This article was last modified on February 24, 2017.

Dirty Slots: The Life and Murder of Herman Paster

Samuel Harry Taran, formerly Schmiel Taran, was born June 15, 1898, in Ivnica, Russia, and emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to the United States entering at Galveston, Texas, June 21, 1912.

Taran in April, 1920, was charged with grand larceny, theft of an automobile, tried and found not guilty in the District Court of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Taran was fined $100 in Minneapolis August 8, 1921, on a liquor law violation. Taran was fined $10 in Minneapolis January 12, 1922, for assault and battery. Taran was charged with grand larceny, theft of an automobile in Hennepin County, Minnesota, August 9, 1922, tried and acquitted. Taran was convicted of grand larceny, Minneapolis, in March, 1924, and sentenced to serve a term of thirty days in the Minneapolis Work House. In December, 1925, Taran was involved in a “high-jacking fight” in an apartment in St. Paul in which he was shot and wounded. In this connection he was charged with assault in the second degree, tried and acquitted.

Florence Taran was divorced from her husband, Samuel Harry Taran, in the District Court of Ramsey County, Minnesota, on April 20, 1933, and he was married a second time to Diane Lomberg of Chicago June 5, 1933.

Herman Paster was picked up in Milwaukee on November 13, 1933. He was wanted in Chicago for his role in a confidence game, and was transferred to them. At the time of arrest, two fingers on his right hand were bandaged. A month later, the charges were dropped.

Taran was tried on a charge of assault and battery, St. Paul, and acquitted February 3, 1934. He was indicted in 1934 at Chicago, on charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen bonds. About the same time he was wanted in Nebraska and Kansas in connection with bank robberies, but he successfully resisted extradition.

Paster was picked up on July 12, 1935 in Minneapolis for grand larceny. The case was dismissed on August 23.

Paster decided to go into business for himself and early in 1937 rented a small place in St. Paul, bought some machines in Chicago and had them shipped c.o.d. He borrowed the money to pay for the machines from Samuel Taran, his wife’s uncle. Within approximately one month his funds were depleted and he was unable to continue the business. He reported the matter to Taran who took over the business and employed petitioner to run it for him. Petitioner was to receive as compensation for such services $35 per week and 15 per cent of profits.

In April 1943 Taran rented a storeroom on the second floor of the Kedney Warehouse, 389 East 8th St., St. Paul, stating to the warehouse manager that he was “interested in a finance company” and that he desired storage space for liquor financed by this company. In June or July of 1943 he also rented room 420 and another fourth floor room at the same warehouse, at which time he stated that part of this space was desired for liquor being financed for the Snelling Liquor Store of St. Paul. Taran furnished his own locks for these storerooms and paid the rent on a flat monthly basis, thereby absolving the warehouse management of any responsibility for their contents as well as the duty of keeping records of storage withdrawals or additions. The liquor that was stored in these rooms was generally handled by an employee of the Mayflower Company, James Tiffin, who was sometimes assisted by a fellow employee, Lee, and occasionally by Herman Paster. Early in October of 1943 the St. Paul branch of the Federal Alcohol Tax Unit received reliable information that a wholesale liquor business was being conducted at the premises of the Mayflower Novelty Company and pursuant to such information two investigators were detailed to keep said premises under surveillance. While so engaged in the late afternoon of October 5th, they observed a large truck back into the loading station of the building, remain there a little over an hour, and then pull out preceded by Herman Paster in his car. The investigators followed the truck to the intersection of U. S. Highways Nos. 10 and 8, northwest of St. Paul, where they observed Paster turn around and head back toward St. Paul, the truck proceeding west on Highway 10. They continued to trail the truck to Fargo, North Dakota, where they stopped it and discovered that it contained a load of 380 cases of liquor. The driver and owner of the truck, Rex McCann, a contract trucker of Missoula, Montana, showed them a bill of lading therefor which listed “Idaho State Liquor Commission” as consignee and destination as “State Liq. Store No. 24, Wallace, Idaho”, which he alleged had been given him by Herman Paster. The investigators confiscated, inventoried, and stored this load of liquor at Fargo and then returned to St. Paul accompanied by McCann The latter, upon their arrival there, pointed out the Kedney Warehouse as the place where he, with the aid of Paster and Jim Tiffin, had loaded half of the confiscated liquor. He then told them that the remainder of the liquor had been transferred to his truck in the loading station of the Mayflower Company building, another truck having immediately prior thereto unloaded such liquor therein. McCann also gave the information that he was hauling the liquor for R. E. McDonel, a tavern operator of Wallace, Idaho, as he had done with a previous load from the Kedney Warehouse in late September of 1943, and that he had no idea why the bill of lading was made out as it was, but that he knew that he was not to deliver the load to Liquor Store No. 24 in Wallace. As a result of this information, two Alcohol Tax agents went to the Mayflower premises on October 6th and asked Sam Taran for permission to inspect the premises, which was given. In two different rooms in the building, a total of 142 cases of distilled spirits and wines were found. These cases were inventoried and each room placed under a “detainer” notice. These notices were signed by Taran and were regularly renewed until the liquor was removed from the premises. Taran claimed he had bought the liquor from various dealers for the purpose of entertaining and furnishing gifts for his customers. On October 8th several Alcohol Tax Unit agents went to the Kedney Warehouse without a search warrant and inquired about any liquor that might be stored there by the Mayflower Company and were informed that the records were kept at the main office on University Avenue. While these records were being checked two agents remained at the warehouse and, upon inquiry as to the identity of two men who came into the premises, were informed that they were employees of the Mayflower Company — Tiffin and Lee. The latter obtained several hand trucks and followed by the agents went to the second floor storeroom, where they remained standing before the locked door for a considerable period of time. One of the government agents then went up to them, identified himself and asked Tiffin to open the door, which he did. The agents observed that the room contained a considerable number of cases of liquor and then ordered the door to be locked again. The agents took these two employees into custody and also Paster when he arrived about an hour later. The three were then taken to the Alcohol Tax Unit where a statement was obtained from Paster. Later on that same afternoon the hinges were removed from the door on room 420 of the Kedney Warehouse, where more liquor was found. The contents of both rooms were inventoried and detainer notices signed by Paster were posted on the doors and such notices were regularly renewed until October 14th, when the 531 cases contained in the Kedney Warehouse room and the 142 cases at the Mayflower Company premises were removed to government storage.

