Feature Articles

August 2001

The St. Paul Incident

(Part 2)

By John William Tuohy

     Traveling with Touhy, in the capacity of a bodyguard and gunman was 36- year-old Gustave Schactel, AKA Gus Schafer, a career criminal who used large portions of his income to support his brother, Father Joseph Schactel, through a PhD candidates program at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Gus Schafer had managed to keep his brother from knowing anything about his criminal life, and told him he had made a fortune in the shipping business.

     The second bodyguard was Willie Sharky, the gang's chief enforcer who had grown up with Roger in the Valley, once Chicago's enormous Irish ghetto. Sharky was wanted in Chicago for questioning for his role in five gangland slayings over the past year.

     The third person on the trip was Edward Thomas McFadden, a 67-year-old labor racketeer who picked up the name "Chicken Micky" when he organized a shakedown operation known as the Kosher Chicken Pluckers Union. McFadden had been a friend of Roger's father back when he walked a beat in Chicago's Lawndale district, and it was McFadden, with deep political and labor ties, that had placed the Chicago Teamster unions under Touhy's protection, in 1931.

     The gang checked into Rohrbacher resort, conducted their business and took some time out for fishing, using, as Indian guide Frank St. Germaine later testified, a Tommy gun and hand grenades to catch fish, instead of the standard pole.

     After four days in the lake region, the group left for Chicago on a Wednesday morning at about 6:30 A.M., on July 19, 1933, and headed for the tiny Wisconsin village of Elkhorn.

     It was here, in the Elkhorn area, that one of the Touhy gang's leaders, "Terrible" Tommy O'Connor, and escaped convict and cop killer, had probably fled to back in 1922 and probably ran Touhy's kingdom in Wisconsin.

     On the way into Elkhorn, Touhy, speeding down the road at 70 miles an hour, lost control of his car and knocked down a telephone pole on private property and kept right on going. The owner called the Elkhorn police department and the call was forwarded to Harry Ward, a slightly built, wiry rookie cop on motorcycle duty near Highway 12.

     Ward was to spot the car, stop it, and bring the driver into town and hold him until restitution, a total of $22, was made for the cost of replacing the pole.

     Ward did as he was told, and Touhy and the others were taken to the county jail, but Touhy who had grossed millions, refused to pay the paltry $22 for the pole's repair, offering half that amount instead.

     In the meantime, Harry Ward, who still had no idea who Touhy and the others were, conducted an illegal search of Touhy's car. Digging his hands deep under the seat cushions on the driver's side they found four .38 colt revolvers, a .45 Colt with altered identification numbers, and a .38 Colt automatic rigged to fire as a machinegun, and a .38 Smith and Wesson rifle with a site on the barrel.

     Phone calls were made to Chicago, and the local police discovered they were holding four of the most violent and desperate men in America. FBI Special Agent Melvin Purvis, who worked out of Chicago and was heading the investigation of the Hamm kidnapping, told the Elkhorn police to find a reason to hold them until he could arrive there and question them.

     While the pistols Ward had found in the car were legal, the rigged automatic was, technically, a machinegun, and, in 1933, Wisconsin was one of the few states that outlawed possession of the automatic guns. And although only a misdemeanor, it was enough to hold them.

     Before dawn the next day, the headline hungry Purvis, and an army of FBI agents, Chicago detectives, reporters, and news photographers invaded Elkhorn.

     Purvis, whose career was already starting to sink, formally charged Roger Touhy and the others with kidnapping William Hamm, despite the fact that virtually all of the information collected by Purvis, showed that Alvin Karpis and the Barker gang had actually committed the crime.

     The fact was, up to that point, Purvis, who had minimal knowledge of the underworld, rested his entire case against Touhy, on the accusation of St. Paul's notoriously corrupt Police chief, Thomas Dahill.

     Eight months after Dahill accused Touhy of the kidnapping, a Federal grand jury launched a two year inquiry into accusations of graft and corruption within Cahill's department, and examined the chief's uncomfortably close relationship with the Keating mob, the group that may have been behind Hamm's kidnapping.

