Today South Robert Street is a busy four-lane thoroughfare dotted with businesses and homes. As you speed past 1031 S. Robert, you would never guess that the unassuming white duplex was once home to some of America’s most wanted criminals.
In the 1930s, Saint Paul was a haven for prohibition-era gangsters. The local Chief of Police, John O’Connor, provided protection for gangsters as long as they agreed not to commit any crimes within city limits and also provided the police force with a little protection money.
So when the Barker-Karpis gang—Fred, Arthur, and Kate “Ma” Barker and Alvin Karpis—killed a sheriff in Missouri and went on the lam, they headed to Saint Paul. There they found the house at 1031 S. Robert Street for rent. At the time, the house was owned by the Hannegraf family, a local family who had no idea who they were dealing with. The Hannegrafs had no qualms about renting the home to a middle-aged mother and her family of nice young men who claimed to be musicians and carried violin cases to prove it. The Barker-Karpis family moved into the duplex in February of 1932.
During their time there, they were quite friendly with the neighbors, driving kids to school or giving them treats in exchange for walking Ma Barker’s bulldog. But despite being on the run and being better off in hiding, they couldn’t resist planning a hit. On March 29, the family robbed the Northwestern National Bank and Trust in nearby Minneapolis, making off with nearly $300,000 in cash and bonds.
Their time in the house didn’t last very long, though. On April 25, less than three months after the family had moved in, the Hannegraf’s son discovered a wanted ad featuring pictures of the Barker-Karpis in a magazine. He rushed home to show his mother, who immediately drove to the central police station in Saint Paul and tipped off the police.
Due to the under the table agreement between the police and the gang, the Barker-Karpis gang was tipped off to an impending raid. When the police arrived at the house, about nine hours after being notified by the Hannegrafs, the house was empty. The gang had vanished, leaving some of their stuff still strewn about the building in their haste to escape.
Know Before You Go
The house is not available for tours, but can be viewed from the street. The nearby Wabasha Street Caves also offers a roving gangster tour, which stops at the house and provides a colorful history of it.