The Agreement That Made St. Paul, Minn., a Haven For Criminals

After becoming police chief of St. Paul, Minn., in 1900, John O’Connor (inset) reorganized the police force and gave himself nearly absolute power. He then reached out to criminals throughout the Midwest, letting them know that St. Paul was a safe place for them. In what he called the "layover agreement," O'Connor promised that the police would disregard offenders who performed their deeds beyond St. Paul, as long as they remained law-abiding while in they were in the city. To accomplish his plan, O’Connor required a liaison from within the criminal ranks to keep an eye on his peers. William “Reddy” Griffin was the first keeper of O’Connor’s system. After arriving in town and meeting with the police, criminals stopped to “check in” with Griffin at the Hotel Savoy in downtown St. Paul. Among his many duties, Griffin collected bribes and brought the money to O’Connor. When Griffen died of a stroke in 1913, “Dapper” Dan Hogan took over his role. Thanks to the layover agreement, St. Paul in the first half of the 20th century became a refuge for many of the most notorious gangsters of modern American history, including John Dillinger, Ma Barker and her boys, and Babyface Nelson. The layover agreement remained in force as long as criminals stayed in the city and bribes flowed to corrupt city officials. O’Connor retired from the police force on May 29, 1920. A car bomb killed Hogan on December 4, 1928; his murder remains unsolved. In 1935, soon after the FBI moved in, O'Connor's layover agreement ended, with many of the city's police force being arrested and convicted of corruption. The old guard was gone, and the new guard made sure that O’Connor’s layover system didn’t return.