1/17/1934 - After weeks of planning at the behest of underworld kingpin Harry Sawyer, for the second time the Barker-Karpis Gang decides to forgo the energy and danger required to rob banks, and instead pursues a big buck payday by kidnapping the thirty-four-year-old president of the Commercial State Bank of St. Paul, Minnesota (and son of the millionaire owner of the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, a personal friend of President Roosevelt) ... Edward G. Bremer.
Edward G. Bremer
Seemingly a normal day, though a bit on the frosty side, Bremer is right on time as his morning routines begin at his mansion at 92 North Mississippi River Boulevard ... dressing for work, breakfast with the family, a drive in his black Lincoln sedan with his nine-year-old daughter Betty to her third-grade classes at the Summit School, then at 8:30, off to the bank at Washington and Sixth. Typical, normal, routine ... but that all changes when he brakes at the stop sign on the corner of Lexington Parkway and Goodrich Avenue.
As Bremer stops, Freddy Barker, Harry Campbell, and Shotgun George Ziegler block the banker's Lincoln with their own black sedan. At the same time, another vehicle containing Dock Barker, Volney Davis, and Alvin Karpis pulls up behind, boxing Bremer in. Jumping out of their car, Davis and Barker approach the banker with pistols at the ready. "Don't move or I'll kill you," Dock orders. Panicking though, Bremer does move, putting the Lincoln in gear and trying to butt his way out of the trap he is in, then as that fails, attempting to escape out of the passenger side door. For his efforts, he is rewarded with a pistol whipping to his head that leaves blood all over the front seat of the car. Violently subdued, Bremer is shoved back into his car and has his eyes covered by a set of goggles with their lenses taped so he can't see ... then all three cars, precisely following the speed limit, drive away and out into the countryside ... the kidnapping has taken less than two minutes, and not a single local has witnessed the event.
Site of the kidnapping
Before Bremer is driven south, to a house just outside of Chicago in Bensenville, Illinois, where he will be held until a ransom is paid, he signs two notes which state the gang's demands with the hoodlum's using a St. Paul contractor named Walter W. Magee, a friend of the Bremer Family, as the contact point ... the payoff to return the banker is $200,000, the bills must be of the five and ten dollar variety only, none new, and none with consecutive numbers, the money is to be placed in two large suitcases, and when ready, the family is to place an ad in the Minneapolis Tribune personal column stating "We are ready Alice."
While a back and forth of notes, telephone calls, and newspaper ads goes on for days, the FBI investigation of the case is at first led by Special Agent in Charge of St. Paul, Werner Hanni, who places eighteen separate taps at the brewery and the Bremer homes in St. Paul ... and the gang's tensions grow. Unlike with their kidnapping of William Hamm the previous year, this time they have a captive who constantly complains about the situation he is in and the conditions he must endure ... grumblings that cause Freddy to almost kill Bremer several times (surprisingly, the man who talks him down from his murderous intentions is his equally unstable brother, Dock ... greed overcoming ire).
Finally, despite protests from the FBI, on 2/6/34, $200,000 is readied for delivery (with every serial number documented) and given to Magee ... at a little after 7:00, he begins following the directions of the gang for where to drop the money. First he is sent to a spot on University Avenue where a Chevy coupe has been left, instructions tell him to drive the car to the bus station in Farmington, a town roughly twenty miles south of St. Paul. Arriving in Farmington, he next follows the 9:15 bus to Rochester through the towns of Cannon Falls and Zumbrota, until he sees four red lights on a hill ahead. The signal to proceed three hundred feet further and turn on to a dirt road, doing as told to in the note he'd been left earlier, Magee stops when a car materializes behind him and flashes its headlights five times, removes the money from the Chevy, leaves it on the dirt track, and then follows the road to the small town of Mazeppa, before heading back to St. Paul. The next day, after Bremer is allowed to shave and put into new clothes (the ones he wore since the kidnapping are burnt so the FBI will have no potential clues upon his return), a handkerchief is put over his eyes, he is placed on the back floorboards of a Buick the gang has stolen, and Karpis, with Dock in the front passenger seat, stopping once at a spot where they've left gas cans to refuel, drives the banker to Rochester, Minnesota, releasing him behind a downtown build at about 8:00 in the evening after telling the banker to count to fifteen before removing his blindfold. Free at last, Bremer has been in captivity for twenty-one days.
Senior and son after release
The kidnappers are gleeful at the successful conclusion of their caper, but the crime will eventually prove to be the undoing of the Barker-Karpis Gang. Unknown the Federal authorities previously, the band of robbers and killers will draw the full attention and wrath of the government when Inspector William Rorer, specially assigned to handle the investigation of the crime by Hoover, takes possession of four suspicious five-gallon jugs and a funnel a farmer has found on the side of a road just off Route 16. Believed by their location and the date they are found to have been used in the drive that releases Bremer, one can contains a single clue on its side. Despite the insistence of Karpis that their gloves are not to be taken off during the refueling, icy cold from the gasoline spilling on his hand, Dock had removed one of his gloves and left a single fingerprint behind (after arguing with Karpis that no one would find the cans, or if they did, know what they'd been used for) ... and with his name, the hunt that will end with all of the gang behind bars or dead begins.
The result of his own stupidity ... Dock on Alcatraz