On May 24, 1935, George H. Weyerhaeuser (1926-2022), age 9, is kidnapped off the street in Tacoma in broad daylight. His captors mail a note to the Weyerhaeuser family demanding $200,000 for the boy's safe return. After George's father, John Philip Weyerhaeuser Jr. (1899-1956), pays the ransom, the boy is released in rural Issaquah on June 1, 1935, unleashing "the greatest manhunt in the history of the Northwest." The kidnapping is one of the most sensational crimes in Washington history.
Abducted in Broad Daylight
On Friday, May 24, 1935, George Hunt Weyerhaeuser, the 9-year-old son of timber baron John Philip Weyerhaeuser Jr., was abducted as he walked from Lowell Elementary School to the Annie Wright Seminary to meet his sister, Anne. The two children were usually met at school by the family’s chauffeur and taken to the Weyerhaeuser home for lunch. Lowell Elementary School had released its 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. A man exited the passenger side of the vehicle and approached George, asking for directions to Stadium Way. Suddenly he grabbed the boy, pulled him into the backseat of the car, and covered him with a blanket. Then the automobile sped away.
It wasn’t long before the Weyerhaeuser family realized that George was missing and notified the Tacoma Police Department. Early that evening, 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) determined that the Federal Kidnapping Act and a statute that made it a felony to send extortion threats through the postal service had been violated. To investigate the leads the FBI sent more than a dozen agents to Tacoma. It also compiled the serial numbers on the ransom bills, which were sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a list was prepared. The list was intended for publication and distributed to post offices, banks, hotels, railway depots, and other commercial centers where money was passed.
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." Three days later, Mr. Weyerhaeuser placed another classified ad in the Seattle P-I, which 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 p.m. at the Ambassador Hotel in Seattle under the name James Paul Jones and await further instructions. The kidnappers included a handwritten note from George, stating that he was safe. Weyerhaeuser followed instructions and later that evening, a taxicab driver delivered another letter to him at the hotel.
The letter instructed Weyerhaeuser to drive to certain location in Rainier Valley with the money and look for a stake with a white cloth attached. Underneath the cloth, there was 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.
Late Thursday morning, 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 followed instruction, but he had found no second note. He was then told he would be contacted with new instructions and it would be the last chance to save his son. That evening, he received a telephone call directing him to drive to the Half Way House on the Pacific Highway (Highway 99) near Angle Lake, and then turn onto a specific side road. There he found a series of notes in tin cans, marked by white flags, which 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, a black 1933 Pontiac sedan, and drive away. He walked back to the highway and caught a ride to Tacoma to await word.
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 about 6:30 a.m., he stopped in Renton at a gas station and asked the attendant 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.
John H. Dreher, a sportswriter 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 and headed toward Renton. They intercepted 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 Seattle Times "Extra" editions and was sent out nationwide by The Associated Press.
Now that George 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 New York Times). Within days, several ransom bills surfaced in Salt Lake City, leading the FBI to concentrate the search for the kidnappers there. On June 8, 1935, Harmon Metz Waley and his wife, Margaret, were arrested in possession of some of the marked money. The pair confessed to the crime and identified ex-convict William Dainard as the brains behind the kidnapping.