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This story originally appeared in the Saint Paul Almanac, 2014-2015 Edition
As was its custom, the Alberta Clipper rode into town on a carpet of warm Pacific air, dropped a couple inches of fluffy white, and headed south. Nipping at its heels was a howling Canadian wind, so dense and frigid that, even the windows shivered in their frames, loud enough to rattle Frank out of his coma.
Frank Rothbauer, an under employed, twenty-eight-year-old, would have loved seeing his story in bold headlines on the front page of the St. Paul Daily News, sharing the spotlight with the smiling photos of the Winter Carnival queen candidates. That was Frank. As were so many of his age, Frank was enchanted by the glitz, glamour, and lifestyle of the gangsters of the era. In his pursuit of the dream, he obtained a tenuous low-level position managing a “Soda Shoppe”, a front for illegal liquor distribution.
But peer way down between the fuzzy lines of official denials, and there you’d read Frank’s tale, one of an unfortunate individual caught up in that great American experiment known as Prohibition.
“The Drys”, the popular name given to the federal agents charged with ferreting out illegal sales of alcohol, raided Frank’s Frogtown “Soda Shoppe” that Sunday morning intending to nab a big- time bootlegger. If Frank hadn’t sampled his own product before breakfast, he may have had the clarity to recall that what the Feds really wanted was the owner’s name or at least a payoff; he might also have wiped the cockeyed grin off his face that his assailants interpreted as a defiant smirk. After refusing their demands, he was knocked around the soda bar and thrown to the floor, almost taking a couple frightened patrons with him. Frank’s last conscious thought that day was probably to wonder where that “Dry” got the money to buy a those brand Red Wing boots with the deep snowy tread that was were coming at him.
Dazed and in cuffs, Frank was led across the intersection of Thomas and Dale Street just a half block from home in full view of the neighbors to the waiting Ford Model A and taken downtown to jail. Later that day he was moved to Ancker Hospital after he began to convulse in his cell. As in a nightmare, Frank thrashed about in his restraints as as the wind rattled and howled like banshees at the windows, all the while mumbling “stop beating me” as his sister Anne held his hand and tried to soothe his swollen brain. The doctors proclaimed his injuries fatal, and so two days later they were.
With the passing of the Clipper, the winds died down enough for a good crowd of friends to caravan from the Church of St. Agnes across the Dale Street Bridge to Calvary Cemetery. The case was referred to the coroner, who reported he could not “definitively” determine the cause of the injuries. Public outrage at the case waned as the official investigation was shuffled between departments, and within a month, Frank’s story had drifted to the far pages and languished among the classifieds, leaving only his family’s voice demanding justice. Months later, after the Alberta Clippers had retreated, the stock market crashed and Frank’s story was buried in the avalanche of the Great Depression.
Frank Rothbauer was my great- uncle. His story was told to me by his ex-wife, my great- aunt Grace. The “official” story appears in the St. Paul Daily News, Vol. 23, No. 323, January 17, 1928, and several weeks following.