RANSOM KIDNAPING IN AMERICA
By Patterson Smith
From AB Bookmans' Weekly, April 23, 1990. Copyright 1990 AB Bookman's Weekly
In this article I deal with the literature of ransom kidnaping in America. By this I mean kidnaping in which the aim of the perpetrator is to extort money from the victims family through threat of harm to the victim. Although kidnaping is rampant in the world today, most cases are not ransom cases but fall into other categories of abduction such as: hostage-taking for political or terrorist ends, skyjacking, child stealing to satisfy a maternal drive, domestics relations kidnaping by a divorced or separated parent, white slavery cases, kidnaping for sexual assault, or kidnaping as an adjunct to robbery.
The kidnaping of a person for ransom is a crime which arouses especial interest and passion. There is sympathy for the victim and his family. There is a complicated game to be played between the family and the abductor, who must get close enough to the former to receive the ransom but not close enough to get caught. (Its a very difficult trick to bring off; dont look for serial kidnapers.) There is anxiety over the unknown fate of the victim, usually an innocent child. There is the mystery of the identity of the kidnaper. There is excitement over the chase to apprehend him and the legal struggle to convict him. Small wonder that the literature of ransom kidnaping has its fill of shock, despair, daring, wits, outrage, joy, and tragedy.
Before proceeding, lets settle one little detail: the spelling of kidnaping and kidnaper. Most writers are two-p "kidnappers"; Im a one-p "kidnaper." I have a perverse preference for the second form because it looks wrong but isnt.
A good introduction to the subject is a study by a two-p sociologist named Ernest Kahlar Alix, whose Ransom Kidnapping in America, 1874-1974: The Creation of a Capital Crime was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1978. I differ with Alix over his inclusion of the Patty Hearst case which caps his study, for I consider that to be more of a political kidnaping than a classical ransom kidnaping. I am also somewhat disappointed that Alix limits his sources to bare newspaper accounts and legislative documents, eschewing the primary source material of interest to collectors which I treat here. Nevertheless, Alixs work is very valuable for its historical framework and I have made much use of it in preparing for this article.
It is generally agreed that the first American kidnaping for ransom took place on July 1, 1874 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Charley Ross, the son of a merchant of comfortable but not wealthy means was walking with his older brother Walter when they were enticed into a buggy by two men who offered them candy. Walter was released many blocks away but not Charley. Not certain that his son was the victim of a crime, the distraught father placed an advertisement in a Philadelphia paper: "Losta small boy, about four years of age, light complexion, and light curly hair."
When no result followed, Ross placed another ad offering a $300 reward. An unsigned letter arrived advising him that his son was being held for ransom, that "no powers on earth" could free him, and that his life was forfeit if detectives were put on his trail. The letter was replete with misspellings so frequent and systematic that they seemed purposeful. It was the beginning of a series of 23 letters from the abductors and a remarkable correspondence in the annals of crime.
A few days later Ross received the second letter, which set the ransom at the then enormous sum of $20,000 and again threatened the life of the boy if detectives were put on the case. Ross was directed to respond through the personal columns of a city newspaper, a medium in wide use before the age of the telephone. The police discounted the kidnapers threats and advised the father against paying ransom lest further abductions be encouraged. Several weeks went by while Ross, at the bidding of the police, made equivocating replies to the kidnapers letters, which grew longer and more insistent but never left any clues which the police could seize on.
Despite massive searches for the buggy and its occupants, the Philadelphia police could make no headway. The authorities made offers of reward for information leading to the boy and called on the Pinkerton Detective Agency for assistance. On August 22 Pinkertons issued a three-page circular on which was pasted a copy of the only known photograph of the boy, taken at age two-and-one-half. The circular offered a reward of $20,000 and listed identifying questions to be put to any child thought to be Charley. ("Question: Who is your uncle on Washington Lane? Answer: Uncle Joe. Question: What horse does mama drive? Answer: Polly.")
On September 1 Pinkertons made a much broader distribution of a single-sheet reward flyer. It contained a lithograph of a painting that had been derived from the photograph by an artist working with the Ross family to provide an up-to-date likeness. This flyer generated thousands of false leads from around the Eastern seaboard, including a youngster named Charley Loss, who, when asked his name, was thought to be the missing child talking with a lisp. The entire nation became caught up in the Ross tragedy and a song entitled "Bring Back Our Darling" was published in sheet-music form. Its last verse began: "O Father in Heaven, please hear Thou our prayr! / Pray soften the hearts of those men / Who robbed us of one who is dearer than all / To bring back our darling again."
