MPLS History – The Murder of Walter Liggett

As the mob ruled the city of Minneapolis and bought off or killed any who caused them trouble, a few men sought to expose the corruption. At the time, independent journalists would often print and sell their own tabloid-style papers around town. These papers were usually sensationalistic rumor rags that relied on shock and conspiracy that the big papers wouldn’t print. They also often opposed those in power and were therefore underground.

In 1934, a journalist named Walter Liggett moved to Minneapolis. Originally from the New York area, he had bounced around to various papers there before moving to Minnesota and distributing his papers in Red Wing and Rochester. Upon his arrival in the big city, he began publishing his paper called The Mid-West American. The paper, usually around 6 pages with few advertisements, was filled with criticism and accusations leveled at politicians, mobsters and bankers who, Liggett alleged, ran the city and state while lining their pockets at the expense of the little guy. Liggett frequently attacked then-governor Floyd B. Olson as being in league with big bankers and with the mob itself.

As Liggett gained a reputation as a thorn in the side of powerful men, he began to find himself the target of many attacks. He was arrested on an old charge of statutory rape that seemed to be trumped up. As his trial was set to begin, he encountered Kid Cann after being called to the penthouse of Annette Fawcett, a glamorous woman who liked to court the powerful men of the city. She had offered Liggett a good lawyer for his trial. While he was there, Kid Cann showed up. Over drinks they got to arguing and exchanging blows. Finally, they calmed and Kid Cann offered Liggett a ride home in his car. They stopped at a bar for a nightcap and when Liggett emerged from the car he was jumped by a gang of Cann’s Men. He was severely beaten and nearly lost an ear in the attack. His face was swollen for the entirety of his trial. He was finally acquitted of all charges. Still, he continued turning the screws on the allegation that Governor Olson was in the pocket of Kid Cann.

On December 10, 1935, one month following his acquittal for statutory rape, Liggett was returning to his apartment, at 1825 2nd Avenue South (just east of Stevens Square park), from the grocery store with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. He parked in the alley behind their building and he and his wife got out of the car. Liggett noticed oncoming headlights and a car sped through their alley. He and his wife jumped out of the way and a hail of submachine gun fire issued from the car and ended the life of Walter Liggett as his wife and daughter looked on in horror. His 11-year-old son ran down from their 2nd floor apartment, along with many neighbors, and saw his father lying in a pool of blood as his mother clutched his body in tears. Walter’s wife Edith gave a statement to the police that she saw Isadore Blumenfeld (aka Kid Cann) fire the shots that killed her husband.

Twelve days after Liggett was murdered, Blumenfeld was indicted for the killing on the testimony of Edith Liggett and a neighbor who claimed to have seen the crime from his back window. Blumenfeld had a story ready for the jury and testified that he was at a legitimate business meeting and then got his hair cut during the time Liggett was killed. Barbershop employees all verified his story, as expected.

The trial was big news and Edith gave compelling testimony. However, at one point she stated that the murder could not have been committed without a sign-off from Governor Olson. In taking up her husband’s extremely controversial allegations against the governor, she may have damaged her credibility (Olson was then battling pancreatic cancer and died 8 months after the trial ended). When the jury reached their verdict, Kid Cann was acquitted and walked free. Newspapers reported likely jury tampering in the case. Edith promptly left town and moved back to New York with her children.

During these dark years, journalists were often the only ones who took stands against the wide-spread corruption in Minneapolis. In 1927 a man named Howard Guilford published a paper that stated illegal gambling was rotting the city. He was shot by a gang of hoods, but ended up living and refusing to identify his assailants. Mysteriously, he then became very rich and moved into a ritzy hotel. But in 1934 he began publishing allegations again and was gunned down. In 1945, Arthur Kasherman published a paper railing against gambling, liquor racketeering and government corruption. He was shot to death in a drive by shooting as he and his girlfriend left a restaurant on 15th and Chicago. This grudge match between the indie press and the big crime bosses lasted decades and it is ironic that both Doc Ames and Kid Cann were involved in the newspaper business in their younger years.

It wasn’t until 1961, 26 years after Liggett’s murder and 7 years after the streetcar dismantling scheme, that Isadore Blumenfeld was finally convicted of a crime. The FBI had become interested in the dealings of Kid Cann and had set up heavy surveillance on his empire. A federal case was built against him after he transported a prostitute from Chicago to Minneapolis. He was convicted of “White Slavery” and later for bribery and perjury. He served four years in a federal penitentiary. Upon his release, he reunited with his brother Yiddy and another of his bosses named Meyer Lansky in Miami Beach where they continued their illegal activities through real estate scams and stock market fraud in Miami and Havana, Cuba. One historian estimated that this group owned close to a billion dollars worth of Caribbean real estate. Isadore Blumenfeld died of heart disease on June 21, 1981, in Minneapolis.

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