Brent Messer, for many years one of the city’s most prominent architects, was killed by a mysterious explosion believed to have been a bomb when he attempted to start his car at his home early this morning.

Both of his legs were shattered above the knee, and his right arm was nearly torn off. He was taken to St. Paul Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:47 A.M.


Mr. Messer had entered his garage at 337 Summit Avenue and attempted to start his car after eating breakfast. Neighbors and members of Mr. Messer’s household staff heard a loud explosion and rushed out to find him sitting in the driver’s seat unconscious, his legs shattered, and the car wrecked by the blast.

Hood of Car Blown Off

The engine was undamaged. The car stood sideways in the driveway, halfway out of the garage. Police believe that a bomb had been attached to the starter, and the ignition contact of the starter set it off. The explosion apparently had occurred directly under the floorboards of the automobile, beside the starter lever. The floorboards were blown to bits, all the windows shattered, and a large hole made in the top of the car. Detectives believe that the force of the blast had hurled Mr. Messer up with such force that his head broke through the top.

The cowling of the car was torn open, and the wooden rim of the steering wheel blown off the post but left unbroken. Holes in the steel sides of the automobile’s body showed where bits of metal had been hurled through with bullet-like velocity. The hood was thrown 20 feet.

Messer Was Mystery Witness

Just hours after he was declared dead, it was revealed that Mr. Messer was the “mystery witness” who had been scheduled to testify before the Ramsey County Grand Jury at 2:00 P.M. today. Mr. Messer, who designed and built the Public Safety Building to much acclaim in 1930, was expected to tell the grand jury about kickbacks, bribes, and other criminal acts between city and county officials and members of the underworld.

“This was a gangland killing, pure and simple,” said Ramsey County Attorney Michael F. Kinkead. “It was meant to put a lid on our investigation of public corruption. It won’t succeed.”

Kinkead revealed the grand jury for several weeks has been receiving information concerning illegal activities among public officials and that evidence sufficient for returning criminal indictments has been uncovered.

Mayor Demands Action

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Immediate investigation by a special grand jury into the murder of Mr. Messer will be demanded by Mayor Gehan.

The mayor said shortly after noon today that he will make his request before District Court Judge J. C. Michael, presiding member of the bench.

Mayor Gehan’s announcement followed a brief conference with Kinkead, who was reluctant to comment further on the bombing …

I hit the reverse button on the projector and held it until I found a story that appeared in the St. Paul Dispatch just five days earlier.



Inquiry to Probe Connection Between Officials and Gangsters

Kinkead Hears Secret Witness,

Mayor Promises Immediate Action

Developments today in the sensational investigation of ties between city and county officials and members of the underworld indicate the existence of a secret witness who is prepared to name names before the Ramsey County Grand Jury.

H. E. Warren, commissioner of public safety, refused to confirm that a witness with personal knowledge of the scandal has come forward. However, even as he conferred with reporters, Ramsey County Attorney Michael F. Kinkead was closeted with an unidentified man, John A. Pearson, assistant county attorney, and Wallace Jamie, the public safety commissioner’s chief investigator.

Kinkead refused to identify the mystery man, except to say that he is a witness in the investigation of alleged irregularities in city and county government uncovered by investigators during the past months.

“We are not going to disclose anything else until we have reached the bottom,” Kinkead said.

It is understood from information through a reliable source that the witness is volunteering to testify to what he knows in exchange for immunity from prosecution for his own past misdeeds …

It looked like Violet Peifer was wrong, I told myself. It looked like some members of the St. Paul aristocracy did pay for their crimes. Did one of Messer’s crimes involve Jelly’s gold? True, Messer and Nash were celebrating the evening Nash hit the Farmers and Merchants Bank. That didn’t mean they were accomplices. I’d bet a lot of people partied with gangsters without being involved in their criminal enterprises. Mike had talked about rich dandies who liked to hang out with the trouble boys.

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