They were arguably Minnesota’s most notorious — and stylish — brothers.
On the run for a month in 1957 after killing a Minneapolis cop and driving over his partner, Roger, Ronald and James O’Kasick were described as “real sharp dressers.” Police told anxious residents that the “flashy-dressed men” had left behind “an expensive straw hat, dark with a light band” in one of their abandoned getaway cars.
And when the massive manhunt ended in a storm of bullets in the Carlos Avery wildlife refuge north of Anoka, a hostage and the two older brothers were dead. The youngest was bleeding from the chest after a botched suicide attempt. And dance music was still playing on the radio of the 1950, self-painted blue Oldsmobile they’d being living out of for four weeks.
“… three handsome young brothers from Minneapolis … they ranged in age from 20 to 26 and they seemed to have lived a kind of gangster fantasy,” Larry Millett wrote in his 2004 book, “Strange Days, Dangerous Nights.”
“Armed robbers by trade, they installed steel plates in their getaway cars to deflect bullets,” Millett said, “carried big pistols, preferred armor-piercing ammunition, wore bandoleers and had no reservations about shooting it out with police.”
The three O’Kasick brothers were born during the Depression of the 1930s. Their mother, Florence, died before she was 50 — when Jimmy was 15, Ronnie 19 and Roger 21.
At the time of their final crime spree, their father, Michael O’Kasick, was in jail for violating his probation on a robbery conviction. And their sister, 22-year-old Joyce, had escaped the women’s jail in Shakopee where she was doing time for forgery. Ten years earlier, police cornered older brother Richard at gunpoint after he tried to rob a St. Paul used car lot. At 13, Richard had the letters “T-R-U-E L-O-V-E” tattooed on his knuckles.
It seemed like wishful thinking.
They “were raised in an abusive household headed by an alcoholic father who drank up their welfare check, leaving the family impoverished and often without food,” according to June Anderson, who researched the O’Kasicks for the Anoka County Historical Society.
After their fiery last stand north of Anoka, Ronnie’s ex-wife said he “told me they didn’t have much money and that they all were hungry many times.”
After two years of knocking off drugstores, the brothers set their sites on a Red Owl supermarket on Saturday, Aug. 17, 1957. The day before, parking lot attendants in downtown Minneapolis reported two suspicious men wearing “dark straw hats with flat crowns.” By 5:30 p.m., a 1950 Chrysler was missing.
Minneapolis police officers Robert Fossum and Ward Canfield spotted the stolen car the next day on Bryant Avenue near 33rd Street. They gave chase and the O’Kasicks crashed into a parked car. Canfield ran in front of the stolen Chrysler, pointed his shotgun and attempted to fire. But he had no shells left in the gun.
James O’Kasick later admitted shooting Canfield. “I didn’t want to, he was waving a shotgun.” He said his brother Roger gunned down Fossum while Ronald drove over Canfield without knowing the officer was underneath their car. Canfield survived, but needed 18 surgeries — including a leg amputation.
After switching cars and taking hostages, the brothers shed their police tail near 37th Street and Chicago Avenue. So the cops turned to the public. Two weeks later, the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune reported “the constant jangle of the telephone in the captain of detectives’ office has stopped — and police aren’t happy about it.”
Police showed reporters what they found in one getaway car — a rifle, bullets and even three ticket stubs from the Hilltop Drive-In theater. Another clue bore the initials of two of the O’Kasicks: Police found four metal plates they used to protect themselves from bullets. One had “RO” scratched in the corner.
“But it is their natty dress,” one detective said, that should trigger leads in south Minneapolis. One of the suspects wore a black and white striped Ivy League-style shirt. Another wore a dark gray suit, black shirt and white tie.
The brothers were actually camping in the Superior National Forest while on the lam, robbing at least one tavern Up North. Blackened cooking pots were later found, along with a nearly empty wine jug and a half-emptied bottle of pills for nervous stomachs.
A month after killing the police officer, the brothers returned to contact relatives, running out of gas in Forest Lake. Two Anoka County deputies gave one of the brothers a ride as he walked with a gas can.
When he asked to be dropped off at another car to keep his brothers safe, gunfire erupted. One of the deputies, James Sampson, who recently died at 90, was shot in the leg but crawled to his vehicle to radio for help.
Two State Patrol planes and more than 100 officers swooped into the wildlife area. Police followed the brothers into a cemetery, where they saw Roger kill hostage Eugene Lindgren, whose Cadillac they had just stolen. It would be the O’Kasicks’ last getaway car.
Police bullets killed Roger and Ronald O’Kasick, and James tried to shoot himself but only nicked his heart. He died a year later after patiently sharpening a stolen St. Cloud prison commissary butter knife on the stone jail walls and stabbing himself in the abdomen.
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: https://tinyurl.com/MN1918.