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A soft drink empire, Chicago gangsters and the bombing that rocked Minocqua

Kerry Bloedorn
Pioneer Park Historical Complex

An explosion shattered the quiet air of Minocqua Lake early in the morning on August 13, 1977. The blast killed the man carrying the bomb, severely injured the perpetrator of the bombing and left a dark mark on Minocqua history.

Under the cover of darkness the night before, William Joyce boarded a leased private plane near Joliet, Illinois. His destination was the summer retreat of the Joyce family, owners of the one of the largest soft drink distribution companies in the country, most notably of 7UP. Along with Joyce was Joe Banno, a long time Chicago mob enforcer. Joe was hired by Bill to help perpetrate a bombing. Joyce and Banno landed at Dolhun Airport in Lake Tom and drove to the estate near Minocqua, just north of the country club.

The two men intended to blow up the estate’s boat house, famously painted 7UP green. It was scheduled to be the site of a Joyce company stock meeting in the coming weeks. When they arrived at Hunters Point, they parked down the road and snuck into the property’s garage, across the street from the main compound, to prepare the bomb. Suddenly, it exploded prematurely, rocking the garage and surrounding lakeside, and killing Banno.

The Joyce family members were jolted awake. They rushed out to investigate the commotion. The windows and doors on the garage had been blasted, and the vehicles inside were damaged. They heard Bill calling out quietly for help, severely injured next to the garage. He was taken to a Madison burn unit and an investigation commenced in earnest.

Joyce Beverages Inc. was founded in 1935 by John M. Joyce. Pioneer salesman of 7UP, he built a large soft drink empire which stretched from the Midwest to Washington D.C. When John handed over the reins of his company to his family, including his son John Joyce Jr. and his cousin William, a family feud began. John Jr. controlled a large percentage of the company while Bill Joyce was the head of the Madison division of Joyce Beverages. Bill was forced to resign in 1976 for embezzlement of company funds. The bombing was an attempt to extort his family into giving him his job back. It failed in more ways than one.

In the end, William Joyce would spend two years in prison and a life of disability caused by his injuries in the bombing. Two other men who helped in the plot also served time. The 7UP bombing would go down as one of the strangest scandals in Minocqua history.

Source: Various news articles from 1977, 1978 and personal interviews with former 7UP bottling company executive Phil Schaack.

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Kerry Bloedorn joined WXPR in 2022 as the host of A Northwoods Moment in History. A local historian, Director of Pioneer Park Historical Complex for the City of Rhinelander and writer for The New North Magazine, he loves digging into the past and sharing his passion for history with the Northwoods community.
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