In 1946 Allen Nilva suspended his private practice and became a full-time employee as attorney of the Mayflower Distributing Company and other Paster enterprises. His work was mainly in connection with real estate transactions.

In October 1950, Elmo Christianson told James Brastrup he absolutely had to have money. Brastrup told him that he, Brastrup, understood there was some “out-of-state” money available. Christianson said he did not care where it came from as he had to have it. Brastrup told Christianson about a slot machine distributor and operator who might furnish funds. Brastrup had heard of Paster but did not know him or know how to communicate with him. Brastrup made inquiry about Paster, obtained a letter of introduction to Paster and made an appointment by telephone to meet Paster in St. Paul. Brastrup met Paster in St. Paul, October 20, 1950, told Paster that he, Brastrup, was representing Christianson, who was sure to be elected Attorney General of North Dakota, and that Brastrup wanted money for Christianson’s campaign. Paster told him that he, Paster, would not put up the money at that time, but that if Brastrup would put up the money and Christianson was elected, Paster would see that the money was paid back, that all Christianson would have to do as Attorney General would be to make some rulings and give some opinions “that would overlook the operation of machines in North Dakota.” Later Brastrup called Paster by telephone from North Dakota and verified this understanding with Paster. In that conversation Brastrup expressed optimism about Christianson’s campaign. Paster indicated satisfaction and told Brastrup to come to see him after the election.

Early in November, 1950, prior to the election on November 7, 1950, Brastrup met Christianson and Cy Bechtel in Minot, North Dakota. Christianson told Bechtel that he, Bechtel, would be transferred from the Laboratories Department to a liquor inspector’s position and that Bechtel’s job would be to collect money from private clubs for the operation of slot machines and punch boards.

