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Police transcript reveals 6-day kidnapping ordeal of heir of Minnesota millionaire

Haskell Bohn, kidnapped for ransom in St. Paul in 1932 because he was heir to a refrigeration fortune, struck up an unlikely 'friendship' with his Sankey Gang captors, talking baseball and bull riding, according to police records exclusively obtained from a descendent by Forum News Service.

Displayed is a collage of photos, including an image of the house Haskell Bohn was held hostage for six days in 1932.
Haskell Bohn was held hostage for six days in a Minnesota basement in1932. The son of a Minnesota millionaire, the gangsters who kidnapped him demanded his father pay $35,000 for his safe return.
Photo illustration - Trisha Taurinskas, Forum News Service / Photos courtesy of David Bohn
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This is part 2 in a series on the kidnapping of Haskell Bohn. To read part 1, click here .

Haskell Bohn assumed the two men who pulled up in a small four-door sedan on the St. Paul summer morning were there to visit with his chauffeur.

And so, he went about his business, preparing for another mundane day at his family’s refrigeration factory. Yet, before he knew it, those two men were pointing a gun at him and demanding he turn around. They tied a thick roll of tape around his head, concealing his eyesight. Then, they led him to their vehicle, forcing him to lie face down on the floor of the backseat.

Bohn racing award.jpeg
Haskell Bohn, left, and his father, Gebhard Bohn, were known throughout the boat racing scene in the Twin Cities. Haskell Bohn and his family made headlines in 1932 when he was kidnapped by the Sankey Gang, whose members demanded a $35,000 ransom.

A 40-page police transcript, exclusively obtained by Forum News Service, paints the picture of the events that unfolded the morning of July 30, 1932, through the perspective of Bohn, the heir of a Minnesota refrigeration magnate, who was kidnapped for ransom by the infamous Sankey Gang.

He was held captive for six days in a Minnesota basement. During most of that time, he was blindfolded — first by the tape, and later by a makeshift flannel bandana.

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While his captors initially demanded Bohn’s father, Gebhard Bohn, pay a ransom of $35,000 (about $756,000 in 2022 dollars), Haskell Bohn knew that, despite his millionaire status, the family’s fortunes were on the decline. The asking price, he feared, was too much.

He was right.

In the end, Bohn was released by the kidnappers, but in return for $12,000, or about $259,000 in 2022 dollars.

The story didn’t end there, though. While the kidnappers instructed Bohn's father to keep law enforcement out of the exchange, he didn’t listen. The hand off was just the start of a quest by law enforcement to identify the captors, and, ultimately, bring them to justice.

The first hours

As Bohn lay flat on the floor in the back of the sedan, with tape covering his eyes, he tried to rationalize what was happening.

“I thought they might want to take what money I had and dump me of some place,” he told law enforcement officers, according to the police transcript.

While blindfolded, Bohn could tell that his captors were driving erratically, swerving in and out of traffic. Five minutes into the ride, he worked up the courage to ask some questions. He asked his captors what they planned to do with him.

Their response?

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They told him not to worry, claiming he would be home by that evening.

That’s when the fear really kicked in. With no idea where he was being led, Bohn said he knew then and there that he had been kidnapped — and that staying calm would be imperative to his survival.

Not long after being taken from his house, the vehicle stopped at what Bohn assumed was the destination. One of the men exited the vehicle, and returned with a piece of flannel, which would be used as a makeshift blindfold, a replacement for the tape.

With the ability to look down just a bit, he clocked the time at 9:30 a.m. That ended up being an important detail for law enforcement, as it gave them an idea of the distance traveled before reaching the hideaway house.

Haskell Bohn hostage home, located in Minnesota.
Haskell Bohn, heir to the Bohn Refrigeration fortune, was kidnapped and held hostage by the Sankey Gang for six days in this Minnesota home.
Photo courtesy of David Bohn.

While waiting to enter the house, Bohn had an honest conversation with one of the two captors. He learned that the ransom note had demanded $35,000 – a price he told the man was far too high for his father.

“The gist of it was that they were asking $35,000, and I mentioned then that my father just couldn’t afford to pay that much,” he said in the police transcript. “It absolutely couldn’t be done, and he asked me why, and I said, the way the business was and the way conditions were and he just couldn’t do it.”

