Minnesota Then

Kidnapping of William Hamm Jr. (June 15-19, 1933)

Investigators inspect the home of Theodore Hamm

Investigators inspect the home of Theodore Hamm Minnesota Good Age

Hamm’s Brewing Co. President William Hamm Jr., grandson of Theodore Hamm, was abducted near his office in St. Paul on June 15, 1933. Around 12:45 PM, four men from the Barker-Karpis Gang seized him near Greenbrier Street and Minnehaha Avenue East, a short distance from his workplace. They pushed Hamm Jr. into a black sedan, forced him to lie on the floor, and placed a white hood over his head before driving away.

Miles from the city, near the Wisconsin border, the sedan stopped and more men joined in another car. With Hamm Jr. on the car floor, the gangsters forced him to sign four ransom notes, authorizing payment and designating brewery's sales VP, William Dunn, as their contact.

They took him to a Bensenville, Illinois house, confining him upstairs in a dimly lit, boarded-up room with sparse furnishings. He was instructed to call out if he needed anything but turn away whenever his captors entered.

Despite the gang's demands for no police involvement, Hamm's mother insisted on their help. A task force wiretapped brewery VP William Dunn's phone, awaiting contact. That evening at 5 PM, Dunn received instructions to gather $100,000 in small unmarked bills, notifying Police Chief Dahill three hours later. At 2 AM, he got another call promising a ransom note, as the mother's persistence and task force's wiretap allowed police monitoring of the high-stakes hostage situation from the start.

Ten minutes later, a taxi driver pulled up to his address and delivered a ransom note: "You know your boyfriend is out of circulation. You are to pay off $100,000 in a manner explained...If you fail to comply, you will never see William Hamm Jr. again." Determined to secure his release, the family withdrew $100,000 from a Minneapolis bank as preparations escalated - a Hamm's truck with doors removed stood at the ready to deliver the money.

At 9 AM Saturday, Dunn received another call, instructing him to drive to Hamm Realty employee L.J. Sullvold's home for ransom delivery details. Sullvold, pre-informed by the kidnappers, told Dunn to take the ransom in an automobile with doors and trunk removed, driving along Highway 61 toward Duluth under 20 mph. A vehicle flashing headlights five times would signal the exchange point, where Dunn was to drop the money bag roadside and continue north to Duluth, booking a hotel room to await Hamm's arrival.

Later that day, Dunn followed instructions, driving north on Highway 61. He dropped the moneybag on the roadside and continued to Duluth, registering a room at the Hotel Duluth expecting Hamm's arrival after the ransom retrieval. However, Hamm never arrived. St. Paul Detectives Tom Brown and Charles Tierney joined Dunn at the hotel, and the three anxiously awaited the kidnap victim's return.

On the afternoon of June 18, 1933, Hamm's kidnappers entered his room with good news - the ransom was paid, and he was going home. After a long overnight drive, the blindfolded Hamm was dropped off at 5:30 AM on June 19th along Highway 1 near Wyoming, Minnesota. His captors instructed him to remain on the side of the road as they escaped. Once he was sure they’d left, Hamm walked to a nearby family farm and used their phone to call home. A short time later, Chief of Police Thomas Dahill announced to the press he was leaving for Wyoming to pick up Mr. Hamm.

The kidnapping left Hamm Jr. living in fear of being taken again, prompting extreme precautions. Publicly calm yet privately shaken, the once-embraced celebrity now shunned the spotlight. He continued using the bluff stairs to work but only with armed escorts. The pleasant, well-liked personality became nervous and introverted, his home transformed into a heavily-guarded feudal castle. Efforts to avoid public attention extended to wearing overalls instead of suits at the brewery to blend in.

Though they collected the ransom and had released Hamm unharmed, this event, along with the Bremer kidnapping months later, ignited public outrage against the criminal element. Hamm's court testimony in November, revealing his transport across state lines, triggered federal involvement. This, coupled with the groundbreaking use of the Silver Nitrate Fingerprint Method, aided in the eventual capture of his captors.

Despite being forever branded a 'kidnap victim,' the traumatic event was now behind him. Hamm Jr. managed to recover and live a meaningful life.

This location is a stop on the:

St. Paul Gangster and Hamm's Brewery Tours

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  • Newton, Michael. The FBI Encyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2003.
  • “Remembering: Theo. Hamm Brewing Co.” Pioneer Press. Last modified November 13, 2015. https://www.twincities.com/2009/10/03/remembering-theo-hamm-brewing-co/.