Contrary to popular belief, kidnapping is not a modern-day crime. People have been getting kidnapped all throughout history, all over the world. However, there are no common reasons or motives behind the kidnapping. Some do it for revenge; others do it to get paid. The latter is one of the most common reasons behind kidnapping in modern times. The richer your family is, the better your chances are at being kidnapped and ransomed back to your family.
Talk about privilege, huh? Although, as history shows, even everyday people will get kidnapped, so do not hold your breath.
Once the kidnapper’s demands are fulfilled, the hostage is released. At least in theory. Sadly, there are numerous cases where people have been killed or taken for good. Therefore, we are presenting you with a list of 16 kidnappings that happened throughout history.
Some with happy and some with sad endings, but without a doubt the most notable in the history.
The Kidnapping of Charley Ross. First Case of Kidnapping for Ransom
Charles Brewster Ross or Charley was playing in the front yard of his home when he was kidnapped, in 1870, Germantown Philadelphia. He would become the first case of kidnapping for ransom in the history of the United States. The media went crazy at the time, even more so due to the fact that this case did not have a happy ending. He later became an inspiration for writers and producers, and his kidnapping inspired many books and movies.
This horrifying story began when a carriage with two people pulled up by the yard where Charley who was four years old, and his brother Walter, who was five, were playing. They offered the two brothers some candy and fireworks and lured the innocent minds into the carriage. They arrived at a store, gave Walter the money to go buy the said fireworks and when the five-year-old came back out, the carriage was gone.
A couple of days later, the Ross family started receiving ransom notes. The kidnappers demanded $20,000, which would equal around $400,000 today. The family could not afford to pay such a high ransom and went to the police. The story became national news not long after.
Due to high media exposure, enough money was raised and the family tried to organize an exchange. However, every time they managed to set a date, the kidnappers would not appear. The police arrested two men who they suspected to be involved in the crime, but no charges were made and they both walked out free.
The media interest eventually diminished, but the family’s hopes did not. His older brother, Walter, never gave up his search, even long after his parents died. He received hints about Charley’s whereabouts and even people claiming to be Charley. However, nothing ever came out of it and Charley was never seen again.
America was traumatized. So much in fact that not a single criminal even attempted to kidnap for a ransom for 25 whole years. The saying of not ‘taking candies from a stranger’ was born out of this case. Charles Brewster Ross lives through a project called the Charley Project, which is a database that keeps track and information of all the missing people in hopes of saving at least some of those poor souls.
The Kidnapping of Edward Cudahy Jr. and the Rise of Copycats.
In December of 1900 a teenager, Edward Cudahy Jr. or Eddie was kidnapped while on his way back home from school. His father, Edward Cudahy, who was an owner of the Cudahy Packing Company returned home after work one day to find his 16-year-old son missing. He acted instantly and told his employees to take a day off and help him with the search. More than 7000 people helped with the search but no trace of Eddie was found. Except for a ransom note.
As you would imagine, the Cudahy family was well off and the kidnappers knew that all too well. Their demands were simple – $25,000 in gold coins. They even took a step further and started threatening the family that in case their demands are not fulfilled they will pour acid in Eddie’s eyes and thus blinding him forever.
They made sure to remind the family about Charley’s case too. The Cudahy family, therefore, feared the worst and they followed every single instruction and demand from the kidnappers. The father, Edward Cudahy, rode out to an instructed place; left the money in an old lantern as instructed and returned home.
A couple of hours later, Eddie was back home without a scratch. The family was ecstatic, the police and the media, however, not so much. They were angry at the Cudahy family because they believed that by paying the ransom and giving in to the kidnappers demands, they would spark an increase in such crimes because it was easy money fort he kidnappers. And indeed that was exactly what happened. Some kidnappers later admitted that it was this particular case that inspired them to commit a crime of their own.
The presumed perpetrator, Pat Crowe or the Omaha butcher was caught and linked to the case, but with no evidence to support the claims, he walked free. Private Investigators concluded that Eddie was probably held in his butcher’s shop. His friends were also seen with gold coins but none were caught. Crowe died in 1936 and Eddie became a successful businessman.
