A Schoolboy's Day
At about noon on Friday, May 24, 1935, 9-year-old George Hunt Weyerhaeuser walked from Tacoma's Lowell Elementary School at N 12th Street and Yakima Avenue to the Annie Wright Seminary at 827 N Tacoma Avenue, to meet his sister, Anne. The children were usually met at school by the family chauffeur and taken to the Weyerhaeuser home at 420 N Fourth Street, for lunch. Lowell Elementary School had released their students earlier than usual and George arrived at the seminary 15 minutes early. Rather than wait, he decided to walk home, taking an overgrown path that bordered the Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club grounds.
When George emerged onto Borough Road, he encountered two men sitting in a green 1927 Buick sedan. The passenger exited the vehicle and approached George, asking for directions to Stadium Way. Suddenly he seized the boy, pulled him into the back seat of the car and covered him with an old blanket. The automobile sped away.
Ransoming A Son
It wasn't long before the Weyerhaeuser family realized that George was missing and, after a brief search, notified the Tacoma Police Department. At about 6:25 p.m., a postal carrier arrived at the Weyerhaeuser residence with a special delivery letter addressed "To Whom it May Concern," demanding a ransom of $200,000 in small, unmarked bills. To authenticate the demand, the kidnappers had George sign the back of the letter.
The long, typewritten ransom note contained 21 points and gave the family five days to raise the money. Point 12 said: "In five days or as soon as you have the money, advertise in the Seattle P-I personal column. Say 'We are ready.' And sign it 'Percy Minnie.'" The note said the family would be notified regarding the ransom's delivery and was signed "Egoist."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), advised of the kidnapping, determined that the Federal Kidnapping Act (also known as the Lindbergh Law) and a statute that made it a felony to send extortion threats through the postal service, had been violated. In an effort to combat the virulent "snatch" racket, popular during the early 1930s, Congress had passed the "Lindbergh Law" on June 17, 1932, making interstate kidnapping a Federal felony, under the FBI's jurisdiction. (The law was a response to the New Jersey kidnapping and murder in March 1932 of the 2-year-old son of Charles Lindbergh, the renowned aviator, and his wife, Anne Marrow Lindbergh.)
In the Weyerhaeuser case, more than a dozen FBI agents were sent to Tacoma to investigate leads. After the ransom money had been collected, agents compiled the serial numbers of the 20,000 bills, which were sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a list was prepared. The 10-page list was intended for publication and distributed to post offices, banks, hotels, railway depots, and other commercial centers where money was passed. The FBI had used this technique to help solve other high-profile kidnappings including the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932.
On Saturday, May 25, 1935, two advertisements were published in the Personals column of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Classified Want Ads indicating that the Weyerhaeusers would comply with the ransom demands. The first read: "Expect to be ready to come Monday. Answer. Percy Minnie." The second read: "Due to publicity beyond our control, please indicate another method of reaching you. Hurry, relieve anguished mother. Percy Minnie."
On Tuesday, May 28, 1935, one day before the kidnapper's deadline, Mr. Weyerhaeuser placed another classified ad in the Seattle P-I, that read: "We are ready. Percy Minnie." The family kept the ransom negotiations secret and the press received no further information. Law enforcement authorities agreed to refrain from any interference until George was released.
On Wednesday, May 29, 1935, Mr. Weyerhaeuser received a letter from the kidnappers instructing him to register at 7:00 p.m. at the Ambassador Hotel, 806 Union Street, Seattle, under the name James Paul Jones and await further instructions. Enclosed with the kidnapper's letter was a handwritten note from George, stating that he was safe. Weyerhaeuser followed instructions and at 9:45 p.m. a taxicab driver delivered another letter to him at the Ambassador Hotel.
The letter instructed Weyerhaeuser to drive to S Renton Avenue and 62nd Avenue S in the Rainier Valley with the money and look for a stake with a white cloth attached on the right side of the road. Weyerhaeuser found the stake and underneath the cloth found a note in a tin can with instructions to drive straight ahead 700 feet to another white cloth and park, leaving the engine running and parking lights on. Weyerhaeuser did as instructed, but nothing happened. After waiting there for three hours, he returned to Seattle with the money.