Unknown to the general public, the first break in the case had come the previous month in New York City, where Police Superintendent George Walling was approached by a man with underworld connections. The informer told Walling that his brother, a burglar named William Mosher, had once proposed that he join him in a kidnaping plot similar to what transpired in Philadelphia. The informer, who had turned down the offer, added that his brother had also written a novel with a kidnaping plot. Mosher was said to be accompanied by a younger burglar named Joseph Douglas (or Douglass).
The informer also told the superintendent about a discharged policeman named William Westervelt, whose sister was married to Mosher. Walling got in touch with Westervelt and brought him into the investigation on an informal and confidential basis, while keeping his own detectives on the case. Westervelt was to attempt to locate the burglars through his sister.
Day after day passed while Westervelt supposedly sought out Mosher and Douglas, whose whereabouts always seemed to elude him.
Walling began to wonder whether Westervelt was dutifully tracing the suspects or warning them about the policemens own efforts. In the meantime Ross continued to hear from the kidnapers, whose letters were growing more impatient. The letters were now arriving from various post offices outside of New York City and Ross was replying to his correspondents through the personal columns of newspapers published in that city.
After several weeks had passed with Ross, at police behest, stringing the kidnapers along, the desperate father decided to meet the kidnapers terms. "The public were clamorous for the arrest and punishment of the kidnappers at any cost, yet were ignorant of the risk to the life of my child and consequent terror to which I was subjected," Ross wrote later. "It is comparatively easy to sacrifice another mans child for the public good." But Rosss change in policy had come too late. When various arrangements to deliver the ransom misfired, communications from the holders of his son ceased.
In December events took a critical turn when a night alarm signaled a break-in at the summer home of a Long Island resident. Neighbors surprised two intruders and mortally wounded them when gunfire erupted between the two groups. One burglar identified himself as Douglas and his partner as Mosher. As Douglas lay dying he said: "Its no use lying now. Mosher and I stole Charley Ross from Germantown." Asked where the boy was, Douglas replied, "I dont know where he is. Mosher knows." But Mosher now lay dead. Just before he himself expired, Douglas said, "The child will be returned safe and sound in a few days." That indeed is what everyone expected, but it was not to be. Charley was never seen again.
Mosher and Douglas were identified in the morgue by young Walter Ross as the men who had driven away with his brother and him in the buggy. In January of the next year the mayor of Philadelphia issued a circular to law-enforcement agencies. It bore the outdated photograph of Charley and carried a printed description of the child, his deceased abductors, their horse and buggy, a boat which they had used to approach their Long Island target, and other facts of possible use to investigators. The circular was headed "Confidential" and recipients were asked to "disseminate judiciously the facts set forth." Like earlier efforts, it produced no useful leads.
With the supposed kidnapers dead and no sign of Charley, the frustrated police now turned on Westervelt as their only target within reach. His many prevarications in his dealings with the authorities had convinced them of his complicity in the crimeif not in its actual commission, at least in shielding the kidnapers afterwards. The ex-policeman was brought to trial in Philadelphia in August, 1875, convicted on several counts of conspiracy in the kidnaping, and sentenced to the penitentiary.
Immediately upon completion of the trial, Barclay, the prolific Philadelphia publisher of factual and fictional crime pamphlets, issued the Life, Trial, and Conviction of William H. Westervelt for the Abduction of Little Charley Ross (1875) in printed wrappers. At the head of the title are the words "American versus Italian Brigandage," which bespeaks the feeling at the time that child-stealing was a peculiarly Sicilian practice (the homes of Italian immigrants had been among the first searched by the Philadelphia police). As in most Barclay publications, page numbering begins with page 19 in order to suggest a longer work.
The Westervelt pamphlet follows another Barclay practice in providing each illustration with legends in both English and German. As the Germantown locale of the kidnaping suggests, the Philadelphia area contained a large German-speaking population and Barclay issued many pamphlets in separate English and German versions. As an economy they would prepare a single plate for each illustration which would serve both editions. In the case of the Westervelt pamphlet, however, no German-language edition is known.
For Christian Ross, Charleys father, the case did not end with the death of Mosher and Douglas or the imprisonment of Westervelt. Two years after the kidnaping he wrote The Fathers Story of Charley Ross, the Kidnapped Child, published by John E. Potter in 1876. It is the foundation work on the case and the cornerstone of a kidnaping collection. I have seen an 1878 printing as well, with a slightly altered title page and the imprint "published for the author." Its list of illustrations adds two items to that of the first printing but the newly listed illustrations themselves are omitted. An added page in the later printing dedicates the work to the parents "in the old world as well as in the new, who have shown so deep an interest in the story of the loss of my little son." This printing and an English edition issued by Hodder & Stoughton are much scarcer than the first printing.
