Gangsters in Edina

On a quiet night around 1957, Officers Henry Wrobleski and George Butler came across two Chicago men during a traffic stop. Butler recalled that it was about 3:30 in the morning and they had seen the men driving very slowly along 50th street in a rental car.

They knew this was a rental car because there was a small brass tag on the license plate, which during this time indicated it was a rental car. Wrobleski and Butler were partnered in the same squad which was a matter of routine patrol.

They stopped the car at 50th Street & Wooddale Avenue because they had seen it for the second time in the same evening and because they knew it was a rental car. According to Butler, in that day that’s about all the reason the police needed to stop a car, just a hunch, which turned out to be correct.

Now, police officers have to document many reasons to stop a car and are expected to operate at a higher level of burden. No longer can an officer stop a car based just on a hunch.

When the officers approached the vehicle, they requested identification. Both men quickly pulled out identification from their pockets. Butler remembered that it was unusual because both men seemed ready to pull the identification when asked and did not have to look for it as most people would or remove it from a wallet.

The officers noticed that the passenger had a Folgers coffee box under his feet, which did not mean anything to them at the time, but did look peculiar. The men, Smith & Ingram, as the officers remembered were from Chicago. At the time, the officers did not know that these men were connected to infamous Rocky Lupino Gang with ties in Chicago and Minnesota. The men had been staying at the Biltmore motel which was a popular motel in Edina at the time.

Though the formal address of the Biltmore Motel was 5000 Normandale Rd, at the time, it was situated in the location that now occupies 5250 Vernon Ave the current site of an apartment building. At the time, this stretch of roadway was also known as Hwy 169, which was a major road through Edina. This road today is known as Vernon Avenue.

According to those officers that worked in Edina during this time, The Biltmore was booming in its day. Wrobleski recalled that he thought one of the men might have been packing a pistol under his coat, but did not know for sure. The officers released these men without figuring out what they had been up to, even though they both believed they were up to no good.

The next day the officers learned that there had been a burglary at a St. Louis Park Grocery store in the area of Cedar Lake Road and Texas Avenue where a safe had been cracked. Entry had been gained through a roof hatch at the store. The suspects during the burglary had put the money in a coffee box which was similar to the one that had been in the vehicle the night before.

Wrobleski and Butler passed this information to the St. Louis Park Police but the suspects had already left town. A few months later, Smith & Ingram were located and arrested in Chicago. Officer Wrobleski was asked to go to Chicago along with a prosecutor from the Twin Cities for an extradition hearing to try and bring these men back for justice.

Despite death threats that Wrobleski received, he decided to stand up against these reputed gangsters and travel to Chicago anyway. Once in Chicago, Wrobleski met with the prosecutor before the hearing. The Chicago prosecutor told Wrobleski that he did not think they would win the hearing and prevail on the extradition of the suspects on the Minnesota charges.

Wrobleski was told that these men were connected to organized crime in Chicago and that’s how things worked in Chicago. The prosecutor told Wrobleski that even the judge in Chicago was probably connected to the mob and could very well have been “paid off”. Despite their best efforts, the judge in Chicago ruled that the men would not be extradited and they were released. Discouraged, Wrobleski returned to Minnesota. 

© 2017 City Of Edina, Minnesota