At about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 30, 1935, Weyerhaeuser received an anonymous telephone call at the Ambassador Hotel asking why he had failed to follow the instructions in the second note. Weyerhaeuser explained that he had followed instructions, but had found no second note. He was then told that he would be contacted with new instructions and it would be the last chance to save his son. At 9:00 p.m., he received a telephone call from a man, affecting a European accent, with instructions to drive with the money to 1105 E Madison Street and look for a tin can, directly inside the gate on the right hand side, containing a note with further instructions.
This time, Weyerhaeuser was told to drive to the Half Way House on the Pacific Highway (Highway 99) near Angle Lake and then turn onto a specific side-road. A series of notes in tin cans, marked by white flags, eventually instructed him to park the car, place the bag containing the $200,000 ransom on the front seat, leave the vehicle with the engine running, the dome light on and the driver's door open, and then walk down the road toward the highway. If the money was in order, George would be released within 30 hours. After walking about 100 yards, Weyerhaeuser heard noises and saw someone run from the underbrush, enter his car, which was a black 1933 Pontiac sedan, and drive away. He walked back to the highway and caught a ride to Tacoma to await word.
George Goes Home
At about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, 1935, the kidnappers released George Weyerhaeuser on the Issaquah-Hobart Road approximately four miles south of Issaquah, with two dirty blankets and a dollar stuffed into his pocket. It was raining and he was told to wait in a nearby shack for his father to arrive, but after awhile George started walking down the road. Six miles later, he wandered onto Louis P. Bonifas's farm and announced his identity.
Mrs. Willena Bonifas took George into the house, fed him breakfast and gave him a pair of dry shoes and socks to wear. Then Bonifas put the boy into his dilapidated Model T Ford and headed for Tacoma. At 6:30 a.m., he stopped in Renton at a Union 76 gas station and asked the attendant, Ernie Backlund, to telephone the Weyerhaeuser residence, but there was no answer. Finally Bonifas called the Tacoma Police Department, telling them George was safe and he was driving him to Tacoma.
Media coverage of this "sensational crime" was intense. The Weyerhaeuser mansion was surrounded by syndicated and local newspaper reporters, each hoping for a scoop. Lending to the circus-like atmosphere were newsreel crews, photographers, radio broadcasters, and a spate of curious onlookers.
John H. Dreher, a sports writer for The Seattle Times, was in Tacoma covering the story, when he received a tip that George Weyerhaeuser had been released near Issaquah and was being driven home. On a hunch, he hired a taxicab at the Hotel Winthrop, 773 Broadway, and headed toward Renton. They managed to intercept Bonifas's car on the Pacific Highway, approximately 18 miles north of Tacoma. Dreher gave Bonifas the impression he was a police officer and, for $5, persuaded the farmer to relinquish custody of the boy. Then he hustled George into his taxi and, taking back roads to avoid police cars and the press, headed toward Tacoma. As George crouched on the back seat, below window level, Dreher sat on the rear floor, interviewing the boy and taking copious notes.
At about 7:45 a.m., the taxi arrived at the Weyerhaeuser residence and drove into the garage. Dreher pounded on the basement garage door, which was eventually opened by a family friend, Henry Marfield Bolcom, and George unceremoniously disappeared into the house. Soon after, Bolcom, spokesman for the family, issued a statement to the press that George had returned home safely and requested that further details regarding his kidnapping ordeal be withheld from publication "to reduce any bad effects on his future life." However, Dreher had already returned to the Hotel Winthrop to write his exclusive interview with "the world's most famous kidnap victim," which ran copyrighted on the front page of The Seattle Times "Extra" editions and sent out nationwide by The Associated Press.
