April 1 , 1934: John Dillinger stops in Esko to have his car fixed

On this day outside of Duluth in 1934, John Dillinger reportedly stopped in a gas station in Esko on his way to the Twin Cities. According to the book Esko’s Corner, the story begins the previous year: “In June 1933, William Hamm Jr., president of Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, was kidnapped and held for ransom for $100,000. It was paid on June 19 and Hamm was later released near Wyoming, Minnesota. Authorities tracked members of the infamous Barker-Karpis gang to Duluth and back along Highway No. 1 (later U.S. 61). At one point, three men, in what was believed to be the kidnap car, stopped at the gas station in Esko’s Corner managed by Edward Esko. They inquired about Thomson Road and where it went. The car was covered with dust and Ed, thinking it was a fishing party, offered to clean the windshield. He was ordered to ‘Leave it alone!’ in no uncertain terms, and the men moved on. Less than a year later, Moses Liupakka, whose garage and gas station was across the highway from Esko’s gas station, had a visitor he never forgot. When the man entered the station on April 1, 1934, a newspaper on the counter displayed a photo of notorious gangster John Dillinger. On realizing his customer’s identity, Liupakka quickly turned over the paper. The man said he needed his generator repaired. Once the work was done and Dillinger was on his way, Liupakka called the sheriff. The next day, April 2, a front-page headline in the Duluth News Tribune proclaimed: ‘Report “Phantom Killer” Seen at Esko’s Corner.’ The story said, ‘Duluth police and St. Louis County deputy sheriffs yesterday were advised to be on the lookout for John Dillinger, notorious killer, as officials investigated a report that Dillinger with a woman companion stopped for 15 minutes in Esko’s Corner Saturday afternoon and then headed towards Duluth.’ The newspaper elaborated: The man needed a shave and wore a grey suit and dark overcoat. He went into the restaurant next door (which would have been Skarp’s Café), operated by a ‘Mrs. A. Scott’ (presumably Mrs. Skarp), and asked for a glass of beer. She said she only sold beer in bottles and he left without making a purchase. Liupakka later said blankets covered something on the floor of the rear compartment as the car left the garage.” Three months later—July 22, 1934—Dillinger was killed by federal authorities outside a Chicago movie theater. You can read much more about the history of Esko and Thomson Township in Esko’s Corner, available here.