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Secret Partners

Secret Partners

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Big Tom Brown and the Barker Gang

Author Tim Mahoney

Minnesota Historical Society Press (September 15, 2013)

Finally, the book that unmasks the insider behind the shocking corruption in St. Paul in the 1930s: Big Tom Brown, the city’s chief of police.


Among the most dangerous criminals of the public enemies era was a man who has long hidden in history’s shadows: Tom Brown. In the early 1930s, while he was police chief of St. Paul, Minnesota, Brown became a secret partner of the infamous Barker gang. He profited from their violent crimes, he protected the gang from raids by the nascent FBI—and while he did all this, the gangsters gunned down cops and citizens in his hometown.

Big Tom Brown, 6'5" and 275 pounds, continued to enforce St. Paul’s corrupt O’Connor system, allowing criminals to stay in the city as long as they paid off the cops and committed no crimes within fifty miles. But in the early 1930s, the system broke down: no longer supported by cash skimmed from illegal booze, gangsters turned to robbing banks, and the Barker gang kidnapped two of the prominent citizens who had been complicit in the liquor trade. Brown was the insider who kept the criminals safe—but for highly political reasons, he was never convicted of his crimes.

Timothy Mahoney tells this fascinating story, details how the fraud was uncovered, and at last exposes the corruption of a secret partnership.

Author information

Tim Mahoney, an editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, formerly worked at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Wisconsin State Journal and has also taught journalism and English. He is the author of two novels.

Reviews and news

Read and Excerpt

Star Tribune


Pioneer Press

Advance Praise:

Secret Partners lays to rest the bloody Ma Barker previously generated by Hoover’s myth-making machine and reveals the true hand that rocked the Barker-Karpis cradle—the police brass and political contacts whose power impacted figures of the 1930s Midwest Crime Wave as diverse as the eulogized John Dillinger and the framed Roger Touhy.”
Ellen Poulsen, author of Don’t Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang and The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York’s Most Sensational Vice Trial

“A well-researched and informative account of police corruption in the 1930s. This book will be an essential source for anyone interested in the gangster era of the 1930s.”
Alston W. Purvis, author of The Vendetta: Special Agent Melvin Purvis, John Dillinger, and Hoover’s FBI in the Age of Gangsters

Related resources

MNopedia article: Gangster Era in St. Paul

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 304 pages
  • 40 black and white photos
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519045

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