America’s Most Notorious Kidnappings

One minute they’re here, the next they’re gone. The history of infamous kidnappings in America is long and stretches back centuries. In some cases, the missing are released and recovered alive, while others are not so lucky. Other disappearances remain unsolved.

“Photographs of Lindbergh Baby and Family,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 12, 1932

Cynthia Ann Parker
May 19, 1836, Waco—The 9-year-old Texan girl is kidnapped by Comanche Indians during a surprise attack on her family’s homestead. She is spotted four years later living as a member of the tribe and unwilling to return to Anglo society

“Fell Into the Hands of the Comanches…,” Kansas City Journal (Kansas City, MO), August 8, 1897

Charley Ross
July 1, 1874, Philadelphia—Two men kidnap the little boy with the promise of buying him and his brother candy. The kidnappers demand $20,000 in ransom and the case becomes the crime of the century!

“KIDNAPPERS MOST NOTED VICTIM,” New York Times, June 29, 1924, p. XX4

Eddie Cudahy
December 18, 1900, Omaha—A local butcher abducts the 16-year-old son of the millionaire owner of the Cudahy Packing Company. The ransom note demanding $25,000 refers to the Charley Ross kidnapping and the family hires the Pinkerton Detective Agency to lead the manhunt.

“YOUNG CUDAHY RETURNS HOME,” The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), December 20, 1900

Elsie Paroubek
April 8, 1911, Chicago—The little Czech-American girl disappears while walking to her aunt’s house. Police are convinced that gypsies from a nearby encampment are involved.

“John Paroubek Vows Vengeance on Those Who Took His Child,” Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, NE), April 17, 1911

Bobby Dunbar
August 23, 1912, St. Landry Parish—The 4-year-old disappears during a family fishing trip to Swayze Lake in Louisiana. After a massive manhunt, a boy is found that the family claims to be Bobby, yet another woman says the boy is her son in a case of mistaken identity.  

[No headline]. St. Landry Clarion (Opelousas, LA), August 31, 1912

Bobby Franks
May 21, 1924, Chicago—The 14-year-old son of a millionaire vanished leaving an after-school baseball game. The next day the Franks family receive a ransom note demanding $10,000 for the boy’s safe return. Two young men from affluent families are arrested and claim they committed the crime to demonstrate their perceived intellectual superiority

“Youthful Heir Kidnaped and Brutally Slain,” New Britain Herald (New Britain, CT), May 26, 1924

Marion Parker
December 15, 1927, Los Angeles—William Hickman abducts from school the 12-year-old daughter of a prominent banker. Hickman sends a series of three ransom notes to the Parker home signed “Fate,” “Death,” and “The Fox.”

“La Niña Marian Parker,” El Tucsonense (Tucson, AZ), December 22, 1927

Charles Lindbergh, Jr.
March 1, 1932, Hopewell—The baby son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh is kidnapped from a second floor nursery at the family’s farmhouse in New Jersey. For months, the Lindbergh’s make multiple attempts to meet ransom demands. 

“LINDBERGH READY TO RANSOM BABY BOY,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), March 2, 1932

Mary McElroy
May 27, 1933, Kansas City—The 25-year-old daughter of the City Manager of Kansas City, Missouri is kidnapped by a masked gang at gunpoint while she is taking a bubble bath. 

“PROVING THAT KIDNAPING DOES NOT PAY,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), July 30, 1933

Brooke Hart
November 9, 1933, San Jose—The eldest son of one of the most prominent businessmen in San Jose, California is reported missing after he fails to pick-up his father to drive him to a Chamber of Commerce meeting. After ransom demands are made, two suspects are arrested and confess to the crime, leading an angry lynch mob to seek justice. 

“CALIFORNIA YOUTH IS KIDNAP VICTIM,” The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, ND), November 10, 1933

June Robles
April 25, 1934, Tucson—An unidentified stranger abducts the 6-year-old daughter of one of Tucson’s wealthiest citizens. For nineteen days she is held in captivity while her parents negotiate with her kidnappers.  

