Thursday, March 9, 2006

Flashback: How After a Raise to $67.50 a Week in 1954, Greed Pushed Me to Want More, Which Led to a Part-Time Deputy Sheriff-ship and Near Cardiac Arrest

[One more for the kids and grandchildren]

One year after going to St. Cloud, Minnesota as a newspaperman for its small daily, I got a raise (in addition to continuing the byline)—from $40 a week to $67.50. I was told that was the last raise “for some time” but I didn’t care. When free-lance for a wire service was added, and occasional ghost-writing comments for the sheriff at $10 earnings weren’t bad. I had my `47 Chevrolet, a room for $5 a week and could afford a dinner out at a restaurant where a steak went for $1.35. But I had to watch it. However, greed consumed me and I pondered ways of adding to my cache.

When I got my raise, I was called in to the office of the paper’s business manager, a little guy named Otto Rupp who looked like he was born to sit under a portrait labeled “Our Founder.” He wanted to talk about the sheriff. In the heart of the most Germanic county in the nation—Stearns—the sheriff was a grizzled old Irishman named Art McIntee, who strove to hide his age, growling whenever asked, “what the hell is that to you?” He had gained a national reputation for killing part of the Ma Barker gang in a shoot-out where as a state highway patrolman. J. Edgar Hoover had called Kate “Ma” Barker “the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain this country has produced in many years”—adding in 1938 that “in her sixty years or so this woman reared a spawn of hell…To her [her sons] looked for guidance, for daring and resourcefulness. They obeyed her implicitly.” Hoover’s rhetoric was inflamed. As it turned out, she was born in Ash Grove, Missouri in 1873, raised an ugly brood of boys who stole cars and robbed taverns while she sat in the car and picked her teeth. They came to St. Paul in 1927 and hung around, Ma included, the Green Lantern saloon which was home to most gangland figures including Chicago’s Machine Gun Kelly.

Several of her boys held up banks in St. Paul (Ma didn’t accompany), fled, gunned down two Minneapolis cops who approached them as they changed a tire and in a drive out of town were chased by young McIntee who was a state patrolman on a motorcycle. They stopped, McIntee approached; two of her gang drew guns and McIntee shot them dead. From that year on, 1927, McIntee dined out on the notoriety. Promptly he quit the state police force, moved to Stearns county and ran for sheriff as the nemesis of the Ma Barker gang. This reputation lasted for his life and long after the last of the gang had been interred. I graduated from college with McIntee’s son.

When I started covering the county jail, the sheriff got up out of his chair (a rare occasion) and said, “Glory be to God. Is your name Roeser?” I said it was. He said, “are you a relative of the old judge?” I didn’t know what the old man was talking about. I found out soon enough. Stearns county, citadel of Germans, had a native who became the first federal judge in the area in the 1920s. His name was John A. Roeser and his oil portrait still hangs in a prominent place in the courthouse. You know what? He even looks like me, with wire glasses, jowls and a rather pouchy face. He was a buddy and confidant of McIntee’s, was the equivalent of states’ attorney and regarded as the height of superb wisdom, brilliant jurisprudence and probity in the entire county before he made federal judge.

“You aren’t?” old McIntee said when I denied I was a relation. “Well, goddammit you could pass as his grandson. And if you live here for long you shouldn’t deny him. You could run here easy with that name.” He always had trouble with his dentures. I guessed him about about 80. He later told me that Hoover’s story about the old lady being the crime genius of the family was hype. Later Bryan Burrough in his book Public Enemies says she wasn’t a criminal or mastermind or never carried a gun and was never arrested.

