Rushmore McKenzie, a retired St. Paul policeman and unexpected millionaire, often works as an unlicensed P.I., doing favors as it suits him. When graduate students Ivy Flynn and Josh Berglund show up with a story about $8 million in missing stolen gold from the ‘30s, McKenzie is intrigued.
In the early 20th century, St. Paul, Minnesota was an open city —a place where gangsters could come and stay unmolested by the local authorities. Frank "Jelly" Nash was suspected of masterminding a daring robbery of gold bars in 1933, but, before he could unload it, he was killed in the Kansas City Massacre. His gold, they believe, is still somewhere in St. Paul.
But they aren't the only ones looking. So are a couple of two-bit thugs, a woman named Heavenly, a local big-wig, and others. When Berglund is shot dead outside of Ivy's apartment, the treasure hunt turns unexpectedly deadly. In this hard-boiled mystery from David Housewright, Mac McKenzie is looking for more than a legendary stash from seventy-five years ago---he's looking for a killer and the long hidden truth behind Jelly's gold.
About the Author
DAVID HOUSEWRIGHT has won the Edgar Award and the Minnesota Book Award for his crime fiction. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
DAVID HOUSEWRIGHT has won the Edgar Award and is the three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for his crime fiction, which includes the modern noir Twin Cities P.I. Mac McKenzie series (starting with A Hard Ticket Home). He is a past president of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA). He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
Frank Nash was dead. Which is why it was such a surprise when I received his letter:
You 're just the mug I need to help me get back my gold. Think about it.
I checked the postmark. The letter had been mailed a day earlier, another surprise. Frank "Jelly" Nash might have been one of the nation's most prolific bank robbers, pulling over a hundred successful jobs in a twenty-five-year career, but dead was dead, and since Nash had been shot in the head in 1933, he was deader than most. Also, while I like to keep an open mind when it comes to the paranormal, somehow I was confident that if Nash wanted to speak to me from the grave, he would have chosen more efficient means than the U.S. Postal Service. Still, there's something about the word "gold" that captures the imagination, so as the letter writer requested, I did indeed think about it.
The next morning I received a second letter.
I'm planning a job worth millions. Do you want in?
I didn't actually need the money, yet I had to ask — how many millions?
Two days later, a Sunday, Nash sent an e-mail; apparently he had an account with Comcast:
The boys in St. Paul tell me you're a mug who can be counted on in a tight spot. Want to join my gang?
I clicked the Reply button, wrote "I would never join a gang that would have me as a member," and hit Send.
Twenty minutes later, the phone rang.
"Hello, McKenzie. It's Ivy Flynn."
"Ivy. How are you?"
"I'm really good. How 'bout yourself?"
"Couldn't be better."
"McKenzie? I'm sorry to call you out of the blue like this, but I need a favor."
Ivy was a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, and about two years ago I had hired her to determine what was killing the honeybees owned by a close friend of mine. During the course of her research, someone took several shots at her with a twelve-gauge.
"I owe you one," I said. "Tell me what you need."
"It's kinda complicated. Can we meet?"
We worked out the details. Afterward, I asked, "Ivy, do you know anything about some messages I've been getting from Jelly Nash?"
"That was my boyfriend's idea. He thought they would pique your curiosity."
"Did he actually use the word 'pique'?"
"Let me guess — English major."
"American literature. He's working on his Ph.D."
"Will he be joining us?"
"Well, tell him the mug's curiosity is indeed piqued."
"I will. McKenzie? This is going to be so much fun."
"More fun than getting shot at?"
She actually thought about it for a few beats before answering. "Yes, sir. Lots more."
We agreed to meet at the same place we had met years earlier, Lori's Coffeehouse on Cleveland Avenue across from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. I parked on Buford next to a small, classically designed Catholic church with arched stained glass windows, blond stone recovered from a church that was torn down decades earlier, and a peaked red tile roof. It was called the Church of St. Andrew Kim and served a congregation of Koreans. Before that it was called Corpus Christi; the previous owners sold it to the Koreans when they moved to an ultramodern church with all the personality of a New Country Buffet — go figure.
A used and abused dark blue Chevy Trailblazer was parked across the street from the church. The two men sitting inside had an unobstructed view of Lori's front door. I might not have noticed them at all except for the still-burning cigarette butt that the driver flicked out the window. It joined three others in the street. Assuming he was a diligent chain-smoker, I decided he must have been parked there for at least thirty minutes.
Ivy and her companion were sitting at the same table as when I first saw her; she could have been perched in the same chair. Even the paintings for sale on the walls looked familiar. While Lori's hadn't changed much, though, Ivy had. Twenty-four months ago I thought she was an attractive young woman hiding behind dowdy clothes, thick, large-rim glasses, and an unfortunate hairstyle. Well, she wasn't hiding anymore. Irish red hair curled around her triangular face, setting off eyes that glistened like wet shamrocks. Her shirt was selected to accentuate her curves and her shorts — it was probably too chilly to wear shorts in early May, but if I had legs like hers I would have worn them, too.
