Perhaps misled by the fact the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby remained unsolved through 1933, several people — professional criminals and fairly ordinary folks who were desperate for money — turned to kidnapping for ransom. And while investigation of the Lindbergh case would drag on well into 1934, law enforcement officials, particular those in what became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, quickly solved almost all of the 1933 kidnappings.

Initially, primary suspects were members of big-city gangs. However, the real culprits often came as surprises to police. Some of those arrested and convicted were shocked at the severity of the sentences handed out. This was a direct result of the Lindbergh kidnapping and the public outrage that resulted.

Kidnappers who had no intention of harming their victims found themselves considered as dangerous as the person who had abducted and killed Charles Lindbergh Jr. In at least one case, even the victim believed not all kidnappers were alike. This seemed to be true in only one category — gangsters kidnapping other gangsters.

In Chicago there was a gang that specialized in abducting mobsters. This gang was led by a fellow known as "Handsome Jack" Klutas. The the Klutas gang was far from alone.


New York Sun, August 12, 1933
Criminals Turn to Kidnapping
As Illicit Liquor Profits Drop

With the legalization of beer and with prohibition apparently on its death bed, kidnapping is rapidly becoming one of the major criminal industries in the United States. The huge crime syndicates evidently are seizing upon this despicable and cowardly crime as a means of replacing the swollen profits obtained in the past from the beer and liquor traffic.

These organized criminals are setting a reign of terror throughout the country. Scarcely a day passes in which some kidnapping or threat of kidnapping is not reported. The “new industry” already has become a national menace. The wave of kidnapping has reached such alarming proportions that the United States government has stepped in, determined to check this and other forms of organized crime.

President Roosevelt is giving the problem his personal attention. He has authorized Professor Raymond Moley, Assistant Secretary of State and a student of criminology as well as of economics, to make a comprehensive survey of kidnapping.

The governors of virtually every state in the Union are cooperating in this national drive by urging more drastic laws against kidnapping.

Within the last year or so, some six states have provided death penalties for kidnapping, and one state — Missouri — has imposed the death penalty against a kidnapper. Other states have tightened the laws against kidnapping by providing harsher penalties. [New York] Governor Herbert Lehman, taking cognizance of the situation, is urging death as the penalty for kidnapping. He also is advocating that the payment of ransom constitutes a felony.

A survey of kidnapping cases during the last three or four years shows that there has been a steady increase in the number of kidnappings, particularly since beer became legal on April 7 last. The increase since that date is little short of amazing, indicating that organized gangdom is turning from beer to the lucrative “snatch racket,” as kidnapping is known in the underworld.

The racket first started on a wide scale apparently among the gangsters themselves, with members of enemy organizations as victims. Then it spread to include respectable members of society.

Another indication that the recent kidnappings may be the work of gangsters formerly identified with the beer and liquor traffic is the fact that nearly all the victims have been adults, the kidnappers probably working on the theory that adults are easier to deal with and that kidnapping them will not arouse as much public indignation as in the case of children.

A survey made about a year ago by Joseph A. Gerk, chief of police of St. Louis, reveals startling figures. The survey covered 500 cities and showed there were 279 cases of kidnapping in 1931 alone. Of this number, 13 victims were murdered; 69 kidnappers caught and convicted. Chief Gerk admitted the figures probably were an underestimate, as many cases never were reported.

In the last year and a half there have been 14 major abductions in the St. Louis area alone, reports show, and the police estimate that the ransoms paid in that period in that area total at least $250,000.

Chief Gerk’s survey showed that for a period of three years the state of Illinois has led in the number of kidnappings, with 41 cases in which the kidnappers were not captured and eight in which there were convictions. Ohio came next with 24 cases in which the kidnappers were not found and four in which there were convictions. Michigan had 15 cases in which the criminals escaped and 10 which resulted in convictions. Massachusetts had 13 kidnappings in which the criminals escaped and convicted four.

