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"Picture it, Denver, 1932."

Updated: Apr 17

I have uncovered many unusual stories during my research process. One of my favorites is the Case of the Kidnapped Bakery Manager. ️🕵🏼‍♀️


Benjamin P. Bower and his wife Mary had been entertaining the evening in their lovely home in the Speer Neighborhood of Denver when two frightened women and two armed men showed up at their door. The women, Mrs. T. H. Winbourn and Mrs. Clara Pool, had been hijacked at Colfax and Grant streets and forced to drive to the Bower residence (approximately a 6-7 minute drive) on the cold night of 19 January. The six were held at gunpoint before the gunmen left the house with Mr. Bower.


The Bower house still stands.

The news reports at the time varied from hysterical to nonsensical as police and reporters attempted to figure out the mystery.


Benjamin P. Bower was the manager of the Campbell-Sell Bakery in Denver. Bread was big in Denver in the early twentieth century. Of the 285 bakeries in Colorado in 1914, 114 were in Denver. Close to wheat production of the plains and the eight flour mills in the city, bread was shall we say, bringing in the dough?


Denver Public Library Special Collections, X-23852, Campbell-Sell Baking Co. [1905-1920], donated by the City and County of Denver. For the complete picture, check out the fantastic DPL Digital Collection at digital.denverlibrary.org.

The Campbell-Sell Bakery was owned by Stephen Knight, Sr., a native of New York in his early seventies in 1932. Mr. Knight lived in the posh neighborhood of Cheesman Park, where his home remained in the family until 1994. In 1932, Mr. Knight was not as spry as he once was and had been bedridden after a heart attack the week before. Mr. Knight was worth nearly half a million dollars in 1935. While Stephen Sr. was the official "president" of the company, his eldest son Roger, vice-president, had been running the company in his father's absence.


The 1100 block of Curtis street west of Speer housed the Campbell-Sell Baking Company and their warehouse. The entire north side of the block was owned by Stephen Knight.


A current look at the 1100 block of Curtis, on the Auraria Campus.

A decade earlier, Mr. Knight gifted the City of Denver a bronze sculpture created by Alexander Phimster Proctor called "On The War Trail." You can find it today at Denver's Civic Center Park.


McClure, Louis Charles, 1867-1957, In Civic Center, Denver (1932-1935). Denver Public Library Digital Collections, accessed 12/04/2024, https://digital.denverlibrary.org/nodes/view/1038874

It is easy to see that Mr. Knight and his company might be good targets for those with larceny on their mind. The police and public opinion at the time of the kidnapping were confounded. Why would a group of thieves target the manager of the baking company instead of the owner, his daughter, or even his two sons?


"We're going to take you away from here," they announced, "and we're going to hold you until Mr. Knight comes thru with $50,000 for you."


"Before departing, one of the pair ripped the telephone from the wall and instructed Mrs. Bower to be sure to have it fixed before noon on Wednesday, 'so we can call you up.'"


Now as to the validity of the statements quoted in The Denver Post on Wednesday, 20 January 1932, I cannot say.


Benjamin P. Bower's kidnapping was on the cover of The Denver Post (also on pages 4 and 5), the annual convention of Colorado Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association was taking place at the famous The Brown Palace Hotel.


This explains why the Associated Press was reporting 700 city and state officers were hunting for the "lair of the kidnappers." Off-shift firemen from the five fire districts were added to the posse to search vacant buildings, stores, houses, garages, sheds, and shacks along the Platte River and in their communities. State law enforcement officials were in charge of searching the surrounding counties.


The paper was doing its part as well.


IF YOU SEE THESE MEN, NOTIFY THE POST OR POLICE AT ONCE


NUMBER ONE

The leader and spokesman of the two gunmen who led Bower away on Tuesday night. He is between 25 and 35, is 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighs 150, is of slender build, has a sallow complexion, and a thin face. He wore a dark overcoat, a light gray hat with small, narrow black band and declared he was Shelton (or Sheldon) of Illinois.


NUMBER TWO

This man appeared to be slightly older than the leader. He is 28 to 35 years old, 5 feet 9 inches, and weighs 150 pounds. Like the first, he was slender, with a thin face and sallow complexion. He wore a brown suit, a gray overcoat and a light cowboy hat.

Both men carried automatic guns and kept their hats pulled well down on their heads, concealing the color of their hair and eyes.


BENJAMIN P. BOWER

Age 62. Stockily built, 5 feet 1 or 2 inches tall, weight 160 pounds. He is bald, with a fringe of gray hair above his ears, wears nose glasses and has brown eyes. When kidnaped (sic) he wore a dark gray overcoat and soft gray felt hat with a black band.








Articles printed in The Denver Post on Wednesday, 20 January 1932, Thursday, 21 January 1932, and Friday, 22 January 1932 were used for this post. The photos above were purchased on eBay in 2019.


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