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Reputed Capone hideout sold to Wisconsin bank

  • Story Highlights
  • Chippewa Valley Bank of Wisconsin became new owner at auction
  • Bank was only bidder and paid $2.6 million for 407-acre property
  • It is disputed whether Capone lived on property built by his family in 1920s
  • Historians say people are fascinated with Capone's legacy
By Stephanie Chen
CNN
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(CNN) -- The reputed hideout of infamous mobster Al Capone sold to Chippewa Valley Bank of Wisconsin for $2.6 million, according to CNN affiliate KBJR affiliate in Duluth, Minnesota.

Kingpin Al Capone stands with his arms crossed at his tax evasion trial in 1931.

Locals say mobster Al Capone used his family's Wisconsin property as a hideout.

The bank was the only bidder at the auction Thursday at the Sawyer County Courthouse in Wisconsin.

The previous owners, Guy and Jean Houston, purchased it for $4.25 million in 1959, KBJR said.

The two-story stone lodge, tucked away on 407 acres in Couderay, Wisconsin, was owned by the Capone family in the 1920s.

The Houston family purchased the property in the 1950s and transformed it into a tourist spot. Visitors paid a few dollars for a walking tour of Capone's reputed hideout.

The property includes a 37-acre lake and eight-car garage.

There is no indication of what will happen to the property.

It holds enormous nostalgic value, bank Vice President Joe Kinnear said. After all, he noted, Al Capone's name is closely associated with Chicago, Illinois.

"This guy really has incredible fame power," said John Russick, senior curator at the Chicago History Museum. "He became this icon for a whole profession of underworld figures, and people are fascinated with that."

With his expensive suits, wide-brimmed fedora and cigar, the gangster who relished the media spotlight became the face of lawlessness during the Prohibition era.

From 1925 to 1931, Capone was Chicago's most notorious organized-crime boss. He ruthlessly relied on intimidation, bribes and violence, according to gangster lore.

Even some state and local law enforcement officers turned a blind eye when Capone's gang committed crimes, leaving the feds to chase him, historians say.

But life as a crime kingpin brought a growing list of enemies, said Arthur J. Lurigio, a professor of criminology at Loyola University Chicago, who is also working on a documentary and book about organized crime in Chicago.

"He wanted to get away from his enemies," Lurigio explained. "He had already escaped death several times."

No one can say for certain whether Capone ever stayed in the Wisconsin lodge. Because he operated an illegal business, there are few written documents with clues on where he spent his time, historians say.

State University of New York at Oswego professor emeritus Luciano Iorizzo, who wrote "Al Capone: A Biography" in 2003, said he has never come across evidence that Capone visited the Wisconsin hideout

Henry Binford, a professor of history at Northwestern University, theorizes that the hideout was a stopover in the transportation of liquor to Chicago during Prohibition. It's rumored among locals that planes from Canada that were filled with alcohol docked on the small lake on the property.

"Being an ostensible businessman, he had a lot of channels of supply," Binford said, pointing out that the lodge is located close to the Canadian border.

Capone's illegal activities caught up with him in the 1930s. His most infamous mob war, the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago that killed seven rivals, further enticed federal agents to catch him. In 1931, he was convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz prison in California.

This summer, when the hideout tours were shut down, Leslie Strapon, assistant executive director of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, said her office received hundreds of calls from disappointed tourists.

"Everyone is patiently waiting to see what's going to happen with the place," she said. "It would be nice if it fell into the hands of someone who was wiling to reopen and carry on the tradition."

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