The Manhunt Begins
Investigative efforts had been curtailed during George's captivity in an attempt to insure his safe return. Now that he was safely home, an army of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers commenced, as described by the press, "the greatest manhunt in the history of the Northwest." The FBI immediately released the serial numbers of the ransom notes for publication. Later that morning, the vehicle Weyerhaeuser used to pay the ransom, a 1933 black Pontiac sedan, was found abandoned at 5th Avenue S and Weller Street in Seattle's International District (Chinatown) and searched for evidence. The black Gladstone bag, used to carry the ransom, and an empty tin can, used to hold notes, were found inside.
On Sunday night, June 2, 1935, the first $20 ransom bill surfaced in Huntington, Oregon. The Union Pacific station agent said a man used the note to purchase a ticket on the 10:10 p.m. train to Salt Lake City. Another $20 ransom bill was used to purchase a postal money order in Spokane on Tuesday, June 4, 1935.
By Friday, June 7, 1935, some 20 ransom bills had been picked up in the receipts of Salt Lake City stores. Several of the notes, mostly $10 bills, had been passed at a Kress's and a Woolworth's 10-cent store by a young woman purchasing food and sundries. At the request of the FBI, the Salt Lake City Police Department stationed undercover officers in the cashier's cage of every downtown variety store to screen serial numbers.
The First Arrests
On Saturday, June 8, 1935, Detective William M. Rogers and Patrolman L. B. Gifford were checking serial numbers at Woolworth's when a clerk arrived at the cashier's cage with a $5 bill for a 20-cent purchase. It was quickly identified as one of the ransom notes and the officers arrested the young woman who passed the bill. At the FBI's Salt Lake City Field Office, agents found another ransom bill in her purse. She identified herself as Mrs. Margaret Von Metz and, although she told a number of conflicting stories, finally gave her address as 847 Condus Place, Salt Lake City, a house she had rented only three days earlier. Agents staked out the residence, waiting for Mr. Von Metz to come home. A few hours later, they arrested a man with the name "Metz" tattooed across the back of one hand and took him to the FBI field office for questioning. There he was identified as ex-convict Harmon Metz Waley, age 24, and his wife as Margaret Eldora Thulin, age 19, from Salt Lake City, Utah.
As expected, Waley denied any knowledge of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, but agents found two of the ransom bills in his pocket. The FBI searched the "Von Metz" residence for evidence and found approximately $3,700 in the stove, partially burned. The debris was carefully collected and sent to the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C., which later confirmed that the bills constituted part of the ransom money.
After making several false statements, Harmon Waley finally confessed that he and William Mahan, whose true name was William Dainard, had kidnapped George Weyerhaeuser. In 1930, Harmon was serving six months for vagrancy in the Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, when he met Dainard, who was serving 20 years for bank robbery. For unknown reasons, Dainard was granted a full pardon by Idaho Governor Charles Ben Ross (1876-1946) on June 1, 1933, and released.
Waley drifted to Salt Lake City, where he met and married Margaret Thulin on November 14, 1933, after a courtship of only one week. Between 1933 and April 1935, the Waleys lived in Salt Lake City, Utah; Camden, New Jersey; and Tacoma, Washington, for short periods of time, living on welfare while Harmon pursued his criminal career, specializing in burglary and robbery. In April 1935, Waley chanced upon Dainard in Salt Lake City and they decided to go to Spokane.
The Kidnapping Plan
On April 13, 1935, Dainard and the Waleys rented a house at 1509 11th Avenue, Spokane, which later became their hideout. They got the idea to kidnap George after Margaret read an obituary of Tacoma lumber baron John Philip Weyerhaeuser Sr.(1858-1935), published in newspapers nationwide on May 17, 1935. The article told about the family's vast holdings and, since kidnapping was in vogue, she decided it would be an easy source of money. The trio drove to Tacoma to assess the possibility of successfully kidnapping a member of the Weyerhaeuser family. They set up their base of operations at the Fir Apartments located at 1402 E Fir Street, Seattle. Waley and Dainard drove to Tacoma every morning while Margaret stayed at the apartment.
Waley and Dainard had been watching the family's movements for several days, but it was happenstance that George suddenly appeared in front of their car that day. The men took advantage of the situation, snatching the boy off the street. Waley claimed that Margaret had no knowledge of the kidnapping until after it occurred, but later she helped them collect the ransom.