Gerk’s figures and other official surveys have not touched 1933, which, with the passing of illicit better, may bring the total to an astounding figure.

Significant 1933 cases
Feb. 5 — Los Angeles Mrs. Mary B. Skeele None
The 65-year-old wife of the dean of the College of Music at the University of Southern California was kidnapped almost as an afterthought by Mrs. Luella Pearl Hammer and W. D. Howard, whose real target was a young woman who was a former USC student body president. The kidnappers demanded $10,000 ransom and for the victim's husband, Dr. Walter F. Skeele, to keep the crime from the police. But word got out and the publicity frightened the kidnappers into releasing their hostage a day later, without a ransom payment. The couple was quickly rounded up and sent to prison for several years. Mrs. Hammer tried to convince the judge and jury she was insane, but her tactic was too obvious and it failed.
Feb. 12 — Denver Charles Boettcher 2d $60,000
Boettcher was held hostage for 17 days in a South Dakota farm house owned by Verne Sankey, America's first Public Enemy Number One. Sankey avoided capture until January, 1934, when he was arrested while he sat in a barber's chair in Chicago. His associate, Gordon Alcorn,was arrested a week later in a Chicago apartment, likely on a tip from Sankey. They were sent to Sioux City, South Dakota, for arraignment. Both admitted the crime, as well as kidnapping Haskell Bohn in 1932, but Sankey hanged himself in his cell before his court appearance. Alcorn was sentenced to life imprisonment.
March 18 — Masury, Ohio Peter Meyers Jr. $300
Perhaps the year's unlikeliest kidnapping. Meyers, 15, was a member of blue collar family in Masury, a small town near Youngstown. He said he was abducted by three men who held him eight days before releasing him — for $300.
April 12 — Chicago Jerome Factor $50,000*
This was the first of two bogus kidnappings involving the Factor family. Both were designed to help Jerome's father, John, better known as "Jake the Barber." (Jake's brother, Max Factor, had settled in Hollywood and became famous for his line of cosmetics.) Jerome Factor's "abduction" was timed to postpone his father's grand jury appearance. "Jake the Barber" should have gone to Hollywood, too, because his acting was convincing, especially a few months later when he became the "victim." The ransom above carries an asterisk because if money actually changed hands, it was given to mobsters who did "Jake the Barber" a favor, though the kidnapping remained on the books as an unsolved crime. Sort of.
May 2 — Cape Cod Margaret McMath $70,000
Ten-year-old Margaret "Peggy" McMath was abducted in Harwich, Massachusetts, and released two days later upon payment of an estimated $70,000 ransom. Two brothers, Kenneth and Cyril Buck were arrested, and for awhile police believed two other men were involved, possibly even a member of the family. Finally, Kenneth Buck took sole responsibility for the crime, was found guilty and sentenced to 24 years in prison. Cyril also was tried, but was found not guilty. He was involved only because he wanted to facilitate the girl's swift and safe return.
May 27 — Kansas City Mary McElroy $30,000
In some ways this was the strangest kidnapping of all, and ultimately one of the most tragic. Mary McElroy, 25, was the daughter of the politically connected city manager of Kansas City, Missouri. She was abducted by two members of a four-man gang who apparently went to the McElroy home thinking their target was much younger. She was released a day later, and three of her kidnappers were soon arrested. Despite her brief captivity, Mary McElroy bonded with her abductors and defended them in court and thereafter until she committed suicide in 1940.
June 4 — New Orleans Margaret Breckinridge None
Syracuse Journal, Tuesday, June 6
NEW ORLEANS (INS) — Kidnappers of Miss Margaret Breckinridge, 23, daughter of a prominent New Orleans family, released her when the girl convinced her abductors her family wasn’t able to pay ransom, according to police reports today. Miss Breckinridge was held captive Sunday night and was not released until Monday afternoon when the two abductors drove away in her automobile. The young woman said the was not harmed.
June 15 — St. Paul William Hamm Jr. $100,000
The 39-year-old head of the Hamm Brewing Company was released after four days, the $100,000 ransom being delivered to his abductors in a beer truck. Roger Touhy, a Chicago mobster, was charged with the crime, but he and his associates were acquitted, and federal authorities finally went after the real culprits, the Barker-Karpis gang, led by Fred Barker and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis. Touhy would be tried for another kidnapping he didn't commit — the John "Jake the Barber" Factor fiasco — only this time he was convicted.
July 1 — Chicago John Factor $200,000*
Mobster-on-mobster crime is terrific stuff because it gives the press license to write almost anything without fear of being sued. John "Jake the Barber" Factor again used a fake kidnapping to delay extradition to England where he had engineered a Ponzi scheme and possibly beat the rap by exhausting the statute of limitations. His mobster friends also used the phony abduction to frame a gang rival, Roger Touhy, who was convicted and sentenced to many years in prison for a crime that never happened. The $200,000 ransom was reported by the press, but it obviously was a piece of fiction. Factor remained in hiding about two weeks, then was "released" after his stubbly face and unkempt suit gave him the appearance of a man who had been help captive and mistreated. As always, Factor delivered a convincing performance. He was a con man, after all.
July 7 — Albany, NY John J. O'Connell Jr. $40,000

