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Bank Executive Escapes Kidnapper; Gunman at Large

November 20, 1990

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The chairman of Minnesota’s second-largest bank was abducted at gunpoint and forced to make a ransom demand from his car phone but escaped uninjured after being left alone in the woods, authorities said.

The search continued today for the lone gunman and the banker’s Mercedes.

First Bank System Chairman John Grundhofer was kidnapped Monday when he arrived at his office building. He escaped two hours later and called for help from a dairy farm in Wisconsin, just over the Minnesota line, authorities said.

Jeff Jamar, chief of the FBI’s Minneapolis office, said the gunman approached Grundhofer in the bank’s parking garage, forced him back into the car and told him to drive out of the city.

Authorities said Grundhofer called in a ransom demand to the bank about an hour later. The amount was not disclosed. The ransom was not paid.

The kidnapper ″was prepared, well-planned. I believe he stalked him, knew who he was after,″ Jamar said.

Police Chief John Laux said a witness in the garage reported the kidnapping. Authorities gave few details on the sequence of events but said Grundhofer was left alone in the woods, freed himself and walked to a farm.

″He wasn’t released, he escaped,″ Jamar said. ″The person left him (and) told him he’d be back.″

KSTP-TV of St. Paul reported that Grundhofer was bound, placed in a sleeping bag and left at the bottom of a wooded embankment in Houlton, Wis.

Bruce Dahlke, the farmer who let Grundhofer use the phone, told the TV station he overhead the banker tell police the kidnapper claimed to have attached explosives to Grundhofer’s wrists. Police would not confirm the account.

″I’m OK,″ Grundhofer said at a news conference Monday. ″I have no idea why this took place this morning. ... We’re very grateful to the good Lord for me being here.″

The abductor, described as between 50 and 60 years old, carried a handgun and a knife and wore an overcoat, dark business suit, tie and brown tweed hat, authorities said. He carried a black leather satchel, investigators said.

Grundhofer, 51, has been chairman, president and chief executive officer since January of First Bank System Inc. With total assets of $19.2 billion, it is the second-largest bank holding company in Minnesota and the 36th largest in the nation.

Previously he was vice chairman and senior executive officer for Southern California at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank.

He and his wife live in a western Minneapolis suburb, according to a bank spokeswoman. They have two grown daughters who live in California.

Thirty years ago, while working at Union Bank in Los Angeles, Grundhofer dodged a bullet while trying to repossess a debtor’s car, the Star Tribune reported today.

In September, a gunman fired into a crowd at a bar in Berkeley, Calif., killing one person and seriously wounding Grundhofer’s 22-year-old daughter, Karen. Grundhofer said recently that his daughter is recovering.