Elmo Christianson was elected at the election held November 7, 1950. After the election Allan Nilva called Brastrup, congratulated him on Christianson’s election, and in the same telephone conversation Paster told Brastrup he would like to meet Christianson. Brastrup so informed Christianson. Christianson and Brastrup went to St. Paul the following day by plane. Brastrup purchased the tickets, giving Christianson’s name as “Nelson” at Christianson’s direction. They went to Paster’s office in St. Paul. Paster was busy and kept them waiting. Christianson expressed uneasiness about being there so long and asked Brastrup if they couldn’t just get the money and get out “right away”. However, they soon saw Paster, who told Christianson that he had a bright political future if he would “do things right, take good advice and stay out of trouble.” While they were talking, Paster had a long distance telephone call, during which Paster said to the other party that “he’s right here now,” and looking to Christianson and Brastrup asked if they could go to Chicago. The latter agreed. Paster obtained the plane tickets, purchasing Christianson’s in the name of “Larson”. Arriving in Chicago, Brastrup, Christianson and Paster went to hotel rooms maintained by the Bally Manufacturing Company and there met a Mr. Maloney, the owner of that company, which manufactured coin machines. They spent the evening there. During the evening Paster and Maloney called Christianson into a small room where they remained for some time. When they came out, Brastrup asked Christianson if they had fixed him up. Christianson replied, “Yes. You don’t need to worry; everything is going fine. They’re going to carry out their end of the agreement.” Both stayed there that night. Both were given presents, a supply of which was kept in the rooms for customers. Paster offended Brastrup by asking Christianson in Brastrup’s presence if Christianson knew Brastrup well and cautioning Christianson to be sure Brastrup did not get drunk and tell everything he knew. The next day they returned to St. Paul. Arriving at Paster’s office, Paster handed Christianson an envelope, saying “Here is the other thousand dollars and that makes it.” Christianson replied, “That’s right”, and put the envelope in his pocket. Paster then told Christianson that if Christianson lived up to his part of the bargain he would live up to his and that although Christianson would be offered a lot of money while he was in office, it did not matter what he was offered, he, Paster, would always do better and would keep him out of trouble. On the plane going back to Grand Forks, North Dakota, from St. Paul, Brastrup asked Christianson if he needed all of the $2,000 and Christianson said he did, that he was buying a house.

In the latter part of November, 1950, Brastrup was called by Paster to a meeting of “machine operators” at St. Paul. Paster was undertaking to sell machines and get them into North Dakota before the Johnson Act became effective. A number of such operators from North Dakota were there. Paster told them that Brastrup was Christianson’s representative in North Dakota and the man to whom they were to pay the money for operating the machines. Paster said that a “great windfall” had happened to the North Dakota operators and there was “going to be a lot of cake out there” — that the arrangement had been made in that room only a few days before. At that meeting some concern was privately expressed by one of the North Dakota operators to Brastrup over the “Syndicate”, referring to Paster, moving into North Dakota. The question was raised as to whether it would not be better to permit a Lou Stearns to handle such things instead of having an outside syndicate move in. Brastrup called Stearns by telephone. Stearns insisted that he was going to represent Christianson in western North Dakota and that no syndicate was going to move in. Paster said at the meeting that rumors had been circulated that Stearns, not Brastrup, was to be Christianson’s agent, but that he, Paster, “had it from the man’s own mouth” that Brastrup was to be the man and that Brastrup was the man the North Dakota operators were to pay. Later, in December, 1950, Brastrup told Christianson about the rumors that had been going around concerning Lou Stearns and that Paster had called him, saying that he, Paster, had been getting a number of calls from people saying that Christianson had changed his mind and was going to deal through someone else. Christianson said he would go with Brastrup to St. Paul and straighten Paster out “once and for all”. They went to St. Paul, saw Paster, and Christianson reaffirmed the arrangement theretofore made. On that occasion Paster bought Christianson a new suit to wear at his inauguration.

Late in December, 1950, Paster called Brastrup saying that a law was going into effect soon which would prohibit moving the machines from Minnesota to North Dakota and suggested that storage space be obtained for the machines in North Dakota or near the state line so they could be easily moved in. No such arrangement was actually made. Brastrup went to St. Paul, December 26, 1950, and complained to Paster that he was getting many calls from North Dakota operators inquiring how the machines were to be handled and through whom they were to be purchased, that he could not answer those questions and that the procedure agreed upon was not good. Paster took a gun from his desk drawer and informed Brastrup that if he talked too much, double-crossed him, or lost his nerve that he could “easily be taken care of”. At the same meeting it was agreed that Christianson, Paster and Brastrup would operate the machines at the clubs and share the proceeds.

Forty-three slot machines were sold to Emil Christianson on January 25, 1951. Transportation charges were paid by the Mayflower Distributing Company.

In the latter part of February, 1951, Brastrup, Cy Bechtel and Christianson met in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Bechtel told Christianson that a number of small clubs were objecting to the amount of money demanded of them and asked Christianson if it would be all right to collect only 10 per cent. Christianson agreed. Bechtel said that he had heard rumors that Christianson and Brastrup were “all through” and asked Christianson whom he should turn the money over to. Brastrup said it was agreeable with him for Bechtel to pay it direct to Christianson, but Christianson said for Bechtel to turn the money over to Brastrup and that the latter would deal with him.

In April, 1951, Bechtel told Christianson that Brastrup was collecting too much money and that they couldn’t get away with it.

A representative of the Paster Distributing Company (but not Herman Paster) stayed at Room 1525 of the Schroeder Hotel (509 West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee) on February 15, 1951 and made a few phone calls (now redacted). He checked out the next day. Herman Paster was registered at the Schroeder Hotel on February 21, 1951, stayed in Room 1104, made a phone call to his residence in St. Paul and checked out the next day.

