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Minnesota millionaire's kidnapping ends in tragedy for captor

Haskell Bohn, heir to a refrigeration fortune, lay face down on the ground as his kidnappers drove away into a dark summer night, in Minnesota, 1932, according to a police transcript exclusively obtained recently by Forum News Service. He had been ransomed. It was the end of Bohn's ordeal. His captors wouldn't get away with their crime.

Pictured are Fern Sankey, Verne Sankey and their Kimball, South Dakota, home.
Pictured are Fern Sankey, Verne Sankey and their Kimball, South Dakota, home.
Photo illustration by Trisha Taurinskas / Images courtesy of Newspapers.com
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Editor's note: This is part 3 in a three-part series on the kidnapping of Haskell Bohn in 1932. Previous articles in this series: part 1 and part 2.

Haskell Bohn, part 3: Kidnapping ends in tragedy for captor
Tue Oct 18 13:03:00 EDT 2022
After six days of blindfolded isolation in a basement with minimal sunlight, Haskell Bohn learned that his release had been successfully negotiated.

Finally, freedom was near. It was also the start of the FBI's hunt for his kidnapper. 

By Trisha Taurinskas

After six days of blindfolded isolation in a basement with minimal sunlight, Haskell Bohn learned that his release had been successfully negotiated.

Finally, freedom was near.

Twenty-year-old Bohn, son of a Minnesota millionaire, had been kidnapped by gunpoint the morning of June 30, 1932, from his St. Paul home. His captors tossed the family’s chauffeur a ransom note as they drove off, revealing their demand of $35,000 (about $756,641in 2022 dollars) in exchange for his release.

Six days later, Bohn was released from his captors' custody, in exchange for a negotiated $12,000 ($259,420 in 2022 dollars) – a far cry from the original demand, but enough to buy back his freedom.

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His captors, whose identities were still unknown to Bohn, drove for nearly an hour down bumpy, winding roads — a deliberate move intended to confuse the victim, rendering him unable to identity to authorities where he had been held.

As the vehicle came to a stop, the kidnappers gave him very specific instructions.

“That’s when they told me not to say or do anything for 10 minutes, and then they told me to walk to the right for a half hour and when I called up not to call up the police but to call my home and ask for my father,” Bohn told law enforcement, according to the police transcript exclusively obtained recently by Forum News Service.


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Before setting him loose, his captor handed him $10, fulfilling a promise made to pay him back for $7 that had been taken from his billfold on the day of his kidnapping.

Bohn lay face down on the ground as the kidnappers drove away into the dark night. He followed orders, for the most part, waiting just about 5 minutes before getting up and trekking through a field, which led him to a nearby farmhouse.

Arriving at the farmhouse

Bohn was technically free, but he still had a large task ahead of him: making his way home. That was a difficult one considering he was entirely unsure of his whereabouts.

Pictured is Verne Sankey, notorious kidnapper from the 1930s.
Verne Sankey is known to be the mastermind behind the kidnapping of Haskell Bohn of St. Paul in 1932.
Photo courtesy of Newspapers.com

“As I crossed the corn field, and crossed the road, I noticed a sign, 'For Sale.' The house had quite a few lights on the side, and dogs were barking. And as I walked, I believe it was the woman that said, ‘What do you want?’ She said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘I’m Haskell Bohn that was kidnapped,’” he said in the transcript.

After showing his identification, he was welcomed into the home. Law enforcement was called. He was reunited with his family, and the hunt for his captors began.

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Unbeknownst to law enforcement, they were headed to Colorado to continue their kidnapping spree. But they wouldn't escape the law for long.

Seeking justice

More than two years after Bohn's kidnapping, two men named Verne Sankey and Gordon Alcorn were arrested in Chicago on charges related to the 1933 kidnapping of wealthy Colorado businessman Charles Boettcher.

In a similar fashion to the Bohn kidnapping, Boettcher was approached at gunpoint, blindfolded with tape and thrown in the back of a vehicle. His wife, present at the time of the abduction, was given a ransom note demanding $60,000 (about $1.37 million in 2022 dollars), a price they ultimately received.