She came out of her seat for a hug. She was so happy to see me that she laughed out loud. I kissed her cheek and said, "You look fabulous."
"You've always been nice to me," she said.
"Is this the boyfriend?"
Her companion rose to his feet and extended his hand. "Josh Berglund," he said like someone fond of reciting his own name. His appearance generated about as much excitement as a bowl of oatmeal — medium height and twenty pounds overweight, with straight brown hair, unremarkable hazel eyes, and a mustache that he should have given up on years ago. My first thought, Ivy could do a helluva lot better.
"Please," he said and gestured at a vacant chair.
Two large mugs sat empty on the small square table, along with a white plate that once held something made with a lot of powdered sugar.
"How long have you been here?" I asked.
"About a half hour," Ivy said.
Berglund studied his watch. "Forty-two minutes," he said.
It couldn't be "about forty-five minutes," my inner voice said. No, it has to be exactly forty-two minutes. C'mon, Ivy, what are you doing with this guy? Still, the timing worked with the chain-smoker outside.
"So, what's going on?" I asked.
Berglund gestured at the mugs in front of us. "Can I get you something?"
"Mocha, latte, cappuccino, espresso, French soda —"
"Coffee is fine." He stared at me as if he had never heard of such a thing. "Black," I added.
"As you wish. Ivy?"
"Nothing else for me," she said.
Berglund left the table and made his way to the counter. I turned to Ivy. She reached across the table and squeezed my hand.
"I am really glad to see you," I said. "You look absolutely beautiful."
"So, when did this Berglund happen? Last time we chatted you were unattached and happy about it."
"That's what I said, but I didn't actually mean it. As for Josh, I've known him on and off for a couple of years. We didn't start dating until three months ago."
"Ahh — you sound like my brother."
"Your brother goes ahh?"
"Everyone I know goes ahh, especially when they're about to tell me that I should be with someone who's better-looking and has more money, but Josh is smart and generous and he's kind to me and he makes me laugh. That's a lot."
"Ahh," I said.
I asked how she had been, and Ivy filled me in on the past six months — she was still going for her Ph.D. and expected to get it by the end of the term. A moment later, Berglund returned with the coffee. He set it in front of me and sat quietly while Ivy and I continued to exchange pleasantries. I was sure it annoyed him that I was holding hands with his girl; I just didn't care. He seemed tired and uncertain, but that lasted only a few minutes. He gestured impatiently with an unexpected flash of energy.
"There are things we need to talk about," he said.
"Yes," Ivy said. "That's why we're here."
I took a sip of the coffee. The house blend. Nice. Lori's always served a good unadorned cup of joe.
"Okay," I said. "I'm primed. What's your story?"
"McKenzie, we need your help," Ivy said. She squeezed my hand for emphasis, then released it.
"No," Berglund said. "Not need." He glared at Ivy as if she had just tipped his hand in a high-stakes poker game.
She shrugged. "Why else did we call him?"
He shook his head as if Ivy were discussing matters that were far beyond her grasp. I didn't like the gesture but let it slide.
"Why did you call me?" I asked.
Berglund's eyes went from me to Ivy to the ceiling and then back to me again. "Do you know who Jelly Nash was?"
"Jelly Nash was a bank robber who committed most of his crimes during the twenties and early thirties."
"His real name was Frank Nash. He was born in the small town of Birdseye, Indiana, but he grew up in Oklahoma. His mother died when he was two ..."
Berglund didn't care what I knew or didn't know. He had a story to tell and he was going to tell it his way and there wasn't anything to do except lean back in the chair and listen.
"He was first arrested for burglary in 1911 ..."
I glanced at my watch several times, but if Berglund noticed, it didn't slow him down any.
"Nash was a meticulous planner. He spent many hours in the banks before he robbed them, drawing up detailed floor plans, noting the location of the safes as well as the movement of employees. Each robbery was timed. He and his gang would go in, stay for a specific number of minutes, then leave no matter how much loot had been collected. His escape routes were charted block by block ..."
Finally I said, "You're telling me this — why?"
Irritation flashed across his face. Apparently he didn't like being interrupted.
"Approximately 9:00 A.M. on Thursday, June 8, 1933, Frank 'Jelly' Nash stole thirty-two bars of gold bullion from the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Huron, South Dakota," he said. "The gold has never been recovered. I believe it's still here in St. Paul."
"The gold was worth two hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars when Jelly stole it," Ivy said. "At today's prices, it would be worth —"
"Eight million, seven hundred sixty-six thousand, eight hundred eighty-eight dollars," Berglund said.