Although The Fathers Story sold well and is often seen today, its profits were consumed by Rosss search for his son, the publicizing of which had been one of its aims. A related publicizing effort consisted of a Charley Ross bottle which bore the boys name and image in clear glass. These campaigns engendered many alleged sightings of the child across the nation and even overseas but upon investigation all were proven false. Numerous claimants to Charleys identity stepped forward on their own behalf. First they were young boys; as the years marched by they were adolescents, then grown men. Each believedor claimed to believethat he was the missing Charley. None was.
A good history of the case by Norman Zierold appeared in 1967 under the title Little Charley Ross, published by Little, Brown (who should be spanked for not providing an index). Zierold drew heavily on The Fathers Story, which still remains the best source for events up to the time of its publication. As I pick up my copy of that early work, a newspaper clipping from 1939 falls out. It is datelined Phoenix, Arizona, and begins, "A 69-year-old man walked into Superior Court today and astonished the clerk by filing suit to establish his identity as Charley Ross, whose kidnaping 65 years ago shocked the nation and was never solved."
Kidnaping was dormant during the quarter of a century following the Ross case. Then occurred a case of major significance. It was the first to involve a family of great wealth and the first to bring success to its perpetrator. In Omaha, Nebraska, in 1900 fifteen-year-old Eddie Cudahy, the son of a millionaire meatpacking tycoon, was forced into a buggy by two men and driven to a hideaway outside the city.
The next morning a note was delivered to the Cudahy mansion demanding that $25,000 in gold be paid or the holders of the boy would "put acid in his eyes and blind him." The note reminded the elder Cudahy of the lessons of the Philadelphia tragedy, in which detectives "persuaded the old man not to give up the money, assuring him the thieves would be captured. Ross died of a broken heart, sorry that he allowed the detectives to dictate to him."
Cudahy decided to pay up. Following instructions in the ransom note, he put the gold in his buggy that night, hung a red lantern from it, drove five miles down an appointed road to a spot where a specially marked lantern was placed, deposited the ransom, and immediately turned his horse for home. The next morning his son came walking up to the front door, unharmed and content that his captors had kept him well supplied with cigarettes.
Behind the plot, as investigators quickly deduced, lay Patrick Crowe, a train robber who had been dismissed from Cudahys employ ten years earlier. Crowe took his booty immediately to South Africa, where he enlisted in the Boer army to fight against the British. He had the cheek to write to Cudahy to say that he might be willing to return to Omaha for trial, and he identified James Callahan as his accomplice.
In 1901 Callahan was put on trial, but since Nebraska had no law against kidnaping a child above the age of ten, he was charged with robbery. The defense said it was not robbery, for Cudahy admitted on the stand that he had freely given the kidnapers the ransom with no expectation of its return. By this and other stratagems, the defense secured a Not Guilty verdict. An outraged judge told the jury, "I hope none of you will ever appear again in this jury box."
Later that year the cocky Crowe wrote Cudahy again and offered to submit to trial if certain terms were met, but nothing came of it for several years. In 1905, when President Roosevelts campaign against the trusts had placed meatpacking capitalists in a bad light, Crowe, tired of the fugitive life, did return to Omaha. He was tried on a charge of extortion, and, like his accomplice, acquitted.
The life story of this charming rogue is told in a book entitled Spreading Evil: Pat Crowes Autobiography, published by Branwell Company, 1927. Despite the subtitle, it is a third-person account which according to a prefatory note "was told to Mr. Thomas Regan, the well-known criminologist." Well-known though he be, I have never been able to identify Thomas Regan.
A few years after Eddie Cudahys short-lived ordeal, another boy from a wealthy family was kidnaped. In 1909 in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, Billy Whitla, the eight-year-old nephew of a steel millionaire, was released from school to a man in a buggy who claimed to be picking him up for his father. Taking the child out of school on some pretext was a tactic to be frequently employed in later kidnapings.
Billy was driven into Ohio and secreted in an apartment house in downtown Cleveland. The next day the postman delivered to the Whitla home a letter addressed in the boys hand but containing a note written by his abductors. It demanded ransom and directed that replies be placed in the personal columns of four named Midwestern newspapers.
