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American gangsters during the 1920s: Map


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Background Information

The social scene of the 1920's not only encourage prohibition, but it also sparked new waves of gang-related crime such as, bootlegging and bank robbery. Criminals in the 1920s could become very powerful if they were successful bootleggers or bank robbers. The Great Depression was tough on everyone, but criminals found ways to make money and become successful. Criminals such as Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, and Lester "Baby face Nelson" Gills to name a few. They were the hot shots and were the most wanted men of their time. They would not only cause crimes in one state, but they would cover a three state area and have many people working for them in those states. Each one of them was very smart and secretive in their practices. Although each one of them spent time in jail, they always found a way out to continue their criminal career.

Geographic Information

Bootlegging and bank robberies occurred across the entire nation, but the big name criminals were usually found in the same geographic location. Illinoismarker, Indianamarker, Michiganmarker, and Wisconsinmarker. Chicagomarker was a major city that housed big banks and also a large population. This was the perfect spot for criminals like Al Capone and John Dillinger to commit crimes. After they committed these crimes they would flee to neighboring states such as, Indiana and Wisconsin where they had hideouts. Al Capone often went to his hideout in Hayward, Wisconsinmarker, and John Dillinger went to Manitowish Watersmarker, both in northern Wisconsin. These were the perfect safe havens for the criminals because of their remote atmosphere. Besides the criminals using Wisconsin and other neighboring states for a hideout, many of these criminals spent time in prison in these states. John Dillinger spent 8 and 1/2 years in Indiana State Prisonmarker in Michigan City for robbing a grocery store of $120 dollars with his friend Ed Singelton. His father made him admit his guilt to a judge, but later collected 800 signatures for his release from prison.


In the winter of 1920 the government of the United Statesmarker banned the sale of alcohol in all 50 states to try and control the raising crime rates in the country. The passing of the prohibition laws did not reach the goals of the United States and actually increased crime rates. The number of illegal bars and saloons almost doubled during prohibition, and more and more people were willing to pay the price for the illegal substance. Bootleggers would charge outrageous prices for alcohol, but people were willing to pay for it. Police used almost all of their resources to prevent the sale of alcohol that more serious crimes were being avoided and therefore people were getting away with them. The alcohol that the bootleggers provided was poor and overpriced, alcohol poisoning rose 400% from bootlegging. Drunk driving also increased andmany people say that gangsters are DUB

Bank Robberies

Not only did alcohol consumption increase during prohibition, bank robberies also increased during this time. There was a lot of money in bootlegging, but the criminals found out that robbing banks was easier and more money was collected faster. The great John Dillinger were the best of the time at robbing banks. In 1933 John Dillinger and his gang began a streak of robberies starting with a bank in Ohiomarker. On June, 10 1933 he posed as a bank alarm system salesman. Posing as a salesman gave him access to bank vaults and security systems. He robbed multiple banks with the same ruse. The Dillinger gang collected almost $300,000 in loot from this string of robberies. Some of the banks they robbed during this streak included, Commercial Bank, Daleville Indiana, Central National Bank and Trust Co., Greencastle, Indianamarker, and American Bank and Trust Co. in Racine, Wisconsinmarker. It was not always so easy for the criminals though, many times gangs were shot at by police and civilians. They were constantly on the run avoiding the police and looking for safe havens.


To go along with bootlegging and bank robberies, weapons provided gangsters adequate or even more powerful weapons than the police possessed. The rise of the sub-machine gun during the 1920s gave the criminals an edge over the police. The Colt Patent Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticutmarker produced 15,000 "Tommy Guns" through a contract with the Auto-Ordance Corporation of New Yorkmarker. The weapon was originally meant for the army, but it was finished being developed just after World War 1. The weapon became popular with gangsters because of the light-weight properties, ease of use, and a large circular drum held almost 100 rounds. Perfect for spraying ammunition at police and other targets. After the St. Valentines Day Massacremarker in Cicero, Chicago a ballistics study was conducted by Col Calvin Goddard and he found that 11% of the killings in Cicero, Chicago were the result of the Tommy Gun.

The Capture

In a unique situation J. Edgar Hoover created a special task force to capture the most wanted man in the United States. A Romanian immigrant contacted the police to become an undercover informant to help capture John Dillinger. Ana Cumpănaş was threatened to be deported, but if she helped the police she would be allowed to stay in the United States. Dillinger and Ana Cumpănaş attended the Biograph theatre and at the conclusion of the show police and federal agents were waiting for him outside the theatre. Dillinger recognized the agents and reached for his gun, but was shot three times, twice in the chest and once in the neck. Dillinger was later pronounced dead at Alexian Brothers hospital. John Dillinger and many other criminals during this era encountered the same fate in their fast-paced criminal lifestyle. Dillinger being one of the most famous criminals was finally caught after being the most wanted man for more than 2 years.

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