Margaret Waley also confessed to her part in the plot, which corresponded to Harmon's version of the story. Both Harmon and Margaret Waley gave the FBI signed confessions, detailing their activities before and after the kidnapping.
The Brains: William Dainard
Meanwhile, at about 9:00 p.m. June 8, 1935, Dainard stopped by Margaret's grandfather's house in Ogden, Utah, to pick up a suitcase he had left there and learned that the Waleys had been arrested in Salt Lake City. He immediately jumped into his car, a new Ford V-8 Tudor sedan, and headed for Montana. The following day, by chance, Dainard was spotted in Butte by a police officer who had arrested him for bank robbery in 1927, but he had no idea that Dainard had been fingered as one of the Weyerhaeuser kidnappers.
At about 6:40 a.m. on Sunday, June 9, 1935, Patrolman James Mooney saw Dainard loitering near a gray 1935 Ford Tudor sedan bearing Utah license plates. As he approached, Dainard fled down an alley, climbed over a backyard fence and escaped. Police Chief Jere Murphy and Patrolman Ed O'Connor searched the abandoned vehicle and found a suitcase containing hundreds of Federal Reserve notes wrapped in an oilcloth. At police headquarters, the officers found the serial numbers matched those on the Weyerhaeuser ransom list. Chief Murphy immediately notified the FBI and put out a dragnet for Dainard, but he had disappeared, leaving behind a suitcase with $15,155 in marked money and a list of the ransom notes published in the newspaper. Dainard hid in the foothills of Idaho and Washington for several weeks and then went to California.
The Waleys also told the FBI they had buried their share of the ransom money and showed them exactly where it was located. On Monday morning, June 10, 1935, FBI agents recovered a gunny sack containing $90,700 wrapped in black oilcloth, buried near an anthill in Emigration Canyon, about six miles east of Salt Lake City. An accounting of Waley's share of the ransom revealed that when they divvied it up, Dainard had shortchanged him by $5,000.
The Waleys' Trials
On Wednesday, June 12, 1935, the Waleys were flown, via United Airlines charter, from Salt Lake City to Tacoma where complaints had been filed in U.S. District Court, charging them with kidnapping. On June 19, 1935, the Federal Grand Jury in Tacoma returned an indictment charging Harmon and Margaret Waley and William Dainard with violating the Federal Kidnapping Act, conspiracy and extortion. The newspapers observed that the Waleys would most likely plead guilty to the less stringent Federal charges because the new and untested Washington state kidnapping law provided death as the automatic penalty, unless the jury recommended leniency.
Harmon Waley was arraigned on June 21, 1935, before U.S. District Court Judge Edward E. Cushman, and pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and conspiracy charges listed in the indictment. Because George Weyerhaeuser was released unharmed, the maximum sentence was life in prison; because Waley confessed, the judge sentenced him instead to 45 years in prison for the kidnapping and two years for conspiracy, the terms to run concurrently. U.S. Marshals took him immediately to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary to start serving his sentence. On July 17, 1935, Waley was transferred to the Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco, a new maximum-security prison, established in 1934, to hold violent and incorrigible criminals.
Margaret Waley, arraigned with Harmon, also attempted to plead guilty to kidnapping charges, but her court appointed attorney, Stephen J. O'Brien, argued against her plea, declaring there was nothing in the indictment that could convict her. The following day, June 22, 1935, Judge Cushman decided it was in her best interest to stand trial and ordered entry of "not guilty" into the record. The judge appointed John Francis Dore (1881-1938), a former Seattle mayor, as her trial lawyer.
The trial commenced on Tuesday morning, July 9, 1935, in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, before Judge Cushman. In opening arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Owen P. Hughes told the jury how George was kidnapped in Tacoma on May 24, 1935, was driven around the Northwest concealed in a trunk, spent at least three days chained in dirt pits near Issaquah and Tonasket, taken briefly into Idaho, chained to a tree near Newman Lake, Washington, and then imprisoned in a closet for four days in a house in Spokane before finally being set free on a dirt road near Issaquah.
