OFFICER LEO GORSKI
End of Watch: December 18, 1932
On Friday, December 16th, at 2:30 p.m., five or six robbers entered the third Northwestern National Bank at Central and East Hennepin Avenues. When one of the tellers could not open a door on the safe, the bandits struck him in the head while holding bank vice president Ray Teuscher at gunpoint. At one point in the robbery, one of the robbers opened the front doors and saw Officers Leo Gorski and Ira Evans approaching.
As the officers were getting out of the car, the robbers fired from 15 feet away inside the bank, through windows. Another robber shot a machine gun from the street corner. Evans was hit and slumped over the wheel. Gorski stumbled out of the car with his shotgun and collapsed on the street. Two citizens stopped to help the officers and took them to the hospital where Evans died. He had ten slugs in his body from two different guns.
The robbers fled with $20,000. As they drove along Larpenter Avenue, however, a tire that had been hit in the exchange of gunfire went flat and at Snelling Avenue and the tire fell off. The robbers then pulled into Como Park where a green car was waiting for them. Oscar Erickson, 25, an innocent bystander, who had no idea who the robbers were, had the bad luck to be driving through the park. As he glanced at the suspects standing next to their car with no tire, they opened fire, hitting Erickson in the head and chest. Erickson’s passenger, Arthur Zachman, 22, took control of the car and drove to the hospital where Erickson died later that day.
When officers arrived at the park, they found the suspect vehicle, but the suspects were gone. The suspect vehicle turned out to have been stolen a year ago. It was also believed the suspects had robbed the North American Bank in the spring. The officers assumed that the robbers had kidnapped a driver of another car to get away.
On Sunday morning, December 18th, at 3:00 a.m., officers were called to a loud party at a St. Paul apartment. Lawrence Barker, who appeared to be drunk, had been thrown out but had taken a gun from his coat. Officer George Hammergren had gone to another apartment where a man sitting in the living room told them the man they were looking for was in the bedroom. As officers wrestled with Barker for the gun, another officer, Harley Kast, joined in and they took Barker into custody. They placed him in their car, but as Kast left to call headquarters, Barker attacked Hammergren from the back seat, biting him in the wrists. Hammergren dragged him from the car where they again wrestled. Barker got away and a foot pursuit started. Hammergren captured him by striking him over the head with his gun.
By this time the officers felt they had something more than a drunk so they went back to the apartment. There they found $1,700 still in Third Northwestern National Bank wrappers and $10,000 in securities, which had also been stolen. They found the robbery plan written out and divided seven ways; $3,200 to go to each of the five robbers, one for the driver for the green car and one for the “finger man” who had surveyed the bank and drawn up the plan.
On Sunday at 5:00 a.m., two hours after Barker’s capture, Officer Gorski died.
Lawrence Barker, AKA: Lawrence Devol, 27, was identified as the ring leader of the gang of robbers and was the one with the shotgun that had killed the officers. After being questioned, he admitted to the killings. He was also wanted for the murder of another police officer in Kirksville, Missouri, in November, 1930. St. Paul police later arrested Clarence Devol, AKA: James Colton, Lawrence’s brother. Minneapolis Police arrested Robert Newbern and Leonard Hankins, AKA: Owen Lewis. Bernard Phillips was also identified as a possible suspect. All of the suspects had criminal records and aliases.
Lawrence Devol pled guilty on January 10th, 1933, to second-degree murder and was sent to Stillwater State Prison. In May, 1936, he went insane and was sent to St. Peter State Hospital. Two years later he led an escape of 15 inmates and began robbing banks again. He killed another police officer and wounded two more in a shootout in Enid, Oklahoma in July, 1936.
Leonard Hankins, AKA: Owen Lewis, was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in Stillwater State Prison. Both Robert Newbern and Clarence Devol were acquitted.
Ironically, if the officers had been on time for roll call at 2:40 p.m., instead of three minutes late, two other officers would have been sent to the robbery. It was also a “payless day” for the officers due to the city’s depleted finances. In other words, they were not getting paid when they were shot.
Officer Evans was hired on January 1st, 1924. He had received two commendations, one on November 4, 1926 and one on February 11, 1929. He was 39 years old, born October 6, 1893. His wife, Irene, survived him. His funeral was held at the Buchinger Funeral Home at 2535 Central Avenue on Monday, December 19th. He was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.