I stared at him for a couple of beats while I digested the information. "I'm sorry," I said. "What were you saying?"
"The gold had been en route to the Ninth District Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis for safekeeping," Berglund said. He was smiling. He had a rapt audience now, and he knew it. "Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt's election in 1932, gold was circulated freely in the United States as legal tender, and banks and other private entities often maintained stores of bullion. In early 1933, as part of the New Deal, Congress enacted a package of laws that criminalized private ownership of gold; FDR himself signed Executive Order 6102, which made the hoarding of gold an offense under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, literally an act of treason. All gold — coins, dust, bullion — was collected by the government and traded for other forms of money. The government had no single place to store it — the Federal Gold Repository at Fort Knox wasn't built until 1936 — so the gold was sent to the reserve banks and to the U.S. Mint in Denver and to any other place where it could be well protected.
"We believe Jelly Nash somehow learned about the shipment, which shouldn't come as a surprise. He had informants everywhere. He robbed the bank and got away with the gold as well as forty-six thousand dollars in cash. The theft was initially reported in the Huron Plainsman; there were several quotes from the bank manager and the county sheriff and a photograph of the safe Jelly had blown using nitroglycerin. Afterward, newspaper articles, as well as police reports, waxed extensively about the stolen forty-six thousand dollars, yet the gold was never again mentioned."
"Perhaps the reporter made a mistake," I said. "Goes to show, you shouldn't believe everything you read."
Berglund shook his head. "I made use of the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to Treasury Department files," he said. "There is no question that the gold theft took place as originally chronicled. However, authorities at the time deemed that it was in the public interest to keep news of it from broadly circulating."
"We can only speculate," Berglund said. "There had been runs on several area banks during the months immediately preceding the theft. At the Security State Bank and Trust in Faribault, Minnesota, they had to literally stack money on the cashiers' counters for depositors to see. To save the National Bank of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, the parent bank flew in sacks of money and allowed customers to watch them deposit it in the bank's vault. Possibly there was a fear that news of the gold theft would spark additional, more violent runs, especially since many people were incensed that the government was seizing privately owned gold supplies in the first place. We were in the middle of the Great Depression, and people trusted gold more than the government.
"Also, Minnesota's financial community was lobbying heavily for a bank holiday, something that Governor Floyd B. Olson refused to sanction. Eventually Olson would give in, but at the time of the robbery, he may have thought that public outcry over the theft would produce pressure too great for him to weather, and it's possible that he pulled strings to cover it up."
"It wouldn't be the first time a politician believed that telling lies was in the public interest," I said.
"No, I suppose not. In any case, Jelly Nash robbed the bank at 9:00 A.M., immediately after it opened its doors to the public. Huron is three hundred thirty miles from St. Paul. Today, that's a five-hour drive. Maybe less. In 1933, it would have taken twice as long. Yet by nine that evening Nash was in St. Paul. The St. Paul Daily News reported that Nash and his wife, Frances, were seen carousing — that's a direct quote from the newspaper — they were seen carousing with an architect named Brent Messer and his wife at the Boulevards of Paris nightclub. The newspapers loved to print gossip about gangsters in those days; it was like they were celebrities."
"So you believe Frank came straight here after the heist."
"I do. And why not? For nearly thirty years, St. Paul had been a refuge for gangsters, a safe harbor for killers, bank robbers, stickup artists, kidnappers, bootleggers, extortionists — criminals of every variety and stature. They were allowed to come and go as they pleased; authorities even afforded them protection from other law enforcement entities as long as they refrained from committing crimes within the city limits."
A simple yes would have sufficed, my inner voice said.
"They called it the O'Connor System, named after Chief of Police John —"
"I know all this," I said. "It's my town."
Ivy flashed a look of disapproval. Still, the interruption slowed Berglund down for a moment.
"I'm just trying to give you context," he said. He slowly drained the cold coffee that had pooled at the bottom of his mug before beginning again. "Jelly and Frances Nash were at the nightclub on the eighth. Byperusing FBI records, we discovered that they spent the night of June ninth with Alvin Karpis and the sons of Ma Barker at their hideaway on Vernon Street in St. Paul. We know that they departed the following day, the tenth."
"Abruptly is the applicable word," said Ivy.
"Only he didn't have the gold with him when he left," Berglund said.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Nash was a different breed of criminal than most that flourished during those days. Yes, he was a thief, but he also was a comparatively honorable man. I believe that it is unlikely that he would have put his wife at risk by transporting her and the stolen gold in the same vehicle. That, of course, is merely conjecture on my part. However, it is supported by the fact that Nash did not have the gold with him when he was apprehended by federal agents six days later in Hot Springs, Arkansas."
"You think it's still in St. Paul," I said.
