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Flashback Friday: Violent Midwest gang kidnaps St. Paul bank president for $200,000 ransom in 1934

Flashback Friday: Violent Midwest gang kidnaps St. Paul bank president for $200,000 ransom in 1934 Photo: The Minnesota Historical Society

Updated: January 17, 2020 02:29 PM

A violent gang known for committing robberies and kidnapping under the protection of a corrupt police force kidnapped St. Paul Commercial State Bank president Edward George Bremer 86 years ago this week. The gang demanded a ransom of $200,000 from Bremer’s family.

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, on Jan. 17, 1934, Bremer was kidnapped at the corner of Goodrich Avenue and Lexington Parkway in St. Paul by the Barker-Karpis gang.

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The Barker-Karpis gang consisted of a group of Midwestern criminals who came in and out of St. Paul in the 1930s. The Minnesota Historical Society states the gang had rented a house in the 1000 block of South Robert Street in West St. Paul, posing as a speakeasy musician family. After killing a Missouri sheriff, Fred Barker and Alvin “Creepy" Karpis (the gang’s leaders) had entered St. Paul with other members and family.

After a deadly robbery at Minneapolis’ Third Northwestern National Bank, the kidnapping of William Hamm Jr. (president of Hamm’s Brewing Company) for a $100,000 ransom, and another robbery where $33,000 from Swift and Company was stolen, the gang had planned over the next four months to kidnap Bremer.


The photo above is courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. Fred Barker (left) & Alvin Karpis (right). 


According to the Minneapolis Tribune, Bremer was a native of St. Paul and eventually graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with both Master's and Bachelor's degrees in law. In 1919, Bremer returned to St. Paul and started working for his father, Adolph Bremer, as a messenger boy at his father’s bank. Edward was eventually able to progress through all of the positions in the bank and succeeded his father as president.


 

The photo above is courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. Edward G. Bremer.


On Jan. 17, 1934, the Minnesota Historical Society says Edward was driving to work when he stopped at the corner of Lexington Parkway and Goodrich Avenue. The gang ended up blocking Edward’s path with one vehicle, and another vehicle pulled up behind him. The kidnappers then opened Edward’s door and pushed him to the ground when he was struggling. They forced Edward to sign ransom notes, and within two hours, Edward’s family friend, Walter W. Magee, received ransom instructions.

The instructions indicated a request of $200,000 in $5 and $10 bills. Magee was to print, “We are ready Alice,” in the Minneapolis Tribune’s personal ads. More ransom notes were delivered to people close to Edward, but people suspected him to be dead due to the amount of blood left in his car. Therefore, his father, Adolph, demanded a note in his son’s handwriting before he would pay. The next day a bank cashier received the requested note, according to Minnesota Historical Society.

The Minneapolis Tribune reported on Feb. 6, 1934, Magee had received the final instructions from the kidnappers to trade the ransom money for Edward. Magee was to transfer the ransom into a car with a Shell Oil sticker in St. Paul and then to trail a bus to Rochester. Afterward, Magee was to turn down a gravel road and drive until he saw five headlight flashes. Once he saw the flashes, he placed the money beside the road and drove off.

After 21 days of captivity, Edward Bremer was released.

The gang members scattered across the country to escape the FBI after authorities were able to lift fingerprints from a gas can that the Barker-Karpis gang used to refuel their car between Chicago and Minneapolis. The FBI had also recorded the serial numbers on the ransom bills.

Almost a year later, on Jan. 16, 1935, Barker and his mother were killed in a shootout with FBI officers, and Karpis remained on the run until the FBI arrested him on May 1, 1936.

Karpis was sentenced to life and served 26 years in Alcatraz.

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Helen Do

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