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Famous Kidnappings in History

Famous Kidnappings in History

Kidnappings indeed form an exciting plot for movies and novels. However, real life kidnappings are far more thrilling and gruesome than their fictional counterparts. In this article, we have listed a few famous kidnapping cases in the history of crime.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
The word 'kidnapping' was earlier associated with abduction of kids during invasions. Over the years, kidnapping has become a source of easy money for nefarious people. The first abduction for ransom happened only in the nineteenth century. Since then, the history of abduction crime is marred with hundreds of cases of torture and gruesome murders at the hands of captors. In this article, we have listed a few abduction cases that are still fresh in the minds of people even after years.

Famous Kidnappings in History Around the World

Europe has a record of the highest number of kidnapping cases in the world. Besides, abduction cases in Europe are often characterized with tales of torture and sometimes macabre murders of victims. On the other hand, kidnappings in America are mostly driven with a motive of ransom. Elsewhere, socio-political interests, along with money can lead to heinous crimes such as kidnapping. Let us see some of the famous kidnappings in the history that brought radical changes to the functioning of law enforcement systems.

Charley Ross (1874)
The abduction case of Charley Ross for ransom was the first of its kind. On July 1, 1874, Charley (age 4) was playing with his older brother Walter (age 5), in the front yard of their Philadelphia home when they were lured into a carriage by two men. The men promised candies and fireworks to the boys, if they rode with them. Later, the men left Walter at a firecracker shop and rode away with Charley. Ransom notes demanding 20,000 dollars arrived shortly by post at Ross' home from various locations. Eventually, Walter was found and returned to his parents, however, Charley could not be traced thereafter. Two suspects Bill Mosher and Joe Douglas (which were later identified by Walter as abductors) were killed in a gunfire during another burglary incident, which deterred further attempts to trace Charley's whereabouts. The Ross family involved various private as well as federal agencies to search the missing boy and also allowed an extensive media coverage for public interest. However, despite these gallant efforts, what happened to Charley Ross is still a mystery.

Bobby Dunbar (1912)
The curious case of Bobby Dunbar's disappearance and alleged reappearance is quite an interesting one. In August 1912, Bobby Dunbar disappeared during a fishing trip with his family in Swayze Lake. After 8 months, a boy of similar description as Dunbar was found with a man named William Cantwell Walters. Walters claimed that the boy was a son of one Julia Anderson who worked for Walters family and had willingly granted custody of her son Bruce to Walters. The influence of wealthy Dunbar family and the lack of evidence in support of Walter's claims led to his arrest. Besides, the failure of Julia Anderson to recognize her son positively during the first line of identification made the case stronger for Dunbars. However, the first interaction between the boy supposed as Bobby Dunbar and his family is also controversial, with reports suggesting that Bobby failed to recognize his mother and younger brother Alonzo. Nonetheless, the court granted Bobby's custody to Dunbars and convicted Walters. Bobby was reunited with his family with much fanfare and resumed his life as Bobby Dunbar. However, Anderson and Walters along with witnesses from Poplarville, Mississippi (where Walters lived with Bruce) continued their struggle to establish the true identity of the boy that was being raised as Bobby Dunbar. After several years, an investigation by a Dunbar family member revealed that DNAs of Bobby's son Bob Jr. and Alonzo's son do not match like they should in blood relatives. Amidst these controversies, the fate of real Bobby Dunbar could never be traced.

Lindbergh's Baby (1932)
This is the most famous kidnapping case due to its wide media coverage and involvement of several federal and private detective agencies. Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh went missing from his second floor nursery at his home in Hopewell, New Jersey in March 1932. A ransom note of about $50,000 was found near the nursery window, from where abductors had entered the room. More ransom notes started arriving at Lindbergh's household demanding $75,000, when abductors learned that police and FBI were involved in the investigation. Attempts were made to communicate with the kidnappers through local newspapers and a retired school principal named Dr. John F. Condon volunteered to negotiate with the kidnappers. Condon delivered the ransom money in form of gold certificates to the abductors after ensuring that they indeed had Lindbergh's baby. In turn, kidnappers directed him to an abandoned boat where they had supposedly kept the baby. However, no such boat could be found and the whereabouts of baby could not be traced. Two months after the abduction, partially decomposed body of baby was found about five miles away from Lindbergh's home. The cause of death was ascertained as heavy blow on head and the boy had been dead for about 2 months. Further investigations and description of a certain 'John' by Condon led to the arrest and conviction of Bruno Richard Hauptmann. He was sentenced a death penalty for extortion and first degree murder. Lindbergh's baby kidnapping case forced the Federal Government to elevate the nature of crime of kidnapping from local to Federal crime.

