2. Edward Cudahy Jr.’s father paid his random, saving his son but sparking a wave of copycat kidnappings across America
One December evening in 1900, Edward Cudahy, the wealthy owner of the Cudahy Packing Company, returned to his family home in Omaha, Nebraska. He found his son missing. In fact, Edward Cudahy Jr. – more commonly known as Eddie – had been snatched as he walked home from school just hours earlier. Distraught, Cudahy told all the men working at his premises at the Omaha Stockyards to take the day off and help him find Eddie. Some 7,000 people eventually joined the search. But all they found was a ransom note.
The note demanded Cudahy pay $25,000 in gold coins. If the ransom was not paid, the kidnappers threatened to pour acid in the 16-year-old’s eyes and blind him. Significantly, the criminals reminded the businessman how the last big kidnapping case in America had turned out: young Charley Ross was snatched, his father ignored the warnings and called the police and his boy was never seen again. Wary of suffering the same fate, Cudahy Senior followed the instructions to the letter: he rode out of town and hid the bag of money in a lantern. He then returned home.
Within just a couple of hours, Eddie returned home safe and sound. While the Cudahy family were delighted, the police – and the media – were angry. According to them, by paying the ransom, Cudahy would spark a wave of fresh kidnappings. Indeed, a number of later kidnappers did admit to being inspired by the Cudahy case, especially since the likely perpetrator got away with the crime.
All the clues pointed to Pat Crowe, an Omaha butcher. Eddie’s testimony led private detectives to conclude he had been held in Crowe’s butchers shop. What’s more, friends of Crowe’s were also seen spending shiny gold coins in local bars. Though he was eventually caught, prosecutors just couldn’t convict him. Instead, Crowe dined out on his notoriety until his death in 1936. Eddie, meanwhile, went on to live a full life, with a family and successful career in business.