He and I hit it off. He suggested I give him some public relations advice but giving him such advice was like teaching Comunications 101 to Roosevelt. However I wrote statements for him when he had announcements to make and his wife made oatmeal cookies which she gave to me liberally. He taught me several things. One was how he continued to get reelected as an Irishman when his enemies always put up Germans against him. He learned what he called “low German” which is a variant of Yiddish and adopted some favorite expressions. He always remembered St. Boniface Day, made a trip to Germany with the Catholic bishop, Peter W. Bartholome (who by sole ecclesiastical fiat in that solidly Catholic county closed the dance halls in Lent) and contributed to certain German festivals. But he after the Barker story faded, McIntee became legend to the community by opposing our entry into World War II and supporting Charles A. Lindbergh, the flyer hero who was born in neighboring Little Falls in Morrison county (and whose father was the Farmer-Labor congressman). That was the decisive step.

“One guy from here ran against me in 1940, a year before the war, by saying a vote for McIntee is a vote for Hitler,” said the sheriff. “That slogan took and I swept the county. I’ve always been obligated to him.”

Who—your opponent or Hitler?

“Well, any way you want it to be.”

“Indians,” he said, removing his dentures to slurp coffee because he felt caffeine stains, “are natural barbers, did you know that?” I said no. “They are,” he said. He took me for a tour of his jail and we peered in the cells where miscreants were either sleeping or grouching around; they all had longish hair. “I’m waiting to get an Indian in here,” he said. “I give him a shears and have him cut these guys’ hair. Always first-rate. Give me haircuts, too. You can get haircuts here too. Save you lots of money.”


When I settled in a chair before the newspaper’s business manager, Otto Rupp, a German who despised McIntee because he was Irish, Rupp announced I was going to get an unparalleled $67.50 and said:

“I asked you this before but people keep telling me that you’re a relative of the old judge. Are you?”

No. But I understand he was quite a guy.

“He was McIntee’s guy. And now reading your stuff in our paper it looks like you’re McIntee’s guy. That right?”

I just report what happens in the sheriff’s office.

“I understand that. But ol’ Arthur—how old is he now?”

I don’t know.

“Well, he’s got only a sixth grade education. But when he comments on something in these stories you write, he sounds very—very literate. Can you explain how that happens to be?”

In his own way, he’s a very literate man.

“In his own way. In your own way more’s likely. Listen, he wants to use you and your influence. He’s even said you’re a relative of the old Judge. He wants to get you to write a lot of stuff about him. You gotta watch him. He takes credit for all the work his deputies do. He can’t kid me; he’s a Democrat—Irish Democrat though he denies it. He also pays his staff too much. He has Indians cut his hair gratis. Ever hear of that?”


“And when I read your stories I see your words in `em a lot.. He always has a cogent piece to say. I just want to tell you to watch him. Does he still take out his teeth when he drinks coffee?”

News to me. You don’t deny he shot the Ma Barker’s guys dead?

“He did that. He did that. But I think he’s getting old. He’s 80—at least. Should be pensioned off. There’s a sharp young lawyer in town who’d do good but nobody can beat old Art. His birth certificate kinda disappeared from the courthouse you know. How did that happen? You might want to write that up. Anyhow, you get $67.50 and we’re glad to do it. But don’t expect any more for a long while. You’re single, aren’t you? Yes—well you don’t need the same money as these family men. And anything you can find out about McIntee I’d be obliged to you.”

I left saying under my breath: You’ve just made me a sworn friend of McIntee, Otto Rupp. You’ll never get rid of that old man so long as I can do anything about it. We single folks don’t deserve higher pay, huh?

The next day the sheriff asked if I wanted to help escort a senile man of 92 to a nursing home.

“ You had to get sworn in as a special deputy. No, you don’t carry a gun but we have odd jobs like that. The pay is $5 an hour. Interested? We get a lotta work like that. Soon you could be up to, oh, $25 a week.”

Not if it gets listed on the county books.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Our bookkeeper is Mrs. McIntee.”

[Tomorrow I go on my second assignment as a special deputy, accompanying the chief deputy to re-possess a tractor—beginning and ending a career in law enforcement that could easily have been cut short.]

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