     On August 12, 1933, Roger Touhy and the others were formally indicted for kidnapping William Hamm by a federal grand jury in St. Paul, and, on that same day, as if just to show how bad Touhy's luck could be, President Roosevelt went on national radio and announced the Federal government's war on kidnappers.

     As an additional slap, that afternoon, Alvin Karpis and the rest of the Barker gang returned to St. Paul and robbed a Swift Company messenger of $30,000 on the steps of the main Post office, killing a policeman in the process.

     National newspapers carried stories that the Touhy gang had pulled off the robbery on Roger's orders to raise bail money to have him released.

     Before the trial began, Agent Purvis was starting to worry. He had convinced J. Edgar Hoover that he had an airtight case against Touhy, and in turn, Hoover convinced the U.S. Attorney in St. Paul of the same.

     However, as only Purvis knew, not only was the FBI unable to find any of Hamm's prints on Touhy's car, none of the money found on Roger Touhy in Elkhorn could be traced to the William Hamm kidnapping, in fact, none of the Hamm ransom money was ever found.

     Worse yet, none of the witnesses in the case could identify Touhy or the others during three separate line ups nor could they pick them out of photographs that they were shown, over and over again.

     William Hamm was such a reluctant witness, that the government publicly criticized him for his lack of cooperation. He avoided the FBI, and all during the investigation forced Agent Purvis to work through his business manager William Dunn, who in turn, would only answer questions through the Hamm family lawyer. As a result, the FBI had never interviewed Dunn, and when Purvis sent agents to collect Hamm and bring him to Chicago, the brewer leaped on a plane for New York and didn't return to the Midwest until the trial was almost over.

     One witness, Mrs. Lucille Otis, had told St. Paul Police that she saw one of William Hamm's kidnappers place a call from the drugstore payphone.

     In the middle of the night, Purvis's men dragged her out of her house and drove her to a line-up in Chicago.

     The Touhys were marched out before her, but Mrs. Otis was unable to identify any of them as the man who made the call.

     Purvis ordered her to look at the men once again and again.

     "I told him," Mrs. Otis said, "that I had looked at all of them long enough and none of them looked like the man I saw. Mr. Purvis kept pointing to one man (Roger Touhy) and asked me, "Are you sure that it wasn't him?" I told him, he was most definitely not the man whom I saw making the telephone call. He, Mr. Purvis, became very angry and told me that I would be arrested and jailed, if I didn't cooperate with him."

     Frustrated, Touhy and others were taken from St. Paul to the FBI offices in Chicago, where they were, as Purvis put it, "grilled" by his agents from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. For the next week, the prisoners were allowed to sleep in twenty minute intervals, and then woken up and beaten. As a result, Touhy lost twenty-five pounds, had seven of his teeth knocked out and three of his vertebrae in his upper spine fractured. But Purvis never got his confession.

     "The Hamm trial," said Roger Touhy, "had a sort of 'let's pretend we're all nuts' tone."

     The government's prosecutor was Joseph B. Keenan, a former special aide to US Attorney General Homer Cummings, who was the victor at the sensational Urchel trial in Oklahoma City, just months before that put "Old Harv" Baily, Katharine Shannon and her husband, George "machinegun" Kelly, behind bars.

     Unaware that FBI Agent Purvis had built a case from a house of cards, Keenan was so certain of a win that he requested that the trial be broadcast on national radio, making it the first ever to go over the airwaves, but the request was denied by the judge.

     It was a blessing in disguise for Keenan.

     William Hamm took the witness stand and mumbled that he couldn't identify the Touhys, or anyone else for that matter, as his kidnappers.

     The state's chief witness, a taxi driver named Leo Allison, had positively identified Eddie McFadden as the man who gave him the ransom note to deliver to the Hamm family.

     But under cross-examination by Touhy's lawyer, a priced mob mouthpiece named William Scott Stewart, a former Cook County Prosecutor who had defended every big name Chicago from Dion O'Bannion to Al Capone, Allison said he couldn't be sure it was McFadden he had.

     Witness, Clarence Thomas, who owned the drug store where Alvin Purvis had made the ransom call from, at first swore under oath that he was positive the caller was Roger Touhy, but after a drilling by Stewart, reneged and said, "Roger Touhy bears a close resemblance to the man" and refused to go further.

