My research took me well past the death of Jelly Nash. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was killed following a shootout with federal agents on a farm in Clarkson, Ohio. His partner, Adam Richetti, was arrested and executed for his part in the massacre, even though he vehemently denied that he and Floyd had had anything to do with it. Dick Galatas, Louis Stacci, and two others were found guilty of conspiracy to cause the escape of a federal prisoner and were themselves sentenced to two years in Leavenworth. Frances returned to her home in Aurora, Minnesota, with her daughter, Danella, and tried as best she could to live down her life with Frank. However, for years afterward, every time one of Frank’s former associates was suspected of a crime, the Feds would knock on her door and ask questions. Following testimony in a conspiracy trial three years later, she would scream in open court, “I’m tired of talking about gangsters.”
After the massacre, Verne Miller drove to St. Paul, where he picked up his longtime girlfriend, Vivian Mathis, the daughter of a Bemidji, Minnesota, farmer. They quickly made their way to New York. Vivian would say later that Verne had planned to escape with her to Europe; he seemed to have plenty of cash, although she didn’t know where he got it. Only New York was closed to him. He was being hunted now with a vengeance, not only by the FBI but by the underworld as well. Public outrage over the massacre had made life difficult for every gangster in the country, and even his closest associates were gunning for him. It became a race to see who would get him first, organized crime or the Feds.
Before the Kansas City Massacre, most people treated gangsters like latter-day Robin Hoods, mostly because their targets were banks. This was the middle of the Great Depression, and bank failures had wiped out the savings of hundreds of thousands of depositors even while other, more prosperous banks were busily foreclosing on the homes, farms, and small businesses of thousands of others who had been forced out of work. Still, killing four peace officers and severely wounding two others in broad daylight in a public place—that was something else again. Many historians credit the massacre with finally turning public sentiment against the gangsters. Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover used it as evidence that the FBI required broader police powers to deal with the gangster threat, including the ability to chase criminals from one jurisdiction to another without impediment, and Congress gave it to him with a series of nine major crime bills.
Finally, Miller’s nude and mutilated body was found in a ditch along a highway near Detroit. He had been strangled with a garrote, his skull had been crushed, and he was tied into a cheap Saxton auto robe with a fifty-foot cord. He had been so severely beaten that the FBI could identify him only through his fingerprints.
That was the end of that. Except in all the documents I read, in all the research materials I studied, there hadn’t been a single mention of Jelly’s gold.
“You’re wasting your time,” I said aloud.
Just the same, early the next morning I drove to the St. Paul Police Department to waste some more.
There was an ancient plaque just inside the front door of the James S. Griffin Building. It used to be called simply the Public Safety Building, except the St. Paul Police Department took possession a couple of years ago, remodeled it into its new headquarters, and renamed it after a deputy chief. I read the plaque while I was waiting for my turn with the desk sergeant. It stated that the original building was built in 1930 by the John J. Dahlin Construction Company and listed the names of the mayor and aldermen who were in office back then, including Chief of Police Thomas A. Brown. Brown was a crook in uniform that had helped the Barker-Karpis gang kidnap William Hamm; he was paid twenty-five thousand of the one-hundred-thousand-dollar ransom for his efforts, three times more than what was earned by each of the rats who actually pulled the job. Yet that wasn’t what held my interest. It was the name of the chief architect—Brent Messer. Wasn’t that the name of the man Jelly Nash partied with after he stole all that gold? my inner voice asked. I made note of it with the intention of asking Berglund later.
The woman behind the thick glass partition in the records unit wore a loose-fitting polyester dress with a pattern that made her look like a pudgy leopard. Reading glasses were perched on top of her short orange hair like a tiara; I was amazed they didn’t fly off when she shook her head, which she did repeatedly.
“Our records only go back to the 1970s,” she insisted for the second time. “We have nothing from the twenties and thirties.”
“How is that possible?” I asked for the third time.
She spoke slowly, like someone explaining a difficult concept to a child. “The files were lost in the early 1980s with the renovation of the central police headquarters,” she said. “Everything went into the trash.”
I had a hard time getting my head around it. Every page of every file concerning John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, the Barkers, Harvey Bailey, Machine Gun Kelly, Leon Gleckman, Scarface Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Verne Miller, Baby Face Nelson, Frank Nash, and all the others had been destroyed. So had the names and files of the corrupt police and political figures who took bribes from them, as well as all the wiretaps, surveillance reports, and “mail covers” that were conducted on the civilians who socialized with them. I don’t know why I was surprised. In the SPPD-commissioned history The Long Blue Line, published in 1984, the only reference to the gangster era was an anecdote about how the local cops almost captured Dillinger.