A second letter soon came from Billy: "Two bad men have me. They will kill me if you dont send $10,000." Billys father, knowing the outcome of the Ross and Cudahy cases, resolved to obey the kidnapers and keep the police out of it. But the newspapers gave the case intense publicity as pressure mounted for a federal law punishing kidnaping by death. The newspaper coverage in combination with efforts by the police, who felt it their duty to pursue the kidnapers, made matters difficult for the father. After four days of complicated negotiations, the ransom money was transferred to the holders of his son, and the boy was set free on a Cleveland street.
The case is recounted in a little-known book entitled The Story of the Kidnaping of Billy Whitla, published in Cleveland in 1909. It was written by Hamilton Pearce, whom the title page describes as "the well-known descriptive writer" (another well-known man Ive never heard of). I have seen two issues of this book. One has the imprint "The N. G. Hamilton Publishing Co." and the other a label pasted over it reading "The Wells Publishing Co." There are also states with and without a colored drawing which depicts an excited crowd espying Billys return, above the legend "Its him! Its him!"
This homespun work, with its contents page at rear, is very engaging. Its photographs are good and its plot takes many turns before ending with the capture of the criminals, who are revealed to be a man and a Mystery Woman. And few can fail to be charmed by the flair which its author, the well-known descriptive writer, brings to his prose ("The crafty eyes bore the message to a crafty brain, which planned and planned and planned").
Cobbled into the book are additional morsels. One chapter offers advice from Mrs. Whitla on guarding against kidnapers ("Dont ever permit [your child] to miss a meal at home without first securing your permission"); another chapter recounts the Charley Ross case. A concluding section, which carries its own part-title, consists of a contribution by Pat Crowe entitled, "How I Kidnaped Eddie Cudahy." Crowe tells us that "I am now starting out to make atonement for the crime of my past life."
Fifteen years passed before the next kidnaping sensation. In 1924 two precocious University of Chicago students, the sons of very wealthy Chicago families, planned the perfect crime. In 1924 Richard Loeb and his close friend Nathan Leopold selected a younger boy at random from the student body of an upscale private school in their neighborhood. They lured Bobby Franks into their rented car, bludgeoned him with a chisel, suffocated him with chloroform, and left his naked body in a marsh. They notified the Franks family by telephone that their son was in their hands and would be returned unharmed if the kidnapers instructions were followed and the police not notified. Loeb and Leopold then sent the Franks family a special-delivery letter detailing how $10,000 in ransom should be prepared.
So far everything had gone according to plan. But the plan proved faulty. The site for disposing of the victim had been ill chosen, and the body was discovered and identified before any ransom was paid. Worse, Leopold had dropped his eyeglasses at the site. The police traced them to their owner, uncovered his connection with Loeb, and interrogated the two young men separately. Their loosely prearranged alibi fell apart and both confessed. Only ten days had passed between the commission of the perfect crime and its solution. The perpetrators were indicted on separate murder and kidnaping charges, either of which subjected them to the death penalty for which the public clamored.
Enter Clarence Darrow for the defense. He elected to have the case be heard without a jury and their guilt or innocence be decided by the judge. The prosecution had over one hundred witnesses, the confessions of the accuseds, and an airtight case. The only hope for the defense seemed to rest on an insanity plea. Darrow had his clients interviewed by psychiatrist after psychiatrist in what looked like a search for congenial experts. But Darrow had been planning an altogether different course which he kept secret until the very last moment, even from his clients. In one of the most astounding ploys in an American courtroom, Darrow changed the plea of his clients from Not Guilty to Guilty on both counts of murder and kidnaping. The prosecution was thunderstruck; as the cliché has it, reporters raced for the telephones.
Darrows stroke had shifted the contest from guilt or innocence to the question of the punishment. The sentence was within the judges discretiondeath or life imprisonment. By pleading his clients guilty to both counts, Darrow had prevented the prosecutor from retrying the case on the second count should the prisoners escape hanging on the first.
It was now Darrows task to convince the judge that Loeb and Leopolds lives should be spared. He succeeded. His memorable twelve-hour plea on behalf of his clients raised him to a level of national fame which no subsequent legal career has ever attained. (His devotees are now lobbying for his appearance on a U.S. postal stamp.) Loeb and Leopold were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Darrows "Plea in Defense of Loeb and Leopold," as it came to be known, was printed in full by every newspaper in Chicago. It was independently published in various pamphlet formats (including Haldeman-Julius) and in numerous book-length compilations from 1924 to the present day. The issue points of the first publication have not been entirely sorted out, and in fact the whole of the Darrow oeuvrea popular collecting fielddeserves full bibliographic treatment. Although it contains many errors and omissions, a good start has been made with Willard D. Hunsbergers Clarence Darrow: A Bibliography, 1981, one of Scarecrow Presss many useful, inexpensive, and homely contributions to the bookmans reference shelf.