Kidnappers of John J. O’Connell Jr., 24, nephew of Edward J. and Daniel P. O’Connell, powerful upstate Democratic leaders, at first asked for $250,000 ransom. The National Guard lieutenant was held captive for 23 days and the ransom dropped to $40,000. Eight men were charged and convicted in connection with the crime and received prison terms ranging from 28 to 77 years.

July 10 — Alton, IL August Luer None

Kidnappers asked for $100,000 after they forced the 77-year-old banker and retired meat packer out of his home.

July 13 — California E. T. Wiggins None

Wiggins, superintendent of the W. G. Wright Corporation of San Francisco, kidnapped in Stockton and held prisoner for two days in the belief that he was Wright, the corporation president. Wiggins said kidnappers at first didn't believe they had made a mistake and demanded that he sign checks for $50,000. The idea was to hold the president of the corporation until the checks were cashed. After two days the kidnappers realized there was a serious flaw in their plan. This could have inspired an Abbott & Costello routine: "You're wrong, I'm not Wright!"

July 22 — Oklahoma City Charles F. Urschel $200,000
In some ways this was the year's most significant kidnapping. Urschel was a wealthy oilman abducted on his sun porch where he and his wife and another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jarrett, were playing bridge. Jarrett also was taken, though he was released a short while later. The significance lies with the people responsible for the crime — Albert Bates and George "Machine Gun" Kelly — and the number of others who were somehow involved. Among them, Kelly's wife, Kathryn. Urschel was released eight days later, but then the fun began as J. Edgar Hoover made this a special case. And when Kelly was captured he reportedly coined the label "G-men" to describe FBI agents.
August 17 — Kansas City William D. Partin None

First rule of kidnapping: Use your own automobile to transport your victim. Second rule: Make sure the gasoline tank is full. A disregard of those two rules resulted in a long walk for the man who abducted William D. Partin, 52, prominent Kansas City, Kansas, laundry owner. Partin was kidnapped as he was preparing to put his car in his garage. The gunman forced him to drive to Lawrence, Kansas, and told him he would have to continue on to Topeka. Partin said he did not have enough gasoline to make the trip and had no money to refuel. The gunman searched the victim and found no money. The kidnapper then ordered Partin to turn his car around and to not look back for five minutes. The gunman got out of the car and walked away.

November 9 — San Jose Brooke Hart None

Hart, 22, was a son of a San Jose, California, department store owner. His kidnappers killed him soon after the abduction, then disposed of the body in San Francisco Bay, before contacting the family and demanding $40,000 ransom. It was through negotiations that Thomas H. Thurmond was arrested, and he identified Jack Holmes as his accomplice. Both men confessed to the crime and were held at the county jail in San Jose. With rumors that a lynch mob was forming, local officials contacted California Governor James Rolph, asking that National Guard troops be sent to protect the prisoners. Governor Rolph refused.

