This article was last modified on September 23, 2020.

Who Kidnapped Fred Blumer? (1931)

On the evening of Thursday, April 9, 1931, brewer Fred J. Blumer of Monroe, Wisconsin was called away from home with the offer of a business proposition. His family had made money with their brewery, and now during Prohibition Blumer, 52, was the president of the Blumer Products Company which kept afloat by manufacturing “Golden Glow” near-beer.

In fact, he was supposed to be at the Monroe Country Club meeting with other prominent locals, including First National Bank president F. B. Luchsinger, but a phone call on Wednesday afternoon from Rockford made him change his mind. The man on the other end said he was a representative of the Walgreens pharmacy chain, and would like to discuss placement of one of Blumer’s products in their Illinois stores. The plan was to meet at the Eugene Hotel.

The alleged meeting began at 8pm on Thursday and Blumer’s family was not at all worried for the first hour or two. Things took a drastic change at 10:15pm when Archie E. Wells, secretary-treasurer of Blumer Products, received a call from someone claiming to be in Freeport, Illinois. In fact, a trace of the call later revealed it came from the Faust Hotel in Rockford.

Wells said the man told him, “Blumer is safe. He will not be hurt if we get 150 G’s ($150,000). Tell his wife not to worry. Come yourself to Freeport. You will find Blumer’s car parked across the street from the Buick garage, with the key lying on the floor in the front seat.” Wells immediately reported this to Sheriff Myron West, and West made the trip to Freeport with J. C. Blumer (Fred’s brother); they found the car parked as described. A check with the Eugene Hotel revealed that Blumer likely never made it there.

Daughter Marion Blumer spoke to the kidnappers through the press. “It would be impossible for us to raise $150,000,” she said. Wells echoed that, asserting that the entire business was worth only $125,000 and the kidnappers would be just as likely to get their money by picking thousand dollar bills from bushes. What the thieves did not understand was that while Blumer was the company president, he only held a minority percentage of the business. His home was mortgaged. He lived comfortably, but hardly extravagantly.

The evening of April 10 had the community thinking the kidnappers had struck again. Albert H. Eisenhauer, a Blumer employee, did not return to his house that night. However, the next morning he was home, explaining he had business in Rockford and did not mean to alarm anyone.

Lieutenant Phillip Carroll, a Chicago police detective, was brought in to assist. He told the press that he was getting resistance from Mrs. Blumer, who seemed to prefer the prospect of raising money rather than get the police involved. Carroll also publicly speculated that the kidnappers may not be professional criminals, but actually rival brewers (he was wrong). A rumor was also circulating that the Blumer telephones were tapped to trace any calls – a rumor that later proved to be true.

April 11 brought a follow-up note, scrawled on the back of a Midcity Trust and Savings (Chicago) deposit slip. It read, “Dear sir, We ask 100 grand now. Wrap it up in a paper and wait at southeast corner of Madison and Canal Tuesday morning between 9 and 10. And if you tell anybody about this – well it will be just too bad. We are above the average in brains so be careful. (Signed) Unemployed Guys.” The part about not telling anybody was ignored and the note was plastered on the front page of the newspaper that same day.

Detective Carroll suggested that Sheriff West reach out to the Chicago mayor for more help. The Windy City had just elected a new man, Anton Cermak, who just so happened to be West’s fishing buddy. West took him up on the idea, and Cermak sent “abduction expert” William Cusack to Monroe. The Blumer family told the press that $100,000 was just as impossible as $150,000, but they were attempting to get $15,000 through the bank.

By Saturday, April 12, Mrs. Blumer had only managed to raise $4,000. The press alleged that Blumer was still assumed unharmed and negotiations were ongoing. Other reports came in that Mrs. Blumer was now seeing a doctor, as her fears were “bordering on hysteria” after the 50-hour mark of Fred being gone.

Another day passed with no word from the kidnappers. A new theory emerged that the kidnappers were “remnants” of a gang lead by Fred “Killer” Burke, who was jailed at the time. The ransom money was going to be used for Burke’s defense fund. Singled out as a suspect was hoodlum Martin O’Leary, 37. Another rumor – dismissed by police – was that Blumer was held at “Hermansen’s place” in Elkhorn on Lake Geneva. Archie Wells continued communication with the kidnappers behind the scenes, receiving phone calls from Kenosha, Wisconsin and Antioch, Illinois.

At one point there may have been a “gun battle” between the kidnappers and police. While you would think such an incident would be obvious, some news outlets said the story was “without foundation,” while others swore by it. In later stories, the battle is said to have happened near Decatur, with the kidnappers firing revolvers while the cops had machine guns. This was claimed by no less an authority than Cusack himself, who said, “We shot to hit the other machine (car), but aimed high so as not to kill Fred Blumer. I believe we ripped the top off of one of the cars.” Cusack said their were two cars involved in the shootout (which seems reasonable for 6 kidnappers and one victim) and they had Iowa license plates.

On the evening of Thursday, April 16, exactly one week after the abduction, Blumer was released by his captors in Decatur and was told he would find a hotel (the Orlando) around the corner. He spent the night there resting and was brought back to Monroe at noon the next day by the bank president. Blumer told the press that no ransom was exchanged, and the men did not even take his ring, watch or the $20 in his wallet. They had only hit him once. Blumer claimed that because of a blindfold, he did not know where he had been held and could only describe the men in the most vague terms. Despite being blindfolded, they would let him read the daily newspaper after cutting out certain sections. He read about his own kidnapping. What was excised I don’t know; perhaps they removed sections that would indicate what city they were in.

There were conflicting reports in the newspapers about the ransom. All agreed that no money was exchanged, but there was talk that anywhere between $6,000 and $50,000 had been made available by the bank president on Blumer’s behalf. There was even speculation that the money might be handed over “later” when the heat was off. In addition to O’Leary, another suspect was now identified as Roy Marschalk. The papers said Marshalk was wanted for “labor disturbances,” and was sometimes referred to as an “enforcer” for Chicago gangster Roger Touhy. O’Leary had previously been a kidnap suspect, as well as for running a confidence game. His prior (alleged) kidnap victim was wealthy Chicago resident Philip Blumenthal; during the rescue of Blumenthal, a police officer was shot and killed.

Blumer returned to work on April 18. He invited the press to join him for breakfast, and his version of events sounded more like a vacation than a kidnapping – his family may have suffered more worrying than he did. As he told the press, “Two of the kidnappers stayed with me all the time, and four part of the time. The two acted as my valets and now I’m lost without them. They called me Fred, ran errands for me, and treated me like a valet would a master. I could identify the two. One of them looked so much like Jack Burkhart, Monroe postmaster, that the night I was kidnapped I called him Jack when I first saw him sitting in the car. Once, when the police were getting hot on our trail, they told me that if we got into a tight place for me to tumble out of the car and take care of myself. I told them that I thought they were better shots than the police and I would take my chances.” Blumer said if police caught the kidnappers, he would not aid in their prosecution.

Despite Blumer’s refusal to assist, police continued their search. Cusack publicly named a third suspect: Chicago gangster Tommy Abbott, who Cusack believed was involved in an advisory role. Abbott had been involved in some shootouts in Rockford and Chicago, and was sometimes identified as a member of the “Bugs” Moran gang.

In August, police had arrested Martin O’Leary, who they suspected was one of Blumer’s kidnappers. Blumer, however, was not interested. He told the press, “I’m out of the picture. I want to forget the kidnapping. I was blindfolded while held captive. How could I identify them?”

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

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