The first full-length book on the Franks kidnaping, The Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb, was published in 1924 with the cooperation of the defense. It was written by a journalist named Maureen McKernan and contained a preface by Darrow and another defense attorney. Much of the work consists of extracts from the trial transcript (including the inevitable Plea) and other court documents. One such is the report of Drs. Hulbert and Bowman, who had made a psychiatric examination of the kidnapers on behalf of the defense. Since the case had strong homosexual overtones, certain "unprintable" sections of the report were omitted by McKernan. That was understandable in the age of Coolidge, but she made a more sinister alteration. The report had contained a reference to four criminal episodes preceding the kidnaping in which there was some suspicion of Loeb and Leopolds involvement. McKernan not only omitted this significant passage but fabricated some exculpatory text to replace it. Historians of the case wonder if this was done at Darrows instigation.
Another medical report on the case was published in 1924: Maurice Ursteins Leopold and Loeb: A Psychiatric-Psychological Study. It must be rare for I have never seen a copy. In 1926 the next book on the case appeared, The Loeb-Leopold case, by Alvin V. Sellers. Published by a Georgia legal publisher, it is little more than a recapitulation of court records. (That Plea again.)
The Loeb-Leopold case faded from public memory until one day in 1936, when Loeb was stabbed to death by a fellow prison inmate following what appeared to be a sexual quarrel. After this brief burst of publicity, interest in the case again submerged until 1952, when Leopold, whose sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment, was paroled. His release from prison was front-page news, and a somewhat baffling event for me. Although I had begun to interest myself in criminal matters, here was a renowned criminal whose name I had never heard of.
In 1956 a major publishing event occurred which familiarized all age groups with Loeb and LeopoldMeyer Levins novelized account of the case, Compulsion, published by Simon and Schuster. It was an immediate best seller. Although fictionalized, it followed most of the true-life events of the crime closely and contained gruesome details of the crime never before published. Leopold sued the publisher for libel and tried to stop a movie version from being produced. Levin was unintimidated and even worked the novel into a stage version which opened on Broadway, but only after he was forced to agree to major alterations in the script. The original unproduced version of the play was published in book form in 1959, again by Simon and Schuster.
Leopold told the story his way in Life Plus 99 Years, published by Doubleday in 1956. The drafting of it was begun at the instigation of Ralph Newman, the proprietor of Chicagos Abraham Lincoln Bookstore, at a time when Levin and Leopold were exploring the possibility of a collaborative effort. It is a not entirely trustworthy account of Leopolds life designed in part to further his chances for parole (which Levin supported). Unlike Levins book, it did not sell well.
It was only in 1975 that the definitive history of the Loeb-Leopold case appeared, under the title The Crime of the Century by Hal Higdon, published by Putnams. It follows the wasted lives of the youthful kidnapers from their birth until the death of Leopold in 1971. It contains much information on Darrows role in the case that was not revealed in the lawyers autobiography, such as an unpleasant dispute with the Loeb family over his legal fees. The void that Higdon filled was large. During the years of research that he spent on the case, he would often be asked, "Hasnt there been an awful lot written about that already?" Higdons reply was "Not really," and he was correct.
Three years after the tragic events in Chicago there occurred one of the most fiendish of all kidnapings. In Los Angeles in 1927 William Edward Hickman fancied that he needed $1500 to put himself through divinity school and selected as his victim twelve-year-old Marian Parker, daughter of a bank executive. Repeating the Whitla trick, he took Marian out of school to his apartment, bound her, and sent ransom demands to the father in telegrams signed "The Fox."
Before collecting the ransom, Hickman strangled the little girl in what he later said was obedience to voices from God. He applied heavy rouge to her cheeks, wired her eyelids open, and performed gruesome mutilations on her torso. He then propped up her body in the back of his car and drove to a prearranged meeting place to receive the ransom from her father. In the evening darkness Mr. Parker dimly saw his daughter in the back of Hickmans car and believed her to be drugged. He paid over the ransom to Hickman, who then drove down the block and deposited the mutilated remains of the girl on the pavement.
An enraged public cheered when good detective work identified Hickman as the perpetrator and ran him down in Oregon. He was tried on a combined charge of kidnaping and murder (kidnaping alone carried at most a life term in California) and was convicted and executed. He thus became the first ransom kidnaper in the United States to pay the supreme penalty. A defense of not guilty by reason of insanity had failed.
