THE GANGLAND MURDER OF THEODORE KIDDER

On March 4, 1934, perhaps the most sensational event in Brookside history took place when local resident Theodore Kidder was gunned down in front of Brookside Drug. Many of the following details were provided by Mrs. Alta Johnson, a niece of Ted Kidder. Mrs. Johnson has told her story on a program about Baby Face Nelson that aired on the Biography Channel on February 9, 1998. She has also graciously provided copies of family pictures of Kidder to the St. Louis Park Historical Society.

35-year-old Kidder was originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa (also reported as LaCrosse, Wisconsin) and was survived by a brother, E. Dean Kidder of St. Paul. He had spent most of his life in St. Paul, and was an avid sportsman, fisherman, swimmer, and hunter. He married Bernice (rhymes with furnace) Duxbury in about 1926. He worked as an ammunition salesman for the National Lead Company, 102 West Fairfield Ave. He also worked other part time jobs, one in particular at the Kennedy Brothers Arms Company. St. Paul in the 30’s was a known haven for gangsters, and Kidder was clearly associated with them. Besides the fact that he often played golf with them, he was probably procuring ammo for them on the side.

Around this time the St. Paul sales office of National Lead was merged with the facility in St. Louis Park, which would explain why Kidder had moved to 4081 (then 4055) Alabama in St. Louis Park in about October 1933. Incidentally, his wife had recently left the Glen Lake Sanitarium after a five-year bout with tuberculosis, and probably knew nothing of her husband’s gangster activities.

For whatever reason, his former associates were not happy with him, and the gunmen were looking for him that night. Neighbors reported that a large sedan had circled his block several times, flashing a light on his house each time. Another car found him on Chicago and Lake, where Kidder, his wife, and mother-in-law Effie were driving home from a child’s birthday party in Minneapolis. Four men in fedoras in a blue Hudson with California plates bumped Kidder’s car from behind, leading his wife to believe the men were angry about the fender bender.

The men in Fedoras followed Kidder home, and when he saw that they were still there, he drove around the block. He pulled over on Brookside, and the Hudson pulled in behind him. Kidder walked to the back of his car and had words with one of the men who had also exited his car saying “Come over here, Ted, we want to talk to you.” After their “talk,” one of the men in the car pulled out his gun and shot him through the window with 17 copper-jacketed .32 caliber bullets. Three of them made their mark. Kidder’s mother-in-law screamed “What have you done?” and the gangster shouted “Keep your damned mouth shut or we’ll give it to you too.” [or “Shut up, old lady, or we’ll get you too.”]

The car sped off backwards toward 41st Street and went west on 41st, as observed by “Jack” Thomas, 4090 Brookside Avenue. Mrs. Kidder went for help inside the Brookside Inn, a cafe and confectionery run by C. Wesley Smith, later to be known as Brookside Drug. Kidder was carried inside by Smith and two 17-year-old neighbors Robert Nylander (4301 Yosemite) and Carl Mohlin (3950 Alabama). Bullet holes penetrated the side of the stucco building, and proprietor Smith was pictured in the Minneapolis Journal pointing them out. Kidder died in the Inn.

The women had no choice but to return home, and the press descended on them, even to the point of trying to climb in the bathroom window. Mrs. Kidder and her sister moved back to Minneapolis shortly afterwards. Mrs. Kidder eventually lived in the Episcopal Hall in St. Paul, and never spoke of the incident, except that she was once heard to say, “I should have asked more questions.” She never remarried, and died at age 87. Theodore Kidder is buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

Although the killing took place in St. Louis Park, the case was investigated by the County Attorney’s Office. There were few clues to the shooting at the time, although the FBI supposedly traced the car with California plates to James Rogers, an alias used by Baby Face Nelson. Speculation ran the gamut: One theory was that he was suspected of snitching on the perpetrators of the Park Post Office robbery of 1933. Some said that that Kidder might be some kind of Government agent and that the incident was being hushed up. One man attributed the incident to a shoot-out between rival beer distributors. Relatives are pretty sure that it was just a case where he had gotten over his head, and could not meet increasing demands.

One retired cop saw similarities between the murder of Kidder and that of Walter Liggett, who was followed home in his car and gunned down before his wife and family on December 9, 1935. Kid Cann was tried in that case and acquitted. The Kidder case has never been solved, and absent a deathbed confession by one of the men in the fedoras (probably all long dead), it probably never will be.

Shortly after the Kidder murder, St. Louis Park Mayor Kleve J. Flakne called a meeting “to form a committee of vigilantes to cooperate with police in a war on lawlessness.” Flakne was quoted as saying, “In my opinion, members of our vigilantes should be deputized, and should be given orders to shoot to kill in event of any crime.” Plans were made to purchase a machine gun for the police department and put the entire village under citizen surveillance at all times.

Such a drastic move was taken on the heels of the Kidder murder, but had been considered for some time, as the Park was becoming known as “Little Cicero,” after the working class suburb of Chicago where Al Capone moved his gang in 1923 to escape reformers. In addition to the Post Office robbery of 1933, a strong box stolen in the mail robbery of the St. Paul Union Depot was found in a local sand pit; again, the police were notified by neighbors that they saw a gang of men had driven into the pit and unloaded the box. Also, the automobile used by the St. Paul express robbery bandits was found in St. Louis Park.

For additional information on crime in St. Louis Park, see Police and Crime.