Column: Do a film about the Cream Can Bandits!

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2001


Friday, April 20, 2001

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Column: Do a film about the Cream Can Bandits!

Let’s all shed a tiny tear for the folks out in California who make those films for theaters, television channels and video stores.

All too often what we’re now seeing are recycled British television shows and films with different titles, plus sequels which are rarely as successful as the original productions. Add to this the imitation factor (westerns, cops shows, lawyer and court room dramas, doctored hospital specials, comedy, reality foolishness and whatever else is currently popular) and one wonders if those folks out in Hollywood are running short of creative ideas.

To help those folks, I have a suggestion. How about doing a film or television special about the &uot;Cream Can Bandits?&uot;

And just who in heck are the Cream Can Bandits, and what’s their relationship to this area? Please be patient and we’ll answer both questions with plenty of details.

In early 1987 someone suggested I should do an article or column about the Cream Can Bandits. Right at that time I had no idea what was even involved with this topic. A request for more information was placed at the end of one of my Tribune columns. Within a few days Albert Whitaker of Manchester supplied most of the needed details about this gang of area bank robbers. A little more research resulted in a column based on this topic which was published in the Tribune on Jan. 23, 1987.

Here’s a portion of that column:

&uot;During 1938 and early 1939, a area gang known as the Cream Can Bandits had an odd trademark which mirrored a trait closely associated with the pack rats out West.

&uot;The pack rat is famous for hoarding all kinds of junk in his huge nest. He picks up sticks and stones, flashy items like spoons, wrappers and can lids, litter left behind by people, and anything else loose and interesting. The pack rat has been known to go into homes and even remove jewelry: However, the busy rodent can never be accused of stealing. The pack rat operates on a strict code of put and take which decrees it will always leave something in exchange for whatever is taken. Thus, a stick or stone could easily be left in a home as a lopsided swap for a wrist watch taken to the nest.

&uot;For a year and a half the Cream Can Bandits operated between the cornrows of North and South Dakota, north Iowa, Minnesota and western Wisconsin. They used the containers intended for milk as an essential part of their operation and as distinctive calling cards.

&uot;The gang specialized in opening safes in stores, banks, post offices, garages and service stations. They would steal the cream cans from a nearby creamery or farmer, fill the containers with water, and carry them into the place scheduled for a nocturnal visit. The water-filled cans were used to cool safe drilling and cutting equipment. When the job was completed, the cream cans would be left behind in a. pack rat-type exchange.&uot;

Now I have found more information about the Cream Can Bandits and their unusual method of operations. This information is being featured for the readers, plus anyone out in Hollywood who wants to &uot;borrow&uot; this gang’s saga as the plot for a new film or television special.

From March 1938 to May 1939, this gang burglarized 27 post offices, at least six banks, plus many business places. And one of the places where they left several souvenir cream cans was the Twin Lakes State Bank. On Oct. 18, 1938., this Freeborn County bank was robbed of $3,220 by the gang.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to rob banks in Zumbro Falls, Taunton, Blomkest and Sargeant. In fact, the gang tried three different times to get into the safe at the State Bank of Sargeant over in Mower County. On one of their nighttime trips to Sargeant,about 20 miles northeast of Austin, the Cream Can Bandits burglarized three local businesses instead.

We’ll continue with this topic in the next column and feature the Cream Can Bandits and their fourth trip to Sargeant.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.