the wounded CCC worker. The gunfire stopped briefly to allow the three women to exit the building. The women, Helen Gillis, Jean Delaney, and Marie Comforti came out shaken; surrendered without any conflicts and were taken into custody. Dillinger and gang members had escaped the FBI trap, but they left below an extraordinary reminder…hundreds of bullets holes remain in the resort even today.

Excerpted from "Dillinger, The Hidden Truth" by Tony Stewart.  Used with permission of author.  Published version available at:

Little Bohemia Lodge

(715) 543-8800

142 US Highway 51 South | PO Box 443 | Manitowish Waters, WI 54545

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