Dakota Datebook

Verne Miller, Part 2

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yesterday we brought you part 1 of a story about Verne Miller, a war hero who served with the ND National Guard in WWI. He was clean cut, tall, and blond with chiseled features. When he came home, he became a policeman and was then elected sheriff. But, in July 1922, he was found to have embezzled some $6,000 from the South Dakota county that employed him.
The law caught up with Miller in St. Paul the day after Halloween. The fugitive sheriff gave up without incident and pled not guilty. But, when the case went to trail, he approached the bench and pled guilty. He was fined $5200 and sentenced from 2-10 years in the SD State pen.

Miller turned out to be a model inmate. He didn’t drink, gamble or use snuff, and the warden soon made him his personal chauffeur. After 18 months, Miller was released and worked as a farmhand for $70 a month until the terms of his parole were met.

Miller was soon indicted for violating prohibition laws, and in June 1925, he turned himself in. But, as soon as his father and uncle posted bail for him, he skipped town. The next summer, he met Vi Mathis, who had recently divorced her husband – he was in prison for 1st degree murder. Vi was a working at a carnival in Brainerd, MN, when a belligerent customer started bothering her. Miller came to the rescue, and the two were soon inseparable.

A year later, it was rumored Verne Miller was the driver of a getaway car when a bank was robbed by six men back in Huron. Miller was by now hooked up with one of Al Capone’s guys as a bootlegger. He and Vi were running liquor between Chicago and St. Paul, and delivering to hotels and speakeasies across the Dakotas.

Things went well for the pair until February 1928, when Miller was involved in a brawl, in which two patrolmen were shot and wounded at the Cotton Club in Minneapolis. Miller’s partners, Kid Cann and Bob Kennedy, were indicted but let go due to lack of witnesses.

About this same time, Miller’s name was also linked to a bank robbery Good Thunder, MN. Witnesses described two “short and shabby” men, along with one who was tall and well dressed. One of the witnesses identified the clean-cut suspect as Miller.

A few months later, Miller was also indicted for shooting a prohibition agent, so he and Vi skipped town. They landed in Montreal, where they opened several casinos with a New Jersey mobster. Miller’s crime network quickly expanded. When he and Vi came back to the States during the depression, Miller soon became part of what the FBI dubbed the Holden-Keating gang, which included Harvey Bailey, the leader, Tommy Holden, Francis “Jimmy” Keating and accomplices Machine Gun Kelly and Frank “Jelly” Nash.

Soon after, Miller and his gang robbed a bank in Willmar, MN, getting away with $140,000. But, one gang member was killed, and two locals were wounded. During their investigation officials soon came across three dead or dying Kansas City men, Sammy Stein, Mike Rusick, and Frank “Weanie” Coleman. All were shot with a .45-caliber machine gun. Machine Gun Kelly said the killer was Verne Miller, who was soon running with the likes of Pretty Boy Floyd.

For the next three years, Verne and Vi lived the high-life, robbing banks across the country. Murder was commonplace in their world, and it was inevitable Verne would die badly. Yesterday was the anniversary of his death in 1933 – he was found dead on the outskirts of Detroit, nude, beaten and trussed-up.

It’s perhaps ironic prohibition was repealed just one week later.

Verne Miller Time Line. SD Public Broadcasting. <http://www.sdpb.org/radio/oto/VerneMiller/timeline.asp>

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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