Police Chief John J. O'Connor of St. Paul, Minn, was an extremely practical criminologist. At the turn of the Century he let the word quietly pass around the Midwest's underworld that St. Paul offered sanctuary for crooks who were "hot" elsewhere so long as they behaved themselves decently within the city limits. This easy-going relationship lasted a generation, and the O'Connor tradition did not die when he did in 1924. Such latter-day bad men as the late Homer Van Meter and "Machine Gun" Kelly found the city a comfortable retreat. But the old reciprocity of the O'Connor regime lapsed. In little more than three years St. Paul has been the scene of three major kidnappings, and last year Attorney General Cummings singled it out as the "nation's poison spot of crime." Belatedly last week this hooligans' happy hunting ground was presented with a chance to clean house. The chance came in the form of 385 phonograph records.
Year and a half ago Howard Kahn, a scrappy, oldtime newspaperman who served in the War with the French Army and has been editor of the St. Paul Daily News for the past 16 years, brought half a dozen furloughed Department of Justice operatives to town to expose malfeasance in the St. Paul police force. There was a grand jury hearing, followed by a whitewash delivered over the radio by the foreman just as the late John Dillinger was shooting his way out of a local apartment house. But the Daily News's agitation last year helped St. Paul elect a reform Mayor who appointed as Commissioner of Public Safety Henry Edward ("Ned") Warren, a conscientious citizen who came fresh to politics from his automobile salesroom. Commissioner Warren wanted to import Alexander Jamie of Chicago's old "Secret Six" organization as police chief. In spite of Jamie's record as a onetime Federal sleuth who gave criminal Chicago a wash behind the ears, St. Paul's city fathers balked at bringing in an outsider. So Commissioner Warren appointed as St. Paul's Chief of Police a lifelong friend named Michael Joseph Culligan, who stepped out of the lumber business to help run the reform election campaign.
A little later the vigilant Daily News did the next best thing to bringing in Alexander Jamie. Editor Kahn sent to Chicago for Jamie's son Wallace, a 27-year-old graduate of University of Chicago's School of Police Administration. Together Messrs, Warren, Kahn and Jamie plotted a secret investigation of the St. Paul police department. In a secluded room at police headquarters an elaborate wiretapping apparatus was set up. Every telephone call in & out of headquarters was recorded on a phonograph, which last week yielded an impressive symphony of corruption.
The records showed that, with police connivance, bookmakers, slot-machine operators, brothel keepers were systematically tipped off in advance of raids upon their premises. Not only did the police maintain a profitable partnership with lawbreakers, but they were in cahoots with lawyers, who were duly advised when a likely case was in the making. Sample conversation:
Headquarters: Who's this talking?
Headquarters: Say, Buck, take your two slot machines down.
Outside: What you say?