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October 28: North Dakota Connections to Alcatraz

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The federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay held several infamous convicts throughout its 29 years of operation, even a handful of prisoners with connections to North Dakota.

Forrest Holiday, Earl Phipps and Joseph White were sentenced in 1936 for a bank robbery in Maddock, North Dakota. The robbers held the bank’s three workers at gunpoint, shut them into the vault, and made off with $4,800 dollars. The three men were sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 20 to 30 years; Holiday and Phipps went to Alcatraz.

Thirteen years after that offense, on this date in 1949, Carl Bistram was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for kidnapping a Mandan police officer. At the time of the kidnapping, he, his brother and another man were on the run from Minneapolis after killing a police officer during an attempted burglary. Bistram’s group freed the kidnapped officer after evading the authorities and reaching Nebraska. The Bismarck Tribune called the search for the criminals “the most intensive manhunt in the recent history of North Dakota.” Bistram’s group went on to kidnap other people in Nebraska, stealing their cars and hiding out at a farm. Bistram was eventually captured in Kansas. He, too, was imprisoned at Alcatraz, then later at Stillwater prison in Minnesota.

Richard Peter Wagner was a fugitive connected to burglaries in several states. He had served time in Alcatraz and was later released from San Quentin Penitentiary in California before he and another man stole about $1,500 in offerings from First Lutheran Church in Fargo in 1955. In 1960, Wagner made the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List after escaping federal prison. He was arrested two days after making the list.

The Alcatraz prison closed in 1963. The National Park Service operates the site today as a museum.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1936, December 5. Page 10: Extorter by lewd pictures will be sentenced Tuesday
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 1941, May 27. Page 9: Court rules on federal prisoner hearings
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, June 6. Pages 1, 3: Kidnaped cop freed
  • Quad-City Times. 1949, June 8. Page 2: Gunmen caught in Kansas to face charges
  • Star Tribune. 1949, July 20. Page 7: Bistram admits two burglaries
  • The Winona Daily News. 1949, October 26. Page 12: 3 St. Paul men to be sentenced in kidnaping
  • The Winona Republican-Herald. 1949, October 28. Page 7: 3 St. Paul liquor store burglars given prison terms
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, July 18. Page 8: Minneapolis men admit burglary of Fargo church
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, July 20. Page 15: Pair plead guilty to Fargo burglary
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, August 4. Page 6: 2 church robbers sentenced to pen
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, February 15. Page 10: Kidnaper of Mandan cop to face ‘49 murder charge
  • Star Tribune. 1956, February 15. Page 1: Suspect in ‘49 Richfield killing to face court
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, March 19. Page 16: Senn kidnaper loses his plea
  • The Minneapolis Star. 1956, December 4. Page 20: Kidnaper asks release from prison
  • Star Tribune. 1956, December 7. Page 24: Scott seeks custody in 1949 murder
  • Minneapolis Morning Tribune. 1957, August 24. Pages 1, 5: Convict asks death charge be dismissed
  • The Minneapolis Star. 1957, October 25. Page 13: Murder charge stands for Richfield kidnaper
  • The Los Angeles Times. 1959, March 2. Page 44: He was happy to go to Alcatraz – as a dentist
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1959, March 25. Page 11: 3rd Bistram bid for liberty fails
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1960, February 9. Page 15: Another Bistram plea turned down
  • Lead Daily Call. 1960, June 23. Page 5: Trombonist is put on most wanted list
  • The Commercial Appeal. 1960, June 26. Page 10: Burglar caught on fishing trip
  • The Daily Advertiser. 1960, June 28. Page 11: Richard Peter Wagner added to FBI ‘10 most wanted’ list
  • Star Tribune. 1966, August 10. Page 25: Suspect in death of officer gets day in court
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1966, August 18. Page 10: Man who kidnapped state patrolman admits murder rap
  • Dura, J. 2022, August 31. Dakota Datebook: August 31: Maddock bank robbery. Retrieved from:

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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