With all of the excitement over the new John Dillinger movie, Public Enemies, we remember that the notorious gangster spent time in St. Paul. In those days of crime and depression, St. Paul had something of a truce with criminals: so long as the gangsters didn’t tear up the city, local authorities would not bother them. The city became a popular place to hide between sprees.
John Dillinger came to the Twin Cities in March 1934 after robbing a bank in Mason City, Iowa. He and his girlfriend, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, rented a room at the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul. The apartment manager grew suspicious of the couple, and reported them to the FBI. On March 31 two FBI agents, joined by Detective Henry Cummings of the St. Paul Police Department, knocked on the apartment door. Frechette stalled, an accomplice stumbled onto the scene, and a gunfight erupted. Dillinger burst into the hallway with a blazing machine gun and fled down a back stairway, but not before being hit in the leg by Detective Cummings.
Dillinger escaped, but his time was short. The FBI caught up with him in Chicago and killed their most-wanted man in an ambush on July 22. Detective Cummings, a 26-year veteran of the St. Paul force, retired shortly after the Lincoln Court duel. After he died, Cummings’s heirs donated his Model 1905 Smith & Wesson Hand-Ejector revolver to the Minnesota Historical Society. This .38 gun is the very weapon Cummings fired at Dillinger on that fateful day. Today it is a vivid link to an exciting – if not terribly proud – chapter of Minnesota history.
Matt Anderson, Objects Curator