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Black White Blue

Black White Blue

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The Assassination of Patrolman Sackett

Author William Swanson

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 15, 2012)

A white police officer is assassinated in a troubled St. Paul neighborhood. Thirty-six year later, two African American grandfathers are convicted in controversial trials that force a city to relive a contentious past.


On May 22, 1970, responding to a bogus emergency call to help a pregnant woman, St. Paul patrolman James Sackett was killed by a sniper’s bullet fired from a high-powered rifle.

The white officer’s assassination was the most shocking event in an era of shocking, racially charged events, punctuated by bombings at Dayton’s Department Store and elsewhere, police harassment and shootings of young black men, an alleged hijacking plot, and random acts of urban violence. a once peaceful, close-knit community, St. Paul’s summit-university neighborhood had reached a boiling point, heated by racism and rage.

Award-winning journalist William Swanson masterfully walks the razor-edge between the grief and anger of a police force that lost one of its own and the deep-seated resentment and subsequent silence of a community that had many reasons not to trust the cops. Based on extensive interviews and archival research, Black White Blue recounts the details of one of the most extraordinary cold-case sagas in U.S. annals—a story featuring dozens of memorable characters, including a relentless “super cop,” an aggregation of conflicted informants, and a haunted woman who grew old with a terrible secret. The case culminates with the controversial trials, decades later, of Ronald Reed and Larry Clark. Black White Blue, is a powerful, true account of crime and punishment, time and memory, race, community, and personal relationships.

Author information

William Swanson is the author of Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson and Stolen from the Garden. He has written and edited for various publications in the Twin Cities and elsewhere for more than forty years.

Reviews and news

Star Tribune



Interview with William Swanson on 10,

Access Minnesota (video), part 1, part 2, part 3

“The assassination-style murder of St. Paul police officer James Sackett in 1970, at a time when racial unrest had put much of America on edge, stunned the city and touched off an investigation that would last for thirty-five years before the killers were convicted in a court of law. In Black White Blue, veteran Twin Cities writer William Swanson offers a nuanced, richly textured account of the case that moves like a taut thriller, but with a fascinating cast of real characters that includes cops, criminals, grieving family members, and more than a few conflicted souls. A wonderful read.”
Larry Millett, author of Murder Has a Public Face: Crime and Punishment in the Speed Graphic Era

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 288 pages
  • 11 b&w photos
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873518703

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