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Harmon and Margaret Waley, two kidnappers of George Weyerhaeuser, are captured in Salt Lake City on June 8, 1935.

HistoryLink.org Essay 7750 : Printer-Friendly Format

On June 8, 1935, two of George H. Weyerhaeuser’s kidnappers are captured in Salt Lake City while attempting to pass marked ransom money. In one of the nation's most sensational crimes, on May 24, 1935, George Weyerhaeuser, the 9-year-old son of timber baron John Philip Weyerhaeuser Jr., was kidnapped. The boy's family paid a ransom for his release on June 1, 1935. A week later, upon their capture, Harmon Metz Waley, age 23, and his wife Margaret Eldora Thulin, age 19, will confess to the crime and identify ex-convict William Dainard, age 33, as the “brains” behind the kidnapping. Harmon Waley will plead guilty to the charges and will be sentenced to 45 years in federal prison. Margaret Waley will go to trial, be found guilty, and receive a 20-year sentence at a federal detention farm.

The Manhunt Is On

After the kidnappers released 9-year-old George H. Weyerhaeuser (b. 1926) on June 1, 1935, 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 New York Times).  (During the boy's captivity, investigative efforts had been curtailed in an attempt to ensure his safe return.) 

The FBI immediately released for publication the serial numbers of the ransom notes and distributed copies to post offices, banks, hotels, railway depots, and other commercial centers where money was passed. 

On 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 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 Arrests

On 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 in 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 on one hand and took him 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.  A search of the “Von Metz” residence for evidence revealed approximately $3,700 in the stove, partially burned.  The FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C., later confirmed that the bills were part of the ransom money.

Harmon Waley denied any knowledge of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, but agents found two of the ransom bills in his pocket.  After making several false statements, Waley finally confessed that he and ex-convict William Dainard, alias Bill Mahan, had kidnapped George Weyerhaeuser.  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.

Harmon Waley said in April 1935, he and Margaret were living in Salt Lake City when he chanced upon Dainard, a former prison acquaintance, and they decided to go to Spokane.  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, they decided it would be an easy source of money.

The trio set up their base of operations in Seattle.  Waley and Dainard drove to Tacoma every morning while Margaret stayed in the apartment.  They had been watching the family’s movements for several days, but it was happenstance that, on that day, George, on his way home from school to have lunch, suddenly appeared in front of their car.  The men took advantage of the situation and snatched him off the street.  Waley claimed that Margaret had no knowledge of the kidnapping until after it had occurred, but that later she had helped them collect the ransom.

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.   

Trial and Conviction

On June 12, 1935, the Waleys were removed from Salt Lake City to Tacoma, Washington, 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.

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 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.  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 July 9, 1935, in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, before Judge Cushman and was concluded in just five days.  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.  Prosecuting attorney J. Charles Dennis called more than 40 prosecution witnesses to give testimony.

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.  But, she willingly testified about traveling on a road that passed through Blanchard and Spirit Lake, Idaho, and back to Spokane, Washington, as well as assisting William Dainard in renting hideouts and acquiring the ransom money.  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.

The trial was concluded on 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, July 17, 1935, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the kidnapping and 20 years for conspiracy, to be served concurrently at the Federal Detention Farm, Milan, Michigan.

On June 8, 1935, William Dainard was in Ogden, Utah, when he learned that the Waleys had been captured in Salt Lake City.  He immediately fled the state and drove nonstop to Butte, Montana, to hide.  The following day, by chance, Dainard was spotted in Butte by a police officer who had arrested him for bank robbery in 1927.  He managed to elude the Butte Police, but left behind his new Ford V-8 sedan and a suitcase containing $15,155 in marked money.  After hiding in the foothills of Idaho and Washington for several weeks, Dainard went to California.  He was finally captured by the FBI in San Francisco on May 7, 1936.

Sources:
“Ransom Cash Found in Oregon” The New York Times, June 3, 1935, p. 2; “Couple Caught in Salt Lake City Confess They Kidnapped the Weyerhaeuser Boy; Name Third Person,” Ibid., June 10, 1935, p. 2; “Kidnapping Case Told in Summary,” Ibid., June 10, 1935, p. 3; “Government Files Charges,” Ibid., June 12, 1935, p. 1; “Mrs. Waley Loses in Freedom Plea,” Ibid., July 12, 1935, p. 1; “Prosecutor Hits Waley Defense,” Ibid., July 13, 1935, p. 6; “Mrs. Waley Guilty in Kidnapping Case,” Ibid., July 14, 1935, p. 1; “Waley at Alcatraz Island,” Ibid., July 18, 1935, p. 3; “Mrs. Waley Gets 20 Years in Prison,” Ibid., July 18, 1935, p. 3; “Ransom Money Report Sends ‘G-Men’ Flocking into Salt Lake City,” The Seattle Times, June 8, 1935, p. 1; “Mrs. Waley’s Grandfather Suspected Wayward Couple,” Ibid., June 10, 1935, p. 1; “Kidnaper Hunt Is 7-Day Wonder,” Ibid., June 10, 1935, p. A; “Man, Wife Break in Utah Arrest,” Ibid., June 10, 1935, p. B; “Waley, Minister Talked at Hideout; Kidnapped Boy Was Locked in Closet,” Ibid., June 11, 1935, p. 1; “Mahan Still Believed in Butte,” Ibid., June 11, 1935, p. 10; “Life Sentence Declared Hope of Accused Pair,” Ibid., June 12, 1935, p. 1; “Court Appoints Dore to Handle Woman’s Defense,” Ibid., June 22, 1935, p. 1; “Defense May Ask Court to Quash All Indictments,” Ibid., June 23, 1935, p. 1; “Mrs. Waley in Plot at Start, Jury Is Told as U. S. Trial Opens,” Ibid., July 9, 1935, p. 1; “U.S. Details Kidnapping Charges Against Mrs. Margaret Waley,” Ibid., July 9, 1935, p. 4; “U.S. to Bring It’s Testimony Against Woman to Speedy End,” Ibid., July 10, 1935, p. 1; “Here’s Review of First Testimony,” Ibid., July 10, 1935, p. B; “The Second Confession,” Ibid., July 10, 1935, p. 8; “George Weyerhaeuser’s Complete Testimony,” Ibid., July 11, 1935, p. 1; “Woman’s Story Assailed by U.S. after Dramatic Finish by Dore,” Ibid., July 12, 1935, p. 1; “Fear of Hanging Reason for Plea,” Ibid., July 12, 1935, p. B; “Judge Quizzed on Interstate Commerce Point in Waley Case,” Ibid., July 13, 1935, p. 1; “Wife Convicted on Both Counts in Weyerhaeuser Kidnapping Case,” Ibid., July 14, 1935, p. 1; “Prison Sentence Satisfactory to Kidnapper; Dore Abandons appeal,” Ibid., July 17, 1935, p. 1; “Waley Minimum Penalty Doubled,” Ibid., July 18, 1935, p. 1. “FBI History; Famous Cases; The Weyerhaeuser Kidnapping,” Federal Bureau of Investigation website accessed February 2006 (www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/weyer/weyer.htm).


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Harmon and Margaret Waley, kidnappers of George Weyerhaeuser, June 11, 1935
Courtesy The New York Times


Harmon Waley, Kidnapper of George Weyerhaeuser, Idaho State Penitentiary mug shot, ca. 1927
Courtesy Idaho Historical Society


 
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