Suspects

The Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide file never identified a firm suspect in the murder of Arthur Kasherman. But detectives interviewed a number of men who amounted to the rogue’s gallery of Minneapolis in 1945.

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Ray Sullivan:
As the man who inflicted the black eye on Kasherman’s date the night before, he had the most immediate motive to want to do harm to the guy that would be seen with his doll. He spent most of Monday, Jan. 22, 1945, in jail, thanks to his pounding of Pearl. He had a most elaborate alibi: after another lady friend sprung him from the pokey, Sullivan visited four bars and topped it off by splitting a bottle of booze with his friend Art Williams, a tattoo artist.


Joey Swartz:
A onetime schoolmate of Kasherman, Swartz was a former prize fighter then occupied with running the Flame, a Nicollet Avenue restaurant and gangster lair. At the time Kasherman was gunned down, Swartz said, he was across town giving a $10 bill to a friend’s kid for a birthday present. Police Inspector J.L. Mullen wrote: “He has promised us that if he can be of any assistance to us in any way in solving this murder, that we can rest assured he will do whatever he can.”


Tommy Banks:
Along with Kid Cann, Banks controlled the city’s illicit gambling, liquor operations and houses of prostitution. Banks’s alibi says a lot about the city of Minneapolis in 1945: he was drinking with a city alderman at Brady’s Bar at the time someone filled Kasherman full of lead. From Inspector J.L. Mullen’s notes: “He is unable to give us very much on the Kasherman deal only to say that he had many enemies and he did not think that anybody that had any sense would pay very much attention to him.”


Reuben Shetsky:
(a.k.a. Wayne Saunders) Co-owner of the Casablanca Café, Shetsky was questioned by police in Kasherman’s death because “he was supposed to have been in the labor racket in Chicago.” Shetsky said he was “on duty” in his bar when Kasherman will killed. A few months later that year, a pair of belligerent labor organizers walked into the Casablanca Bar. Shetsky shot one of them dead.


Isadore Blumenfeld: (a.k.a. Kid Cann) Minneapolis’s most notorious gangster, and a routine target of Kasherman’s screeds. The cops never even questioned him. In 1936, Kid Cann was tried and acquitted in the murder of another crusading journalist, Walter Liggett, so maybe the detectives figured he’d beat the rap once again. Imprisoned in the early 1960s for bribery and perjury, Kid Cann went on to a lucrative career in Miami with legendary gangster Meyer Lansky.


Jack Apple:
Gangster historian Paul Maccabee described Apple as “a New York-born contract killer” who did the dirty work for Kid Cann. Whether he had an alibi for the night of Jan. 22, 1945, the police records don’t say. Inspector Mullen had this to say about Apple: “He did not seem to be much concerned about Kasherman and said that he might have ‘got it’ from any source.”

Hell-raising tradition

In the last years of his life, Arthur Kasherman roamed about the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the constant company of two ghosts, whose names were Howard Guilford and Walter Liggett. The parallels in the three editors’ lives were so striking that Kasherman knew that his obituary, like those of Guilford and Liggett, would be written in blood.

These three angry men are mostly forgotten now, but they were the main characters of one of the most violent chapters in American journalism. In a crowded, grimy and often lawless Midwestern city, the Minneapolis of the Great Depression, they used the printed page to raise hell. They published when they could scrape together the money. They wrote headlines that bellowed outrage, smashing the crooked politicians and cops who were on the payroll of the bootleggers and mobsters who ran gambling houses, brothels and after-hours gin mills. They may have been one-man operations, but in an era when everybody  got the news on paper, what was printed and hawked on the streetcorner got a city’s attention.

The mainstream dailies – the Minneapolis Journal, the Daily Star and the mighty Tribune – dismissed these three publishers as scandal-mongers, much the way the corporate media view today’s bloggers. Indeed, the methods of Guilford and Kasherman, who worked together for a time, were sometimes scurrilous and practiced a journalism more mercenary than factual. But Guilford, Liggett and Kasherman were also willing to investigate the powerful and the wealthy in a way that the big Minneapolis dailies refused. They were rewarded with beatings and arrests on trumped-up charges. Police confiscated their newspapers. Their offices were ransacked. More than anything else, they are forever joined in history by the circumstances of their deaths. The equation was simple: get rid of the editor, then the news will stop. On Sept. 6, 1934, Howard Guilford’s head was practically blown off by a shotgun fired through his car window as he drove home. On Dec. 9, 1935, Walter Liggett was felled by machine gun bullets in an alley behind his home, in front of his wife and 9-year-old daughter. Those deaths, for which no one was ever punished, would define Kasherman for the rest of his life.