The trial proceeded at a rapid pace and was concluded in just five days. The U.S. Attorney J. Charles Dennis called more than 40 prosecution witnesses to give testimony. The government needed to prove that George Weyerhaeuser had crossed a state line, a necessary element of the Federal Kidnapping Act, and that Margaret had joined the conspiracy.
Defense attorney Dore called only one witness, Margaret Waley, who claimed that she had no knowledge of the kidnapping until the day after it occurred. She testified about traveling on a road that passed through Blanchard and Spirit Lake, Idaho, and back to Spokane, Washington, as well as assisting Dainard in renting hideouts and acquiring the ransom money. But Margaret said she went along with the scheme because she was raised in the Mormon Church and a basic precept of the faith is absolute obedience to your husband. She also claimed that Dainard threatened to kill her, Harmon, and the boy unless she cooperated fully.
Margaret testified that she had tried to plead guilty to the Federal kidnapping charges because maximum penalty was life imprisonment and FBI agents had warned her that death was the automatic penalty for kidnapping in Washington state. Then she added: "I did not intend to let them hang Harmon or myself" (The Seattle Times).
The trial was concluded on Saturday morning, July 13, 1935. After jury instructions, Judge Cushman explained that, while religious beliefs were not a justification for committing criminal acts, compulsion, through threats of bodily harm, might be a valid excuse. After deliberating for only five hours and 44 minutes, a jury of 10 men and two women found Margaret Waley guilty of both charges.
On Wednesday, July 17, 1935, Judge Cushman sentenced Margaret Waley to 20 years in prison for the kidnapping and 20 years for conspiracy, to be served concurrently at the Federal Detention Farm, Milan, Michigan. She told the press she was satisfied with the sentence, stating: "It will be easier waiting on the inside for Harmon than on the outside" (The Seattle Times). On her way to prison, reality set in and Margaret denounced her husband to the press in Chicago declaring: "If it hadn't been for him, I would not be where I am today. I'm through with men forever. When I come out, I'm coming out alone" (The Seattle Times).
Capturing William Dainard
In early 1936, Federal Reserve notes with altered serial numbers began to surface on the West Coast. An examination by the FBI laboratory revealed the notes were part of the Weyerhaeuser ransom money. Banks and businesses were notified to be alert for anyone attempting to pass or exchange altered currency.
On February 15, 1936, a man with bushy red hair entered the Canadian National Bank of Commerce in Seattle, attempting to change $300 in ransom bills. When the teller became suspicious and left his cage to check the serial numbers, the man fled, leaving the money behind. He was soon identified as one of Dainard's associates, Edward Fliss, alias Frank "Red" Lane, age 30, who had served time in the Idaho State Penitentiary for kidnapping Idaho Lieutenant Governor William Barker Kinne (1874-1929) in 1929. With new leads to follow, the FBI intensified their manhunt.
On Wednesday, May 6, 1936, employees of two San Francisco banks reported that a man had exchanged altered bills and they had recorded his license plate number. The car, a 1935 Ford sedan, was registered to Bert E. Cole, who was living at the Ventura Hotel, directly across Mission Street from the Federal Building. Early the following morning, two FBI agents located the vehicle in a nearby parking lot enclosed by a wire storm-fence. They disabled it and established surveillance. At about noon, William Dainard, disguised in horn-rimmed eyeglasses, got into the car. When it failed to start, he got out and looked under the hood. FBI agents quickly moved in and made the arrest. Although armed with a Colt's 45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, Dainard offered no resistance. Agents recovered $7,300 in ransom money from his pockets and found $30,074 stashed in the hotel.
After four hours of questioning, Dainard was taken to the San Francisco Airport and flown, via United Airlines charter, to Tacoma. Although he admitted to his participation in the kidnapping, he refused to sign a confession, but told the FBI where he had cached $14,000 in $100 bills in Utah.
