The Kidnapping of William Hamm

(William Hamm talking with reporters after his safe return - 1933 via MNHS Digital Archives)
On June 15, 1933 William Hamm Jr., the president of the Theodore Hamm’s Brewery, was grabbed by “four shadowy figures” and put in a waiting black Hudson sedan (sitting on the corner of Minnehaha and Greenbrier) while walking home from work for lunch at 12:45 in the afternoon (something he had done every day). Hamm was taken to Wisconsin to sign four separate ransom notes demanding a $100,000 (in $20s, $10s and $5s) payment for his safe return. Hamm picked William Dunn, the vice president of sales for the brewery (and most likely a bag man for the criminals anyway), as the contact man for the ransom delivery and the gang went about the business of setting up contact with him as the second part of their crime. After doing this Hamm was moved to a hideout in Bensenville, Illinois to sit until the ransom was paid. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis drove the car during the trip to Illinois while Fred Barker and George Ziegler did the negotiating.

In Bensenville Hamm was placed in a room with boarded up windows. The room's furniture consisted of a chair, bed, and a small table with an electric light. Alvin Karpis would give him editions of the Saturday Post to pass the time. Lacking access to Hamm’s beer, Karpis removed the labels off of beer bottles before giving them to Hamm to drink – he didn’t want to offend his kidnapped guest by giving him beer from a competing brand.

In spite of the gang’s insistence that the police not become involved, Hamm’s mother was adamant that they help find her son. A kidnapping task force (including crooked cop Tom Brown – who was an “inside man” on the gang’s payroll) place a wire tap on Dunn’s phone and waited to hear from the crooks.

Shortly after the kidnapping a taxi pulled up in front in Dunn’s house and handed Tom Brown a ransom note. 

It read:

You know your boyfriend is out of circulation. You are to pay off $100,000 in a manner explained to you this afternoon…If you fail to comply with our demands you will never see William Hamm Jr. again.

On June 17, 1933 Dunn was told by the kidnappers to drive up highway 61 (in a car without doors - so he couldn't hide anything) and during the trip came in contact with two cars just before Pine City. He was signaled to drop the satchel of money he was carrying with him onto the side of the road and to continue driving north until further instructions were given to him on where to pick up Mr. Hamm. (He stopped at Duluth, but never received other instructions)

The ransom was now paid and on June 18, 1933 an unharmed Hamm was taken to Wyoming, MN to be released. He was dropped off on the side of the road and ran to a nearby farmhouse after hearing the groups’ car pull away.

Interestingly enough the story does not end here. The Barker-Karpis gang thought they had pulled off the “perfect crime”. The blame for this crime initially fell on Roger Touhy and his crime syndicate. The FBI took the ransom notes used in the crime and, for the first time ever, was able to pull fingerprints off of the notes using the Silver Nitrate method. Scientists, taking advantage of the fact that fingerprints contain perspiration, painted the notes with a silver nitrate solution.  They were then able to see the fingerprints of everyone that had touched the notes and compare them against crime databases to find the criminals involved.  

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