The most derided of the three, Kasherman was combative, self-righteous, possibly delusional. Behind the closed door of his cheap apartment, his typewriter chattered deep into the night. Kasherman saw himself as a crusader in a fallen city, unafraid of offending dangerous people even after repeated attacks and repression. He brandished his newspaper like a knife. For all his bombast, though, Kasherman was telling the truth about his city.

Kasherman, circa 1929 (HCL)

Arthur Kasherman was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States at age 10. He grew up in the North Side, where Jews were concentrated in segregated Minneapolis, and graduated from North High School. He had a lifelong desire to become a lawyer, like his brother, Edward. But his life kept gravitating toward the far less savory world of newspapers. He was a newsie, hawking papers at 3 in the morning. Early on he showed an enterprising streak. In the early 1920s, he started publishing a seasonal paper called the Newsboys’ Christmas Greeting, and it earned him some decent money. Still, he pursued his dream by attending the Minnesota College of Law. His time as a law student ended in the late 1920s, when he got mixed up in a corruption investigation involving a suspected bribe between a gangster and the chief of police. He was sent to jail for refusing to testify, because, he said, he was a “newspaperman.”

The rest of Kasherman’s life would be a confrontation. His hangout was Minneapolis’s turn-of-the-century City Hall and Courthouse, an immense Romanesque fortress of caramel-colored granite that squats on an entire city block. Kasherman was the lurking character with the hat brim turned down, the collar turned up to hide his face. Under City Hall’s soaring atrium with its opulent stained glass ceiling, the newspaperman sought out the most sordid stories oozing out of the courtrooms, the grand juries and the police interrogation rooms for the “exposes” that were more diatribes than investigations.

His words survive in letters, fragments of interviews and in the columns of his newspaper, and for all their messianic fervor, occasional pettiness and over-the-top rhetoric, they still offer an endearing glimpse of this Runyonesque character. He would call for the elimination of the rodents running the city, alongside an advertisement offering his services as a public relations consultant.

After one setback, friends urged him to go south and become a lawyer. Kasherman refused.

“Those dirty double-crossing rats can’t do this to me,” he spat back. “I want vindication.”

Kasherman (right) at his trial, with his attorney Alex Kanter (HCL)

In October, 1936, the well-known proprietor of a downtown brothel approached the Minneapolis police. She complained that Kasherman had threatened to write about the business carried on in her Dobbs Hotel unless she paid him off. She said she gave him $50 in August, another $50 in September. But she wasn’t going to make it a monthly habit. So she invited the police to help her make the third payment.

It’s interesting that the police found Kasherman’s supposed blackmail a greater menace to the public order than a house of prostitution.

The trial in January 1937 was front page news in the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minneapolis Star. Kasherman didn’t disappoint. He leaped out of his chair, yelled at the jury, once even tried to punch a prosecution witness. Alex Kanter, the lead attorney, stood before the jury and even in his defense, hinted that Kasherman’s self-righteousness had the tinge of delusion. He was “imbued with the idea of becoming a reformer — the Huey Long of Minnesota,” Kanter told the jury.

Kanter linked Kasherman with the slain Guilford and Liggett. Putting him in prison was a calculated effort to silence him, Kanter said, although it was “dealing with him more kindly than his predecessors.”

Though it didn’t persuade the jury, Kanter’s closing argument made an impression on the correspondent from the Minneapolis Star.

“His conviction brought speculation as to whether another Minneapolis ‘scandal sheet’ would succeed Kasherman’s ‘Public Press.’ For the third time in recent years the field was left empty, on two previous occasions by the assassinations of Howard Guilford and Walter Liggett.”

Kasherman photographed in his hospital bed
(Star Tribune)

Kasherman emerged from prison in September 1940, after serving three years for his $25 extortion conviction. He immediately went back to work, publishing his “Newsgram” and “Public Press,” accusing Mayor Marvin Kline of breaking his promise to “close up” Minneapolis.

On a Saturday night in December 1942, Kasherman walked out of a restaurant on Nicollet Avenue. He went down the street to a drugstore at 16th Street. Before he could get in, two men jumped him from behind. They pounded him with blackjacks and nightsticks as he lay on the ground, until blood was gushing from his head.

When he came to, Kasherman told the cops he had been threatened in recent weeks, and had written letters to Kline and Gov. Harold Stassen complaining about “vice conditions” in Minneapolis.

In the last issue of his newspaper, published in December 1944, Kasherman included a three paragraph “special request” to the county attorney and the sheriff. Make sure nothing happens to me as the result of his criticism of City Hall and its gangster allies, Kasherman wrote. “No slugging, or anything!” “I am sure that both of you officials believe in Freedom of the Press – and that it isn’t necessary to get the underworld’s permission to publish a newspaper. And that it is perfectly proper to expose CORRUPTION in the city!”

