HOME | FAMILY TREES | BACK IN THE DAY | SOLVAY | EXTRA! EXTRA! | STARSTRUCK | MIXED BAG

Some of the year's most newsworthy kidnappings had one thing in common — beer. Despite more than a decade of prohibition, some breweries had adjusted and prospered. It wasn't surprising that when gangsters made a career switch from bootlegging to kidnapping, their list of potential victims included people whose names were familiar.

William Hamm Jr. had one of those names. The 39-year-old millionaire was head of the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company, founded by his grandfather in 1865. On June 15, 1933, he was was kidnapped while walking from his office to his home. A note, delivered to authorities by a taxi-cab driver, demanded $100,000 ransom. The cab driver said he'd been sent by Verne Sankey, a name well known to police. Sankey was wanted for the abduction of Haskell Bohn, son of a wealthy manufacturer, as well a the sensational kidnapping of Charles Boettcher 2nd, Denver millionaire, several months ago.

Negotiations were quickly concluded and the money paid, perhaps the only time a ransom was transported in a beer truck:

Syracuse American, June 18
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (INS) — A brewery truck, said to contain the $100,000 ransom demanded by the abductors of William Hamm Jr., was seen leaving the yards of the Hamm Brewing Company late last night.

Police and members of the Hamm family refused to discuss the departure of the truck.

Thirty minutes later, H. J. Charles, an attorney for the company, and W. W. Dunn, sales manager of the brewery, and said to be the intermediary in the dealings with the kidnappers, dashed out of the brewery, evaded newspapermen and photographers, entered an automobile and sped away. They were followed by a police car.

Earlier, Charles had indicated that a contact had been established with the kidnappers.

A day later Hamm was released and talked at length about his captivity, though some of the information he provided was prompted by leading questions asked by police. It may have been fitting that these answers led police in the wrong direction, particularly in regard to Public Enemy Number One, Verne Sankey, who had nothing to do with the Hamm case.

Hamm told police he'd been held in a house "in northern Minnesota, apparently," and had been treated well by the kidnappers.

Asked if he could identify one of the kidnappers. as Verne Sankey, Hamm said, “I think it was Sankey, but I am not positive.”

Hamm said he had not found out how much ransom was paid, and J. E. Charles, attorney for the brewing company, refused to give the definite amount, but said the sum was “less than $100,000.”

Police soon arrested Roger Touhy, who'd been framed for the kidnapping of "Jake the Barber" Factor, but this time a jury didn't buy it Touhy, Willie Sharkey, Gus Schaefer and Eddie McFadden, all members of the “Terrible Touhy” gang of Chicago, were acquitted.

Real culprits in the Hamm kidnapping were members of a gang that had been around longer than some that had attracted more attention, particularly John Dillinger's gang, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and the Barrow Brothers, who morphed into Bonnie and Clyde.

While enjoying relative anonymity up to 1933, Alvis "Creepy" Karpis, Fred Barker and other members of the Barker-Karpis gang must have believed they weren't receiving the credit— or blame — that they deserved.

By the time federal officers figured out who to arrest for the abduction of William Hamm Jr., two of the three men who participated —Barker and George "Shotgun" Ziegler — were dead. Karpis eventually was captured alive — a feat in itself, given the 1930s shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude of the FBI — and served a long prison sentence before he was released back into the world. While in prison he met a young Charles Manson and gave him guitar lessons.

Between the Hamm kidnapping and his arrest, Karpis and his pals pulled off another kidnapping, early in 1934, when they collected a $200,000 for returning Edward Bremer. Again the common denominator was beer. The 34-year-old Bremer, president of Commercial State Bank, was the son of banker Adolph Bremer, who also owned the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, named after its founder, Bremer's father-in-law, who once was brew master for the Hamm Brewing Company.

 
HOME CONTACT