In 1921 there was a kidnapping in California that has pretty much been forgotten, though it was in many ways a precursor of what would become almost a national epidemic 10 years later. Considering the victim and her husband's connection to Hollywood, the lack of follow-up stories about Mrs. Gladys Witherell comes as a surprise.

Missing Woman Found Prisoner on Sheep Ranch
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 – Mrs. Gladys Witherell, who disappeared from her home here last Tuesday, was found early today, a prisoner in a small house on a sheep ranch, eight miles east of Corona, in Riverside County, about seventy miles southeast of Los Angeles, according to telephone messages to the Associated Press.

Mrs. Witherell was unharmed.

Two men, who gave their names as A. J. and Floyd Carr, cousins, were arrested.

This discovery of Mrs. Witherell and the arrests were effected by Los Angeles police and deputy sheriffs, who started for Los Angeles with the woman and the two arrested men.

The officers said the Carrs confessed they had ill feeling toward the woman’s father-in-law, A. J. Witherell, because of a transaction involving a boat, and that they kidnapped Mrs. Witherell both to obtain revenge and ransom money, of which, it was said, they had demanded $20,000.

A telephone operator’s quick-wittedness led to the discovery of Mrs. Witherell and the arrest of the Carrs. The operator received a call from a pay station for the residence of C. S. Witherell and delayed making the call until police had been sent to the pay station, where they arrested A. J. Carr just as he was concluding a delayed conversation which he had promised relatives in a letter sent them Saturday.

The police said they found chloroform and other articles in his automobile they believed had been used in decoying the woman from home.


New York Times, February 3, 1921
Witherell Kidnappers Start
to Prison for Life

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 2 – In one of the most tensely dramatic courtroom scenes ever enacted in Los Angeles, Arthur and Floyd Carr, who held Mrs. Gladys Witherell captive in a shack for five days for $20,000 ransom, were sentenced today to prison for terms of from ten years to life. In effect, the punishment is a life sentence, according to the authorities.

After scathingly denouncing the two prisoners and branding their act as more despicable than many crimes for which the punishment was death, Superior Judge Sidney N. Reeve imposed the only legal sentence possible under the California indeterminate sentence law.

But the court in no uncertain terms let the convicted men know that so long as he remained a Judge, he would not approve any recommendation from the Prison Board for their release.

The court proceedings staged before a record throng of men and women were featured by two especially dramatic incidents.

The first came after O. W. Witherell, a broker of Hollywood and husband of the kidnapped woman, took the stand, and when he told how, throughout last night, Mrs. Witherell lived over in delirium the experience of her captivity.

It was an orderly but grim-faced crowd that filled the courtroom and remained silent throughout the brief hearing. Only once during the proceedings was there a stir and that was when Detective Edward C. King dramatically fell on his knees with outspread arms, and in a husky voice described in words and motions how Mrs. Witherell had greeted her rescuers in the lonely house in the foothills.

“There are a number of crimes which in this state are punishable by death, but none is more despicable than the one to which you have pleaded guilty,” the court said.

Judge Reeve pointed out that the most severe punishment possible for the two men was imprisonment for life. He said that it was customary for the Prison Board in considering applications for release of prisoners to confer with the Judge who imposed sentence.

“I do not know – I may not be a judge at that time in your case, but I hope that I am,” the Court added.

There was no byline on the following story, but it is written in the style of one of the Evening Telegram's best-known reporters, Jane Dixon.

New York Evening Telegram, February 6, 1921
Haunted by Baby’s Eyes, Says
Kidnapped Mrs. Witherell

HOLLYWOOD, Cal. – A woman sits crooning nursery rhymes to her little fair-haired, blue-eyed, sixteen-months-old son. With her big, brown eyes radiant from that light that lies nowhere on land or sea except in a mother’s eyes, she sings the mysterious tale of “Three Little Kittens” to her baby. whom she thought never to see again except in the frenzied fancy of her delirious imagination.

