Capone
Capone

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Nortrious criminals are also infamasou newsmakers. They may not want to be the spotlight of public attention for obvious reasons, but law enforcement agencies have an obligation to keep the public informed.

Chronology has no grip on crime. From the days of stagecoach, train and bank robberies shown in the old Western movie thrillers to the later generations, gangsters have been at work.

Hoodlums were particularly active in the 1920s and 1930s. Wisconsin and Michigan had their share of hooligans involved in murders, robberies, corruption, income tax evasion, bootlegging and the likes. New York and Chicago were hotbeds for some of the worst criminals in the country.

Some seniors may recall the old FBI “Public Enemies” list that were posted in post offices and other conspicuous public buildings. The list ranked the most wanted criminals, noting their criminal records and included a photo. The list was a fascinating bulletin board for wide-eyed youngsters who used the names of the fugitives when playing cops-and-robbers with their homemade wooden rubber guns.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a national celebrity because of his strong stance against crime. Eliot Ness was another famous crime fighter.

Alphonse “Scarface” Capone and John Dilfinger were two of the most well-known thugs. Both operated in Wisconsin and Michigan. Both were based in Chicago, a refuge for gangsters.

You can imagine the curiosity that unfolded when Capone and his entourage made a brief stop in Marinette on March 21, 1931.

“Things Are Looking Up in Marinette,” noted a page three two-column headline in the Marinette Eagle-Star.

The Menominee Herald-Leader gave the noted criminal an eight-column, Page One banner head-line: “Scarface Al Capone visits Marinette. “

Both newspapers ran identical stories. Consolidated since 1995, the Eagle-Star and Herald-Leader were fierce competitors in 1931 and remained so up until the merger. A headshot of Capone, provided by the Associated Press, accompanied each article.

“Al Capone, one of the nation’s most mysterious and noted characters and vice overlord of Chicago’s underworld, paid a half-hour visit here Saturday afternoon and then left in the wake of three bodyguards,” the Eagle-Star reported in its Monday, March 23 edition.

“No one questioned him about his activities or even watched the car in which he was supposed to have left in, the news story continued.

According to witnesses, a stranger entered the side door (Riverside Avenue side) of Hotel Marinette on Dunlap Square about 4 p.m. The hotel is now the site of the Riverfront Inn.

The stranger made his way to the basement and turned toward a shoe shine stand which was next to the hotel barber shop. He had his right hand in his coat pocket.

Robert Moore, a porter, asked him if he could be of service and was waved aside. Seconds later, a second man, wearing a black derby, black overcoat and gray spats sidled through the basement entrance to the barber shop.

He scanned the room and then asked for a shave, massage and shoe shine.

“Levi Cahee, one of the barbers, racked his brain to identify the man in the chair,” noted the Eagle-Star. “As Cahee shaved the customer, Moore came through the connecting door of the shoe shine stand to render his services. The man looked familiar to Moore who wondered if he had served the man in the past.”

Cahee, G.H. Fratzke, owner of the barber shop, and Moore noticed a couple of men pacing up and down the sidewalk and plainly visible to the three men.

They were patrolling the out-side of the basement entrance that fronted Riverside Avenue. The first person to enter the hotel continued to keep a lookout in the hall.

“You haven’t any snow up here. I just came from Chicago and it’s real winter there,” the customer in the chair was quoted as saying. “That storm we had a couple of weeks ago just buried everything. One of the street cars ran off the track and before help came the car had been buried under a big drift,” the customer added.

The still unidentified customer was talkative. “Chicago is a good town, though. I wouldn’t trade the stock yards for the whole city of New York, but I think Wisconsin is the best state in the union. Marinette is a nice little town,” he continued.

When Cahee raised the chair to shave the patron, the man reached for a cigar and fumbled in his pocket for a match. The porter handed him a match. The customer looked startled and began to get nervous.

He canceled the massage and ordered a witch hazel steam instead. He told the barber he was in a hurry and wanted him to finish up his treatment.

The customer handed Cahee a dollar bill for the 75-cent bill and told him to keep the change. A 25-cent tip in the 1930s (Great Depression era) was considered a sizable gratuity.

Moore took the customer’s overcoat from the coat rack and felt a revolver in an inside pocket.

Concerned the porter might make a remark about his find, the customer remarked: “Heavy coat, huh. Well, I’m a big man and I need a heavy overcoat.”

The stranger pacing the hall-way walked upstairs ahead of the customer. The man put his hands in his pocket, and slipped through the outer door where he was joined by the street patrol.

“That’s Al Capone,” exclaimed Cahee. “Sure, that’s Al Capone,” pitched in the porter. “I used to shine his shoes four-five times a week when I worked in a ladies barber shop in Chicago where all those fellows got primed up.”

The Eagle-Star pointed out that none of the three men staffing the barber shop bothered to follow the suspected customer out the door to see where he was headed. All three knew that Capone was joined by his three bodyguards.

From their basement window vantage point, they observed the foursome walking west on Riverside Avenue to where their car was parked.

Moore theorized the Capone gang was probably headed to the gangster’s retreat in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In an interesting side note, the Chicago Crime Commissions issued its list of 28 “Public Enemies” on March 10, just 11 days before Capone’s visit here. Capone was No. 1 on the list. His older brother, Ralph, was No. 3. Frank Rio, a close ally of the Capone brothers, was ranked No. 4, and Jack Demore, a Capone gunman, was No. 5.

In October of 1931, seven months after his Marinette stop, Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to prison. Arthur Madden, a Menominee native, was instrumental in the conviction. He headed the U.S. Department of Treasury’s special task force that investigated the case.

Madden retired in the 1950s and returned to his home town. He died here in 1966.