On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

The 1934 Bremer kidnapping: Gangsters replace bootlegging cash with ransom money

Share story

Bremer kidnapping headline
Man selling newspaper with headline related to Bremer kidnapping, 1935.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Eighty years ago today, Edward Bremer, Jr., heir to the Schmidt Brewery fortune, was kidnapped by the Barker-Karpis gang.

After Bremer dropped his daughter off at the Summit School in St. Paul, he was ambushed and thrown in a car. He was held for 10 days, until his family paid a $200,000 ransom.

Part of this ransom money was used to bribe police who were on the take, according to Paul Maccabee, author of "John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936." 

"Prohibition meant bribes in order to ship liquor — to cops, judges, U.S. senators," Maccabee told MPR News' Cathy Wurzer. "When Prohibition was repealed and liquor was legal, they switched from bootlegging to kidnapping. The same corrupt cops that had looked the other way during the bootlegging era were also involved with kidnappings and other more nefarious deeds."

Bremer helped federal investigators find his captors.  He memorized every detail about his surroundings. 

"When the FBI investigated the case, he was able to identify the specific wallpaper in the home where he was kept," Maccabee said. "That enabled the FBI to break the case and arrest the Barker-Karpis gang."

The gang was led by two brothers, Doc and Freddy Barker, who Maccabee describes as "psychopaths," and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, who was one of the most infamous gangsters of the period.