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February 18, 2011

Minnesota State Training School for Boys Inmate Case Files and Commitment Papers

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 12:57 pm

St. Paul was once well known as safe haven for thugs, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells like the Barker Gang and John Dillinger.  But it also held to its bosom one of Chicago’s gangland luminaries—and Al Capone’s chief rival—George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran was born as Adelard Cunin on August 21, 1891, in St. Paul.

Investigation report documenting Cunin’s initial attempt to escape from the schoolIn her 2005 biography, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story, Rose Keefe notes that “Records pertaining to [Moran’s initial lawlessness] are meager, so the details are incomplete” but that he was pinched for a robbery in downtown St. Paul in 1909.  Many of these missing details can be found in Cunin’s inmate case file 3067 from the Minnesota State Training School for Girls and Boys.

On July 11, 1907, fifteen-year-old Cunin was called into court to address the matter of his own delinquency.  Already on probation, he explained that he got into a couple scrapes one night when “a lot of fellows” were chasing down horses below State Street, down by the boats.  Having spoken of one scrape already, Cunin continued: “Then I walked a little ways and I met another boy, and I stood there and watched him, and then he made a rush at me and I started to run and he tripped me and throwed [sic] me down.”  “And you cut him pretty bad, didn’t you, you stuck the knife right into him?” asked the judge, to which Cunin’s probation officer answered for him: “He had eight stitches taken in it.”

Because Cunin was a minor, he was sent to the State Training School on September 3, 1907, for “incorrigibility.”  The bulk of his case file consists of correspondence and so-called investigation reports.  The former includes letters from friends and family to him, pleas from his mother and clergy to the school superintendent for Cunin’s reinstated parole, and responses to same.

Postcard from friend of Cunin's

The investigation reports chronicle Cunin’s ongoing misconduct that delayed any parole reinstatement.  For example, Cunin was written up on November 9, 1907, for “talking and planning escape” and had acquired a chisel and auger from the school’s carpenter shop to execute the plan.  Yet six months later, when a reverend from St. Paul Cathedral inquired on Cunin’s status, Superintendent F. A. Whittier responded, “He is by no means the best boy we have nor is he the worst.”  His conduct may have improved (albeit temporarily): He was released to his mother on parole on February 27, 1909, but returned on July 22 after being arrested for “petit larceny.”

Letter discussing Cunin’s escape on September 1, 1909Cunin settled the matter himself by escaping on September 1, 1909.  Though the school offered a $10 reward (approximately $236 in 2009 dollars), Cunin soon made his way to Chicago.  Keefe notes in her biography, “Adelard Cunin disappeared from the public record for good.  The name and persona that replaced him became bigger than he had ever been.”

There are thousands of other Minnesota State Training School for Boys inmate case files.  Although Superintendent Whittier didn’t consider Adelard Cunin the worst boy, one wonders whether Carl Panzram was.

Carl Panzram was twelve years old when he was admitted to the School in 1903, and unfortunately, it was only the first of many institutions in which he was incarcerated.  In later years, Panzram was a confessed serial killer and was executed at the Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1930.  There are twenty-seven punishment slips in Panzram’s case file, along with letters from his mother, Lizzie.  She inquired when Carl would be released from the School, since she needed his help on the family farm in Polk County, Minnesota.  Filmmaker John Borowski is making a documentary about Panzram; more information about the Panzram story can be found on the website for the film.

Christopher Welter, Collections Assistant

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

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