The 1935 kidnapping revealed the courage of a 9-year-old heir to the woods, which led to the “greatest manhunt in the history of the Northwest”
On the same day that his 9-year-old son went missing, Tacoma Timber Baron John Weyerhaeuser received a ransom demand.
Little George had been kidnapped, according to the letter, and the authors wanted $ 200,000 for his safe return. The typed note warned the family to keep law enforcement and newspapers away.
âRemember to follow the rules,â the letter says. âAll of them. One misstep on your part will just be bad for someone else.
It was signed, perhaps in a vague nod to the infamous murder of Leopold and Loeb in Chicago, “Egoist.” Self-centered.”
The problem was that the rules had already been broken, albeit inadvertently. Police were called in before instructions arrived, when George did not show up as usual after school. And a host of journalists were now busy on Weyerhaeuser’s lawn.
It was 1935, the height of the kidnapping era.
Three years earlier, the 20-month-old son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh had been kidnapped and killed, and a carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann had been convicted of the murder. The federal âLindbergh Lawâ followed, with a life sentence for the kidnappers. But, during the Great Depression, the new law was hardly a deterrent, as many low profile kidnappings had brought in significant money without any repercussions.
The George Weyerhaeuser case, however, would not be low-key.
George’s kidnappers – career criminals William Dainard, aka William Mahan, and Harmon Waley – thought they were smart enough. They took the boy to the Washington Forest and drove him into a hole deep in the ground, covering him with tree branches. Then they used classified ads in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to give instructions to George’s desperate parents.
The hunt for George and his captors made headlines across the country and sparked intense speculation. The Oregon Journal published the photos of a former local smuggler and two other ex-convicts. The Portland newspaper headlined the photos: âSnatchers? There was no evidence that the men had anything to do with the crime, and, of course, they weren’t involved.
The cheeky kidnapping inspired black-worthy journalistic prose for weeks as events unfolded. And now, over 85 years later, comes a new book, “Deep in the Woods: The 1935 Kidnapping of Nine-Year-Old George Weyerhaeuser, Heir to America’s Mightiest Timber Dynasty”, by author and former Seattle producer. TV Bryan Johnston.
Johnston made the reckless decision to invent conversations – “representative dialogue,” he calls it in an author’s note. This undermines the book’s credibility as a reliable non-fiction work, which is a shame, as “Deep in the Woods” is a well-researched story, full of surprising details.
Foremost among these details is the revelation of young George’s courage throughout his ordeal, as well as his lucidity under pressure.
Eventually, John Weyerhaeuser followed the kidnappers’ convoluted instructions to a remote location and abandoned his car with the ransom money inside.
“When he had walked a hundred yards down the road, he heard a crash in the bushes behind him,” writes Johnston. “He turned to the car just in time to see a shape come out of the bushes, jump in his car and leave.”
Dainard and Waley freed George soon after. The boy, who had been packed in a cardboard box for transport, suddenly found himself alone in the woods near Issaquah. It was the middle of the night. He walked for four hours in the Black Forest until he found a small house and knocked on the door.
Next came what The New York Times called “the greatest manhunt in the history of the Northwest.”
The FBI grabbed Waley quickly. When his wife Margaret, 19, bought a cigarette case from Woolworth’s in Salt Lake City, a diligent salesman noticed that the serial number on a $ 5 bill matched that of a list circulated by the FBI.
The more cautious Dainard was on the loose for a year, until a series of sightings finally allowed agents to catch up with him in San Francisco.
âI knew for a long time that this could not last,â he said upon his arrest.
Dainard and Waley ended up in the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in California, where Chicago Mafia boss Al Capone allegedly attempted to bite Waley. Margaret, Waley’s wife, landed on a farm in Michigan.
George, meanwhile, returned to school, his parents refusing to dwell on the trauma. It appears that he was hardly affected by the kidnapping.
“It’s not a sensitive subject for me,” the 93-year-old told Johnston in 2019. “It happened a long time ago.”
The heir to the timber grew up, served in the Navy at the end of World War II, and joined the family business starting with a team of loggers. He became president of the company in 1966, and was still running the Fortune 100 operation 14 years later when the eruption of Mount St. Helens wiped out some 68,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser Co forest.
Despite the financial risks, George immediately began to replant the devastated area; a World Forestry Center report called it an âunprecedented reforestation projectâ.
The decision apparently was not difficult for the president of the company. George Weyerhaeuser’s determination to keep going was just part of his character. This helped save his life in 1935 and guided him as a business executive over 40 years later.