On Saturday morning, May 9, 1936, Dainard was arraigned in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, before Judge Cushman. He declined an offer of a court-appointed attorney and immediately pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap. Because Dainard was considered the "brains" behind the kidnapping, he was sentenced to serve 60 years in prison on each count, the terms to run concurrently. U.S. Marshals took him immediately to the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary to start serving his sentence. Shortly thereafter, Dainard was transferred to the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was determined to be insane. He was committed for a time to a mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri, and then sent to Alcatraz.
Capturing Edward Fliss
On Friday, October 23, 1936, the FBI arrested Edward Fliss at the Delmar Hotel in San Francisco. He offered no resistance and readily confessed to helping Dainard launder ransom money. Fliss said he was "hard up" so he traveled with Dainard up and down the West Coast, changing thousands of dollars into smaller denominations for 15 percent of the take.
The following day, Fliss was taken by train to Tacoma where a complaint had been filed in U.S. District Court, charging him with conspiracy and being an accessory after the fact to kidnapping. On November 10, 1935, a Federal Grand Jury in Tacoma indicted him for these violations.
Fliss was arraigned on Saturday, November 14, 1936, before Judge Cushman. He waived the appointment of an attorney and pleaded guilty to the charge of being an accessory after the fact in the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping. Fliss pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy count, stating he was serving a 30-day jail sentence for vagrancy in Missoula, Montana, when the kidnapping occurred. U.S. Attorney Dennis advised the court that the charge would be dismissed.
Fliss was sentenced on Friday, November 27, 1936. During the proceeding, he admitted his past crimes to the court and then added: "The kidnapping of the lieutenant governor (Kinne) was not a real kidnapping. We just forced the man to ride with us for a couple of hours and when they found out who he was, we let him go. There was no ransom money involved" (The Seattle Times). Judge Cushman was not amused and sentenced Fliss to 10 years imprisonment at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and fined him $5,000 -- the maximum penalty.
With the Fliss sentencing, the government considered the Weyerhaeuser case closed. During the course of the investigation, the FBI recovered more than $157,000 in ransom money, which was returned to the Weyerhaeusers; the rest had either been spent, lost, or destroyed.
After the Case
In appreciation for helping his son, George, Mr. J. P. Weyerhaeuser Jr. gave Louis Bonifas (1898-1992) lifetime employment in the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Mill, owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, and a monetary reward of sufficient size to purchase several acres of land and build a new house in the Snoqualmie area.
Margaret Eldora Waley (1915-1989) was released from the Federal Correctional Institution, Alderson, West Virginia on May 21, 1948, having serving two-thirds of her sentence. After her release from prison, she divorced Harmon, resumed using her maiden name, Thulin, and moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she worked for the American Electric Power Company. Eventually, Margaret returned to Salt Lake City where she married Robert J. Rea on December 25, 1954. She died on November 9, 1989, at age 74.
Harmon Metz Waley (1910-1984) was paroled from the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary on June 3, 1963, after serving 28 years of his 45-year sentence. He allegedly wrote to the Weyerhaeuser family from prison on several occasions, apologizing for his crime and seeking employment with the company upon his release. Magnanimously, the Weyerhaeusers gave Waley a job at one of the Weyerhaeuser plants in Oregon. He died in Salem on February 6, 1984, at age 73.
William Dainard (1902-1992) was eligible for parole in 1955, but the Federal Parole Board didn't believe that a "three-time loser" like Dainard merited an early release. But he was later paroled. He died in Great Falls, Montana, on September 18, 1992, at age 90.
Edward Fliss, who had an extensive criminal record, including kidnapping and robbery, served almost all 10 years of his sentence. He was released from MCFP (medical center for Federal prisoners) Springfield Hospital, Missouri on July 24, 1946.
George Hunt Weyerhaeuser (b. 1926) attended Yale University and, after a strong career as a mill foreman and general manager, assumed control of the timber company in 1966. Under his leadership, the Weyerhaeuser Corporation absorbed several new businesses and expanded their operations. He retired from the corporation in 1999.