Public Enemy No. 9: Polack Joe Saltis in Wisconsin

Try as they might, prosecutors could not pin a murder on “Polack” Joe Saltis. A beer man on Chicago’s south side during Prohibition, Saltis had some cooperation going with Public Enemy #1, Al Capone.

Saltis was actually Soltis and not Polish at all, but from Budapest. “Hungarian” Joe perhaps didn’t have a ring to it. There is no doubt there was blood on this guy’s hands and he was charged on occasion, but never convicted. His reputation and alleged crimes were enough to make him Public Enemy Number 9 when that list was first produced in Chicago.

The competition among the Chicago underworld must have taken a lot out of a guy (though not a lot of blood if you were fortunate), because some of them seemed to enjoy a bit of time finding peace in the northwoods of Wisconsin.

Saltis actually “retired” from the business and in 1930 built a lodge and golf course in Winter, Wisconsin. (He actually tried to change the name to Saltisville and who can blame him? Do we need any reminders of that season in Wisconsin??) Current owners of the Historic Barker Lake Lodge David and Brenda Palmer still rent vacation rooms out of the house and a few cabins on the lakeside property. The golf clubhouse next door shows photos of Saltis on the walls.

Saltis brought in the soil for his golf course by train from Kentucky. Sounds a little fishy to me and one wonders if something else from Kentucky came along with it buried inside the load. Pure speculation on my part.


David Palmer is sort of a gangster history enthusiast and is sure to talk up guests about the stories of those times. He still has shell casings he dug up on the property, probably from a Tommy gun.


Palmer keeps a copy of X Marks the Spot, an underground publication put out during the height of the Chicago crime. It told the story of all the nefarious characters and revealed some photos of their bloody handiwork.


Saltis behaved himself in Winter. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and a round of golf from time to time. Palmer can show you a bullet hole about the fireplace and old clippings from the newspapers. Al Capone surely stopped in to visit and did a bit of sturgeon fishing on the lake. Palmer has met the son of a guy who used to row Scarface around the lake. His father was once toyed with by the guys on shore. He was told to row and they sprayed a bit of water with some Tommy guns. Gotta love that gangster sense of humor!

But finally Saltis’ number was up with the law. Local game wardens rounded up their men and confronted Polack Joe. And this time, the verdict stuck: A $50 fine for fishing too close to a dam. The feds finally got their man.

Don’t sleep with the fishes – Find some peace at Barker Lake Lodge

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