“If a man is out on parole, it’s because he did his time. He paid the price for his mistakes, and now he’s trying to make the transition from prison life to real life. But you cops refuse to give him a break. You confuse him with offenders who are serving probation, offenders who were convicted of crimes but instead of being sent to prison or jail are slapped on the wrist and told to ‘be good.’ I don’t blame you if you’re pissed off at them.
“There are twenty times more criminals on probation than in prison. That’s because ninety-six percent of the felony convictions in Minnesota are achieved through guilty pleas and seventy-eight percent of those convictions result in probation—so, yeah, I can understand why you might get frustrated, you and the cops. Especially since thirty percent of the criminals are going to keep on offending and not much bad is going to happen to them. They’ll commit one offense and get probation and then commit another offense and get probation and then another and another. Seven out of ten offenders are going to go straight; they’re going to learn their lesson. But that thirty percent—I knew one offender who was serving twenty-two probations simultaneously, all of them theft related. The judges who sentenced him just didn’t believe the nature of his new offenses warranted time.
“That’s just the way it is. In Minnesota only the most nefarious offenders go to prison. The state legislators set it up that way. Maybe they did it because it costs over forty thousand dollars to send an offender to prison for a year and only eighteen hundred to monitor an offender who’s on probation. Maybe they’re just too cheap to spend the money to build more prisons to make room for all those offenders. I don’t know. I only know it’s not my fault and it isn’t the fault of my parolees, so cut it out. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said, but only to maintain peace in the car, only to secure Karen’s future cooperation. See, it wasn’t an offender out on probation that kidnapped Victoria Dunston. It was one of her parolees. Besides, two out of five ex-cons return to prison for one reason or another, I don’t care how well they behave while on parole, so what difference did it make?
At Karen’s direction I hung a right on University and headed east. On the way I called Harry on my cell. Probably I should have called Special Agent Honsa since he was in charge, but I didn’t know him. I told Harry that we hadn’t learned much so far, only that Scottie Thomforde had had the entire afternoon free to kidnap Victoria.
“Something else,” I said. “He has a friend called T-Man. I don’t have anything more on him except that he apparently showed up a couple of weeks ago.”
“About the time the white van was stolen,” Harry said.
“He’s big from weight lifting.”
“Big enough to carry a squirming eighty-pound girl to a waiting van, I bet.”
“Maybe he did his body building in prison.”
“He wouldn’t be the first.”
As we drove toward the state capitol campus at the far end of University Avenue, it occurred to me that St. Paul was fast becoming the most boring city in America. Take the name. The city was originally called Pig’s Eye Landing after its founder, Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant, a notorious and thoroughly likable fur trader turned moonshiner, until a French priest came along and decided it wasn’t PC enough. That was just the beginning. St. Paul had always been a city of neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods used to have names with character: Beanville, Bohemian Flats, Frogtown, Swede’s Hollow, Cornbread Valley, Oatmeal Hill, Shadow Falls. Sure, some people still use those names, old-timers mostly, only you’ll rarely see them in official documents. That’s because in 1975, St. Paul formed community councils in seventeen districts and charged them with creating new “neighborhoods” whose boundaries were influenced more by streets and traffic flow than by shared identity and communal history. These districts were given politically acceptable names like Como, Midway, Summit Hill, and Battle Creek. Take “the Badlands.” That’s a name now known to only a few people who actually grew up there and a handful of researchers at the Minnesota Historical Society. Yet at one time, the Badlands was as prosperous a neighborhood as any in St. Paul. ’Course, that was before Interstates 94 and 35E carved it into pieces and scattered them among the conservatively named Thomas-Dale, Downtown, and Dayton’s Bluff districts.
Karen directed me northeast from the capitol to a residential street near the Gillette Children’s Hospital, where we found a sprawling two-story building shaped like a horse shoe with a courtyard at the center. It had once been a hotel, considered quite swank, that was rumored to have been the last hideout of Dillinger accomplice Homer Van Meter before he was gunned down by cops at University and Marion Street, about half a mile away.
That’s another thing. We used to have celebrity gangsters living in our midst. Now it’s just punks. And politicians.