A phone call from Room 931 the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa came in to HILLTOP 4-5425, at 10:58am on March 2, 1951. This phone number was registered to the Paster Distributing Company of 2606 West Fond du Lac Avenue. Also using this number were the Paster Novelty Company and AMI Phonograph Sales and Service Company.

Herman and his wife returned from Hawaii in April 1952.

North Dakota Attorney General Elmo T. Christianson, Herman Paster, and Allen Nilva were indicted October 7, 1952, for conspiracy to violate the Johnson Act, which prohibits the interstate transportation of gambling devices. Paster was a big player in the jukebox trade of Minnesota and would soon set his sights on Milwaukee.

At the common council meeting on Thursday, January 14, 1954, Alderman Fred P. Meyers said he received a “serious and sincere complaint” that St. Paul-based Herman Paster was seeking to join forces with a Milwaukee-based man to hold a monopoly over vending machines in Milwaukee. Meyers said, “I am trying to find out more about it” and he promised to discuss it more the following week. The newspaper speculated that the Milwaukee man was Joe Beck of the Mitchell Amusement Company, who owned 385 machines in the city. The Milwaukee Journal also called attention to Paster’s criminal record, having served a federal prison sentence during World War II for selling black market liquor and his later convictions for interstate transport of gambling machines.

The common council held a meeting on Friday, January 22, 1954 to discuss the jukebox trade in Milwaukee. Herman Paster of St. Paul was invited based on rumors that he was looking to become a major player in the area. Paster did not attend, but sent the vice president of Paster Distributing Company, Allen Nilva. Paster is not in the business of operating coin machines, he said. The firm is exclusively a wholesale distributor. Nilva stressed that there was no syndicate behind Paster and that they were not seeking a monopoly. Machines are only operated by Paster when they are repossessed, and even then only until they can find a new owner.

Paster entered Terre Haute prison on January 5, 1955 for conspiracy to transport gambling devices over state lines. On March 5, he was transferred to Leavenworth where he stayed until his release on October 22. In June 1956, he again in trouble for transporting gambling devices and was returned to Leavenworth June 6, 1956 for two years.

Paster, 57, flew from Milwaukee to St. Paul on Friday, October 28, 1960, arriving at the Wold Chamberlain airport around 6:30pm. His son Arnold picked up Herman and brother-in-law Allen Nilva, dropping Nilva off at his home (1830 Hillcrest Avenue) before continuing on to 1752 Pinehurst Avenue. Paster was shot in the head while reading a newspaper on the couch in his den. He had only been home a few minutes, just long enough to take his coat off. Three shots from a .38 pistol came in through his window, the third being fatal. Paster was actually facing the window at the time, but because a light was on in the house, the killer could see Paster clearly, but no one could see outside. He died on the way to Ancker Hospital. St. Paul Police Chief William Proetz called the murder one that “reaches high into the circles of national crime.” The yard was roped off to look for footprints or cartridges. Several neighbors reported hearing a car backfire, but didn’t recognize the sound of gunshots.

Shortly after the murder, police stood watch at Paster Enterprises (2227 University Avenue), Paster’s real estate business, in the case that someone tried to burglarize the building.

Pioneer Sales and Service (or Pioneer Vending) was incorporated on May 23, 1962 by Edward and Adel Ginsburg. They acquired the AMI franchise that had been held by Herman Paster until his murder. Rumors circulated that Pioneer had hidden owners in Cleveland or Chicago, but when questioned by the FBI, the Ginsburgs denied this. They did have a financial stake in Chicago’s Atlas Music Company, however, which was also owned by Samuel Gersh. Edward Ginsburg had previously been interviewed by the FBI in Chicago in September 1958. At that time, he admitted knowing Edward Vogel and had for many years , going back to when Ginsburg worked for Mills Manufacturing, a leading slot machine manufacturer. (Note: As of 2015, Pioneer still exists, with Jonathan Kleiman of Menomonee Falls as its registered agent. Jonathan took over from his father, Joel, though their connection to the Ginsburg family is unclear.)

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “Dirty Slots: The Life and Murder of Herman Paster”

  1. Drew Hunkins Says:

    This is absolutely fascinating Gavin, thanks for posting this. I know that to this very day there’s a Pioneer Bowling alley up in the Menomonee Falls area that I’m almost certain was probably connected to all of this somehow back in the day.

    Keep up the terrific work Gavin.

  2. gavin Says:

    Thanks, Drew. There’s a lot more that will be added to this sooner or later. I have plenty more on Taran, Paster, etc. And quite a bit on Sam Cooper I’m not allowed to post publicly at this time.

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