The Farmer’s State Bank in Almelund, Minnesota, was robbed by a group of five men on July 23, 1921. The men arrived wearing dark suits and straw hats, and they were traveling in a green Nash touring car. They left the bank with nearly $8,000 in cash and $6,000 more in Liberty bonds. Nearly 200 deputies joined in the chase and manhunt for the robbers, but the bandits successfully evaded them and escaped, exchanging gunfire with police along the way.
The following month, Roger J. Roach (aliases Red Stanton and James E. Laughlin) was arrested, believed to be one of the robbers, but Minnesota authorities were not able to extradite him because of charges in North Dakota. In October 1921, George Hughes, who had a criminal record, was arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota, in possession of a stolen car. He was then identified as one of the bank robbers by Chisago County Deputy Sheriff M.L. Hammerstrom, and by other witnesses to the robbery and chase. Hughes, who did not testify due to his prior criminal record, was tried and convicted on October 4, 1921. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In May 1922, Louis Thorvik went to the police station to clear the air about accusations that he had been involved in the robbery. However, Deputy Sheriff Hammerstrom reported that Thorvik had confessed his involvement in the robbery. Witnesses then identified Thorvik as one of the robbers. Thorvik was put on trial in July 1922, with Hammerstrom’s testimony regarding Thorvik’s alleged confession serving as the primary evidence against him. Thorvik denied both any involvement in the robbery and having made any type of confession to Hammerstrom. He offered corroborated testimony that he was in St. Paul at the time of the crime. The jury found Thorvik guilty, and on August 2, 1922, he, too, was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1925, Roger Roach was brought back to Minnesota to stand trial for the Almelund bank robbery. He was identified by witnesses as the driver of the bandits’ car. He agreed to plead guilty, but the authorities wanted him to stand trial, which he did. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Roach insisted that neither Hughes nor Thorvik were involved in the crime. After he was in prison, Roach asked to make a statement to the Chisago County attorney and the head of the Minnesota Bankers Protective Association. In this sworn statement made in 1925, Roach provided a detailed account of the Almelund robbery and escape, including naming his four accomplices, none of whom were Hughes or Thorvik. No action was taken by the authorities with regard to Hughes’ and Thorvik’s convictions following this statement.
In 1926, Thorvik hired attorney M.F. Kinkead to assist him in trying to obtain his release from prison. Kinkead worked for five years to confirm the details of Roach’s story. He tracked down all four accomplices and several of them confirmed the details of Roach’s account, as well as his statements that Hughes and Thorvik were not participants in the crime. In addition, Kinkead was able to find new evidence to support Thorvik’s alibi that he was in St. Paul at the time of the robbery, as well as learning that the physical description originally provided of the robber thought to be Thorvik did not match Thorvik’s appearance in terms of his height or hair color. Lastly, it was confirmed that Hughes had registered at a hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, the day of the robbery, which is several hundred miles from the scene of the crime.
This new evidence of Thorvik’s and Hughes’ innocence was submitted to the Minnesota Board of Pardons. On July 16, 1931, both George Hughes and Louis Thorvik were granted pardons after having each spent roughly a decade in prison for a crime they did not commit.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.