Melvin Purvis and the Battle of Little Bohemia

February 19, 2018

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The famous and controversial F.B.I. agent Melvin Purvis was most famous for his fanatical pursuit of the Midwest bank robbing gangs led by John Dillinger and George “Baby Face” Nelson. We like to find those other lesser known stories about well known criminals and the men who investigate them. We found a first hand account of the Battle of Little Bohemia in a 1937 newspaper article written by Melvin Purvis.

After Escaping the Crown Point Jail on January 24, 1934, (click here to hear our episode on the Dillinger jailbreak, John Dillinger reunites with Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter and others to go on a bank robbery spree. Dillinger had investigated getting his face changed by plastic surgery and having his fingerprints obliterated. He almost died on the operating table and the sugary was postponed. The Chicago Police, led by Capt. John Stege, beat the bushes for the newly formed Dillinger/Nelson gang.  Melvin Purvis and his fellow Chicago agents run down hundreds of leads.

On the afternoon of April 20, 1934, NelsonDillingerVan Meter and other gang members, accompanied by Nelson’s wife

Little Bohemia Dillinger Museum

Helen and three other girlfriends needed a brief respite from the crime spree. They select the secluded Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin as a hideout. Dillinger’s attorney, Louis Piquett, was friends with the lodge owner Emil Wanatka.

Wanatka’s wife made an excuse to go to a local store and there she informed a friend, Henry Voss about their new guests. A note was sent to the Chicago F.B.I. Melvin Purvis and his bank robbery squad tooled up with guns and bulletproof vest, chartered a small plane and flew to the nearest airport. they called in other agents from the St. Paul office who drove up.

Agent Purivs learned the gang was preparing to leave and he ordered his squad into action. They even had to commandeer a local automobile to get to the scene.

Actor Paul Kim does a dramatic reading of this amazing first person article.

The Battle of Little Bohemia ends with the Dillinger gang escaping and a dead F.B.I. agent. Furthermore, the agents kill an innocent bystander. The Dillinger guns severely wound two more agents and two innocent bystanders. Public criticism of the F.B.I resulted in a widely circulated petition demanding Purvis’ suspension. Politicians called for the resignation of J. Edgar Hoover.

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