• U.S.

CRIME: Lindbergh Law and After

8 minute read

On June 17, 1932, Congress passed the Lindbergh Law making kidnapping across state lines a Federal felony. This act pitted the U. S. Government directly against the virulent “snatch” racket for the first time. Free from the corruption of local politics, superbly trained and equipped with tip-top morale, the Department of Justice’s Division of Investigation buckled to its new and difficult work with a will. Up to last week it had acted in 31 kidnapping cases, returned alive all but one kidnappee. Of the 74 “snatchers” whom Federal agents had helped to catch and convict, two had been sentenced to death, 16 had been condemned to life imprisonment and the rest were given an aggregate of 1,186 years in jail. Two kidnappers committed suicide and two were lynched. Last week Department of Justice operatives added fresh laurels to their excellent record with a quick catch in Kidnap Case No. 32 and the safe return of the victim in Case No. 33

Well might the nation feel proud of these Federal men who in their 26-month warfare against abductions set up such major milestones as:

¶ Haskell Bonn, 22, son of a St. Paul refrigerator manufacturer, was snatched in June 1932. He was returned alive within a week after his father paid $12,000 ransom. Last February Federal agents put Gangster Verne Sankey into a South Dakota prison where he killed himself after confessing to kidnapping not only young Bohn but Charles Boettcher II, Denver broker (TIME, Feb. 20, 1933 et seq.).

¶ Federal operatives helped to round up three of the snatchers of Mary McElroy, daughter of Kansas City’s city manager, in May 1933. Their assistance in a Missouri Court resulted in a death sentence for one of the abductors.

¶ William Hamm Jr., St. Paul brewer, was abducted in June 1933. Because he could not identify his captors, Gangster Roger Touhy & mob went free. But Federal agents promptly hung the kidnapping of Gambler John (“Jake the Barber”) Factor on them and Illinois sent Touhy & gang to the penitentiary for years & years.

¶ August Luer, 77, Alton, Ill. banker kidnapped in July 1933, was returned unharmed. Federal men were on the case early and three criminals got life sentences from the State courts.

¶ The Department of Justice could do nothing for young Brooke Hart, son of a San José, Calif, drygoods merchant. His kidnappers killed him almost as soon as they captured him last November. They were lynched, to the great satisfaction of California’s late Governor Rolph.

¶ Federal agents went to work on the case of Charles F. Urschel, Oklahoma City oilman, kidnapped in July 1933. After his release, Urschel recalled hearing a plane flying over his hideaway regularly at certain times of day. Working on that slender clue, the Government men tracked down Harvey Bailey on the Texas farm where Urschel had been held, found Mr. & Mrs. George R. (“Machine Gun”) Kelly in Memphis. All three, with two accomplices, were given life sentences by a Federal judge in Oklahoma City. Bailey and Kelly are at Alcatraz Island, Calif.

Two cases in which the Department of Justice has as yet failed to score with the capture of the culprits: Edward G. Bremer, St. Paul banker, snatched last January; June Robles, 6, stolen from her Tucson, Ariz, home last April. Last week Federal sleuths cleared up their 32nd and 33rd cases of extortion and abduction since the Lindbergh Law in record time.

Ford. In Detroit Edsel Ford received a letter threatening death unless $5,000 was left on the back porch of a home in the city’s northeast section. The money was duly left in a candy box. A tenant nearly ruined the case by picking it up by mistake. Soon, however, Edward Lickwala, 20, son of a onetime Ford worker, appeared to offer Federal agents information. He gave more information than he intended. Arrested, he quickly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth.

Stoll. The kidnapping of wealthy young Mrs. Alice Speed Stoll of Louisville, Ky. fortnight ago, put the Division of Investigation (“D. O. I.”) agents on their mettle. Mrs. Stoll, ill with a cold, was seized shortly after 3 p. m. from her suburban house by a man with a revolver and a lead pipe. The Stolls did not ring famed NAtional 7117 in Washington, as every kidnappee’s family is supposed to do. The first thing that D. O. I. Director John Edgar Hoover knew about the case was when he received a telephone message at 7 p. m. from a relative of Mrs. Stoll, onetime Ambassador Frederick M. Sackett Jr. Within 24 hr. the D. O. I. laboratories had the $50,000 ransom note, had found fingerprints and identified them, among nearly five million on file, as belonging to a young Nashville maniac named Robinson.Foolish Kidnapper Robinson named his father in Nashville as intermediary and money-passer.

