Police transcript reveals Minnesota millionaire’s heir’s 6-day kidnapping ordeal – InForum
This is part 2 of a series on the kidnapping of Haskell Bohn. To read part 1,
Haskell Bohn assumed the two men who pulled up in a small four-door sedan on St. Paul’s summer morning were there to visit his driver.
And so he went about his business, preparing for another mundane day at his family’s refrigeration plant. Yet before he knew it, these two men were pointing a gun at him and demanding that he turn around. They tied a thick roll of duct tape around his head, blocking his view. They then drove him to their vehicle, forcing him to lie face down in the back seat.
A 40-page police transcript, obtained exclusively by Forum News Service, paints a picture of the events that unfolded on the morning of July 30, 1932, through the perspective of Bohn, the heir to a refrigeration magnate in Minnesota, who was kidnapped for ransom by the infamous Sankey Gang.
He was held captive for six days in a basement in Minnesota. For most of that time he was blindfolded – first by tape, then by a makeshift flannel bandana.
While his captors initially asked Bohn’s father, Gebhard Bohn, to pay a ransom of $35,000 (about $756,000 in 2022 dollars), Haskell Bohn knew that despite his millionaire status, the family’s fortune was in decline. The asking price, he feared, was too high.
He was right.
In the end, Bohn was freed by the kidnappers, but in exchange for $12,000, or about $259,000 in 2022 dollars.
The story did not end there, however. While the kidnappers asked Bohn’s father to keep law enforcement away from the exchange, he didn’t listen. The handover was just the start of a law enforcement quest to identify the kidnappers and ultimately bring them to justice.
As Bohn lay on the ground in the back of the sedan, with duct tape covering his eyes, he tried to rationalize what was happening.
“I thought they might want to take the money I had and dump me somewhere,” he told law enforcement, according to the police transcript.
While blindfolded, Bohn could tell his captors were driving erratically, swerving through traffic. Five minutes into the ride, he plucked up the courage to ask a few questions. He asked his captors what they were planning to do with him.
Their response ?
They told him not to worry, saying he would be home that evening.
That’s when the fear really started. With no idea where he was being led, Bohn said he knew on the spot that he had been kidnapped – and that staying calm would be imperative for his survival.
Shortly after being taken from his home, the vehicle stopped at what Bohn assumed was the destination. One of the men exited the vehicle and returned with a piece of flannel, which would serve as a makeshift headband, replacing the duct tape.
With the ability to look down just a little, he clocked the time at 9:30. This ended up being an important detail for law enforcement, as it gave them an idea of how far they had traveled before reaching the hidden house.
While waiting to enter the house, Bohn had an honest conversation with one of the two kidnappers. He learned the ransom note asked for $35,000 – a price he told the man was far too high for his father.
“The bottom line was that they were asking for $35,000, and I mentioned then that my dad just couldn’t afford to pay that much,” he said in the police transcript. “It absolutely couldn’t be done, and he asked me why, and I said, the way the business was and the conditions were and he just couldn’t do it.”
It seemed, at the time, that the kidnapper he spoke with had some sympathy for Bohn, saying he tried to lower the gang’s price. But, he told her it was too late now. The ransom had been fixed – and that was it.
An unlikely “friendship”
When they entered the garage to park the vehicle, the kidnappers set the tone for Bohn’s captivity.
“He talked about the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping, he said I should be good or they should shoot me,” he told law enforcement.
And so, he was just that: good. He did not attempt to escape or fight the process. He did what he was told, for the most part.
His stay began when his captors offered to join them as they drank celebratory whiskey – an offer he declined. When he refused, the men offered him a glass of cold milk and a sandwich. As he ate his meal, Bohn noticed the sounds of children playing and dogs barking. It was as if he had landed in the garage of someone’s house.
Before entering the house, the men asked him if he had any money on him. Bohn offered them what he had, $7 total ($151 in 2022 dollars). When his captors accepted the money, one of the men sincerely promised to pay him back – a strange guarantee from a guy who was trying to scam his father out of $35,000.
It was then that Bohn realized that one of the men was more sensitive to his situation, a hypothesis which was confirmed when he offered him the opportunity to lie down and rest in the back seat of the vehicle. With his captor in the front seat and Bohn in the back, the man apologized to him for demanding so much as a ransom. Then they started talking – about baseball and bulls, like friends would.
The unlikely connection the two shared paid off for Bohn. When the main kidnapper left, the second man’s sympathy got the better of him. He eventually allowed Bohn to remove his blindfold, as long as he did not look directly at the man, whose identity was withheld for fear of being caught.
Bohn’s new sight gave him a glimpse of life outside the garage. He realized it was a populated area, with four other garages visible from the one he was in.
At one point, the men discussed Bohn’s release, a decision they said they would have to discuss with the rest of their gang. The “second man”, who had shown an odd form of kindness towards Bohn, said to him, “I hope they let you go.”
But, the gang thought otherwise. Once the decision was made to keep Bohn in custody, a few gang members threw his arms around their shoulders as they led him, blindfolded, into the basement of the house.
Bohn received a bed, a pillow and three blankets. It was far from the luxury of being a millionaire’s son, but it was enough for a good night’s rest.
Throughout his six-day stay, he continued to hear the sound of children playing upstairs and the chirping of birds outside the basement window. He received hearty meals, including breakfasts of fried eggs, toast, and coffee for breakfast.
On the second day in the basement, while Bohn was having breakfast, a gang member told him he had spoken on the phone with his father, who agreed to pay just $5,000 for his release.
The man was frustrated that John’s father, Gebhard, had involved law enforcement. Yet, as Bohn told him, the crime took place outdoors, making it unlikely that law enforcement would not be alerted.
“Well, he kept talking about the police officers, and he couldn’t see what my dad called them after the note he wrote,” he said in the transcript. “And I told him that the police would prosecute my father to death, and that we shouldn’t come after him.”
Bohn listened in the following days as the gang members grappled with the reality that Bohn really could not afford the ransom they demanded. They struggled with what it meant for the gang –
and for Bohn.
They also feared that law enforcement was closing in on their location.
All the while, Bohn found an unlikely friendship with the man who offered his sympathy. They talked about their families, the worries they had for their mothers. He ate his meals and slept soundly with his tattered pillowcase, waiting for his fate to unfold.
In Part 3 of this series, find out how Haskell Bohn’s stay with the gang ends and how law enforcement tries to track down the men who were quickly becoming infamous for their kidnapping crimes.