“He was first arrested for burglary in 1911…”
I glanced at my watch several times, but if Berglund noticed, it didn’t slow him down any.
“Nash was a meticulous planner. He spent many hours in the banks before he robbed them, drawing up detailed floor plans, noting the location of the safes as well as the movement of employees. Each robbery was timed. He and his gang would go in, stay for a specific number of minutes, then leave no matter how much loot had been collected. His escape routes were charted block by block …”
Finally I said, “You’re telling me this—why?”
Irritation flashed across his face. Apparently he didn’t like being interrupted.
“Approximately 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, June 8, 1933, Frank ‘Jelly’ Nash stole thirty-two bars of gold bullion from the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Huron, South Dakota,” he said. “The gold has never been recovered. I believe it’s still here in St. Paul.”
“The gold was worth two hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars when Jelly stole it,” Ivy said. “At today’s prices, it would be worth—”
“Eight million, seven hundred sixty-six thousand, eight hundred eighty-eight dollars,” Berglund said.
I stared at him for a couple of beats while I digested the information. “I’m sorry,” I said. “What were you saying?”
“The gold had been en route to the Ninth District Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis for safekeeping,” Berglund said. He was smiling. He had a rapt audience now, and he knew it. “Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in 1932, gold was circulated freely in the United States as legal tender, and banks and other private entities often maintained stores of bullion. In early 1933, as part of the New Deal, Congress enacted a package of laws that criminalized private ownership of gold; FDR himself signed Executive Order 6102, which made the hoarding of gold an offense under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, literally an act of treason. All gold—coins, dust, bullion—was collected by the government and traded for other forms of money. The government had no single place to store it—the Federal Gold Repository at Fort Knox wasn’t built until 1936—so the gold was sent to the reserve banks and to the U.S. Mint in Denver and to any other place where it could be well protected.
“We believe Jelly Nash somehow learned about the shipment, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He had informants everywhere. He robbed the bank and got away with the gold as well as forty-six thousand dollars in cash. The theft was initially reported in the Huron Plainsman; there were several quotes from the bank manager and the county sheriff and a photograph of the safe Jelly had blown using nitroglycerin. Afterward, newspaper articles, as well as police reports, waxed extensively about the stolen forty-six thousand dollars, yet the gold was never again mentioned.”
“Perhaps the reporter made a mistake,” I said. “Goes to show, you shouldn’t believe everything you read.”
Berglund shook his head. “I made use of the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to Treasury Department files,” he said. “There is no question that the gold theft took place as originally chronicled. However, authorities at the time deemed that it was in the public interest to keep news of it from broadly circulating.”
“We can only speculate,” Berglund said. “There had been runs on several area banks during the months immediately preceding the theft. At the Security State Bank and Trust in Faribault, Minnesota, they had to literally stack money on the cashiers’ counters for depositors to see. To save the National Bank of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, the parent bank flew in sacks of money and allowed customers to watch them deposit it in the bank’s vault. Possibly there was a fear that news of the gold theft would spark additional, more violent runs, especially since many people were incensed that the government was seizing privately owned gold supplies in the first place. We were in the middle of the Great Depression, and people trusted gold more than the government.
“Also, Minnesota’s financial community was lobbying heavily for a bank holiday, something that Governor Floyd B. Olson refused to sanction. Eventually Olson would give in, but at the time of the robbery, he may have thought that public outcry over the theft would produce pressure too great for him to weather, and it’s possible that he pulled strings to cover it up.”