June 6: Mandan Patrolman Abduction
One of the largest manhunts in North Dakota history was in 1949 for three men who fled Minnesota after killing a policeman after a burglary and abducting a Mandan patrolman during their flight.
Mandan police officer Ralph Senn had pulled the fugitives over on Highway 10, and asked to see their drivers’ licenses. The men pulled out guns, abandoned their 1935 Oldsmobile convertible, and forced Senn into his squad car. Then they headed south on Route 6. The fugitives criss-crossed South Dakota backroads, making their way to Nebraska. They only traveled at night, with Senn driving at gunpoint.
Before being abducted, Senn had radioed for help, and when a strange voice came on to say everything was okay, that heightened the concern. When officers arrived, they found the original getaway car, but the officer and patrol car were gone. The abduction resulted in nearly 22 hours of searching by law enforcement officers and volunteers. The city of Mandan offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest of Senn’s abductors.
At 2 a.m. on this date in 1949, with police on their trail, the fugitives released Senn, unharmed, near Laurel, Nebraska. They abandoned the patrol car in nearby Randolph, Nebraska. Senn walked into Laurel and called the Mandan police chief.
The fugitives went on to steal several cars and abduct other hostages on their 1,200-mile, four-day flight through five states. They were eventually captured after one of them surrendered and the other two encountered a washed-out bridge and plunged into a creek. One of them walked to a nearby farmhouse and asked for help. The owner was the local sheriff's brother. The two fugitives were soon in custody.
Meanwhile, the Mandan police chief retrieved Senn’s patrol car and drove it back from Nebraska. Senn went to Minneapolis, where he spent a night at the home of a detective whose wife pressed his clothes for him. He attended the funeral of murdered Richfield, Minnesota, policeman Fred Babcock, Jr. When he flew home, landing in Bismarck, Senn’s family as well as reporters, photographers and well-wishers were there to greet him. Senn said he “felt fine” and was glad to be back. He called his abductors “pretty low and sleezy,” but also trusting of him.
The three criminals received lengthy prison sentences.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, June 6. Pages 1, 3: Killers release Mandan officer after wild ride
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, June 6. Page 1: Bismarck police relate detailed kidnaping story
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, June 6. Page 1: Killers change cars four times
- The Minneapolis Star. 1949, June 7. Pages 1, 10: Last 2 fugitives caught as car hurtles off bridge
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, June 8. Pages 1, 3: Mandan patrolman back home after harrowing journey
- Steele County Press. 1949, June 23. Page 3: Capture gunmen in Kansas after they crash auto
- Steele County Press. 1949, June 23. Page 3: Mandan policeman returns home
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1949, December 15. Page 19: Mandan kidnaper on way to prison
- Minneapolis Morning Tribune. 1949, December 16. Page 4: Hartman on way to U.S. prison
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, February 15. Page 10: Kidnaper of Mandan cop to face ‘49 murder charge
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, March 2. Page 9: Senn kidnaper seeks freedom
- The Minneapolis Star. 1956, March 22. Page 3A: Fourth man sentenced in slaying
- The Minneapolis Star. 1962, January 30. Page 1: 3 held in Aitkin County co-op burglary
- The Minneapolis Star. 1964, November 14. Page 15A: Parolee is held on 1949 murder charge
- Minneapolis Tribune. 1964, December 3. Page 26: Parolee gets 7 years for killing officer
- The Minneapolis Star. 1966, August 16. Page 5C: Man is sentenced for 1949 killing
- The Bismarck Tribune. 1981, June 29. Pages 7B, 8B: Wild manhunt set off by policeman kidnap
- The Billings Gazette. 2008, April 13. Page 6C: Ralph Alex Senn
- Dura, J. 2022, October 28. October 28: North Dakota connections to Alcatraz. Prairie Public, Dakota Datebook. Retrieved from: news.prairiepublic.org/podcast/dakota-datebook/2022-10-28/october-28-north-dakota-connections-to-alcatraz
- Officer Down Memorial Page for Fred Babcock Jr.: https://www.odmp.org/officer/1373-patrolman-fred-a-babcock-jr