December 8: 1920: Duluth police nab auto theft ring

On this day in Duluth, St. Paul, and Hastings in 1920, police rounded up three suspects suspected of operating “one of the most thoroughly organized systems of wholesale automobile thievery that has ever come to their attention.” While Tom Mulany (St. Paul), Joseph Wasser (Hastings), and Duluth’s Donald Birchen were arrested, police said they were still after the “higher-ups” of the crew, those who masterminded the ring. Stealing the cars was one thing; what the group allegedly did afterwards was new. According to police, they “remodeled and rebuilt” the stolen cars and then sold them in “a distant part of the country.” Mulany had run part of the operation out of a house at 1118 East Third Street before moving south to set up a garage in South St. Paul. All three suspects were brought to Duluth. Within a week the ring was reported to have operations throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. Mulany, 25, and Wasser, 19, both confessed to Judge Bert Fester not only their roles in the crime, but that the entire operation started after St. Paul garage owner George Brodt—one of the alleged “higher ups”—told them he was in the market for stolen cars. Two officers posing as potential customers captured Brodt the next day. Birchen claimed he had nothing to do with the operation, and apparently walked away—only to be arrested again before the month ran out, this time on charges of holding up Duluth’s Hendrickson Jewelry Company in November.

A 1920 Ford Model T Coupe.