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Fatal Car Bombing


This date in 1939 was not a typical day in Fargo-Moorhead. The Crown Prince and Princess of Norway were winding up a 3-day visit to the area, when early that morning they heard an explosion from the east side of the river.

It was 6 a.m., and 28 year-old J. Milton Lee was on his way to work at his father’s Moorhead business, the Northwest Bakery. A graduate of Fargo’s Agricultural College, Lee had just returned from bakery school in Chicago. He would not make it to work that day, nor any other.

Papers reported, “So terrific was the blast that. . .the hood was blown through the roof of the garage, the radiator and fenders were torn loose, [and] part of the motor was blown into the body of the car.” Investigators later determined sticks of dynamite were rigged to the car’s ignition.

Milton’s father, John Lee, told authorities that members of the local bakers union had been trying to get him to join. Recently, he had told an anonymous caller he’d been treated unfairly and wasn’t interested in joining. The caller replied, “Then I’m serving notice on you right now that we’ll get you.”

Roland Tougas, the president of the local bakers union, was arrested without charge. He admitted he had notified John Lee that his bakery was going to be added to the list of unfair bakeries, but he denied any knowledge of the car bombing plot.

Meanwhile, investigators found, in the wreckage, a tattered piece of filing card on which was written, “Just a warning Lee. Keep to your own sales or else.” Milton’s young fiancé confirmed that Milton had been worried, but he hadn’t confided his reasons.

Two days after the fatal blast, Clay County attorney James Garrity announced, “From our investigation thus far, I am firmly convinced that no labor union as an organization is involved.”

Garrity suspected the bombing was instead the work of an individual member, or former member, of the union, and he released Tougas.

Early in 1941, authorities charged Louis Anderson, a Fargo truck driver, with 1st degree murder. The arrest was based on an accusation by his friend and roommate, James Wood. Several weeks later, Wood changed his story, saying Anderson was innocent. Soon after, Wood switched his story again, saying he was with Anderson when he rigged the car bomb in 1939.

On April 17, 1941, a grand jury determined there wasn’t enough evidence to put either man on trial for Milton Lee’s murder. The case appears to remain unsolved.

By Merry Helm

Sources: The Bismarck Tribune. 1939: June 10, 12, 15. 1941: March 11, 12, 24 & April 15, 16, 17. La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press. 1941: March 6.