“It wouldn’t be the first time a politician believed that telling lies was in the public interest,” I said.
“No, I suppose not. In any case, Jelly Nash robbed the bank at 9:00 A.M., immediately after it opened its doors to the public. Huron is three hundred thirty miles from St. Paul. Today, that’s a five-hour drive. Maybe less. In 1933, it would have taken twice as long. Yet by nine that evening Nash was in St. Paul. The St. Paul Daily News reported that Nash and his wife, Frances, were seen carousing—that’s a direct quote from the newspaper—they were seen carousing with an architect named Brent Messer and his wife at the Boulevards of Paris nightclub. The newspapers loved to print gossip about gangsters in those days; it was like they were celebrities.”
“So you believe Frank came straight here after the heist.”
“I do. And why not? For nearly thirty years, St. Paul had been a refuge for gangsters, a safe harbor for killers, bank robbers, stickup artists, kidnappers, bootleggers, extortionists—criminals of every variety and stature. They were allowed to come and go as they pleased; authorities even afforded them protection from other law enforcement entities as long as they refrained from committing crimes within the city limits.”
A simple yes would have sufficed, my inner voice said.
“They called it the O’Connor System, named after Chief of Police John—”
“I know all this,” I said. “It’s my town.”
Ivy flashed a look of disapproval. Still, the interruption slowed Berglund down for a moment.
“I’m just trying to give you context,” he said. He slowly drained the cold coffee that had pooled at the bottom of his mug before beginning again. “Jelly and Frances Nash were at the nightclub on the eighth. By perusing FBI records, we discovered that they spent the night of June ninth with Alvin Karpis and the sons of Ma Barker at their hideaway on Vernon Street in St. Paul. We know that they departed the following day, the tenth.”
“Abruptly is the applicable word,” said Ivy.
“Only he didn’t have the gold with him when he left,” Berglund said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Nash was a different breed of criminal than most that flourished during those days. Yes, he was a thief, but he also was a comparatively honorable man. I believe that it is unlikely that he would have put his wife at risk by transporting her and the stolen gold in the same vehicle. That, of course, is merely conjecture on my part. However, it is supported by the fact that Nash did not have the gold with him when he was apprehended by federal agents six days later in Hot Springs, Arkansas.”
“You think it’s still in St. Paul,” I said.
“Yes. The nine minutes Nash spent inside the Farmers and Merchants Bank triggered a massive manhunt. Treasury agents searched for the thieves and the thirty-two gold bars for many years. Yet no one was ever arrested for the crime, and the gold was never recovered. This is in the Treasury Department’s own files.”
“Wait a minute. When Frank was arrested, it wasn’t for the gold robbery?”
“If the Treasury Department knew Frank robbed the bank—”
“It didn’t know. That’s something we developed on our own.”
“He wasn’t identified at the scene?”
“No one was identified. Witnesses claim the thieves wore masks.”
“Then how do you know Frank committed the robbery?”
“His fingerprints were all over it.”
“He was identified by his fingerprints?”
“No. What I meant by fingerprints—that was a metaphor. What I meant, the way the crime was executed, the way the vault was blown using nitroglycerin, the short amount of time spent in the bank, the escape route—it all fit Nash’s MO, his modus operandi.”
“I know what MO means,” I said. “You’re telling me that there isn’t a shred of evidence placing Frank in that bank. You don’t actually know that he stole that gold. This is mere speculation.”
“The facts fit,” Berglund said.
“The facts could be made to fit anybody. Hell, it could have been Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“They were dead by then.”
“Nonetheless,” I said.
I took a long pull on my coffee while Berglund stared into his empty mug. Ivy took his hand and looked at him with a deep kindness that made me jealous.
“I believe,” Ivy said.
“So do I,” Berglund said.
“That makes two of you,” I said.
“I believe Nash stole the gold,” Berglund said. “I believe he hid it somewhere in St. Paul with the intention of fencing it or moving it once it cooled down, only his arrest and subsequent demise prevented him from doing so. It’s been patiently waiting all these years for whoever can find it.”