In 1926, Chicago Gangsters Fled to Tomahawk

Sep 12, 2018

In 1926, four Chicago gangsters fled to the Northwoods.

Just ahead, Gary Entz tells us exactly what transpired as part of our continued series, A Northwoods Moment in History.

On August 6, 1926, John “Mittens” Foley was gunned down on the corner of Richmond and Sixty-fifth Street in Chicago in a syndicate fight over beer trafficking.  The four assailants escaped in a large touring car with enlarged cylinders.  In other words, a car geared to racing speed.  That car was soon spotted driving around the town of Tomahawk.

The four men – “Big” Joe Saltis, Frank “Leftie” Koncil, Nic Kramer, and “Three-fingered” Pete Kusinski – had what was described as an “arsenal-like” cabin at Half Moon Lake east of Tomahawk.  The gangsters had fled to the Northwoods unbeknownst to law enforcement officials, but such an obvious automobile drew attention and sparked phone calls from local residents.  The license plate was registered to Saltis’s wife, and Chicago Chief of Detectives William Shoemaker was notified.  Shoemaker gathered nine additional detectives, armed them with machine guns, shotguns, and tear gas bombs, and boarded a train bound for Tomahawk.

At 10:00 am on Sunday, August 22, Leftie Koncil and Nic Kramer drove their car into Tomahawk and parked in front of the Mitchell Hotel.  Kramer got out and headed for the hotel while Koncil remained behind the wheel of the car.  As chance would have it, Shoemaker and his detectives were in the same hotel preparing for an assault on the cabin at Half Moon Lake.  They recognized the car as it drove up and quickly hid from sight.  Kramer asked the clerk to place a telephone call to Chicago then proceeded to buy a newspaper while waiting for the call to go through.  The detectives struck at that point.  Half rushed outside to surround Koncil in the car while the other half remained inside and surrounded Kramer.  Both men surrendered without a fight.

After tossing the two in the local jail, the detectives drove out to Half Moon Lake, surrounded the cabin, and surprised Saltis and Kusinski while they were working on a radio receiver.  They never knew what was coming and surrendered without a fight.  All of the men had been armed, and the detectives had fully expected a fight but were glad no blood was shed.  In addition to the weapons, the four men had over $3,500 in cash on them.  Adjusted for inflation, that is the equivalent of $50,000 in 2018.

After cooling their heels in Tomahawk, the four men were moved the Merrill jail and from there extradited back to Chicago for trial.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. The photo above is used with permisson from the Tomahawk Historical Society and can be found on their website here.

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.