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Notorious St. Paul Gangster Kidnapping Turns 80

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Friday marked a very interesting day in Minnesota history.

On Jan. 17, 1934, the heir to the Schmidt Brewery fortune was kidnapped by the Barker-Karpis gang in St. Paul.

Ed Bremer was held by the gang for 10 days, before his family paid a $200,000 ransom.

When it came to crime eight decades ago, author Paul Maccabee says criminals had everything they needed right here in Minnesota’s capital city.

“Machine Gun Kelly came here. John Dillinger came here. Babyface Nelson came here,” Maccabee said. “This city was like a Walmart for criminals.”

Nobody knows that better than Maccabee, who authored the book “John Dillinger Slept Here,” which highlights Dillinger’s time in St. Paul. But Maccabee says this was a kidnapping that actually helped put an end to corruption.

“Ed Bremer was terrified. He was sure when he was kidnapped that he was going to die,” he said.

Bremer was kidnapped by Doc and Freddy Barker and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.

With the Prohibition Era over, the Barker gang had turned to kidnapping, and they demanded a ransom equivalent to $1.6 million today.

“And that was a shock because the gangsters had lived in Minnesota, specifically St. Paul, for decades and they had been tolerated,” he said.

Maccabee says this was due to some members of St. Paul Police Department who were in on the crimes. But the Bremer family was well-respected, and the public put heat on the gangsters.

“The kidnapping of Ed Bremer … showed them they couldn’t find common ground with criminals. And that blew up the deal that the crooks had with the cops,” he said.

After 10 days, the ransom was paid and Bremer was released. But the FBI eventually caught the kidnappers because Bremer was able to describe the wallpaper inside their home, but the ransom money his family paid has never been found.

The crooked cops were also eventually arrested.

“The underworld and the overworld in St. Paul were totally intertwined,” Maccabee said.

You can get a taste of the prohibition and gangster eras in a current exhibition at the Minnesota History Center.

And on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m., Macabee will speak at the center about the bootlegging and gangster era in Minnesota.

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