     A surprise witness for the state took the stand and said that he had watched Roger Touhy and the others following Hamm in a car as the brewer walked home.

     Touhy hired the Dannenberg Detective agency, run by the former policeman who had closed down Chicago's notorious red light district, the Levee, to check the witness.

     Two days later, the Dannenberg's detectives were able to prove that the witness had been at work in a printing plant in Chicago on the day he said he saw Touhy and the others in St. Paul. When questioned about why he lied, the witness said that he had been pressured into it by the FBI.

     Watching their case fall apart, the government started to play hardball.

     Two of Touhy's witnesses, Edward J. Meany and Vincent Thomas Connor took the stand on Touhy's behalf. Meany testified that Melvin Purvis had threatened him that, "If you go to St. Paul to testify for Touhy, you'll be sorry boy, and maybe you won't come back."

     Meany and Connor were both arrested by the FBI after they testified, under the charge of registering in a hotel under a false name, their rooms having been booked under Touhy's lawyer's name.

     FBI agents went to an Indianapolis hotel where Touhy had stayed for one night during the time Hamm was kidnapped, confiscated Touhy's registration card, and destroyed it.

     But none of it mattered, the case was lost from the start and everyone involved knew it.

     In his summary of the state's case, US Deputy Attorney General George F. Sullivan, mispronounced names, confused dates and lost his place and accused his opponent, William Scott Stewart, of "vituperation, sarcasm, and abuse heaped upon the prosecution."

     Stewart rose slightly from his chair, smiled, and took a small bow.

     The Hamm jury, which consisted of ten men and two women, decided 8 to 4 for an acquittal, stating that William Hamm's inability to identify the kidnappers was the main reason behind their decision.

     For the federal government, whose convictions had been coming rapidly since passage of the Lindbergh law, the acquittal was the first setback for the government's war on kidnapping.

     That night, Chief of Police Dahill went on national radio and said: "If this is the attitude that the citizens take toward justice and kidnappers, then I applaud the San Jose citizens for taking justice into their own hands."

     Dahill was referring to the case of a California college student named Brooke Hart, who was kidnapped, held for a $40,000 ransom and then killed.

     Police arrested the kidnappers, and a few days later, an angry mob, mostly made up of friends of the dead man, stormed the jail, overpowered the police, and hung the kidnappers by their necks to telephone poles until they were dead.

     Although an angry crowd did gather around the County jail in St. Paul, there was no violence.

     There was no rest for the wicked after the trial ended.

     A few moments after they found not guilty of kidnapping William Hamm, gunman Willie Sharky turned to Touhy and said: "Well they went through a lot of trouble to get $22.50 for that goddamned telephone pole."

     A few days later, Sharky hung himself to death in his cell using his necktie. Sharky had been collapsing for weeks. He slept through most of the trial, but awoke once, stood from his chair and said: "Well, I got to go," and tried to stroll out of the courtroom only to be pulled back by deputies. He also shouted to the judge once, "My hair is full of electricity, I guess that's a sign."

     As for the others, on November 29, 1933, Roger Touhy, Gus Schafer and Eddie McFadden, were arraigned in Municipal court in St. Paul for kidnapping John Factor, brother to the cosmetic king Max Factor, and an international con artist with deep ties to the Mafia.

     The charges against McFadden were dropped, but Touhy and Schafer were convicted on kidnapping charges and served a total of 26 years in prison before a federal judge overturned the conviction on the grounds that Factor and the Chicago mob had arranged the kidnapping.

     Touhy was released from prison in 1959 and announced that he intended to enter a 300 million dollar suit against John Factor and key members of the Chicago outfit.

     He never had time. He was shotgunned to death as he stepped into his sister's home on a frigid December night, after only 28 days of freedom.

     Gus Schafer was released from prison in 1960 and retired to San Francisco, where he died of old age, several years later.

     Ma Barker and her boys were either shot and killed by federal agents or died in prison.

     The gang's leader, Alvin Karpis, was eventually tried and convicted for kidnapping William Hamm. He served two decades in Alcatraz prison and lesser institutions where he befriended a young hood named Charlie Manson, whom Karpis taught to play the guitar. He was deported to his native Canada after his parole and died several years later, while playing golf in Spain.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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