The kidnapping of the Johnson Family and the exaggerated story
If you were an American settler in the 18th century, you had high a high possibility of being kidnapped. Cases of kidnapping were actually quite a common occurrence, but they were not well documented and many stories were lost through time. There is however one exception. The kidnapping of Susannah Willard Johnson.
The only reason that we know about her story is that she wrote it down in full detail in her memoir. The story was a bit exaggerated to show the willpower and the bravery of the settlers but was a bestseller regardless. The book is still considered a valuable piece of American history through the eyes of a female.
Abenaki raider attacked Charlestown settlement in August of 1754. Susannah, her sister, husband, and their children were kidnapped. Susannah was in a late stage of pregnancy and gave birth to her fourth child just a few days after the abduction. She named the fourth child Elizabeth Captive Johnson. The Raiders, however, did not care about the family and made them walk to Quebec regardless. There they were sold into slavery.
As mention in the beginning, she wrote a book A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson, that was released in 1796 and in which she described her life as a slave. The book was a hit, it had several republications over the years and it remains a classic to this day.
The Kidnapping of Mary Agnes Moroney who was Never Returned from California
We are moving on to a case of 2-year-old Mary Agnes Moroney. She was kidnapped from her home in Chicago in 1930. The case still remains unsolved to this day. While many theories have surfaced in after her disappearance, nobody really knows what happened to the little girl and no evidence has been brought forward.
What the strangest thing about this case is that unlike the previous ones covered, was the fact that her family was very poor. Her mother Catherine was just a teenager raising two daughters and her father was making small change distributing bills. A relative of theirs wrote to a local charity and asked for help in their name. That turned out to be a grave mistake.
The family’s personal details were leaked and a couple of days later a lady appeared at the door of their home. She presented herself as Julia Otis, a member of the charity contacted. She took a particular interest in Mary. She made a spine-chilling offer of taking Mary to California for a holiday that would last a couple of months. The family, of course, did not agree.
Julia Otis returned the very next day. She offered to take Mary to a store, so she can buy some new clothes for her. Her mother Mary agreed, since she did not have any money to afford her daughter any new clothes, and thought that it wouldn’t hurt. However, it did. This was the last time Catherine saw her daughter Mary.
The family received a letter from Julia stating that she took Mary to California and that they shouldn’t be worried as they will return in a few months. Shortly after, they got another letter in which a person claiming to be a relative of Julia Otis told them that she was, in fact, grieving after the loss of her child. The police analyzed both letters and came to the conclusion that both of them were written by the same person.
As you would imagine, there were a few leads here and there, but nothing solid. No evidence was ever found that would tell us what happened to the kidnapped girl or who her kidnapper really was. There was a case of a woman coming forward, claiming she was Mary, but the DNA tests later confirmed that she was not the person they are looking for. To this day, the case remains unsolved and has puzzled minds around the world.
The kidnapping of Peter Weinberger and the rise of FBI jurisdictions
This next case is similar to the one before. The kidnapping of Peter Weinberger. He lived in a normal, middle-class family, who were not rich or famous. Sadly, in 1956 a crime happened that would traumatize the American society.
People were scared to leave their homes, doors were being locked and children under constant supervision. The case even changed the law, and the FBI now have to take action within 24 hours of the kidnapping as opposed to a week before that. A week that would turn this kidnapping into a tragedy.
On Independence Day in 1956, Betty Weinberger, Peter’s mother, left her son in his cot on the porch while she ran some errands. She returned to find an empty bed with a ransom note inside. The kidnapper demanded $2,000 and warned her not to contact the police.
She ignored the warning and got the police involved. The media somehow managed to sniff out the story and leak it in public. They even published the location of the money drop-off, and the kidnapper obviously did not show up.
New instructions were given to Betty in a second note a few days later, but the kidnapper, again, failed to show. After a week went by, the FBI got involved. They matched the handwriting with their database and a name popped up.
Angelo LaMarca, a local taxi dispatcher. They arrested Angelo and during the investigation found out that, he had some serious money issues. He confessed to kidnapping Peter because he was so desperate to get some money.