Last chow mein

On a slushy night in January 1945, a woman named Pearl Von Wald was stepping out of the Pantages Theater onto the sidewalk when somebody blew the horn at her. It was Art Kasherman, a guy she’d known for years, pulling up to the curb in an Oldsmobile Coach.

Von Wald wore a sharp white overcoat. She also sported a shiner, bestowed upon her the previous night by a drunken gentleman friend. That man, Red Sullivan, had spent a fair part of the day in jail, but Von Wald’s ordeal, worn like a purple badge under her eye, wasn’t going to keep her from going to Hennepin Avenue to take in a movie. Or from getting into a warm car with another male friend to take him up on his offer of some late-night chow mein. Kasherman was 44 years old, and though his wallet was light, he always dressed snappily. The two drove across downtown.

Earlier that day, Kasherman was hanging round City Hall, just like he always did. By one account, he walked into the Hennepin County sheriff’s office with some information about a dice game on Nicollet Avenue that was sending big money to the Chicago mob. Later on, he stopped by the office of the Star Journal. Another edition of the Public Press is coming out, real dynamite this time, he bragged.

“Better watch out, Art,” someone bantered. “Look what happened to Guilford and Liggett.” They said it all the time. He was so identified with those two that the reporters thought it was fun to taunt Kasherman with it.

They can’t scare me, he answered.

Pearl Von Wald with Kasherman's blood on her coat (Star Tribune)

It was 11 p.m. when Kasherman parked the car just across the street from Hannah’s Café at the corner of 15th and Chicago. He and the woman with the white coat and the black eye went inside the restaurant. They took their seats at the second table on the left.

While they were eating their chicken chow mein and drinking steaming cups of tea, things were happening outside, in the darkness. Someone walked up to Kasherman’s parked car. A knife was jammed into left front tire, and the air quickly escaped.

The couple finished up in about 30 minutes. Kasherman walked up to the register and paid the check. He and his date put on their coats and stepped through the double doors into the night. It was about 11:30. Across the street, the organ player at Danny’s Bar was making a racket. Down the block, a newsboy made his way home, his last newspaper sold. The city streets were covered with ice and slush. The couple crossed 15th Street, to Kasherman’s mud-spattered Oldsmobile.

Pearl Von Wald got into the passenger seat. Arthur Kasherman got behind the wheel. He started it up and turned the wheel. The Oldsmobile wouldn’t pull out. Must be stuck in the snow. He tried to rock it back and forth. A man came out of the restaurant and saw Kasherman spinning his wheels. He walked over to the back of the car to help him with a push. Then the guy looked down. Hey, your tire’s flat. Kasherman got out of the car to see for himself.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” said the good Samaritan. Then he got his own car and drove off.

Kasherman got back behind the wheel and closed the door. He turned the key to start it up again, and give it another try, rocking the car back and forth. The windows were all steamed up. They couldn’t see what was happening on the street.

A large dark sedan swerved around the corner from Chicago Avenue and stopped. A man got out and stepped up to Kasherman’s car. In his hand was a .38-caliber pistol.

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The driver’s side window exploded. Kasherman screamed as a slug ripped through his cheek and shards of the shattered glass drove deep into his face and neck. He fell over on Von Wald, spots and rivulets of blood painting her white wool coat. She had already crouched down in terror, but the weight of Kasherman pushed her out of the car onto the running board. The shots kept thundering into the car. Kasherman forced his way over her and made one last dash for his life. He ran toward Chicago Avenue, only a few paces away. His head was streaming with blood. The man with the gun followed.

“Don’t shoot, for God’s sake don’t shoot,” Kasherman said. Then he said a name, a short nickname, Bob or Joe, like he knew the person who was killing him. Von Wald heard the name, but she said she didn’t remember exactly what it was.

The pistol roared. A .38-caliber slug pierced the newsman’s chest. Kasherman fell face down on the sidewalk. The killer got back into the passenger’s seat and the big dark sedan sped off down 15th Street with its headlights off, the gunman’s hand out the window, firing two more bullets into the night.

A crowd gathered near the corner of 15th and Chicago to look at the lifeless form on the sidewalk. Somebody who lived nearby at first thought it was just a drunk. There were a lot of those on this corner. Soon the flashbulbs of the Daily Times, the Tribune, the Star-Journal, the Dispatch, the Pioneer would be lighting up the street, and pencils would scratch in notebooks about the gangland-style murder of this curious character. Kasherman’s prophecy was, at last, front page news, all over town.