That defense was in the hands of Richard H. Cantillon, whose book on the case is the only full-length account. Entitled In Defense of the Fox, it was published by an obscure Southern house after the authors death in 1972. Few lawyers write about their failures, but Cantillon, an opponent of capital punishment, felt it his duty to point up the injustice of putting to death a man he believed was obviously insane.
Another demented kidnaper who did not escape the death penalty was Myles Fukunaga, a Japanese-American who in 1928 abducted Gill Jamieson, the ten-year-old son of a bank vice-president in Honolulu. Fukunaga, aged 19, employed the familiar call-at-the-school tactic and drove the boy away in a cab. The next day a messenger delivered to his father a rambling letter signed "The Three Kings." It demanded $10,000 in ransom, which the father paid.
The day after that a newspaper received a note from The Three Kings saying that "Gill Jamieson, poor innocent lad, has departed for the Unknown, a forlorn Walking Shadow in the Great Beyond, where we all go when our time comes." Shortly thereafter the body of the boy, who had beaten to death, was found in a shrubbed area. It lay on a couch formed of burlap and sand surmounted by a cross. A cardboard containing a misquotation from Shakespeares "Macbeth" lay on the boys chest.
The story of Fukunaga is told in The Snatch Racket, published by Vanguard in 1932 and written by Edward Dean Sullivan, a Depression-era author of two other crime books. In addition to dealing with the celebrated cases I have discussed above, it provides a good picture of many lesser-known abductions, including those of underworld figures preying on their own kind.
A scarcer compilation published the same year is Justine Mansfields True Tales of Kidnapings, Business Bourse Press. Its front cover is printed with a two-inch square containing a stripe-suited convict. The black dust jacket, printed in silver, has a die-cut hole with vertical strips positioned over the square so that the convict appears to be looking out a prison window. Mansfields work, like Sullivans, was published to exploit public fascination and outrage over a then unsolved case which had just occurredprobably the most famous ransom kidnaping in the history of the world.
In 1932, the infant son of Charles Lindbergh was taken from his Highfields estate in New Jersey by a kidnaper who used a ladder to enter the babys second-story window, where he left a ransom note. Shortly after the ransom was paid through an intermediary, the child was found dead. Two years later Bruno Richard Hauptmann was tried, convicted and executed for the crime. Because of the worldwide fame of the aviator father and many troubling aspects of the prosecution of Hauptmann, interest in the case has never died.
I last wrote of the Lindbergh kidnaping in my AB article of 1983 and therefore will here take note only of subsequent developments. The theory that Hauptmann was unjustly convicted was given prominence by Anthony Scadutos Scapegoat, published by Putnams in 1976. This work strongly influenced Ludovic Kennedy, a British author who had written books on miscarriages of justice in England (notably Evans & Christie). Kennedy came to America to research the Lindbergh case and produced The Airman and the Carpenter, Viking, 1985, which supports the view that Hauptmann was innocent of the crime. It was a view not unnaturally shared by Hauptmanns widow, who had been agitating for a posthumous pardon for her husband. It was also a view which came to be shared by many whose only acquaintance with the case came through Scaduto, Kennedy, or television.
One of the delights of being a bookseller is the license it gives to make known ones views while selling books of opposing viewpoint. So Ill state my position forthrightly: Kennedys effort to overcome the massive evidence against Hauptmann is a failure. That evidence was entirely circumstantialthe strongest kind of evidence, since it does not rely directly on the accuracy of human observation or the memory or veracity of witnesses. Those elements of it that Kennedy cannot dismiss as irrelevant or concocted, he attempts to explain away. But theres too much of it and the logic with which he deals with it is badly flawed.
While Kennedys book was making news, I began to receive orders for Lindbergh books, pamphlets, and ephemera from a customer who revealed that he also was writing a book on the case. I had often heard other customers who had submerged themselves in a case state a similar intention. They would normally tire of the effort or fail to find a publisher. Since revisionism was in the air, I expected that even if a book were forthcoming from my Lindbergh customer, it would be another attempt to exculpate Hauptmann and lay the blame elsewhere (on the Trilateral Commission, perhaps?).
It didnt turn out that way. In 1987 Rutgers University Press published Jim Fishers The Lindbergh Case, which can be considered the definitive work on the subject. (It does suffer from the worst proofreading I have seen from a university press.) Drawing on hitherto unavailable sources, Fishers account leaves the open-minded reader with little doubt of the guilt of the man executed for the crime. Fisher explains what Kennedy had to explain away.