Scared of the media exposure he abandoned the baby and left Peter in a park. The FBI managed to locate the spot and find Peter but it was already too late. Angelo LaMarca was sentenced to death and executed in Sing Sing Prison.
President Eisenhower soon intervened and passed a law that allows the FBI to take control of kidnapping cases in 24 hours.
The kidnapping of Julius Caesar and a bad day for the pirates
Imagine being kidnapped and ransomed for a price and getting into an argument with your kidnappers that the price is too low. That is exactly what Julius Caesar did. As a young man, he was kidnapped by pirates who wanted to ransom him at such a low price that Julius got personally insulted. He promised he would get his revenge on them.
Little could they know that he would become one of the world’s most powerful individuals in history. Although older, he never forgot the promise he made and he got his revenge.
This kidnapping happened in 75BC. Julius Caesar was just 25 years old by that time and he was sailing the Aegean Sea when Sicilian pirates captured him. They did not know whom they captured and demanded 20 talents of silver, which is about 620kg.
Caesar was heavily insulted and demanded that they raise the demand to 50 talents. The pirates, of course, agreed. As Caesar’s man went off to get the silver, he was laughing in the faces of the pirates and reportedly even bossed them around their own place. He promised them that he would crucify them as soon as he was set free.
He brought them all back to Pergamon and imprisoned them. The local authorities did not agree to have them executed, but that did not stop Caesar. He took the matter into his own hands and cut the throats of the pirates, one by one.
The kidnapping of Mary Jemison and life as a Native American
Now, this case is a bit weird. Mary Jemison was an American who was kidnapped as a young girl, during the French and Indian war, and forced to live with Seneca people when she was just a young girl. Although she could have escaped many times during her years there, she chose not to. Even despite the fact that her captors killed her family. For some reason, she preferred the Seneca culture and decided to stay regardless of everything.
The Jemison family were new to the American soil. They have been there for just a few years before the war between England and France broke out. Both countries sought Native American allies in the war and fought battles across America for seven full years.
One day, French soldiers and their Seneca allies raided a village where the Jemison family lived. Mary, her two brothers, and another boy were spared, everyone else was killed. Mary was only 12 at the time, but they considered her healthy looking and pretty, so they took her back to their tribe where two women adopted her.
He died along the way and Mary eventually remarried to a chief called Hiakatoo. They had six children together. Later in her life, she served as a medium between the settlers and Seneca people. She told her story to a New York publisher, who wrote a book based on her memories. Not only do we remember Mary as one of the most recognized faces of kidnappings, but we also remember her as a white woman who made her way to higher ranks in Native American culture.
The kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara and the war between two religions
Our next case stirred the religious part of society and raised a few eyebrows with others as well. Some considered the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara to be morally justified while others saw it as nothing more than a crime that needed to be persecuted for.
Church played the main role in the kidnapping when they took Edgardo from his parents against their will. However, Edgardo himself never returned to his parents, which means that he was okay with what was done.
The story starts in the 1850s in Bologna, Italy. Edgardo’s family were strictly Jewish. In 1857, Edgardo got seriously ill and nobody gave him much of a chance of survival. A family servant, who was a Catholic, took Edgardo and performed a baptize on him. This was done in secret and without the knowledge of his family.
Edgardo survived, but the word of the baptism somehow reached the Pope Pius IX. He studied the case and found out that the family is Jewish and because of the baptism, their son is now a Catholic and needs to be raised in a Catholic society. An order was issued and on the 24th of June 1858, police officers arrived at the Mortara household and took their son away.
The family obviously was shocked. They wrote letters to the Pope and did everything in their power to return their son. The Pope, however, would not budge. He took it as far as putting Edgardo under his personal protection. Edgardo was therefore raised in the Vatican since he was only 6 years old. The news spread across the world, and many others started petitioning for Edgar to be returned back to his family.
However, Edgardo himself made those attempts futile. He started to enjoy the new life he was given and loved being a Catholic so much that he became a priest at the age of 21. He devoted his life to the Church and died in Belgium in 1940, reportedly with no regrets whatsoever.
