The Major FBI Reports Of The Little Bohemia Shootout
If you stop by our blog page and scroll down to "Public Enemies,", you'll see my own comments about the movie's inaccuracies pertaining to what happened at "Little Bohemia." Suffice it to say here that Agents Charles Winstead, Clarence Hurt and Jerry Campbell were NOT present at the shootout as depicted in the movie.
(Note: Some comments below are based upon my own experience as previously a Special Agent with the FBI. I have the utmost respect for local authorities in general, having served twenty eight of my own years involved in various Task Forces with them.)
The FBI shootout in April 1934 at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin was consumed by "Murphy's Law" from the outset. It resulted in the accidental killing of a private citizen and wounding of others; the killing of FBI agent Carter Baum and wounding of others, and the escape of the Dillinger gang present. The unfortunate part in all of it was no doubt the planning stages or shall we say, the lack of appropriate time to do so. This, coupled with the unfortunate series of unpreventable events that occur on arrival to the target area. These are not uncommon problems in law enforcement during dangerous raids, regardless of the size or amount of manpower present. "Friendly fire" deaths in law enforcement, hasty decisions and sometimes the escape of the perpetrators is not an unreasonably expected result during a chaotic firefight where planning was minimal, and unexpected dangers lurked at the target area.
Some elements included the fact that it was carried out in complete outside darkness, at a location of unknown surroundings and set up (except the last minute sketch provided by a source); of barking dogs and individuals in and out of the lodge not readily identifiable as gangsters or not. There was accurate information the Dillinger gang would possibly be leaving any moment and escape capture. The arrival on the scene of FBI personnel was no doubt full of chaos upon immediate shootings and hasty command decisions with no other options. These factors, coupled with disobeyed orders by civilians, i. e. halt leaving the scene in an automobile led to the loss of one innocent life of a CCC worker and wounding of others. A nearby gun battle also led to the killing of FBI agent, Carter Baum.
For those not aware, it's important to know that formal firearms training for FBI agents did not occur until the fall of 1933; some six to seven months before the Bohemia shoot-out. While we do know that various small amounts of weapons were assigned to different field offices before 1933, we do not have accurate information on the shooting abilities of each agent present. However, it can probably be assumed that FBI commanders chose their best shooters (whatever that means) available to take to the target. (It's worth noting here that the movie "Public Enemies" is highly inaccurate as to what FBI personnel were present at Little Bohemia.")
The FBI Lab did not form to any extent with some precision until 1932. The amount of physical evidence found at the Bohemia scene, the tracing of weapons, lab exams of all evidence found, down to matchbook covers would have been enough to "choke a horse" in the 1934 FBI Lab which was formally about two years old. (Then, later attempting to tie this evidence back to the shooting scene.) Additionally, other major cases in the Bureau were also ongoing keeping the Lab busy with only limited manpower.
We also need to bear in mind that there is also a second firefight as a result of the chase from the Lodge and a resulting investigation there. This, the location where Nelson kills agent Baum and wounds the others in a roadside ambush. Once again, extensive physical evidence, lengthy and time-consuming exams, and another "post shooting" investigation there.
By 1934, raid techniques and planning were in their infancy training wise in the Bureau. In fact, in a letter to all SAC's as late as 1938, Director Hoover and others at HQ were still soliciting suggestions on how to handle dangerous raids from those who participated in them during early years.
Anyone who has spent time in law enforcement would recognize that the post-shooting examination (at two locations) and investigation at Little Bohemia would have been a colossal undertaking with the limited manpower available, and that's an understatement.
Although a later detailed report as a result of the internal inquiry into what happened at "Little Bohemia" was submitted by Asst. Director, Harold Nathan, Inspector Hugh Clegg's initial report to the Bureau gave preliminary details about how the event transpired. Clegg's report is more "spontaneous" than Nathan's final examination of the facts.
Researchers and others should read both Clegg's report and Nathan's report to grasp what happened at "Little Bohemia" and all the factors involved in the tragedy of this event.
Law enforcement officers will look at these events differently than the general public.
As of 2010, Special Agent Carter Baum's surviving daughter resides in Kensington, Maryland close to her grand children and all participated in a memorial service for SA Baum in 2009 with members of the Society Of Former Special Agents Of The FBI at his gravesite nearby.