The Edward Bremer Kidnapping

(image courtesy of my cell phone)
Edward Bremer Jr., the heir to the Schmidt Brewery fortune, was a man you could set your watch to. He was meticulous about many things – including taking his eight year old daughter Betty to school every morning at the Summit School on Goodrich Ave. While this is a great character trait to have, there was at least one occasion that it didn’t work on to his benefit. On a frigid January 17, 1934 morning around 8:25 AM he was ambushed and kidnapped just down the street from the school at the corner of Lexington and Goodrich only moments after dropping his daughter off at school.  The kidnappers, later identified as the Karpis - Barker gang, had followed him for a short period of time to learn his morning routine.

With the revocation of the 18th Amendment, gangs all over the country began to turn to kidnapping to make money. The end of Prohibition had dried up one of their greatest sources of income and they needed a new way to make large amounts of money quickly – without the risks associated with robbing banks. Because Saint Paul was the home to top gangsters, it was the home to the highest profile kidnappings – and Edward Bremer was as high profile as they came. The planning that occurred before the kidnapping at the Dale Apartments at 628 Grand Ave did however have its fair share of hiccups. According to the book ‘Public Enemies’ Alvin Karpis, one of the gangs members, felt that messing with the Bremer family was a bad idea. He said to Harry Sawyer, “I’d hell of a lot rather rob a bank any day. I’d rather do anything than kidnap this guy. If we’re gonna kidnap somebody, let’s kidnap somebody besides this guy here. Let’s go to some other town too.”

The gang decided that the chance for the big score was too great and went for it anyway. After successfully kidnapping Bremer they made a phone call to Bremer’s friend Walter Macgee, “We’ve snatched your friend Ed Bremer, we want 200 grand. “ A ransom note was left in the back office of his house asking for $200,000 dollars, along with instructions leading to where they had left Bremer’s car. FBI documents list the ransom payment requirement was to be made in fives and tens, with “no new money, no consecutive money, and a large variety of issues”. The money was then to be placed in two large suit box cartons – large enough to hold everything. The note told the family to “They were told to “just do your part – we guarantee to do ours”.

When the Bremer family was ready to make the ransom payment, the kidnappers required them to place an ad in the personals section of the Minneapolis Tribune saying plainly, “We Are Ready Alice”. One concern in the local field agents representing the FBI was with the overzealous nature of the local police. The agents were looking to find out the identity of the pay-off man, and have him lead them back to the other kidnappers. The police wanted to “knock him off”.

The Bureau believed from the beginning, even before they knew who the assailants were, that the kidnapping was done by professionals. The ransom letter showed similarities with the earlier Hamm kidnapping, so they looked to previous suspects. Internal documents called it “one of the most perfect things that ever happened”. The contact man throughout the entire process continued to be Walter Magee.

It turned out that Alvin Karpis was on to something when he expressed his initial concerns. The FBI only a short time before had been given power to finally begin to take the fight directly to organized crime. They were now appropriately armed and trained along with having the authority to make arrests in federal crimes like bank robbery, kidnapping and interstate flight. Also, Bremer’s father was friends with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and having this happen six months after the Hamm’s kidnapping in Saint Paul and while the nation was still mourning the loss of Charles Lindbergh’s baby was too much to handle. In one of his famous ‘Fireside Chats’ FDR called the kidnapping “An attack on all that we hold dear.” and told the FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover that he needed to fix the gangster problem.

There was incredible pressure on the Bureau to solve this case quickly. The president, newspapers throughout the country, politicians, and other prominent citizens were all looking for answers. Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson called the Bremer family to offer the support of every law enforcement agency in the state. The current FBI vault lists correspondence for the Bremer case in an incredible four hundred and fifty nine parts. Everyone was looking for information about the case. There was such a thirst for news that newspapers seemed to be fabricating stories, although some people within the ranks of the Saint Paul Police Department believed that Detective Tom Brown was supplying to all fronts, the police, the kidnappers, and the newspapers.

Retelling the story after his capture for taking part in the kidnapping, Alvin Karpis mentioned that Bremer wasn’t exactly the greatest person to spend a kidnapping with. He described Bremer Jr. as “demanding, cranky prisoner who informed the gang not to expect much of a ransom,” this proved to be the case as the Bremer family took twenty two uncomfortable days to pay their son’s captors (eventually paying them - against the wishes of Hoover and the FBI). Bremer Sr. wrote a note to his son’s captors to be delivered along with the money, “To the parties holding Edward: I’ve done my part and kept my word 100 per cent just as I said I would. This money is not marked and is the full amount asked for. And now boys, I am counting on your honor. Be sports and do the square thing by turning Edward loose at once. (Signed) Adolf Bremer”. The kidnappers did do the “square thing” and Edward was dropped off between Rochester and Chatfield on highway 52 around 8pm on February 7, 1934h and told to take a bus back to Saint Paul. Upon return home, Bremer didn’t have much information to give to the FBI. He told them he was in a sedan with three men and that he had spent a significant amount of time blind-folded while riding in the car. Bremer had been told that if he were to talk the gang would kill his daughter, so he wasn't willing to offer much, if any, information about his captors.

While the gangsters did end up getting the money, things did not end well. Now that Bremer Jr. was back home after being held after being held in captivity in Bensonville, Illinois everyone was ready to take the fight to the gangster problem. As crime reporter Nate Blomberg so elegantly put it, “When you start to pick on the fat boys, then people get alarmed.” Because of the national focus given to the kidnapping, and the fact that it happened less than a year after the Hamm’s kidnapping, gave the FBI the ammunition it needed to concentrate its efforts and ending the threat of gangsters. Within two years of the Bremer kidnapping the Era of the ‘Public Enemies’ was essentially wiped out.
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