There do remain many mysterious aspects to the case, of course, which is why it continues to fascinate. One mystery: If the evidence against Hauptmann was so overwhelming, why did he not confess to the crime, particularly when to do so would have saved him from the electric chair? Fishers explanation (not stated in his book): Hauptmann could not permit his wife, who had born him a son close in age to the Lindbergh baby, to see him as a murderer. Another mystery: How did Hauptmann know that on the Monday night of the kidnaping the baby would be at Highfields when the normal practice on Mondays was to take the child to the wifes home many miles away? Patterson Smiths explanation: Criminals are often lucky.
When Jonathan Goodman, the English crime historian and author of thirty books, visited me last summer, I took him to various places associated with the Lindbergh case. We visited the Highfields estate, the museum which houses the case archives and physical evidence, the courthouse in Flemington where the trial of Hauptmann took place, and the Union Hotel across the street, where the press stayed during the thirty-two-day trial in 1934.
Jonathan was aware of the matrix of evidence against Hauptmann, a one-time burglar from Germany who had entered America illegally. This evidence included, but was by no means limited to the following: the finding of a ransom banknote on Hauptmanns person, the discovery of $14,000 in ransom banknotes concealed in his garage, the many correspondences in his handwriting to that of the ransom notes, the rung of the kidnap ladder which had been cut out of his attic, the boards in the ladder which had been traced to a mill which supplied his lumber yard, the striations on the boards which matched the nicks on a plane in his tool chest, and his quitting his job on the day the ransom was paid.
Jonathan and I went into the bar at the Union Hotel to seek refreshment at the end of a long hot day. I introduced him to the young man tending bar as an author who was writing a book on the case. But I explained that, unlike many of the hotels visitors, Jonathan and I believed that Hauptmann was guilty. The bartender replied, "If he wasnt, somebody sure did a good job of setting him up."
The Lindbergh case led to the first federal law making kidnaping a capital crime and brought to bear the resources of the Federal Bureau of Investigation against it. In the late 1920s a wave of abductions of businessmen and gangland figures began in the Midwest. It culminated in 1933, when six ransom kidnapings were reported within a five-week period. Effective work by the FBI in dealing with them helped propel Director J. Edgar Hoover into national prominence.
The kidnaping epidemic ended with the breaking of the Urschel case. Charles Urschel, an oil millionaire and friend of President Roosevelt, was abducted from his home by gunmen one summer night. Four days later a ransom note arrived demanding $200,000. As instructed by the kidnapers, a friend of Urschel made a handoff of the money to the abductors, who afterwards released their captive unharmed. Clever use of an aggregation of minor clues supplied by Urschel led the FBI to the farm near Paradise, Texas, where he had been held. Within a few weeks Machine Gun Kelly, the notorious but ineffectual hoodlum who had masterminded the plot, was run to earth.
Urschels friend who made the handoff was E. E. Kirkpatrick, who has left a book on the case called Crimes Paradise, Naylor Co., 1934. In addition to providing a firsthand account of the action, the author, an erstwhile newspaperman, felt obliged to defend his colleagues in the fourth estate against charges that newspaper publicity was responsible for thwarted kidnaping investigations. Accordingly we see in his book references to "fine, intelligent newspapermen" and "those keen newspaper minds." (Incidental intelligence: On the Kirkpatrick dust jacket the hand-lettered artwork was done by a two-p man but the typesetting by a one-p man.)
In May of 1935 George Weyerhaeuser, the nine-year-old son of a lumber tycoon, was kidnaped in Tacoma, Washington. George was returned unharmed after the payment of $200,000 ransom. A man and wife were soon apprehended by the FBI. Their accomplice was captured in May of the next year. Hauptmann had been executed in the preceding April and it appeared that Hoovers men, backed by the Lindbergh Law, had virtually stamped out kidnaping in the United States.
Such was not to be. Two days after Christmas, 1936, a ten-year-old former playmate of George Weyerhaeuser named Charles Mattson was in his Tacoma home talking with his older brother, sister, and visitor when a masked intruder pushed through the French doors brandishing a pistol. He demanded money but when the children said they had none, the man replied, "All right, Ill take the kid." He scooped up Charles and departed. But he had evidently been intent on a kidnaping since he left behind a note demanding $28,000.
Again the personal columns of the newspapers were used for negotiations between the kidnaper and the Mattson family. Intense publicity was given to the case and public outcry was shrill when two weeks later a hunter found Charless body in a field some fifty miles away. Based on the surviving childrens description of the intruder when he briefly dropped his mask, the FBI produced a drawing of the fugitive which they distributed widely on posters and in their Law Enforcement Bulletin. In the ensuing years they interviewed 26,000 people, but the case was never solved. Failure is an orphan. I have looked in every history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and have never found mention of the Mattson case.
There was little kidnaping activity during the 1940s but a mild resurgence in the following decade. The most memorable of the latter period was the kidnaping of Bobby Greenlease in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1953. The school trick was again played on Bobby, age 6, who was driven away by Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady. For several days the boys father, a wealthy businessman, attempted to follow the telephoned and written instructions of the kidnapers, who assured him that the boy was alive and well.
The sum of $600,000 in tens and twenties was left by the father at an appointed site by the side of a country road. But Bobby was already dead and buried in a prepared grave when the couple picked up their booty. They drove to St. Louis to begin a long debauch which ended with Hall going off with another woman. A cab driver who had been engaged by the besotted Hall to ferry him from one tavern to another became suspicious of his free-spending patron and reported him to a St. Louis detective. Hall was interrogated in his motel and taken to jail when he could not give an account of himself. The ransom moneyliterally a staggering sumwas taken along with him.
Shortly thereafter Hall confessed to the kidnaping and disclosed the location of Bonnie, who was taken into custody. The FBI searched the grounds of Bonnies home in a distant town and found the grave of Bobby in a flower bed. He had been beaten about the face and shot through the brain. Hall and Bonnie were tried, convicted, and put to death in what would be, by todays standards, short order. Bonnie was the only woman ever to be executed for kidnaping.
The case was all wrapped up as far as the criminals were concerned, but a curious thing had happened to the ransom money. When the FBI counted the money (twice) in the police station, half of it was missing. $300,000 had gone out the window. Who had it? Bonnie? Halls second woman? Had Hall secreted it somewhere before capture? Was there a third kidnaper? What about the detective who arrested him? (Now youre getting close.) The story of the Greenlease kidnaping and the intricate search for the missing ransom is told in A Grave for Bobby, by James Deakins, Morrow, 1990.
Three years later the one-month-old son of an executive was stolen from the patio of the wealthy Weinberger family on Long Island, New York. His captor, saying he was in great need, asked $2,000 for the infants return. Unfortunately the abductor was frightened away by crowds from approaching the ransom pickup site. The FBI by law could not enter the case until seven days had elapsed; when they did catch up with the kidnaper, he led them to the place where he had abandoned the baby. It had died of exposure. Kidnaper Angelo Lamarca was electrocuted.
The law was altered to permit FBI intervention within 24 hours, and rapid action paid off in the kidnaping of the son of Frank Sinatra in 1963. Frankie Junior, taken at gunpoint from a motel, was held for ransom of $240,000. It was paid under FBI supervision and Frankie was returned safely. Worldwide attention centered on the case; even Moscow radio noted it as an example of "how business is done in America." Hoovers men had the three suspects in custody within five days. Not altogether pleased was the Los Angeles police chief, who objected that his men had been locked out of the action.
Five years later an abduction took place that was more notable for its circumstances than its victim, although she was the daughter of a prominent Florida contractor and neighbor of President Nixon in Key Biscayne. Barbara Mackle, a student at Emory University in Atlanta, was forcibly taken from a motel room in that city by kidnapers who telephoned her father in Florida and demanded a ransom of $500,000. Fifteen hours after the ransom was paid, directions were received to the location of the victim.
Barbara was found alive inside a high-tech capsule buried in the sand of a wooded area, where she had been entombed for three days. The capsule was provided with food, water, blankets, toilet facilities, lighting, an elaborate ventilating system, and a three-page set of instructions and reassurances. "Use of the light when not necessary will cut your battery safety margin substantially. . . . Tranquilizers are provided to aid you in sleepingthe best way you have to pass the time."
Tipped off by an informer, the FBI captured Gary Steven Krist after a five-day chase. His female accomplice eluded the Bureau for three months. Only after the trial many weeks later was Barbaras distraught mother shown the ransom note with its warning, "ergo Barbara will suffocate." In 83 Hours Till Dawn, Doubleday, 1971, Barbara collaborates with reporter Gene Miller in a first-person account of her captivity and the apprehension of her captors.
A lesser-known book on the case was written by Krist himself and entitled Life, after the sentence he had received. Published by Olympia Press in 1972, it recounts the background, commission, and aftermath of the kidnaping from the standpoint of a gifted young man (a physicist and oceanographer) driven by criminal impulses. I once supplied a female customer with a copy of Barbara Mackles book which she had keenly sought. Thinking to please her with more on the case, I later offered her Krists work. "I wouldnt pay a penny for a book by that creep," she replied.