13. Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by his own generals and only released when he agreed to stop his civil war with the Chinese Communist Party
It was a kidnapping that turned into a major political incident. Indeed, the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek quickly became known as the Xi’an Incident. It sparked a crisis in China and led to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Even today, the kidnapping splits opinion. To some, it was completely unjustified, while to others, it was completely necessary. Either way, it’s impossible to deny that this was one of the most significant kidnapping cases in 20th century Asian history.
The kidnapping took place in December 1936. Chiang was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government. As well as fighting a civil war against the communists, he was also trying to the rising Empire of Japan. While some agreed with his policy of fighting the communists and trying to maintain peaceful relations with China’s neighbors, not everyone did. In fact, two of his closest generals were so opposed to this that one evening they stormed into Chiang’s private cabin and kidnapped him. They then sent a ransom note to the government. But instead of demanding money, they called for the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) to be called off and for China to start preparing for war against Japan.
After more than a week of tense negotiations, the demands were met. And the course of Chinese history was set. The CPC was given a major boost by the outcome of the kidnapping. What’s more, China moved onto a war footing with Japan, and before long the two nations were in open conflict. Of course, the question will always remain: had the kidnapping not taken place, would Chiang have been able to stem the rise of the CPC, and so prevent the Communist Revolution, the effects of which are still felt to this day.
14. Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr’s kidnapping was called the âcrime of the century’, though this story did not have a happy ending
When Charles Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize by flying non-stop across the Atlantic in 1927, he became an instant global celebrity. The aviation accomplishment also earned him a fortune. Indeed, he became so wealthy that in 1932, kidnappers attempted to pull off what was described as âthe crime of the century’. They took Lindbergh’s son, Charles Augustus Jr. and demanded $50,000 for his release. Tragically, there was no happy ending.
Charles, who was just 20 months old at the time, was taken from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey, on the evening of May 12 1932. The family’s nurse made the discovery and alerted the boy’s famous father. Lindbergh found a note on the windowsill. The writing was that of a child, the spelling and grammar atrocious. Nevertheless, the message was clear: the kidnapper wanted $50,000 or the parents would never see their baby boy again. Lindbergh called the police and soon had numerous detectives, as well as his own private investigators working the case. Even President Herbert Hoover got involved, ordering the Department of Justice to offer whatever help it could.
Within a few days, massive rewards had been put up for information that would lead to the safe return of Charles. The kidnapper sent several more notes and, using an intermediary, arranged for the money to be exchanged. Even though the ransom was paid, however, the body of baby Charles was found soon after. It was now a murder investigation. Police kept their eyes out for the gold certificates paid as part of the ransom. A few months later, they caught a break. Richard Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a record, was arrested. Police found $14,000 in his garage. Though he protested his innocence until the very end, he was executed by electric chair.
The case and the subsequent trial gripped the nation. It also led to the creation of Federal Kidnapping Act – sometimes known as âLindbergh Law’. From now on, taking a kidnapping victim across state lines would be a federal crime.
15. Richard the Lionheart was kidnapped and held for a king’s ransom while traveling back from the Crusades
The expression a âking’s ransom’ is now commonly used to describe demanding a huge sum of money. According to some historians, the phrase originated with the case of King Richard I, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart. The English monarch was indeed held for ransom. And this was no trifling sum. In fact, the price paid for secure the king’s freedom may well have been the biggest ransom ever paid.
It was the year 1192 and Richard was traveling back to England from the Middle East. The Christian monarch had been fighting in the Third Crusade, but he had a kingdom to get back to. To get home, he needed to pass through modern-day Austria. Given the risks of kidnapping and banditry, Richard travelled in disguise. But Duke Leopold, wasn’t fooled. While passing through Vienna, the Englishman was snatched. Within a few days, he was handed over to the Henry VI, the powerful Holy Roman Empire. He then sent a note to England: he would only release Richard the Lionheart in exchange for 100,000 or maybe even 150,000 marks.
This was a huge sum of money, a literal king’s ransom. Some economic historians believe it was equivalent to twice the English GDP at the time. Understandably, then, the negotiations took a while. In fact, the English Crown needed more than a year to introduce new taxes and so get the money. They succeeded, however, and with Eleanor of Aquitaine serving as a go-between, Richard was eventually released.
Richard the Lionheart returned back to England. Once back, he was able to assert his authority and put those nobles who had tried to rule in his stead firmly in their place. Within a few years, however, the king was dead, killing while out campaigning in France.
16. Ion Perdicaris was snatched by a Moroccan warlord and the case almost led President Theodore Roosevelt to start a war
Ion Pedicaris may be largely forgotten today, but back in 1904, he was of sufficient importance to be at the centre of an international diplomatic crisis. In fact, his kidnapping almost triggered an all-our war between the United States and Morocco. Fortunately for everyone involved the so-called âPerdicaris Incident’ had a happy ending, which is possibly why it’s not better known today.
Perdicaris was a Greek-American playboy who lived the good life spending his inherited fortune. In the early 1870s, he relocated to Tangiers, Morocco. He was fascinated by the culture and, alongside keeping on top of his international business concerns, he wrote prolifically on Moroccan life and culture. He also settled down with the wife of an English telecoms engineer and took in her two sons. One of them was also taken when Perdicaris was snatched by the tribal leader Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli one May morning. Raisuli took them to his tribal lands and demanded that the Sultan of Morocco pay $70,000 for their release.
When President Theodore Roosevelt found out an American citizen had been kidnapped, he was livid. He even dispatched several warships and dozens of marines to the coast of Morocco. Famously, he demanded “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” But then the President was informed Perdicaris had actually renounced his American citizenship. No matter, Raisuli had already relented. He had even become friends with his prisoner and a few days later released him unharmed. Naturally, Roosevelt made the most of the incident, using it as proof of his tough stance against foreign enemies – in fact, he even adopted “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” as an election slogan.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: