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When the 'Cream Can Gang' robbed its way across the Midwest, leaving a unique calling card

It was a late winter morning when a cashier's son was returning a borrowed typewriter to the Miltona State Bank in Miltona, Minnesota, and discovered a tampered vault door and an empty safe. Cans of cream, filled with water next to the safe, told the tale. The 'Cream Can Gang' had struck again.

Tellers at the Miltona State Bank in the 1930s
Two tellers pose for a photo in the Miltona State Bank in the 1930s.
Contributed photo
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — During the early morning hours of March 29, 1938, a gang of robbers stole over $2,000 from the Miltona State Bank in Miltona, Minnesota.

That's almost $40,000 by today's standards.

It was a late winter morning when a cashier's son was returning a borrowed typewriter to the Miltona State Bank and discovered a tampered vault door and an empty safe. Cans of cream, filled with water next to the safe, told the tale. The "Cream Can Gang" had struck again.

The Miltona State Bank safe was installed when it first opened in 1917. The manufacturer at the time claimed the safe was impregnable.

According to a 1938 article from the Alexandria Citizen, after cashier W.F. Malm's son discovered the robbery, he quickly alerted authorities, prompting Sheriff Ben Urness to arrive from Alexandria. Urness called in two state officers to assist in the investigation.

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They discovered that the gang broke into the vault by cutting off the top half of the vault's dial, giving them access to work the combination. Then they used a torch to cut a seven-inch square from the top of the safe. The only things left were two cream cans filled with water to cool the safe after it was torched, which was the calling card of a group of robbers known as the Cream Can Gang.

Urness states in the article that the work was "evidently done by a gang of professionals working the northern part of the state, as all clues pointed to the same gang that broke into the bank at Waubun a couple of weeks ago."

Fortunately for the bank, their losses were fully covered by insurance.
Unfortunate for the robbers, if they had struck the next night, they could have acquired over $20,000 as the bank made arrangements to receive the larger sum of money to handle soil conservation checks.

Miltona State Bank
The Miltona State Bank was robbed of over $2,000 by the Cream Can Gang in 1939.

It is speculated that the gang stole their robbing tools as a store in Brandon reported torches within a short time before the bank heist.

According to a 1984 Lake Region Echo article, Jeff and Clarence Beulke foiled an earlier robbery attempt on the Miltona bank in 1933 after being awoken by a strange noise from the bank across the street. Clarence grabbed his deer rifle, and the two went to investigate. They saw two men sneaking around the bank. The men noticed the Beulkes and took off toward their get-away car. Clarence fired toward it as the car sped out of town, but they escaped.

The same article from 1984 shows a picture of the safe from the 1938 robbery and mentions that it eventually came into the possession of Jeff after it was repaired in the Twin Cities.

This was not the first, or last bank robbery committed by the Cream Can Gang. Newspapers from across the Midwest reported a gang of robbers who used cream cans of water to terrorize banks from North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Miltona bank safe
The Cream Can Gang emptied the Miltona State Bank safe in 1939. This photo of the safe was featured in a 1984 article from the Lake Region Echo.
Contributed photo

The roster of the gang included four men: Ed Mrozek of Little Falls, Virgil Dollimer of Winona, John Howard of Minneapolis and John Morrel, a.k.a. Specht, a.k.a. Morneau of Duluth. Each member had a history of crime under their belt.

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From 1938 to 1939, the foursome led various law agencies on a manhunt that spanned across the Midwest for stealing thousands of dollars from banks and post offices. Then in May of 1939, their luck changed.

According to a 1939 article from the St. Cloud Times, Howard and Morrel were captured on May 17, 1939, after a shootout with authorities in Sargeant, Minn. Dollmer was found a few days later near Pratt, Minn., and Mrozik avoided capture for months until he was eventually caught on July 11, 1939, near Lake Vadnais.

In October of 1939, each gang member was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison by Judge George F. Sullivan after they pleaded guilty to the attempted robbery in Sargeant, according to a Star Tribune article from 1939.

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The police file from this case, recently obtained by Forum News Service, reveals what Bismarck Police Department found when it reinvestigated the case of Sandra and John Jacobson: an initial missing persons investigation that left key questions unanswered, vital evidence unaccounted for and potential suspects cut loose.

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