Shooting of Roy McCord (Jan. 13, 1934)


Holly Falls Apartments

562 Holly Ave. (2013) Matt Reicher

After a long day at work at St. Paul's Municipal Airport, McCord rushed over to help his friend H.W. Cowin search for “peeping toms” near his Holly Falls Apartment in the early morning hours of January 13, 1934. A three-person “posse” of McCord, his co-worker, and Cowin began looking around. McCord was armed with a small caliber pistol and a pair of brass knuckles.

Concerned about strange activity, McCord’s wife had called his work and asked him to help look for potential “peeping toms.” When his shift ended, McCord enlisted co-worker Robert Luening and met up with Cowin at his 562 Holly Ave. apartment. Soon after, the three began looking around. McCord still wore his work uniform.

Across the alley, in Myrtle Eaton's second-floor apartment at 565 Portland Ave., members of the Barker-Karpis Gang planned the kidnapping of Commercial State Bank president Edward Bremer – one of many meetings they’d had in the preceding weeks. Gangsters Alvin Karpis and Fred Barker noticed someone looking through the windows of a nearby apartment. Barker went outside and saw a man standing on the corner. It seemed that the authorities were on to them.

He relayed his findings to the others, who collectively decided to reconvene nearby. The gang, in groups of two, then successfully snuck away.

They were in the clear but couldn’t get past their close-call run-in with the police. The Bremer kidnapping was a risky undertaking, but if local law enforcement had discovered their plan, their odds of success were next to none. The gang had to be sure. Karpis and Barker armed themselves and drove back into the neighborhood they'd recently escaped to investigate.

As Barker drove their Chevy sedan around surrounding streets, he and Karpis noticed a dark car slow down to look at them on St. Albans between Portland and Holly avenues. It was McCord and his passengers. The neighborhood was very close-knit, and the Chevy the three men found themselves in front of was unfamiliar.

McCord's "posse" were armed with a pistol and brass knuckles. Unfortunately, they soon learned they were dealing with something more serious than simple prowlers. In a terrifying blitz, the gangsters leaped from their car. They unleashed a hail of bullets, emptying their clips into McCord's Ford, the vehicle absorbing nearly fifty rounds. McCord himself was hit up to six times.

The two gangsters then drove away.

McCord, injured but alive, walked himself into St. Joseph's hospital. Three bullets dropped to the floor as hospital staff undressed him, and doctors removed the others. The harrowing experience shook the men riding with him. Fortunately, Cowin was only slightly wounded and Luening escaped uninjured. After an extended hospital stay, several surgeries, and rehabilitation, McCord lived to tell the tale.

Barker and Karpis learned the next day that they made a serious mistake. The gangsters had seen a dark-colored car with men in uniform and thought they were law enforcement. Unfortunately, McCord's dispatcher uniform, with a peaked hat and dark jacket with brass buttons, had made him look like a police officer.

Roy McCord’s near-fatal run-in on the streets of St. Paul sowed seeds of outrage citywide. Local citizens now called for the end of the gangster menace by any means necessary. The St. Paul Daily News and its editor, Howard Kahn, took the fight directly to corrupt city officials. They questioned the validity of city laws that seemed to protect criminals and whether the current regime was working in citizens' best interests or merely lining their own pockets.

McCord, the sole financial provider for his family, became a symbolic figure in the city's outcry against the rampant gangster activity. His plight, as a hard-working father and husband gravely injured while simply trying to protect his loved ones, highlighted everyday citizen's vulnerability. For years, those tasked with protecting them seemed, if they weren't directly involved in corrupt acts, to look the other way.

The uproar briefly made St. Paul “too hot” and gave the gang pause. They even discussed postponing the Bremer kidnapping. However, their concern didn't last long. On January 17, just four days after the shooting of Roy McCord, members of the Barker-Karpis Gang abducted Bremer in his Lincoln on the corner of Goodrich and Lexington, only one block from where he dropped his daughter off at school.

That same day, the St. Paul Daily News announced its crusade against organized crime in the city with the article, "Who Shot Roy McCord?" It took time before it ended officially, but the era of the gangster – and corruption in St. Paul – was coming to a close.


This location is a stop on:

The Saint Paul Gangster Tour

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Bibliography

  • Frethem, Deborah, and Cynthia S. Smith. Alvin Karpis and the Barker Gang in Minnesota. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2020.
  • Maccabee, Paul. John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936. Minnesota, 1995.
  • Madera Tribune (Madera County). "Kidnaping And Crime In St. Paul Charged Result Police Graft." February 5, 1934, 1.
  • Mahoney, Timothy R. Secret Partners: Big Tom Brown and the Barker Gang. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013.
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Shooting Victim's Condition Critical." January 15, 1934, 8.
  • Winona Republican-Herald. "Doctors and Nurse Demand $50.000 Bonds be Reduced." April 19, 1934, 1, 5.