In her home about her are soft rugs and rich draperies. Her own body is garbed in silken raiment. Everywhere is the paraphernalia of wealth and the background of culture.

On the neck of the slender, fragile girl-mother, however, are still black finger marks. The throat still bears the traces of the brutal hands that choked it. An occasional twitch of pain over the ace comes from her dislocated shoulder.

Bears Only Good Will to All
The woman is Gladys Witherell, who was spirited from her home by kidnappers on the evening of January 23, and who remained a prisoner for six days and seven nights in a hut in the Santa Ana canyon, while her abductors endeavored to extort ransom from her crazed young husband and grief-broken father.

Beautiful in all the radiancy of youth, with a heart filled with love for her husband and little son, Jack, and with naught but peace and good will in her heart toward the world and its people – this is Gladys Witherell.

This is she who piteously played the role of pawn in a game under California’s sunny Southern skies, where the lure of gold and the longing for revenge were the stakes.

Relives Ordeal in Delirium
Behind the sinister, grim, gray walls of San Quentin Prison are Arthur J. Carr and Floyd Carr, whose ruthless fingers left their cruel marks on Gladys Witherell’s fair throat. When they were sentenced to imprisonment from ten years to life, District Attorney Thomas Lee Woolwine deplored the lack of the death penalty in California for kidnapping.

One can only hope that in the incredible length of hours behind San Quentin’s walls and in the interminable vigils of nights within their cell rooms part of the anguish of should which they brought to Gladys Witherell will be burned into their own hardened hearts.

The marks on Gladys Witherell’s neck and throat will disappear in time. But will the passing of days remove those other invisible marks that have branded the fine texture of her soul?

Since her rescue from the hut in the Santa Ana Canyon, where she was kept a prisoner behind barred windows, Mrs. Witherell has suffered over again in delirium her past tortures. While her haggard husband and others who know and love her have vainly tried to soothe her, she in her raving begged to be released and pleaded to be allowed to take care of her little son Jack.

She tells her story
Witherell was able to give a complete and connected account of just what happened to her on and after the evening of January 25, when she was abducted. Her story, in her own words, is as follows:

“When the gray-haired man came to my home in Hollywood he was in a hurry and told me I was wanted by a woman who was hurt in an automobile accident and that she was calling for me. I thought it was my husband’s mother, who was coming to have dinner with me that evening, and I hurried away as fast as possible.

“When we had been speeding for some time and did not reach the scene of the accident I suddenly was seized with a fear that almost overwhelmed me.

“I screamed at the top of my voice, shouting, “Murder!” as loud as I could, but nobody was passing. I began fighting the man with me in the back seat and trying to get out. I tore the robe rail from the back of the seat in my struggle. All the time I kept kicking and fighting him, but he was too strong for me and held me tight while the other man kept the car running at high speed.

“Then when I kept up my cries for help, he put his hands around my throat and choked me. I will never forget the awful sensation as I was rendered unconscious. First it seemed that everything turned red and then I couldn’t see at all. He had thrown me down on the floor of the car when he started choking me and I was unconscious for some time.”

A second choking
Mrs. Witherell tells of a second choking, more brutality and finally oblivion after a dose of chloroform. When she regained consciousness her hands and feet were tied and she was still lying in the bottom of the car.

“As I lay there on the bottom of the car, I thought of my baby – my darling little baby – my husband, my father,” Mrs. Witherell continued. “I wondered if they knew what was befalling me. I shuddered as I thought I might never see them again.

“It seemed that we never would stop. Then, after a long while, it seemed like an age of eternity, we slowed down some place and came to a stop. they talked to me then and told me not to be afraid, as they were not going to harm me.

“ ‘We got you because we know your family is rich and has plenty of money and that they will pay some of it to get you back,’ the gray-haired man said. ‘Now, you just keep quiet and don’t make any outcries and you will be all right.’ Later they said their motive was revenge on my father-in-law because he ‘blocked’ a business deal for one of them.

“They untied my ankles and unfastened my hands. I was so sore and still I could hardly sit up. When they lifted me out of the car and I tried to stand I couldn’t, I was so weak and cold. I half walked and was half carried into a little shack in a clearing among the trees.

Thought Only of Loves Ones
“They took me into one of the two rooms of the shack and asked me if I wanted something to eat. But I couldn’t eat. All I was thinking about was my darling baby, and I was only wondering if I would ever see him, my precious one, again, or my husband or dad.

“It was dark in the room after they bolted the door on me, and I groped my way to the only window in the room. I found it was nailed up with heavy wooden slats. I realized I was a prisoner. Can you imagine how I felt when I realized I was absolutely in the power of two strange men whom I had never seen before? I thought perhaps they would murder me.

“Finally I dozed off in a sort of stupor, weak from my continued struggles to free myself. I didn’t sleep – I just fell into a kind of daze. I heard them talking over their plans. They talked in a low voice, and I couldn’t make out what they said. Then they became quiet and I just kept still and prayed.

“My little baby’s blue eyes seemed to peer at me through the darkness, and I just through I would have to hurl myself through the wall in order to get out. But I knew they would choke me. Oh, that awful choking!

“They were very kind to me through all the days of my captivity, only they refused to let me go out of the house They were courteous, only they made me feel that I was being held a prisoner.

Scene of Frenzied Despair
“On the morning of February 1, when the officers crashed in the windows and doors of the place, I screamed with all my might. I thought I was going to be murdered. I knew the men who captured me were armed with revolvers and I was afraid they would shoot me before the officers could get me.

“It was a suspense so terrible that I dread to think of it now. And the next thing I knew my dear husband threw his arms around me. My husband and freedom at last!”

Meanwhile, back in far away Hollywood over the Witherell home at No. 1842 Whitley Avenue, dark despair had settled.

The young husband was half crazed by the threatening letters he received from the Carrs, demanding ransom, and by the piteous notes from his wife, attached to these letters.

Little Jack cast aside his playthings, even his beloved Teddy bear and erstwhile precious toy dog. Occasionally he would sing the nursery rhymes his mother had taught him, but for the most part childish tears would drown the words.

A few doors down the street, under spreading pine, which shades the home of J. C. Krantz, Mrs. Witherell’s father, the family’s faithful collie, Bruce,, mourned, with saddened brown eyes.

The arrest of the Carrs was finally accomplished through the quick action of two telephone operators, in the Hollywood Telephone Exchange, who intercepted the call to Mr. Witherell, when Arthur Carr made the final demand for $20,000 ransom. The girls flashed the location of the telephone to the police, and the arrest of the kidnapper was effected as he stepped from the telephone booth.

Glad to Escape Avengers
Never in California since the far-away days when every “forty-nine” played the role of judge and dealt out high justice himself in summary manner with rope or gun, has the wrath of the citizens of California reach such heights. Thousands of vigilantes scoured the hills near the scene of the abduction with a determination that bore no thought of the chill and the cold and the pouring rain.

Small wonder was it that Arthur Watson Carr and Floyd L. Carr rejoiced when they were placed behind the secure bars of the Los Angeles county jail where they would be safe from the enraged townsmen of Hollywood.

This, briefly, then, is the story of one small woman who hastily threw on a sports coat and a hat to hasten, as she supposed, to the aid of another whom she thought to be suffering or perhaps dying.

The story of her mental agony and tortured soul cannot be told by mere words.

And yet these things took place under California’s sunny, southern skies in the month of January, 1921, A.D.


The Carrs were cousins. They kept Mrs. Witherell in a small house on a sheep ranch eight miles east of Corona, in Riverside County, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. It was Floyd Carr who lured Mrs. Witherell to the car.

Had the cousins done the crime 12 years later, their punishment might have been death, because 1932's Lindbergh kidnapping had led several states to make kidnapping a capital offense.