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Books. Change. Lives.

Copyright © 2020 by David Stout

Cover and internal design © 2020 by Sourcebooks

Cover design by Sarah Brody

Cover images © New York Times Co./Getty Images, Bettmann/Getty Images, STILLFX/Getty Images

Internal design by Ashley Holstrom

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks.

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.—From a Declaration of Principles Jointly Adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations

All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks is not associated with any product or vendor in this book.

Published by Sourcebooks

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Stout, David, author.

Title: The kidnap years : the astonishing true history of the forgotten kidnapping epidemic that shook Depression-era America / David Stout.

Description: Naperville, Illinois : Sourcebooks, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2019032997 | (hardcover)

Subjects: LCSH: Kidnapping—United States—History—20th century. | Crime—United States—History—20th century.

Classification: LCC HV6598 .S76 2020 | DDC 364.15/4097309043—dc23 LC record available at

For Rita, my rock and my light



1.The Organization Man

2.Fathers and Sons

3.The Doctor

4.A Dressmaker with a Vision

5.Beloved Innocent

6.The Boy in the Wall

7.The Younger Twin

8.Sane or Insane?

9.A Case Like No Other

10.A Friendly Farmer

11.Another Doctor Taken

12.Hope and Heartbreak

13.Chasing the Money

14.The Profiler

15.Two Victims

16.The Man Who Loved Trees

17.Strictly Business

18.Criminal and Family Man

19.In the Mile High City

20.A Brewer Is Taken

21.Doting Mother, Devoted Sons

22.A Sheriff Taken Prisoner

23.From Hot Springs to Slaughter

24.Mary’s Ordeal

25.“Jake the Barber”

26.Roger “the Terrible”

27.A Prince of Albany

28.A Banker with a Heart

29.The Oil Tycoon

30.A Momentous Month

31.The People’s Fury Unleashed

32.Touhy’s Torment Continues

33.Brewer, Banker, Victim

34.A Gambler Folds His Hand

35.What Might Have Been

36.A Sordid Denouement

37.Evil Resurfaces

38.In Gun-Blazing Pursuit

39.Vigilance at the Gas Pump

40.Closing the Ring

41.In the World’s Spotlight

42.Heir to a Timber Empire

43.Devil at the Door

44.Ambushed on the Road

45.A Man of God Is Taken

46.The Luckless One

47.Tubbo and Touhy (Act II)


Reading Group Guide

A Conversation with the Author

Bibliography and List of Sources



About the Author


One winter day a long time ago, a handsome woman in her early forties was found dead in a snowbank off a highway in northwestern Pennsylvania. She had been strangled. The homicide was big news around Erie, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. The killer, it was soon revealed, was a man the victim had begun dating after her marriage turned to ashes. For weeks, the crime was grist for newspaper headlines and chatter in barbershops and saloons. It was even featured in the true-crime pulp magazines of the era.

The victim was my mother’s sister.

I recall the coffin being wheeled out of a candle-scented church as a choir sang farewell and my aunt’s relatives stood grim-faced, some with tears on their cheeks. I was in college at the time, old enough to understand that I had been granted wisdom not bestowed on everyone. I understood that a murder spreads an indelible stain, dividing the lives of people close to it into Before and After.

So began my interest in crime. It is an interest that has only deepened with the passage of years. It has compelled me to read scholarly tomes as well as lurid accounts of sensational cases. It has drawn me to courtrooms and prisons and to the death house in Texas, where I witnessed the execution of a pathetic, dirt-poor man who had raped and killed his ex-wife and her niece in a drunken rage.

My preoccupation with crime was known to my editors during my newspaper career. Thus, on January 12, 1974, an arctic cold Saturday in Buffalo, my bosses at the Buffalo Evening News sent me to the Federal Building for a somber announcement by the resident FBI agent. The fourteen-year-old son of a wealthy doctor in Jamestown, New York, sixty miles southwest of Buffalo, had been kidnapped the previous Tuesday. Three teenagers had been arrested Friday, and most of the ransom money had been recovered in the home of one of them.

But the boy was still missing.

The FBI agent told reporters that the bureau had entered the case because the victim had been missing for more than twenty-four hours. Ergo, there was a presumption under the Lindbergh Law that he might have been taken across state lines, so the feds were authorized to assist the local cops.

I knew about the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the infant son of legendary aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. So I assumed that horrible crime inspired the law.

Not exactly.

I was surprised to learn that, despite acquiring its informal name from the Lindbergh crime, the Federal Kidnapping Act of 1932 was a reaction to a string of abductions that began before the Lindbergh baby was even born and continued while he was still squirming happily in his crib.*

There were so many kidnappings in Depression-era America that newspapers listed the less sensational cases in small type, the way real estate transactions or baseball trades were rendered. There were so many kidnappings that some public officials wondered aloud if they were witnessing an epidemic.

In fact, they were.

From New Jersey to California, in big cities and hamlets, men and women sat by a telephone (if the household had

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