The kidnapping of Mary McElroy and the inner conflict
This case could well have been a modern case of Julius Caesar, if not for the tragic ending. Four masked men broke into a household on May 27, 1933. The home belonged to Henry F. McElroy, who was a local politician in Kansas City. The four-man were not after him, but after his daughter, 25-year- old Mary McElroy.
They found her in a bathtub, ordered her to get dressed and took her with them. They boldly told her their plans. They would kidnap her and sell her back for a ransom of $60,000. Mary laughed at them and proclaimed that she was worth more than that. Unbeknownst to everyone involved, this would become one of the most famous crimes in interwar America.
They took Mary to Kansas and chained her to a basement wall in a farmhouse. They patiently waited to hear back from her family and even settled for half the amount of money in the end. They kept their word, did not harm her in any way and after they received the money, they released her. They even went as far as to give her some money so that she could get a ride back home.
It is no surprise that the media took the story to the first pages. Kansas City Police worked hard to find the perpetrators and a managed to identify their suspects less than a week later. Two brothers, Walter and George McGee were arrested in connection to the kidnapping with Walter being the presumed leader of the group and the mastermind behind the plan.
Alongside them, the police arrested the owner of the farmhouse and another accomplice. That was not the end of the story. The whole case went to trial and Mary as the main victim testified how well they treated her. The men were found guilty and when Walter McGee was given the death penalty, she started pleading for his life. The judge took her pleas into the account and instead of the death penalty all men got longer jail sentences.
Although she looked like a strong woman from the get-go, Mary never recovered. She had several breakdowns and became addicted to opiates. In 1940, she shot herself. In her suicide note, she wrote: “My four kidnappers are probably the only four people who don’t consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now, so please, give them a chance.”
The kidnapping of Saint Patrick, the most celebrated saint in the world
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world, even amongst people who are atheists by heart. It is a celebration of Saint Patrick of Ireland. He was a Christian missionary and is one of the most famous Irishmen in history. There is one small twist, though.
He wasn’t even born or raised in Ireland. You see, Saint Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland more than 1500 years ago. He did eventually escape his captors, but he fell in love with Ireland and chose to return. That choice is what would eventually make Saint Patrick one of the most recognized historical figures ever.
A little-known fact, Patrick’s family was actually very rich. One of the richest in Roman Britain, as a matter of fact. This obviously made the family a target for all kinds of criminals. Patrick was taken from his home when he was 16 years old.
He was taken to Ireland and sold for quite a handsome fee due to the fact that he was a healthy and a strong individual. He worked hard for 6 years for no pay whatsoever. Those kinds of conditions forced him to grow heavily on a spiritual level. His Christian faith grew in him, day by day, year by year.
After the 6 years have passed, Patrick finally devised a plan and managed to escape. He made it all the way home to his family. He had a vision that told him he needs to return to Ireland and convert the Irish to Christianity. Patrick did just that.
The kidnapping of Bobby Dunbar and the strange ending
It was 1912, Swayze Lake, Virginia. The Dunbar family decided to take a vacation. A simple fishing trip turned into a nightmare for parents of 4-year-old Bobby. He vanished just a few hours after their vacation began. Searches were futile and the realization was slowly setting in. Their son was kidnapped. Nevertheless, about eight months later the police claimed to have found Bobby. However, something did not add up…
The police were suspected that a traveling handyman, William Cantwell Walters was behind the kidnapping. They found him with a boy that matched Bobby’s description so they went in made an arrest. Confident that the case was finally solved, they returned the boy to the Dunbar family.
Now, this is the strange part. There are multiple versions of how the return went down. Some reports indicate that the Dunbar’s immediately recognized Bobby, their son, and that was that. The other reports, however, indicate that the Dunbar family was convinced into believing that the boy in front of them was their son. Furthermore, even his own brother had trouble recognizing him.
Walters, who was arrested, insisted that the boy in question was not Bobby Dunbar. He told the police that the boy is called Bruce Anderson and is accompanying him on his travels with his mother’s, Julia Anderson, permission. The police, of course, did not believe the testimony and the case was brought before a judge.
Even though there was so much conflicting evidence the Dunbars won the case and the boy was theirs. Walters was therefore sent to prison for kidnapping a child. He was eventually released two years later. The boy’s mother, Julia, insisted until the end, that the child was hers. She moved away and took sanctuary in her Christian faith.
