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Manhunt in Fargo


On this date in 1931, the Sabin State Bank in Sabin, MN, was robbed, leading to a weeklong manhunt in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Four men hit the bank around 2:30 in the afternoon. Three of them entered, with their faces exposed, and demanded the bank’s holdings from the solitary cashier, George Carlson. A fourth man waited out front in the getaway vehicle – a brown Chrysler. The robbers emptied the cash drawer and the vault of $2,500 but failed to collect $50 in silver currency on the counter. Before leaving, they pushed the cashier into the vault and shut the door.

A grocery store clerk responded to the bank’s alarm and released Carlson from the bank vault. While the two of them gathered others to go after the robbers, Cass and Clay County police set up roadblocks.

The bandits busted out the sedan’s back window and as they sped north along country roads, threw huge numbers of carpenter tacks onto the roads behind them. But, their plan backfired when they reached a dead end north of Glyndon. Leaving the vehicle, the group ran into the nearby woods, but not without being seen by a farmhand, who notified the authorities. When the police arrived, they found a .32 caliber pistol in the car, which had been stolen in Fargo a few days earlier. The license plates had been switched with plates stolen from another vehicle.

Police followed the quartet’s trail through the woods to a barn, where the men had stopped to rest. From there, the trail led through plowed fields to a Moorhead truck farm, then up the river to a tourist camp, where it came to an end.

Area residents were warned the bandits were possibly armed. A story in the Fargo Forum read: “Enlistment of the citizens of Fargo and Moorhead is solicited by the authorities in the hunt for the men, believed to be hiding out in some of the lower class hotels and ‘joints’ in Fargo and Moorhead.” The Minnesota Bankers Association offered a $1,000 reward for their capture.

During the course of the following week, police organized a dragnet to expose the criminals – in effect, they cleaned up the streets by rounding up all of the “suspicious characters in the two cities.” By following leads, the police uncovered two stolen automobiles, “an extensive system of ‘swapping’ auto license plates…resorted to by the Moorhead underworld, and…capture of one automobile load of alcohol.”

Police were almost certain members of the so-called ‘McGavin Gang’ were responsible for the bank heist, but George Carlson, the bank cashier, couldn’t identify any of the suspects in a line-up. The police continued to raid hangouts, and tips poured in from the local residents.

On January 7, police arrested three men: Sam Abas, Ed Redman, and Zack Lemon. Abas, a Fargo bootblack, pled not guilty, as did Ed Redman, who had been hiding in an attic for three days. Zack Lemon, at 21 the youngest of the trio, had driven the getaway car and was found on his parents’ farm in Ponsford, MN. Lemon pled guilty and turned state’s witness. Soon, a fourth suspect, Jack Schumacher, was arrested.

George Carlson positively identified all four men in a line-up, causing Abas and Redman to change their pleas to guilty. Along with Lemon, they credited Schumacher as the “mastermind” of the operation. After going to trial in Moorhead, all four men received lengthy prison sentences, but Schumacher, who maintained his plea of not guilty, was given the heaviest penalty – a life sentence.

Sources: Fargo Forum, Evening edition. Tuesday, Dec. 29, 1931:1.

Fargo Forum, Evening edition. Wednesday, Dec. 30, 1931: 1, 8.

Fargo Forum, Evening edition. Thursday, Dec. 31, 1931: 1, 8.

Fargo Forum. Friday, Jan. 1, 1932: 1, 8.

Fargo Forum, Evening edition. Thursday, Jan. 7, 1932: 1, 8.

Fargo Forum, Evening edition. Thursday, Feb. 11, 1932: 1.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm