The Greenlease Kidnapping
Scourge of the Wealthy
Robert Greenlease was a successful businessman during the 1930s, the heyday of kidnapping-for-profit in
These followed the hallmark American kidnapping, the 1932 abduction and murder of aviator Charles Lindberghs son in
The earliest use of the word kidnap dates to 1682. It then denoted the abduction of English boys who were shipped to
In the United States, the first stereotypical kidnapping an abduction by a stranger motivated by profit occurred in Philadelphia on July 1, 1874, when two men used candy to entice Charley Ross, age 4, into a buggy.
His father, Christian Ross, a prosperous merchant, placed a newspaper ad offering a $300 reward. Soon he received an unsigned letter the first of 23 ransom notes demanding $20,000 ransom. Police cautioned Ross against setting a precedent by paying a ransom. He decided to pay nonetheless, but communications from the kidnappers ended before he was able to.
A tip directed cops to New York-based burglars William Mosher and Joseph Douglas, as well as William Westervelt, an ex-Philly cop. Westervelt was arrested, but Mosher and
Charley Ross was never seen again.
Twenty-five years later, kidnapping was back in the news when Eddie Cudahy, 15, heir to an Omaha, Neb., meatpacking fortune, was snatched then released unharmed after the boys father paid a $25,000 ransom.
Investigators pinned the crime on Patrick Crowe, an ex-Cudahy employee with an ax to grind. Crowe fled to
The accomplice, James Callahan, faced trial in 1901, but he was acquitted with a clever defense ploy. Callahan was charged with robbery because
Confused by legal double-talk, the jury acquitted Callahan. The incensed judge told the jurors, "I hope none of you will ever appear again in this jury box."
Crowe finally returned to
Other notable kidnappings include:
- Billy Whitla, 8, son of a
steel baron, snatched from school in 1909, was released when his father paid a $10,000 ransom. Pennsylvania
- In 1924,
students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold shocked Universityof Chicago when they kidnapped and killed Bobby Franks, 14. They demanded $10,000 ransom, but the boys body turned up before payment was made. The thrill-killers were discovered and pleaded guilty to murder. They escaped the rope and won life sentences thanks to defense attorney Clarence Darrows famed plea for mercy. America
- In 1927, William Hickman snatched and murdered Marian Parker, 12, daughter of a
banker. Hickman was charged, tried and executedthe first American kidnapper subjected to capital punishment. Los Angeles
- In 1935 George Weyerhaeuser, 9, son of a lumber tycoon, was kidnapped in
, and released after payment of $200,000. Twenty months later, a playmate of Weyerhaeuser, Charles Mattson, 10, was abducted. The kidnapper demanded $28,000, but the boys body was found before the ransom was paid. The crime was never solved. Tacoma, Wash.