“Kidnap Victim,” The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, ND), April 30, 1934

Dorothy Ann Distelhurst
September 19, 1934, Nashville—The Distelhurst family is bombarded with ransom letters after their daughter, Dorothy, never makes it home from kindergarten. The letters threaten to burn out the little girl’s eyes with acid if the $6,000 ransom is not met. 

“Awaits Daughter’s Kidnapers,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 13, 1934

Charles Mattson
December 27, 1936, Tacoma—A masked man armed with a handgun abducts  10-year-old Charles from the living room of his home. The boy’s father, a well-known physician and surgeon in the area, makes every attempt to reach the kidnapper and pay the $28,000 ransom for the boy’s safe return. 

“Ready to Pay,” The Times-News (Hendersonville, NC), January 6, 1937

Bobby Greenlease
September 25, 1953, Kansas City—The 6-year-old son of a prominent Missouri car dealer is kidnapped from school by a woman posing as his aunt. Attempts are made to pay the exorbitant $600,000 ransom, half of which is stolen by a corrupt police officer. 

“FBI Continue to Search For Ransom Money Missing in Greenlease Kidnapping,” The Key West Citizen (Key West, FL), October 13, 1953

Peter Weinberger
July 4, 1956, Westbury—When Mrs. Weinberger checks on her sleeping 1-month-old son, Peter, all she finds is an empty carriage and a ransom note, promising the baby will be returned “safe and sound” once the $2,000 demand is met. The kidnapping shocks middle-class, Long Island suburbia and makes nationwide headlines. 

“Baby Ransom Upped to $5000,” Daily Boston Globe, July 7, 1956, p. 1

Adolph Coors III
February 9, 1960, Golden—A milkman finds an abandoned car, still running, on a Colorado bridge with a bloodstain nearby. The car belongs to the 45-year old heir to the Coors Brewing Company fortune. The FBI and state investigators track Joseph Corbett and his son, a recently escaped fugitive, for the kidnapping. 

“Deserted Car, Motor On, Found,” Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1960, p. 1

Frank Sinatra, Jr.
December 8, 1963, Lake Tahoe—The 19-year-old singer and son of legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, is taken prisoner by two men pretending to deliver a package to his dressing room. He is blindfolded and held in a Los Angeles hideout, while a third conspirator contacts the singer’s famous father and demanded a $240,000 ransom. 

“‘Sinatra: Youth Safe After Bizarre Kidnap,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1963, p. G5

Paul Fronczak
April 26, 1964, Chicago—The 1-day-old baby is snatched from a hospital maternity ward by a woman disguised as a nurse. The abduction sparks a manhunt which captivates the nation. Two years later, the FBI believes that an abandoned toddler found at a New Jersey shopping center is the Fronczak boy. 

“Mrs. Fronczak Home; Pleads for Her Baby,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1964, p. 1

Steven Stayner
December 4, 1972, Merced—The 7-year-old is abducted by stranger Kenneth Parnell who said he’s collecting church donations. For seven years, Steven is forced to pretend to be Parnell’s son. 

“Christmas Gifts Wait Under Tree; Boy of 7 Missing,” Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1972, p. A3

John Paul Getty III
July 10, 1973, Rome—Grandson of one of the richest men in the world, the 16-year-old is kidnapped and spends months being beaten and tortured by members of an Italian organized crime ring. The senior John Paul Getty, a known miser, finally relents to pay $2.9 million in ransom after kidnappers cut off the young man’s ear and send it to a local newspaper. 

“Ransom demanded for Getty grandson,” The Sun (Baltimore, MD), July 14, 1973, p. A5

Patty Hearst
February 4, 1974, Berkeley—The 19-year-old granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped by a group of armed radicals called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Days later, Hearst is spotted on bank surveillance cameras weilding an assault weapon during an SLA bank robbery.  

“Hearst plot sought,” Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1974, p. 8

Chowchilla Bus Kidnapping
July 15, 1976, Chowchilla—Three gunmen abduct 26 children and a driver off a California school bus and keep the victims in a box truck buried in a local quarry while they demand ransom. After 16 days, the driver and children start to dig themselves out. 

“MYSTERY DEEPENS ON MISSING CHILDREN,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1976, p. A1

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