|Paddy wagon in front of St. Cloud Reformatory, circa 1920|
Improved roads and new automobiles delivered an unwanted result to Sherburne County in the 1920s. Crime flourished in the area. Perhaps the high point of the 1920s county crime spree occurred in 1927.
That year, a bandit gang of five men terrorized communities on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Led by Frank “Slim” Gibson, the crew included Jack and Lester Northrup, and Ralph and Lester Barge. In a crime spree expanding beyond Sherburne County, all the way to North Dakota, the men robbed banks and burglarized businesses. The intrepid police work of Sherburne County officers led to their capture and prison sentences.
Beginning in 1926, the outlaw crew robbed merchants and banks throughout central Minnesota and North Dakota. In November 1926 the gang robbed the bank in Wheelock, North Dakota. Frank Gibson murdered bank cashier H. H. Peterson. Continuing into 1927, the gangsters robbed the Stanchfield State Bank in addition to banks in Delano, Grandy, and Hamel. They also attempted, and failed, to rob the Brunswick, Minnesota bank three times.
As the bank robberies provided limited success, the gang turned to burglarizing local merchants. The five men stole over $1000 of silk from Mattson’s store in Braham, Minnesota. The gang reveled their vicious nature with a burglary in Isanti, on December 21, 1926. That night the man attempted to break into a warehouse in Isanti. Discovered by town Marshall, Frank Dahlin, gunshots were traded. Marshall Dahlin died from two gunshot wounds to the chest. On April 28, 1927, the gang attempted another robbery in Isanti. The gang handcuffed gas station attendant Gus Peterson to a post and shot him. Luckily, Peterson survived his wounds.
Only two weeks later the gang attempted to steal tires from a warehouse in Zimmerman. Police intercepted the two cars driven by the thieves heading south toward Elk River. A running gun battle stretched to Anoka. The first car, containing Jack and Lester Northrup, was forced into a ditch. They fled into the nearby woods and were later captured.
Deputy Sherriff Mike Auspos chased the second of the cars to near Anoka, trading gunshots with the gangsters as they drove. As the gun battle neared Anoka, Officer Auspos ran out of ammunition and was forced to give up the chase.
After their capture, the Northrup brothers confessed their crimes and identified the other three members of the gang. Police arrested Gibson and the Barge brothers in Minneapolis. Gibson and Jack Northrup received life sentences in the Stillwater prison for the murder of Marshall Dahlin. The other three received lesser sentences at the St. Cloud Reformatory for their involvement in the Zimmerman robberies. When they fulfilled their sentences for burglary, the Isanti District Attorney promised to pursue the greater charge of attempted murder of Gus Peterson.
Ten years later, Frank Gibson again appeared in the news. June 1936, the state transported Gibson to St. Peter for a psychological evaluation. While there, he and 15 other convicts escaped. Gibson remained the only prisoner to avoid immediate capture. In January 1937, Gibson was identified as one of eight men killed in a train accident in California.
The careers of these bumbling and violent criminals ended through the bravery and hard work of Sherburne County police. The state carried out quick arrests and convictions through hard work of men such as Deputy Sheriff Mike Auspos.