"Yes. The nine minutes Nash spent inside the Farmers and Merchants Bank triggered a massive manhunt. Treasury agents searched for the thieves and the thirty-two gold bars for many years. Yet no one was ever arrested for the crime, and the gold was never recovered. This is in the Treasury Department's own files."
"Wait a minute. When Frank was arrested, it wasn't for the gold robbery?"
"If the Treasury Department knew Frank robbed the bank —"
"It didn't know. That's something we developed on our own."
"He wasn't identified at the scene?"
"No one was identified. Witnesses claim the thieves wore masks."
"Then how do you know Frank committed the robbery?"
"His fingerprints were all over it."
"He was identified by his fingerprints?"
"No. What I meant by fingerprints — that was a metaphor. What Imeant, the way the crime was executed, the way the vault was blown using nitroglycerin, the short amount of time spent in the bank, the escape route — it all fit Nash's MO, his modus operandi."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jelly's Gold"
Copyright © 2009 David Housewright.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Housewright brings alive the era... a compelling historical mystery...Top-notch." Booklist, Starred Review "A clever entertainment driven by an amiable protagonist."Kirkus Reviews "Readers get a dual treat as the likable Mac deals with a parade of present-day sharpies and gold hunters, while Housewright retells the story of the wholesale corruption that for decades made St. Paul a playground for a who's who of gangsters."
Publishers Weekly "If you haven't discovered Housewright, you're in for a real treat - this is a real gem from one of America's best crime novelists." Lansing State Journal
When a friend approaches Rushmore McKenzie about helping find some gold that has stolen during the gangster era, he is skeptical of its existence. Then as he begins to do a bit more research and discovers he is being tailed, he finds that others are looking for this same gold. One of the gold seekers ends up dead. Did someone want the gold so badly that they were willing to kill for it? McKenzie must keep digging until he discovers the murderer. It amazes me that all of the gold seekers seemed to think that they would come into possession of the gold. Otherwise this was an enjoyable read with a lot of historical detail on the gangster era. It created a sense of place for the St. Paul of the 1930s as well as the one of today.
When Rushmore McKenzie's friend, Ivy, and her boyfriend, Josh, ask McKenzie to help them hunt for 1930s gangster Frank "Jelly" Nash's cache of gold bars, it sounds like fun. The task is more intellectual than physical, and it promises a potentially big pay-off. It soon becomes apparent that other people are after the gold, and things turn violent. At first the St. Paul police have little interest in helping their former colleague investigate a cold case, but their attitude changes when the pursuit of the forgotten gold leads to murder.The success of a treasure hunt mystery depends on the plausibility of the circumstances through which the treasure was forgotten, uncertainty about the characters involved in the treasure hunt, and the location of the story. Many of the Prohibition/Depression era gangsters met violent ends, so it's not beyond imagination that one of them would take the secret of his hidden gold to his grave. McKenzie's use of libraries, archives, and public records to research events from the 1930s is realistic. None of the other players in the treasure hunt are above suspicion. The action travels all over the Twin Cities, so readers who live in or who have visited the area can have fun recognizing familiar places.The plot reminds me of something you'd see on Magnum, PI, Remington Steele, or Moonlighting. Readers who enjoyed those TV series will probably like this book.
Having lived in the St. Paul area for a number of years, I'd read a lot about its being an open city during the Gangster Era. This was a good work of fiction, based on what I'd heard or read over the years I'd lived there. There were a couple of interesting plot twists, and a couple of surprises with some of the characters. I especially liked the ending.
Rushmore "Mac" McKenzie retired from the St. Paul police department, but unexpected wealth allows him not to work to supplement his pension. He does investigative jobs as a private investigator for friends or if a case sounds interesting.-------------- Graduate students Ivy Flynn (see TIN CITY) and her boyfriend Josh Berglund peak Mac's interest with the information they found on a 1933 bank heist of gold bars perpetuated by Frank "Jelly" Nash, who died soon afterward in the infamous Kansas City Massacre; the loot was never recovered and thought to be hidden somewhere in the Twin Cities. As the two students and Mac follow clues, they are aware others seek the gold too; some dishonest and some lethal.-------------- The latest Twin Cities P.I. Mac McKenzie investigation (see DEAD BOYFRIENDS and MADMAN ON A DRUM) is a fabulous thriller with a super historical subplot that interweaves with the present Mac adventure. The Depression Era comes alive through a rogue's gallery of infamous criminals including Frank "Jelly" Nash, a real person, as David Housewright paints a picture of corrupt city encouraging the notorious to "vacation" in town. Mac's present day inquiry holds up quite well as he and his two youthful partners follow clues uncovered in archives and interviews while dodging some modern era goons. JELLY'S GOLD is an excellent Twin Cities investigation.-------- Harriet Klausner