It seemed, at the time, that the captor he spoke with had some sympathy for Bohn, claiming he tried to talk the gang down on the price. But, he told him it was too late now. The ransom had been set — and that was that.

An unlikely ‘friendship’

As they entered the garage to park the vehicle, the kidnappers set the tone for Bohn’s time in captivity.

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“He talked along the lines of the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping, he said I should be good or they would have to shoot me,” he told law enforcement.

And so, he was just that: good. He didn’t attempt to escape or fight the process. He did what he was told, for the most part.

Pictured is the ransom note written by the Sankey Gang when they kidnapped Haskell Bohn from St. Paul in 1932.
The original ransom note, written by the Sankey Gang when they kidnapped Haskell Bohn from St. Paul in 1932, was recently uncovered by Haskell Bohn's son, David.<br/>
Photo courtesy of David Bohn.

His stay began with his captors offering him to join them as they drank a celebratory whiskey — an offer he refused. When he declined, the men offered him a cold glass of milk and a sandwich. As he ate his meal, Bohn noticed the sounds of children playing and dogs barking. It seemed as though he had landed in the garage at someone’s home.

Before entering the house, the men asked him if he had any money on him. Bohn offered them what he had, $7 in total ($151 in 2022 dollars). When his captors accepted the money, one of the men sincerely promised to pay him back — an odd guarantee from a guy attempting to swindle his father out of $35,000.

It was then when Bohn realized one of the men was more sympathetic to his situation, an assumption that was confirmed when he offered him the chance to lie and rest in the back seat of the vehicle. With his captor in the front seat and Bohn in the back, the man apologized to him for demanding so much in ransom. Then, they began to talk — about baseball and bull riding, just as friends would do.

The unlikely connection the two shared paid off for Bohn. When the lead captor would leave, the second man’s sympathy got the best of him. He eventually allowed Bohn to take his blindfold off, as long as he didn’t look directly at the man, whose identity was being hidden for fear of getting caught.

Bohn’s newfound eyesight allowed him to get a glimpse of life outside of the garage. He gathered that it was a populated area, with four other garages visible from the one he found himself in.

At one point, the men discussed cutting Bohn loose, a decision they claimed they’d have to discuss with the rest of their gang. The “second man,” who had shown an odd form of kindness to Bohn, told him, “I hope they let you go.”

But, the gang thought otherwise. Once the decision was made to keep Bohn in custody, a couple members of the gang threw his arms around their shoulders as they led him, blindfolded, into the home’s basement.

Bohn was given a bed, one pillow and three blankets. It was a far cry from the luxury of life as a millionaire’s son, but it was enough for a good night’s rest.

Throughout his six-day stay, he continued to hear the sound of children playing upstairs and birds chirping outside the basement window. He was provided with hearty meals, including breakfasts of fried eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast.

Working out a deal

On the second day in the basement, while Bohn ate his breakfast, one member of the gang told him he had spoken by phone with his father, who agreed to pay just $5,000 for his release.

The man was frustrated that Bohn's father, Gebhard, had gotten law enforcement involved. Yet, as Bohn told him, the crime had taken place outside , making it unlikely law enforcement wouldn’t be alerted.

“Well, he kept talking about the policemen, and he couldn’t see how my father called them in after the note he had written,” he said in the transcript. “And I told him that the police will be hounding my father to death, and not to take it out on him.”

Bohn listened during the following days as members of the gang grappled with the reality that Bohn truly couldn't afford the ransom they demanded. They wrestled with what that meant for the gang —
and for Bohn.

They also feared that law enforcement might be closing in on their location.

All the while, Bohn found unlikely friendship with the man who offered sympathy. They discussed their families, concerns they had for their mothers. He ate his meals and slept soundly with his ragged pillowcase, waiting for his fate to unfold.

In part 3 of this series, learn how Haskell Bohn's stay with the gang ends —and how law enforcement attempts to track down the men who were quickly becoming infamous for kidnapping crimes.

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Trisha Taurinskas is an enterprise crime reporter for Forum Communications Co., specializing in stories related to missing persons, unsolved crime and general intrigue. Her work is primarily featured on The Vault.

Trisha is also the host of The Vault podcast.

Trisha began her journalism career at Wisconsin Public Radio. She transitioned to print journalism in 2008, and has since covered local and national issues related to crime, politics, education and the environment.

Trisha can be reached at ttaurinskas@forumcomm.com.
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