Almost a hundred years later, the story finally got a conclusion. A DNA test was performed on a relative of the Dunbars in 2004. When the test results came in they confirmed people’s worst fears. The boy in question was definitely not Bobby Dunbar, nor was he related in any way to the Dunbars. What actually happened to the real Bobby Dunbar remains a mystery to this day.
This story was the inspiration behind the movie “Changeling” that came out in 2008. In the movie, Angelina Jolie plays a mother whose child was kidnapped, and when the police bring him back to her she insists it’s not him.
The kidnapping of Borte Khan, wife of Genghis Khan
Given his notorious reputation, you would not dare cross paths with Genghis Khan, let alone kidnap his wife. However, that was exactly what happened. His wife, Borte, was kidnapped by the rival tribe. Genghis Khan, obviously, sent men to rescue her, but the whole planning for the rescue mission took several months.
Those several months would leave serious repercussion later down the line. Some historians firmly believe that had it not been for these events, Genghis Khan would not have snapped in a way that would eventually send him on world conquest.
Borte and Temujin were married in 1200. Temujin is the name Genghis Khan was know as, prior to becoming a notorious leader. They were both still teens and got married during a rough time. There were serious rivalries taking place between several different clans in Mongolia, and shortly after the wedding, Borte was kidnapped due to such a rivalry clash.
The rival clan leader took her as his “wife” and she was forced to live there for several months until she was eventually rescued. A month after she was brought back, she gave birth to a child. There were wild speculations as to who is the real father. Since there was no paternity test available at the time, the child was never considered a child of Genghis Khan and was therefore never an heir to the Mongol Empire.
The kidnapping is probably what set off Genghis Khan the most. He would promise to end the conflicts between tribes and went on to form alliances with some, and fight wars with others. Temujin gave himself the name of Genghis Khan and created the Mongol Empire.
To this day it remains as the biggest, continuous empire in the whole world. Regardless of everything, Borte remained at his side. She would be one of his advisers and would lead the empire when he was out on the battlefield.
The kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek and the beginning of a new timeline in the history of China
The Xi’an Incident or the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek was and still is regarded as one of the biggest political incidents in history. It split China and resulted in the Second Sino-Japanese War. To this day, the incident remains a major talk point between the populations of China.
Some believe that the kidnapping was necessary to bring change; others claim that it was absolutely unnecessary and unjustified. Regardless, it is the most significant case of kidnapping in modern-day Asian history.
On December 1936, two of his closest generals kidnapped Chiang. He was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government and was fighting a civil war against the communists. Not only that, he also attempted to fight off the rise of the Empire of Japan. Many people agreed with him and supported his policies. Most saw nothing wrong in fighting communism and maintaining a peaceful relationship with their neighboring country.
As with every political aspect, this one too had people who thought otherwise. Unfortunately, for Chiang, it was the people who were the closest to him. The two generals abducted him while he was sitting in his private cabin. A ransom note was sent to the government and Chiang alongside his captors disappeared without a trace. What was particularly interesting about the ransom note was that there were no monetary demands. The abductors wanted the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) to stop. The second demand was that China has to prepare to go to war against Japan.
The demands were met, after rough and tense negotiations. The rest is history. The biggest winners of the kidnapping were, of course, CPC. No more civil war for them and China went to war against Japan shortly after. The outcome of these events remains a point of debate and speculation to this day. Had Chiang not have been kidnapped, would China not fall to the communist regime, and would they remain friendly with their neighboring country? Communist effects are still present in China, and we can only speculate about the alternate ending.
The kidnapping of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. and the tragic ending
We are making a return to a case without a happy ending. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping to refuel. He became the first person on the planet to do so and became a global celebrity. He won the Orteig Prize and his recognition earned him a fortune. In 1932, kidnappers managed to get to his son, Charles Augustus Jr. and took him away.
They left a ransom note in which they demanded $50,000 dollars in exchange for the release of the child. The instructions were simple, but the kidnapping had a sad ending regardless.
