An item published in this space 10 days ago about the redevelopment of the final building in the Grain Belt complex included a coda about the big stickup there in 1941.
Because the Star Tribune has lacked a working machine to read its own microfilmed archives, it took a trip to the library by reference librarian colleague John Wareham to corroborate some of the details.
It turns out that the actual amount of the heist was $46,182 in cash, or about $742,000 in today’s dollars. That’s a lot of money. So why did the brewing company have so much on hand at its office that day?
According to the Star Journal, the cash was to be distributed to taverns in order to cash the payroll checks of presumably thirsty workers.
Moreover, the evidence suggested that the robbers knew exactly when to strike to grab that haul, and also probably had cased the place earlier since they seemed to know the layout, according to eyewitnesses.
One of the oddities of the robbery is that portions of it were broadcast live. It happened that an ad manager was on the line to Hibbing station WMFG, still in business today, as the robber struck. Not knowing the cause of the ruckus, he laid down the phone to close his office door when one of the attackers shoved a gun in his face and declared, “This is a stickup.” That was heard over the phone at the station, which broadcast the news even before the robbers had fled.
The entire force of 40 police detectives was put on the case, which was believed at the time to be the work of hoodlums from the infamous Depression-era gangs.
Another interesting facet of news reports suggests that life was simpler back then. The bank’s surety company paid off the loss with a check a mere four hours after the holdup.
(Photo above: Telephone operator Minnie Gillis shows the switchboard at Grain Belt's office wrecked by the robbers to prevent calls for help.)