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Dakota Datebook

Gordon Bjornson, Kidnapper and Extortionist

On this date in 1931, twenty-three year old Gordon Bjornson pleaded guilty to kidnapping and extorting O.A. Leach. On May 20, 1930, Bjornson approached Leach and his wife at their house with a gun. Leach was the manager of Citizens National Bank in Wahpeton. Bjornson made Leach and his wife get into their car and drive outside of town. Bjornson demanded that Leach give him $45,000, or he would kidnap his wife. Leach offered Bjornson $25,000. The next day, Leach drove to Minneapolis and withdrew $25,000 in twenty dollar bills. Leach then drove to the outskirts of Fargo and dropped off the money at an agreed-upon spot.

Bjornson deposited the money into a bank in the Twin Cities. He used it to pay off the mortgage of his parents’ farm and bought them a home in town. He also bought a car for his parents, and a car and airplane for himself. Bjornson told family and friends that he got the money from a gold mine.

Leach did not tell anyone what happened until a bank audit disclosed the $25,000 withdrawal from his personal account. That prompted an investigation into Bjornson, which began on March 13th.  Bjornson promptly disappeared. A death threat was tied to a piece of coal and tossed through a window of Leach’s home.

On March 25th, Bjornson turned himself in to police in Minneapolis and confessed. He had spent the previous weeks in Texas and Mexico. He had told a friend that he had girl trouble and needed to get out of town for a while. His friend accompanied Bjornson on the trip, not knowing that Bjornson was on the run from the law. Bjornson lost $9,000 gambling in Juarez.

The day after pleading guilty, Bjornson was sentenced to five years in jail for extortion, the maximum sentence. Bjornson was not charged with kidnapping, part of a deal to plead guilty and pay Leach $10,000. Leach was given the airplane and car that Bjornson purchased. Leach refused to take the car, home, and a fur coat that Bjornson had purchased for his parents.

Bjornson was paroled in 1933 and pardoned in 1935.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa

Sources:

“$25,000 Extorted from Wahpeton Banker,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. March 16, 1931. Page 1, 7.

“Secrecy Develops as Officials Seek for Wahpeton Man,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. March 17, 1931. Page 1, 9.

“Wahpeton Man Continues to Lead Police on Chase,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. March 23, 1931. Page 1.

“Bjornson Confesses Extortion,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. March 25, 1931. Page 1, 7.

“Bjornson Pleads Guilty to Extortion Charge,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. March 31, 1931. Page 1, 7.

“Bjornson Gets Five-Year Term.” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. April 1, 1931. Page 1.

“Desire for Plane Caused Bjornson to Extort $25,000,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. April 2, 1931. Page 9.

“Bismarck,” The Hope Pioneer. Hope, ND. July 6 1933. Page 2.

“18 N.D. Prisoners Shown Clemency,” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. September 11, 1935. Page 1.

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