Less than 1,200 people work for the D. O. I. Less than half of them are field operatives who report to 30 bureaus throughout the country. Their names are never known. But their bureau chiefs and inspectors must be known. Director Hoover has a teletype system to all bureau headquarters and D. O. I. men are encouraged to use the long distance telephone like grain speculators.Through this high-speed network Director Hoover began converging some 30 operatives on the scene of the crime. From Washington, Assistant Director Harold Nathan flew to Louisville to co-ordinate the search. Inspector H. H. Clegg sped from Washington to take care of the Nashville end of the investigation. From Chicago hurried one of the littlest and ablest crook snatchers in the service—Melvin Purvis. Just past 30, Bureau Chief Purvis, University of South Carolina Law School graduate, helped with the Federal investigation of the Insull collapse, rounded up Verne Sankey and the Touhy gang, set the Chicago trap that resulted in the killing of Desperado John Dillinger last July.* In the Stoll case he was given the Indianapolis area.

It was to Indianapolis that Kidnapper Robinson motored Mrs. Stoll. In an apartment two blocks from the executive mansion of the Governor of Indiana, she was bound, nearly suffocated in a closet. Following directions in the ransom letter left in Louisville, Mrs. Stoll’s kin sent $50,000 express to Father Robinson in Nashville. Snatcher Robinson’s wife started for Indianapolis with the money, detrained at Terre Haute, unconsciously avoided a taxi proffered by a D. O. I. man in disguise, motored to Indianapolis.Off the trail, Chief Purvis and his men did not catch up with Mrs. Robinson until she and Mrs. Stoll were on their way back to Louisville in company of a preacher-kinsman. By that time, Kidnapper Robinson with the $50,000 had made his getaway, was being pursued all over the southeast U. S.

The best place for a reporter to have covered the Stoll kidnapping would have been the press room of the Department of Justice, 600 mi. from the scene of the crime. Even information from one field man to another is cleared through the central Washington office. The moment Mrs. Stoll was released, the complete, authoritative story on the kidnapping went out from Washington. Attorney General Cummings took on last August as his special assistant one of the ablest and most reliable of Washington correspondents, Henry Suydam, long with the Brooklyn Eagle.

Under Assistant Suydam, the Department of Justice release on the Stoll case made more sense and better reading than any of the reams written by groping newshawks on the Louisville. Nashville, Terre Haute and Indianapolis front.

Kidnapping case in a class by itself is that of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. Credit for the capture of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in that case, however, goes not to the Department of Justice but to the New York City Police Department. Fortnight ago the affairs of the onetime Bronx carpenter turned an important corner when extradition papers were signed by New York’s Governor Lehman turning him over to New Jersey.

Hauptmann’s counsel precipitated what amounted to a pre-hearing of the murder trial evidence when he obtained a writ of habeas corpus. During hearings on this action in the New York courts, last week Mrs. Hauptmann did her loyal best to alibi her stolid husband for the night of March 1, 1932. She was not very successful. More promising was the testimony of a construction boss on a Manhattan apartment building who said Hauptmann was working for him until 5 p. m. on the fatal day. The crime took place 60 mi. away at Hopewell, N. J. not later than 8:30 p. m. But when other evidence tended to show that Hauptmann did not start work there until March 21, the court refused to stay the extradition longer and four carloads of New Jersey troopers swept Bruno Hauptmann over the Hudson and down to Flemington for the trial of his life.

*On the trail of another desperado last week Chief Purvis led Federal men and policemen to an Ohio farm, saw Charles (“Pretty Boy”) Floyd drop mortally wounded (see p. 64).

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