The kidnapping took place at the Lindbergh household on May 12, 1932. Charles Jr. was only 20 months old. The nurse, overseeing the boy made a horrific discovery. The ransom note was left on a windowsill, and despite the fact that the grammar was that of a child, it was taken absolutely seriously. The family, of course, contacted the police immediately.
Shortly after, the family home was swarmed with detectives and Charles even hired a private investigator to help the case. Due to his reputation, the news even reached the president Herbert Hoover. He ordered the Department of Justice to aid whatever help was deemed necessary to find the young child.
The family put up massive rewards for any information regarding the kidnapping. Several ransom notes later, the money exchange was finally agreed upon by both parties. The family delivered the money, but they did not know that they would never see their son alive again. The police found the body of Charles Jr. not long after the exchange.
The case went from a kidnapping case to a murder case in a matter of hours. The family, luckily, paid the ransom with a few golden certificates. That gave the police a simple job. Tracking whether the certificates will eventually surface, and where. They got lucky, and after a few months later, the certificates appeared on the market.
The police moved in quickly and put Richard Hauptmann under arrest. Richard was a German immigrant who already had a police record. During the house search, they found $14,000 in cash. Even in the court, Richard claimed he was innocent, but the judge did not buy it. He was sentenced to the death penalty and was executed by electric chair.
As many times before, the whole nation was in shock. Although they got some relief with the trial’s end, it was not enough. A Federal Kidnapping Act, referred to as the ‘Lindbergh Law’, was formed. From that day onward, if a victim of a kidnapping is brought from one state to another it is considered a federal crime.
The kidnapping of King Richard I, also known as “Richard the Lionheart”
You may have heard of the expression of something being worth a ‘king’s ransom’. We use the expression to describe huge amounts of money, but did you know that it may have well originated from this kidnapping case? Historians believe that the phrase can be linked to the kidnapping of King Richard I, or most commonly known as Richard the Lionheart. King Richard, I was kidnapped and ransomed for what is probably the highest ransom in history.
After the Third Crusade, in 1192, King Richard I was on his way back to England. On his way back, he was passing the fields of what is now Austria. He knew about the risks of being taken as a hostage and therefore traveled in disguise.
Although it was a very smart idea, it did not fool Duke Leopold even in the slightest. King Richard, I was kidnapped while on his way through Vienna. A few days later, he was already in the hands of Henry VI, the king of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry VI sent a ransom letter to the English palace and demanded 100,000 or even as high as 150,000 marks for his release.
Let us put the demanded money into perspective. Economic historians have calculated that a sum of money that large was twice England’s GDP at the time. The negotiations were long and hard. The English Crown even had to introduce new taxes to get the money flowing in. After more than a year later and a major sum of money paid, King Richard I was finally released.
Lionheart, of course, returned to England and put all the nobles back in check. There were a few trying to take the throne for themselves in his absence. Shortly after, however, Richard the Lionheart was killed while on campaign in a war against France.
The kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris and the war stance of the United States
Not many people today remember Ion Pedicaris. Back in 1904, he was one of the main diplomatic figures who was at the center of attention during the diplomatic crisis. He was kidnapped in Morocco, which almost caused a war between the United States and this small country. The case that was dubbed the ‘Perdicaris Incident’ fortunately for everyone had a happy ending.
Prior to being involved in diplomatic waters, Ion was a playboy of Greek descent. He inherited quite a fortune from his family and was thus traveling around the world and living a careless life. In 1870, his path crossed with the country of Morroco.
He fell in love with the culture and decided to settle down with a partner and her two sons. One morning Ion and one of the two sons were kidnapped by Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli, who was a tribe leader. They took them away, and sent a ransom letter to the Sultan of Morocco and demanded $70,000 for their release.
The news, of course, reached the United States president Theodore Roosevelt. He would not take the fact of kidnapped American lightheartedly and sent a fleet of warships and marines to the coast of Morocco. He demanded that Ion was released or the United States will kill his abductor. This is where the famous phrase “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” comes from.
Roosevelt did not even budge when he was told that Ion actually renounced his American citizenship. He stayed true to his principles. A few days later Ion and the boy were released. Roosevelt took the opportunity and used the phrase “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!” as his next election slogan.