Hamline University was the oldest university in the state, actually opening its doors a good three years before the University of Minnesota. Leonidas Lent Hamline, an Ohio attorney who eventually became a Methodist bishop, founded it in 1854 in Red Wing with a twenty-five-thousand-dollar grant. It moved to St. Paul in 1880. At one time the Hamline Village, as the campus was known, had its own railroad station. Now it was squeezed so tightly into a few city blocks that most of its student body was forced to live on the school grounds because there was no room for commuters to park.
I found an empty stall in a crowded visitors’ parking lot and walked a block and a half to a blond-stone building with the name HAMLINE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW printed in huge letters above the door. The library took up a chunk of the second floor and most of the third. Two things about it surprised me. The first was the silence. I had never been in rooms that were so large with so many people that were so quiet. The second was a sign that was placed at strategic locations throughout the sprawling chambers: PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VALUABLES UNATTENDED. The idea that students studying the law should fear being robbed by other aspiring lawyers made me smile in a smart-ass, isn’t-life-ironic sort of way. Like most people, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with attorneys my entire adult life.
I went to the desk, where a handsome black woman asked if she could be of help to me. I told her I wanted to see Ramsey County Attorney Michael F. Kinkead’s legal papers. She told me she had never heard of him. I told her that Kinkead’s family donated his papers to the library the year the law school was established.
“That’s what the Web site said,” I told her.
“Whose Web site?”
“Yours. Hamline University’s.”
She thought there must have been a mistake because, to her knowledge, the law library didn’t possess any private collections. Still, she directed me to the office of a reference librarian who also wanted to know what she could do for me. I stood in her doorway, and we pretty much repeated the entire conversation I had had with the black woman verbatim. Eventually, the librarian went to her telephone and contacted the Acquisitions Department. She told them what I had told her. Apparently, Acquisitions didn’t know what I was talking about, either. The librarian was transferred to another party, and we started all over again. This time the outcome was different.
“What box?” the librarian said into the phone.
A few minutes later, she led me to the third floor, where a Native American woman told me that there was a box with a sticker bearing Kinkead’s name in an unoccupied office.
“It was never put on the shelf because it was never processed, not after all these years,” she said. “It was never processed because no one could determine a connection between the man and the university. Nor could anyone determine the value of the collection, if there is one. It’s just been sitting there. The box.”
I asked if I could sort through it, and she said, “Be my guest.” So I did, stacking the countless files on the top of an empty desk as I went along. It took a couple of hours because I kept stopping my search to read material that I found interesting even though it had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Eventually, I discovered a copy of a memo Kinkead had written that was dated September 2, 1936. The memo was addressed to Wallace Ness Jamie.
Jamie was the nephew of famed “Untouchable” Eliot Ness and had been a dedicated criminologist in his own right. He and a team of investigators had been hired by the St. Paul Daily News to help expose the rampant police corruption that existed in the city. His efforts proved wildly successful. Working with the full authority of the public safety commissioner, Jamie had installed bugs and wiretaps throughout police headquarters. He recorded over twenty-five hundred conversations generating more than three thousand pages, single-spaced, of incriminating transcripts. Not only did they result in dozens of criminal indictments, they also clearly revealed to the readers of the Daily News just how corrupt they had allowed their city to become.
Now, the memo said, Kinkead was offering Jamie, a man outside the current legal establishment of Ramsey County, a new job. He wanted Jamie to discover the identity of the informant in the Ramsey County attorney’s office who had sold Brent Messer to the underworld.
I kept searching.
I couldn’t find Jamie’s reply to the job offer. However, I did locate a letter that was sent to Kinkead from Public Safety Commissioner H. E. Warren dated September 23, 1936, the day after Kathryn Dahlin and her family returned to St. Paul. I read it twice, then asked if I could make a photocopy. The Native American woman had no problem with that. I copied the letter, carefully folded it, and placed it in my inside jacket pocket. Afterward, I packed up Kinkead’s box and returned it to its corner in the empty office.
Signs in the law library had requested that all cell phones be turned off or at least put on vibrate. Mine was vibrating while I walked to my car.
“Mr. McKenzie,” Timothy Dahlin said.
“Mr. Dahlin,” I said in reply. “What can I do for you?”
“McKenzie, you are a man wise to the world.”
“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”
“I need your help.”
“That is a compliment.”
“I would like you to drop the charges against Allen Frans.”