Updated: Jan 22
By Richard J Bottorff Fillmore County Historical Society Board Member and Local Researcher
Yeggs! What the heck is a Yegg? Headlines splashed across the September and October 1924 issues of the Wykoff newspaper: “Yeggs Blast Exchange State Bank.” It was the talk of the town, of course. I remember the re-creation of the event at Wykoff’s July 4th celebration in 1976 and still have coffee with the actors today. However, nobody really knows much about that long-ago crime; the burglars were rumored to have been caught in some far-off state and an article about them might be archived in a yellowed edition of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. So I decided to put on my detective shoes and track down those “yeggs” (burglars) to find out as much as I could.
Even getting the exact date of the burglary proved problematic. The Minneapolis Star and Tribune ran a story on October 2, 1924 stating that the infamous deed occurred early on a Thursday morning, which would have been September 25, 1924. Meanwhile the Wykoff newspaper said the robbery occurred early Tuesday morning, meaning September 23, 1924. To set the record straight when issues of Wykoff history are in dispute, I often refer to my grandmother’s diary, but she didn't start keeping it until 1939. Undeterred, after digging into the matter, I determined that the heist probably happened at 3:15 am on September 24, 1924. The number of men and women involved were more than eight. They cut the telephone and telegraph lines coming into Wykoff, and used shot guns and rifles to threaten people awakened by the blasting of the safe and the clapping of the alarm. Miss Esther Bratrud and Miss Romona Sherman, school teachers living across the street in the boarding house (the town’s Behring building), got their windows shot out when they turned on the lights, as did Mrs Mary Wendorf who lived next door to the bank. The well-executed professional job netted $600, which even in 1924 wasn't much money for the effort involved. One day earlier would have given the robbers a much bigger payout because a lot of grain was sold in Wykoff the previous day.
First Big Break
The first big break in my research came in a Winona Daily News article written on February 6, 1925. In all fairness, I feel obligated to note that because these people were never actually charged with the Wykoff bank robbery, the term “alleged” robbers is appropriate. While we will never actually know the true identity of the robbers, this fact doesn't make the case any less interesting. The Fillmore County Bankers Association offered a $25,000 wanted dead or alive reward and hired the William J Burns Detective Agency to solve the case. The findings of the detective agency were the source of most of the information passed on to police and the press. After all, it was in the detective agency's best interest to show progress – real or speculative. Although not altogether accurate, the Wykoff Dover Bank robbery article in the Winona Daily News is worth a read. The Kinzie Gang, as they were known, should more appropriately be called the Kinzie-Dunning Gang, because the four main players were Robert Hale Kinzie (dob 6/3/1888), Rose Kinzie (dob unknown), Elmer Ellsworth Dunning (dob 1/6/1880) and Sadie Dunning (dob 4/16/1884). The other known associates were William “Jack” Marsh, Edward Welch and Edward Larson (though their birth dates are not provided). Larry “Post Office” Carr, a St Paul gangster, was incorrectly reported to be a gang member, and to have been killed by RH Kinzie right after the Wykoff burglary. Only problem with that theory is Carr died on September 8, 1924, several weeks before the Wykoff burglary. Nonetheless, Carr is a fascinating character as was his wife Josephine Brunell who died on April 24, 1927 in a “blind pig” shootout in St Paul. While Larry and Josephine might have known RH Kinzie or Dunning at some point, there is no evidence of this. Larry Carr was a known yeggman, and Kinzie had ties to the St Paul underworld. Carr's death did start an underworld feud that resulted in several deaths as retribution. If there was a disagreement between Carr and Kinzie or Dunning, all of them were capable of murder. Roy Rogers, a notorious St Paul bootlegger, pimp, and gangster whose name appears with this gang from time to time, was arrested for Carr’s shooting, but he was never convicted. (Because of the use of aliases, especially to local law enforcement, the task of researching news articles is at times difficult. Some news items were not included for this reason.)
World of Yeggdom
LaCrosse Sheriff Al Riley in an August 9, 1931 article in the LaCrosse Sunday Tribune explains how “Yeggdom” criminals were schooled. To understand the profession is to understand the culture and just how disciplined these yeggs were. We know that the Wykoff Exchange State Bank burglary involved at least eight to 11 people, including two or three women. A theft ring like this was also a trade school for younger “up-and-comers” to learn the profession. The gang would take a male or female adolescent under their wing and have them earn their keep first by begging on the streets. Sporting boils produced by lye or acid, and dirty, shabby clothes, the youngster would pull at the heart strings of every passerby. All earnings would go back to the gang. It was unforgivable for the child to keep the money, honor amongst thieves you know. After three years or so, the trainee would graduate to “look out” for burglar jobs and survey locations as well as watchmen, police, and the location of the safe. They would be assigned a “Jockerman” who was an experienced yegg that would be their teacher and mentor. Upon graduation, they would receive a moniker and a gun; however, the gun could only be used when their own life was in danger. A yegg with a gun was a “made man” in the gang; it was a great honor.
Nitroglycerin was first used in safe cracking after 1893. It was discovered that by soaking dynamite in water, the nitroglycerin could be extracted, mixed with soap and placed into the pried open cracks of a vault door. A fuse and detonator would be attached to the soap/nitroglycerin concoction, and the yeggs would flee up to four blocks away to wait for the blast. It took six blasts to open the Wykoff vault with this same concoction. Burglars like the Kinzie-Dunning gang were organized: jobs were planned, sites cased and getaways devised. If caught, as part of their training, yeggs were pledged to secrecy and taught how to survive police questioning in “The Can.” Aliases were common, with yeggs spending whole prison terms under an alias. We still don't know which alias Sadie Dunning and Rose Kinzie used – Dorothy Flournoy or Peggy Williams amongst many others. Things to remember when looking at the Kinzie-Dunning gang, both Hale Kinzie and Elmer Dunning were charged with carrying a concealed weapon, and neither were inclined to use an alias, which signified power and leadership in their culture.
Leader of the Pack