On November 27 a mob of about 3,000 persons defied sheriff's deputies, broke into the jail, grabbed Thurmond and Holmes and dragged them across the street to a park where the two accused kidnapper-murderers were strung up. Governor Rolph then praised the lynch mob for the message they sent the nation in regard to kidnapping. He also said he would pardon anyone arrested in connection with the lynchings.


Because they were so frequent, people often were inclined to consider kidnapping a likely explanation for someone's disappearance. This led a few people to stage their own "kidnappings" for a variety of reasons.

Also, when people left home without notice, concerned relatives often contacted police to report another kidnapping, when, in fact, the alleged "victim" was running away from home, eloping or preparing to divorce her husband.

Several people in need of money tried extortion under the threat of kidnapping. Others enlisted as partners people who informed police, who then set traps for the would-be kidnappers. This also was the result when targets disregarded kidnappers' instructions and went immediately to authorities.

Despite an amazingly high arrest rate in kidnapping cases, the crime was rampant in 1933 and would be again the following year. It was an indication of just how desperate many people were during the early 1930s when one-quarter of American men were unemployed; even those who had jobs weren't paid enough to support their families.


New York Sun, January 11, 1933
Ransom packages trap the villains
ATLANTA (AP) — A couple who admitted mailing demands for money to Joe F. Cannon, North Carolina textile manufacturer, under threats to “kidnap or kill” a granddaughter, child of the late Smith Reynolds, or a son, Joe F. Cannon Jr., were trapped by federal and city officers here last night.

E. E. Conroy of the United States Bureau of Investigation said the two would be charged with attempting to extort money by using the mails. The couple gave the names of Mr. and Mrs. O’Dell C. Boyles and an address in an Atlanta suburb.

The letters began reaching Cannon early in November at Concord, South Carolina, where he lives. They demanded sums ranging from $12,000 to $50,000. Police said they sprung their trap on a $12,000 agreement.

A dummy package was planted in an unoccupied house in Hopeville, the suburb Mr. and Mrs. Boyles listed as their home. The package was wired to ring a bell when picked up. Police had been on watch since Sunday and said they rushed in and captured Mrs. Boyles last night after she lifted the package. Boyles was taken into custody a short distance from the house.

Young Joe Cannon is a student at a Rome (Georgia) preparatory school some 75 miles northwest of Atlanta. The granddaughter, little Anne Cannon Reynolds, was the only child of Smith Reynolds and Cannon’s daughter, Anne.


Smith Reynolds married Libby Holman after he and Anne Cannon were divorced. That's a whole other story.


Syracuse Journal, May 9, 1933
Victim helps outwit his kidnappers
FREEPORT, Illinois (INS) — Trapped with their willing victim after federal agents had shadowed their every movement, two men were under arrest today, charged with kidnapping William Trevillian, 56, wealthy industrialist, in a weird plot to collect $40,000 ransom.

The two suspects are Laverne Moore, 21, an employee at the W. T. Rawleigh Company, of which Trevillian is vice president, and William Stubbe, a farmer whom Moore is said to have persuaded to act a custodian of the abduction victim.

Two brothers, Jack and Red Schultz of LaSalle, Illinois, informed Sheriff Edward J. Welter of the plot after Moore asked them to take part in the kidnapping scheme, Welter announced today.

Trevillian voluntarily submitted to the kidnapping in a carefully planned counter-plot to seize the gang. Federal operatives kept the wealthy manufacturer under constant surveillance.

Shortly before 6 o’clock last evening, an automobile wheeled alongside Trevillian as he walked from his office. Two men seized him, pushed their victim into the car and drove off. Three hours later squads of Federal agents from Chicago rescued him at the farm near Durand, where he was taken by the abductors. His kidnappers were arrested.

