This Day in Jewish History

1981: Police Presumably Relieved as Kid Cann, Bad to the Last, Dies

Whether Isadore Blumenfeld earned his soubriquet for his boxing prowess or for sheltering from bullets in the toilet, he was a criminal master who stayed crooked to the end.

On June 21, 1981, Kid Cann – the best-known alias of the Minneapolis, Minnesota, crime king Isadore Blumenfeld – died, at the age of 80. Cann was a shrewd and brazen criminal who was sophisticated enough to be capable of assembling and profitably operating a number of different illegal enterprises, but who also was not above pulling the trigger himself on individuals, be they other mobsters, policemen or journalists, when they threatened his livelihood.

Isadore Blumenfeld, the oldest of the six children of Phillip and Eva Blumenfeld, was born on September 8, 1900, in Ramnicu Sarat, a city in eastern Romania. At the age of two, he and his family emigrated to the United States, arriving at the port of Duluth, Minnesota.

Phillip, a furrier, settled with the family in the Near North neighborhood of Minneapolis, a city that suffered from high levels of both political corruption and anti-Semitism.

Runner in the red-light district

Isadore left school at an early age to begin selling newspapers and just about anything else he thought there was a market for. One of his favored occupations was making runs for coffee and other necessities for the prostitutes and procurers of the Minneapolis red light district.

The advent of Prohibition, in 1920, offered numerous business opportunities for ambitious young men like Kid Cann. (He claimed to have earned the nickname from when he boxed as a youth, although some of his colleagues said he got the epithet because whenever shooting started, he took cover in the outhouse – that is, in the “can” – an explanation he did not much appreciate.)

The gang that Blumenfeld organized ended up controlling most of the criminal activity – including bootlegging, prostitution, labor racketeering – that took place in the northern sections of Minneapolis. In addition to setting up stills in the forests near Fort Snelling, outside St. Paul, he also owned a barber-supply company called La Pompadour, which existed for the sole purpose of being able to legally purchase industrial alcohol, which they then turned into 139-proof “bang-up alky.” He also imported and marketed whisky from Canada and from Mexico.

When Prohibition was repealed, and alcohol could again be sold legally, Blumenfeld reportedly took over the city’s liquor control board, turning it into his own private extortion machine.

Convicted under Mann, of all things

For years, Minneapolis law-enforcement officials were reluctant to indict Kid Cann, juries refused to convict him, and journalists were afraid to write about him. One exception to the latter was Arthur Liggett, who owned the Midwest-American.

When Liggett investigated the alleged links between him, the nation's organized crime families and Minnesota’s governor – and former Hennepin County attorney – Floyd Olson, Cann tried bribing him to find another topic. Liggett persisted, and also wasn't deterred by a brutal beating. At that point, Cann used his connection to have Liggett indicted on trumped-up charges of rape. Liggett was acquitted – and a month later, Blumenfeld shot him to death himself. That he did in the presence of Liggett’s wife and daughter, while they were unloading groceries from the family car. 

Liggett’s wife picked him out of a lineup, and Cann was put on trial for the killing, but he got off after producing a slew of eyewitnesses, all of whom placed him at Garfinkle’s Artistic Barber Shop at the time of the murder.

It was said of Blumenfeld that there wasn’t any problem that he couldn’t solve with a single phone call.

Nonetheless, finally, in 1960, he was tried and convicted of violating the Mann Act – transporting a prostitute across state lines -- and sentenced to seven years in a federal penitentiary. After four years, he was paroled and moved to Miami Beach, where he and his friend Meyer Lansky had been buying up real estate for years. 

He spent the final decades of his life quietly managing his Florida property empire, running stock frauds and money laundering. He made regular visits back home to Minneapolis, where he died on this date in 1981. Blumenfeld had a traditional Jewish burial, presided over by Rabbi Max Shapiro at the Adath Yeshurun Cemetery.