As he rose from Prohibition-era bootlegger to Minneapolis crime boss, Isadore "Kid Cann" Blumenfeld regularly spun through the revolving doors of justice — and mostly walked out of court scot-free.
But two days in courtrooms 25 years apart frame his notorious career.
In 1936, a weeping Blumenfeld dashed to the Hennepin County jury box to shake hands with eight male jurors and kiss the hands of four women jurors. They had taken only 75 minutes to acquit him in the drive-by, machine-gun slaying of a journalist who'd criticized his corrupt ways. Never mind that two eyewitnesses had identified him as the shooter.
Described in a Minneapolis Star article as a "suave and swarthy, moon-faced defendant," Blumenfeld preferred snazzy outfits like a maroon suit with matching suede shoes, set off by canary-yellow shirt and socks.
By 1961, his swagger had lost its luster when federal Judge Edward Devitt sentenced him to eight years in prison for jury tampering and liquor license violations. That came on the heels of a two-year sentence for transporting a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes."
"It is amazing that a large, intelligent community like Minneapolis could be visited for so long by the unhealthy criminal influence of an Isadore Blumenfeld and company," Devitt told the racketeer. He concluded: "You have led a bad life, Isadore."
By then 60, Blumenfeld replied: "All I can say is I have destroyed myself, and I have destroyed my family … and I am terribly, terribly sorry."
Born in a Romanian Jewish shtetl in 1900, Blumenfeld was a toddler when his family emigrated to Duluth and settled in north Minneapolis. His dad was a furrier.
Prohibition's booze ban began just as Blumenfeld turned 20 and he became commonly known as Kid Cann, a nickname he loathed. He denied many of the moniker's origin stories, including the one where he would hide in the bathroom — the can — when gang fights erupted.
"Ninety percent of what was written about me is bull," he once said.
In a Kid Cann profile on MNopedia.org, Paul Nelson wrote: "Like many criminals he found Prohibition a godsend and seems to have moved easily from running stills to running speakeasies."
Though he spent much of 1934 in the Hennepin County workhouse for bootlegging, he evaded prosecution numerous times. In the early 1930s, he fled rumrunning charges in Louisiana, and he was the only one of seven defendants acquitted in a scheme to launder $200,000 in ransom money for an Oklahoma oilman kidnapped by Machine Gun Kelly.
Minneapolis was both the center of his criminal operations and the site of his punishment-eluding success. In 1924, he admitted firing the shot that killed a Minneapolis taxi driver on Nicollet Avenue, but a grand jury ruled it an accident. Four years later, he was arrested in the shooting of two Minneapolis police officers at the Cotton Club, but witnesses said he was ducking under a table when gunfire rang out. No charges were filed.
More than three decades later, he was once again the lone defendant of six who was acquitted in a fraud and conspiracy case during the transition from Twin Cities streetcars to buses. Blumenfeld was accused of fleecing stockholders when streetcars headed to scrap-metal yards.
Blumenfeld and his wife, Lillian, had no children, but his shady dealings involved his brothers and extended family members. He and Lillian were married in 1936, just as his murder trial grabbed headlines for the assassination-style slaying of newspaper editor and publisher Walter Liggett, 43, one of three Minneapolis journalists who exposed criminal shenanigans and wound up dead between 1934 and 1945.
On Dec. 9. 1935, Liggett, along with his wife, Edith, and daughter, were parking behind their apartment near Stevens Square when a car zoomed down the alley and machine-gun fire cut him down. Edith yelled to the first officer on the scene that "Kid Cann killed him," and later picked him out of a lineup.
Another witness in the alley who knew Blumenfeld testified that he was the shooter. But defense lawyers pinpointed Blumenfeld's movements that afternoon, placing him at a Hennepin Avenue barbershop when the shooting occurred.
Blumenfeld's luck changed in the 1960s, when he spent three years in prison. After getting out he moved to Miami Beach and reportedly reaped massive profits in real estate with noted mob financier Meyer Lansky. He was back in Minneapolis on a visit in 1981 when he died at Mount Sinai Hospital at 80 of heart disease.
His Minneapolis Tribune obituary noted he was the "closest thing Minnesota had to a godfather." He was buried at Adath Yeshurun Cemetery in Edina, where Lillian would join him 15 years later.
Rabbi Max Shapiro recited the traditional Jewish mourner's prayer at his funeral. He later told writer Paul Maccabee: "It's my belief that every Jew at death, no matter what he did in life, deserves to have the Mourner's Kaddish — the last prayer — said for him. So I said Kaddish for Kid Cann."
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.