Boettcher’s wife’s ability to identify the two men was critical to their capture, and helpful to the Bohn case.

Bohn identified Sankey and Alcorn as the two men who abducted him from his home in the summer of 1932, according to a March 1933 Minneapolis Star Tribune article.

As Bohn stated in the 40-page police transcript, he interacted with two main captors. However, he had told law enforcement the ring leader did allude to the fact that a gang of people were involved in the crime. At one point, when discussing what to do with Bohn, the ringleader claimed he’d discuss their plans with the rest of the gang.

As it turns out, Sankey did run with a few Canadians that he had recruited from his time on the railroad to aid him in his criminal enterprises. In addition to Alcorn, Sankey asked Ray Robinson to help him out.

There are competing theories on Alcorn’s involvement in the Bohn kidnapping. While Bohn did partially identify him as one of the captors, another member of Sankey’s gang later confessed that he played a critical role in Bohn’s abduction.

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After being arrested in Canada and extradited to Minnesota in 1933, Robinson confessed to playing a key role in the Bohn kidnapping, according to an April 3, 1933 New York Times article.

In addition to his confession, he told authorities that Sankey was the criminal mind behind the operation. He also told law enforcement that Sankey’s wife, Fern Sankey, was an accomplice, having cooked meals for Bohn while he was held in her basement.

While Fern Sankey was arrested and tried for the Bohn kidnapping, she was ultimately found not guilty by a jury who viewed her as a victim of her husband’s crimes.

Verne_Sankey_Widow__Montana_Standard_.jpg
Fern Sankey, wife of Verne Sankey, was acquitted by a jury for her alleged role in the Haskell Bohn kidnapping.
Fern Sankey, wife of Verne Sankey, was acquitted by a jury for her alleged role in the Haskell Bohn kidnapping.

Robinson received a 25-year sentence, served at Minnesota’s Stillwater Penitentiary. It was a far cry from the life sentence other kidnappers – including Sankey – were facing under the newly minted Lindbergh Law.

In the aftermath of the infamous 1932 kidnapping of the 20-month-old child of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, Congress passed legislation to crack down on the rising number of kidnappings being carried out by gangs throughout the country.

The move made crossing state borders with a victim a federal offense, with a punishment of life in prison.

The Lindbergh Law included a provision that stated a captive held for seven days or more would automatically be assumed to have crossed state lines, opening up the door for federal prosecution and life in prison.

At the time of Robinson’s confession, Sankey and Alcorn were being held for the kidnapping of Boettcher.

Because Boettcher was held captive on Sankey’s farm in Buffalo County, South Dakota, Sankey was transported to Sioux Falls, where he was to stand trial for the kidnapping of Boettcher. It’s also alleged that he was going to plead guilty to the kidnapping of Bohn.

However, on his first night at South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, Sankey’s body was found unresponsive – he had hung himself in his cell.

Verne Sankey ranch South_Dakota_ranch_.jpg
Verne Sankey's Kimball, South Dakota home was used to hold Colorado businessman Charles Boettcher. Sankey kidnapped Boettcher in exchange for $60,000.
Image courtesy of Newspapers.com.

The following day, Alcorn was sentenced in Sioux Falls to life in prison for the Boettcher kidnapping, a term he carried out in Colorado’s Leavenworth penitentiary.

Bohn went on to live an otherwise normal life. While his family's business didn't outlast the Great Depression, he carried out a career in the power sector, retiring from Illinois Power Company as its district manager. He was married, had children and settled in a rural Illinois area.

While his life took an otherwise normal turn, his children grew up hearing stories from a very different era of his life — one that included his time in captivity at the hands of the FBI's most wanted criminal.

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Trisha Taurinskas is an enterprise crime reporter for Forum Communications Co., specializing in stories related to missing persons, unsolved crime and general intrigue. Her work is primarily featured on The Vault.

Trisha is also the host of The Vault podcast.

Trisha began her journalism career at Wisconsin Public Radio. She transitioned to print journalism in 2008, and has since covered local and national issues related to crime, politics, education and the environment.

Trisha can be reached at ttaurinskas@forumcomm.com.
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