Graeme Thorne (1960)
Graeme Thorne kidnapping and murder case in Sydney, Australia was a classic example of how co-ordinated police investigation and impeccable forensic research can lead to resolution of the most complicated of murder mysteries. The fortune worth 100,000 pounds won by Bazil Thorne in Opera House Lottery was responsible for kidnapping of his eight year old son Graeme. The kidnappers got an access to his house and telephone number through newspapers which published the names and addresses of the winners. Graeme was kidnapped while he was waiting to be picked up for school by a family friend. Two hours after Graeme went missing, Mrs. Thorne received a phone call from the kidnappers for ransom money. Thorne family had already alerted the police force by that time. Subsequent phone calls from kidnappers, without any instructions on where and how to deposit the ransom money led to an extensive combing operation in and around Sydney. Graeme's body was discovered five weeks after his missing report in partially decomposed state, covered in a blue tartan rug. The forensic analysis of flora and traces of mortar found on his body and the pet dander on blue rug led cops to a man named Stephen Bradley. Bradley's description matched with that of a stranger who had interacted with Mrs. Thorne shortly after she had won the lottery and also with the man who was sighted in the neighborhood on the morning of Graeme's kidnapping. Bradley confessed to the heinous crime after heavy grilling and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Graeme Thorne murder case led to the introduction of privacy option for lottery winners as well as reforms in the then abduction laws in Australia.

Kyoko Chan Cox (1971)
Kyoko, the only daughter of Japanese musician, activist and writer Yoko Ono was kidnapped by her own father Anthony Cox, Ono's second husband. Cox fled with Kyoko and his second wife, fearing Ono would take away the custody of his child. Cox took refuge in Houston, Texas, became an evangelical Christian and joined Church of Living World. There, he became a member of an occult sect and hid his daughter from the world. He gave her a new identity and hoped that members of his sect would help him protect his daughter from Ono and cops. Soon after, Cox left the sect and feared again for the safety of his daughter who was studying in California at that time. He went on the run again with his family. Meanwhile, Ono tried to reach her daughter through her songs as well as help from secret services. It was not until 23 years after her kidnapping that Kyoko was reunited with her mother, when she herself got married and decided to start a family of her own.

Jaycee Lee Dugard (1991)
Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted from South Lake Tahoe while she was waiting for a school bus near her home on June 10, 1991. Dugard went missing for 18 years and reappeared in 2009 under mysterious circumstances. Dugard's abduction in a gray sedan was witnessed by her stepfather Carl Probyn and a couple others. Although, her stepfather vainly chased the sedan on a motorbike, Jaycee's abductor's could not be traced thereafter. Police services carried a thorough check of the surrounding area with the help of locals as well as several private agencies. Jaycee's mother conducted a widespread campaign with the help of media and locals to locate her daughter. While police followed a few clues, none of them actually led to Jaycee or her captors. Jaycee was declared missing and her case file remained closed for 18 years. On August 25, 2009, a convicted sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido was found strolling suspiciously along with two young girls on the campus of UC Berkeley. The unusual behavior of the girls and their unknown relation with Garrido invoke suspicion of investigation officers which led to further probe of the matter. Garrido's wife Nancy along with a young woman named Allissa (who Garrido claimed to be his niece along with two young girls) were summoned to verify Garrido's statement. When all the members of Garrido family were investigated separately, Garrido maintained that the two young girls and Allissa were his nieces while Allissa said that she was hiding in Garrido house from an abusive husband and the two young girls were her daughters while the girls kept on addressing Garrido as 'daddy'. The confusing and incongruous statements by Garridos led to further investigations and grilling of Garrido when he confessed to having raped Allissa and fathered her two daughters. In an astonishing discovery it was revealed that Allissa was the same Jaycee Dugard who went missing from South lake Tahoe in 1991. However, as Jaycee had developed a Stockholm syndrome (in which hostages feel empathy and affection for their captors) she refused to cooperate with the officials initially. The 29 year old Allissa was then positively identified as Jaycee Dugard and reunited with her family after 18 years.

Madeleine McCann (2007)
The disappearance of 3 year old Madeleine McCann on May 3, 2007 is remarkable due to the involvement of law enforcement forces from several countries and world wide press coverage. Madeleine, a British national, went missing from her hotel room while on a family holiday in the Algarve region in Portugal. Madeleine and her twin siblings were left unsupervised in their hotel room while their parents were having dinner with their seven friends in a hotel bar which was only 130 yards away. Madeleine's parents and their friends took turns to check on children in their ground floor room. Madeleine's last sighting was about 21.15 when her dad Gerry checked on the children. However, when her mother came in the room at 22.00 she found Madeleine's bed empty and an open bedroom window. Immediately, a search of premises was conducted by police officials and several people including Madeleine's parents, their friends and hotel staff were questioned. One of the friends of the couple Jane Tanner, had reportedly seen a man carrying a child, going down the road at about 21.20. However, she failed to make the connection that the child could be Madeleine. Portugal police (Polícia Judiciária) detained several people including Madeleine's parents and their friends and arrested several others in connection with the kidnapping. However, Madeleine's parents were eventually given a clean chit and allowed to fly back to UK. Over the course of time, several secret service agencies from Portugal, UK and France were deployed to follow several investigation leads. However, none of them could successfully trace Madeleine's whereabouts in spite of several reports of her possible sightings in the following months. While Madeleine's parents were heavily criticized for their negligence, their remorse couldn't bring their daughter back. To this date, the fate of Madeleine McCann remains unknown.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are several other kidnapping cases in the history that are remarkable in some way or the other. Some of these cases were resolved with great skill and valor by the law enforcement agencies, thereby uniting the hostages with their families, while a few others are still pending, with no lead whatsoever. Families of such victims still wait for their loved ones to return and hope to reunite with them someday.