Before Trevillian was rescued, his wife received a threatening letter demanding $40,000 ransom for his release.

In the farmhouse basement officers found Trevillian bound and gagged, barely able to move on the damp floor.

The two Schultz youths, said to be former undercover men, were the ones who seized the wealthy industrialist and hurried him off to the farm in a lonely region near Sugar River, Trevillian said.

They were later joined by Stubbe and Moore, said Sheriff Welter. All four men were armed as they guarded their captive.


Binghamton Press, July 15, 1933
Hey, this money isn't real!
NEW YORK (AP) — An attempt of two men to obtain $10,000 from Dr. Jacob Wachsman, Brooklyn physician, under threat of kidnapping, failed today when Brooklyn police speedily apprehended them after they had collected a package of dummy bills.

The two men surrendered when police opened fire on their automobile. Arrested were Michael Donardo, New York, and Vincent Macari, Brooklyn.

Tipped off by the intended victim, police were lying in wait at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 47th Street, Brooklyn, when two men accosted Wachsman, following the schedule and information given Wachsman previously over the telephone.

Snatching the bundle from Wachsman, the pair fled in their car when they saw they were surrounded by police. The chase lasted only two blocks, ending when officers opened fire from a pursuing police car.


While it's always satisfying to read about a crime that was handled so quickly and successfully by police, the Wachsman case is also a reminder that during the 1920s and '30s gunshots were often a first resort. The idea that police began firing so quickly during this brief chase and did it from a speeding automobile makes you wonder if there were innocent bystanders in the area.


Buffalo Courier Express, September 24, 1933
A weird tale of two brides-to-be
NEW YORK (AP) — A bold plot to kidnap the niece of a [J. P.] Morgan partner even while she prepared her wedding trousseau was revealed today by authorities who held a nurse and a filling station manager for the crime.

They were arrested in Yonkers by officers who used the old dummy package lure to trap them at a rendezvous and charged them with attempted extortion against Mrs. John K. Dougherty, society leader, bride and heiress to millions.

She is the niece of Russell C. Leffingwell, partner of J. P. Morgan & Company, and the daughter of Franklin A. Batcheller, wealthy Yonkers resident and stock broker.

The kidnap scheme upset plans for her wedding, brought federal agents to the Batcheller mansion as house guests and converted an elaborate church ceremony into a comparatively simple house wedding.

The nurse held is Virginia Antoinette De Palma, 23. The filling station manager is James Medley of Yonkers. Thomas S. Cullen, in charge of department of justice agents in New York, said the couple had admitted the crime and told him they sought money so they could be married.

A federal judge issued a warrant against both, charging them with conspiracy to violate the “Lindbergh act.”

The dramatic events that brought the plot to light began early last month when Mrs. Dougherty, then Miss Helen Batcheller was preparing to wed.

A woman’s soft voice told wealthy society matron Mrs. Batcheller over the phone that she needed $10,000. The voice said, “And if we don’t get it, we are going to kidnap your daughter, Helen, and blow up your home.”

Mrs. Batcheller was terrified. Invitations for her daughter’s wedding had been mailed and all was ready for the event. A few days later, the threat was repeated and letters began to arrive. The Batchellers notified Police Chief Edward Quirk of Yonkers, who urged the department of justice be called.

The demure, 19-year-old Batcheller girl accepted the events without excitement while agents of the state and national worked unceasingly to protect her.

A brunette of medium height and with a wistful smile, the victim of the plot was disappointed that her plans for a brilliant wedding were upset, but she did not complain and willingly followed orders of officers who watched her every step.

Letters arrived every few days, each containing the same threat — give us $10,000 or we’ll kidnap your daughter and blow up your house.

Every phone call to the home was traced. Authorities began to weave their clues together and told the Batchellers to negotiate with the letter writer.

Meanwhile, wedding plans were abruptly changed. The first set of invitations was recalled and a second set was sent out, and on September 14 the couple was married in a quiet home ceremony with federal agents as witness.

