Verne Sankey: America's First Public Enemy

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University of Oklahoma Press, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 279 pages
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A fast-paced adventure of a 1930s kidnapper

In late January of 1934, as authorities delivered John Dillinger to an Indiana jail, the United States Justice Department announced, for the first time, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had just captured America’s Public Enemy No. 1. It was not Dillinger the Justice Department was referring to, but an affable railroader turned outlaw, Verne Sankey. Now Timothy W. Bjorkman has written the first full-length biography of this overlooked criminal, relating how a South Dakota family man became a bootlegger, a bank robber, and eventually, a kidnapper whose deeds heralded a nationwide crime spree.

In the early days of Prohibition, Sankey, then a locomotive engineer, was drawn to the easy money he could make bootlegging. When crime syndicates monopolized the trade and Prohibition’s end was in sight, he turned to the occasional bank robbery and eventually to a ransom scheme. In tracing the life of Sankey—and his demure wife, Fern—Bjorkman depicts a good-natured man, friendly neighbor, and gentleman rumrunner catering to the banker and broker trade. He also explores Sankey’s motivations, his identification as America’s first Public Enemy, and his ultimate descent into oblivion.

Verne Sankey: America’s First Public Enemy is a riveting narrative set amid the Great Depression. Bjorkman’s research painstakingly reveals the life of Verne Sankey and his times, delving into the intriguing story of the family of his kidnapping victim, Charles Boettcher II, and the stark contrast between wealth and poverty during some of America’s most harrowing days.

  

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Contents

The Best of All Possible Worlds
3
Rogues Gallery
19
Bumped Off?
31
Undoubtedly Desperadoes
40
Charge It to Mr Hoover
63
A New Deal for the Desperadoes
70
Desperadoes Waiting for a Train
82
Enemies of the Public
113
Americas Original Public Enemy No 1
140
Most Often a Gentleman 15 8
158
Gladiators of the Courtroom 17 5
175
Convicting Dead Cats?
193
They Who Lie in Wait
202
Redemption
212
Authors Note
231
Bibliography
267

Summer of Discontent
121
Harvest of Wind and Dust
131

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About the author (2007)

Timothy W. Bjorkman is a judge for the First Judicial Circuit of his native South Dakota. He, his wife, Carol Kay, and four sons--James, John, Sam, and Seth--live in Canistota.

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