FBI arrests William Dainard, mastermind of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, in San Francisco on May 7, 1936.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 5/04/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7749
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On May 7, 1936, the FBI arrests William Dainard, mastermind of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, in San Francisco. He has narrowly avoided capture in Montana and has been on the run for a year. Dainard, along with others, perpetrated one of the nation's most sensational crimes when, on May 24, 1935, he kidnapped George Weyerhaeuser (1926-2022), the 9-year-old son of timber baron John Philip Weyerhaeuser Jr. The boy's family paid a ransom for his release on June 1, 1935. Two days after his capture, Dainard pleads guilty to kidnapping charges in Tacoma and is sentenced to 60 years in Federal prison. A fourth man, ex-convict Edward Fliss, is identified exchanging ransom bills and is arrested in San Francisco on October 23, 1936. Fliss pleads guilty to helping Dainard launder ransom money and is sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. With the Fliss sentencing, the FBI considers the Weyerhaeuser case closed.

On the Run

On June 8, 1935, William Dainard was in Ogden, Utah, when he learned that his co-kidnappers, Harmon and Margaret Waley, had been captured in Salt Lake City. He immediately fled the state in his automobile and drove nonstop to Butte, Montana, to hide. The following morning, by chance, he was spotted in Butte by a police officer who had arrested him for bank robbery in 1927, but the officer had no idea that Dainard had been fingered as one of the Weyerhaeuser kidnappers. Dainard managed to elude the Butte police, but left behind his new Ford V-8 Tudor sedan and a suitcase containing $15,155 in marked money. He hid in the foothills of Idaho and Washington for several weeks and then went to California.

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 big man with bushy red hair entered the Canadian National Bank of Commerce in Seattle and attempted 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 its manhunt.

On May 6, 1936, employees of two San Francisco banks reported they had recorded the license-plate number of a man who had exchanged altered bills. The car, a 1935 Ford sedan, was registered to Bert E. Cole, living at the Ventura Hotel directly across Mission Street from the Federal Building. After the hotel manager identified a mug shot of Dainard as Cole, FBI agents searched the neighborhood, looking for his automobile. Just a week earlier, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had declared William Dainard the nation's Public Enemy No. 1. 

On the morning of May 7, 1935, two FBI agents located the vehicle in a nearby parking lot enclosed by a wire storm fence, disabled it, and established surveillance. At about noon, Dainard, dressed in a suit and disguised in horn-rimmed eyeglasses, walked into the parking lot and 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 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. Although he admitted to kidnapping George Weyerhaeuser, he refused to sign a confession, but told the FBI where he had hidden $14,000 ransom money in Utah.

Doing His Time

On May 9, 1936, Dainard was arraigned in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, before Judge Edgar E. 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, he 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.

Capture of the Accessory

On October 23, 1936, the FBI captured 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. Fliss was taken 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, 1936, a Federal Grand Jury in Tacoma indicted him for these violations.

Fliss was arraigned on 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 that he was serving a 30-day jail sentence for vagrancy in Missoula, Montana, when the kidnapping occurred. U. S. Attorney J. Charles Dennis advised the court that the charge would be dismissed.

Fliss was sentenced on November 27, 1936. When Judge Cushman learned that he had been involved in the 1929 kidnapping of Idaho Lieutenant-Governor Kinne, he sentenced him to the maximum penalty, 10 years imprisonment at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and a $5,000 fine. 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 Weyerhaeuser family; the rest had either been spent, lost, or destroyed.


"Kidnapper Search Now Centers on Three,"The New York Times, May 3, 1936, p. 2; "G-Men Get 2 Kidnappers; 'Enemy' List Cut to One," Ibid., May 8, 1936, p. 1; "Mahan Yields Quietly," Ibid., May 8, 1936, p. 8; "Plane Reaches Tacoma," Ibid., May 8, 1936, p. 8; "Mahan to Plead Guilty," Ibid., May 9, 1936, p. 34; "Long Time, Mahan Says," Ibid., May 10, 1936, p. 3; "Mahan Sentenced to 60 Year Term," Ibid., May 10, 1936, p. 1; "Mahan Aid Held in Ransom Hunt," Ibid., October 24, 1936, p. 36; "Imprisoned in Kidnap Case," Ibid., November 28, 1936, p. 34; "Kidnaper of Boy has $7,000 of Ransom," The Seattle Times, May 7, 1936, p. 1; "Kidnaper Is Grilled by 'G-Men' at Tacoma," Ibid., May 8, 1936, p. 1; "Kidnaper of Tacoma Boy Taken to McNeil Cell," Ibid., May 9, 1936, p. 1; "Kidnaper at McNeil Isle, Starts Term of 60 Years," Ibid., May 10, 1936, p. 1; "Kidnapers Companion Exchanged Hot Money," Ibid., October 23, 1936, p. 1; "$5,000 Fine Assessed to Distributor of Ransom," Ibid., November 27, 1936, 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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