Some of the year's most newsworthy kidnappings had one thing in common — beer. Despite more than a decade of prohibition, a few 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.


Syracuse Journal, June 17, 1933
Want $100,000 For Release of Hamm
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (INS) — William Hamm Jr., 39-year-old millionaire brewer and scion of one of St. Paul’s oldest families, was held today by kidnappers. who have threatened to kill their captive unless $100,000 ransom is paid.

Warning that they are dealing with a veteran kidnapping gang of the Northwest was served on authorities when a taxi-cab driver who delivered the ransom note identified Verne Sankey as the man who engaged him for the mission.

Sankey is wanted for the abduction here of Haskell Bohn, son of a wealthy manufacturer, as well a the sensational kidnapping of Charles Boettcher 2nd, Denver millionaire, several months ago.

Police withheld news of the abduction, which occurred Thursday, until late last night in the hope of trapping the kidnappers. Efforts to contact the gang have proved futile, however.

Although police were without definite information as to where Hamm was seized, it is believed he fell into the hands of the kidnappers while walking from his office to the Hamm residence.

A son of the late William Hamm, St. Paul capitalist, the abduction victim is president and treasurer of the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company of St. Paul. He likewise directs extensive reality properties and is prominent in St. Paul social and industrial circles.

A telephone call to William Dunn, business associate of Hamm, first disclosed the kidnapping

“We have just kidnapped Mr. Hamm,” said man’s voice on the telephone. “You will near from us later.”


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.


Syracuse Journal, June 19, 1933
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (INS) — William Hamm Jr., millionaire brewery head, kidnapped Thursday and released today at Wyoming, Minnesota, after payment of $100,000 ransom, declared he would be able to identify some of his abductors.

In a complete story of his experience, Hamm said he had been held in a house “in northern Minnesota, apparently,” and had been extended every courtesy by the kidnappers.

“I left my office about a quarter to one Thursday,” Hamm said on his return home today. “Two men walked up to me as I walked along the street, and one said, ‘How are you, Mr. Hamm?’ He extended his hand to greet me and we were shaking hands when the second man suddenly jerked me toward the sidewalk.

“A car came up and two men pushed me into the back seat. They forced me to the floor of the car and put a white hood over my head. They were rough, but did not hurt me or show any arms.

“We drove about eight hours. About 30 miles out, I think, we met another car and they took the hood from my head and told me to sign four notes, asking for ransom. I signed the notes.

“Then they put goggles, with cotton in the lenses, over my eyes, so that I would be more comfortable, but still could not see anything. I haven’t the slightest idea how many men were in the second car we met.

“I think we drove into northern Minnesota. We arrived at a house and they put me in a room on the second floor. The windows were boarded up. I could hear some traffic, but not a great deal.

“They gave me everything I asked for, including cigarettes and good food. About five or six different men came into my room during the time I was held at the house and I could identify all of them.

“When they came into the room where I was held, they would make me turn and face the wall, so I did not see the faces of all of them.”

Asked if he was able to identify one of the kidnappers. as Verne Sankey, leader of the kidnap gang that successfully held Charles Boettcher of Denver for $60,000 ransom and also Haskell Bohn, son of a millionaire St. Paul manufacturer, for $12,000, Hamm said, “I think it was Sankey, but I am not positive.”

He said he thought one of the two men who had bundled him into the automobile was Sankey.

“They kept me informed as to the progress of the negotiations,” Hamm continued, “and they expected to leave every night. Finally, Sunday, at about 3 p.m., they told me they had good news for me — that they had been paid.”

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.”


While police were trying to build a case against Sankey, "Jake the Barber" Factor and other Chicago mobsters were pointing authorities in another direction — toward Roger Touhy. This time their scheme didn't work.


Syracuse Journal, December 1, 1933
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (INS) — His mind apparently having snapped while a defendant in the William Hamm Jr. kidnapping trial, Willie Sharkey, veteran Chicago gangster hanged himself in his cell today at the county jail here.

Although acquitted in federal court here, Sharkey had been suffering under the delusion that he was made “the goat” by both prosecution and defense. That was a theory offered by authorities.

Sharkey and his three co-defendants in the Hamm abduction trial were being held in solitary confinement here as prisoners of the federal government, awaiting extradition to Illinois, where they are to go on trial within a month for the $70,000 abduction of John “Jake the Barber” Factor, wealthy Chicago and London stock promoter.

A jury in federal court here early this week acquitted Sharkey, Roger Touhy, Gus Schaefer and Eddie McFadden, all members of the dreaded “Terrible Touhy” gang of Chicago in the kidnapping of Hamm, who was held last June until $100,000 ransom was paid.


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 had 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.