The letters kept coming and finally one gave instructions that a package with $10,000 should be left near a light pole in Yonkers. A package was left. Nobody appeared.

Then came a letter directing Batcheller to go to a certain billboard in Yonkers and get a note he would find. Detectives followed the instructions and got the message, which told the family it was to leave the cash at a billboard last night.

Detectives and federal men took up their guard near the spot at dusk. After dark, a man strolled by, paused and looked back. Then he retraced his steps. Detectives shadowed him and made the arrest.

Meanwhile officers noticed a woman sitting alone in a car not far from the scene. they questioned her. She appeared frightened and answered the description, officers said, of a person who had called at the Batcheller home.

At Yonkers headquarters, said Police Chief Quirk, the woman admitted her guilt and identified herself. The man followed suit, said Quirk.

Federal men who took charge of the prosecution of the couple said an indictment probably would be sought on Monday.

Both were found guilty; she was sentenced to five years in prison, he got ten years. They had sent five letters to the Batcheller home. The gasoline station attendant said the Batchellers were customers.


This was either a kidnap attempt or the work of bank robbers planning an after-hours heist with the banker in tow. Russell L. Blount, 57, wealthy mortgage banker found two gunmen on his doorstep on November 16, but he thought he was prepared. As the two men attempted to enter the house, Blount fired a tear gas gun, forcing them to retreat. He then bolted the door.

But when the banker raced to his back door to lock it, he was confronted by a third gunmen. Blount tried to wrestle the gun away from the man, and in the process was shot. The bandits fled and Blount summoned an ambulance and was taken to a hospital in critical condition.


Syracuse Journal, November 27, 1933
Blame it on a fear of flunking
NEW YORK (INS) — Just a hoax was the “kidnapping” of Charles R. Cohen, 18-year-old Cornell University sophomore and son of Samuel B. Cohen, New York City attorney.

This young Cohen admitted today to a department of justice official. The boy said he had not been doing well in his studies and, fearing he was about to be “flunked,” concocted a kidnapping story, hoping to work up sympathy in his behalf.

He previously had told authorities he had been kidnapped from in front of the Ithaca (NY) Hotel last Wednesday.

The student returned to his home on Riverside Drive on Saturday from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, at which place, he said, his abductors had set him free.

After his disappearance, a note had been received by the youth’s father. The note said, “We have your son,” and as proof a portion of the boy’s sock was enclosed.

The note asked the father not to communicate with police, that someone else would be in touch with him later about ransom terms.

Thomas Cullen, agent in charge of the department of justice office in New York, said today that young Cohen had confessed he had written the “kidnapping letter.”

The boy told Frank Fay of Cullen’s staff that he had been apprehensive that he was about to fail one of his major studies, so he hitchhiked to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where Lehigh University is located. There he stayed with a friend.

It was from Bethlehem that the kidnapping note was mailed.

From Bethlehem, young Cohen went to Phillipsburg and telephoned the police he had been released by his abductors. On Saturday he was back home and today he told the truth about the whole affair.


Kidnappings were grim, unsavory and sometimes tragic, but a few — such as the two Factor "abductions" — were staged. There were many attempts to extort money by simply threatening to kidnap a member of the family. And there also was some comic relief, such as provided below by a couple of clowns from Brooklyn:


Syracuse Journal, August 4, 1933
Next time he should simply ask her
NEW YORK (INS) — Whether a man can “kidnap” himself was to be determined today.

David M. Kahan, Brooklyn cafe operator, and Dominick Quattrocchi, porter in Kahan’s cafe, were to be arraigned in court on charges of grand larceny as a result of Kahan’s disappearance on July 27. Police charged that the cafe owner and the porter arranged his disappearance in order to get $500 from Kahan’s wife.

According to police, the porter exposed the plot and Kahan was found on the farm of relatives near Hudson, New York.

The country's most infamous kidnapping occurred in 1932,
when abduction for ransom emerged as a nationwide problem.