The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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June 10, 2012

Ransom for an attorney’s little boy

Willie Whitla’s kidnappers made a stop in Ashtabula

Tony Muscarelli, 13, and Willie Madden, 12, were walking down Depot Street, Ashtabula, on the evening of March 20, 1909, when a 30-year-old man accosted them from across the street.

“Hey guys — come here a minute,” the man yelled, briefly stepping out of a dark alley and onto the dim edge of a street lamp’s glow.

Tony and Willie looked at each, shrugged their shoulders and crossed the street.

“What ya want?” Tony said, putting on a tough front as they followed the man into the alley. Suspicious, the boys scanned and memorized the man’s features: 5-feet, 6-inches or so, clean shaven and dressed in a dark suit with blue stripes.

“I got a little job for you do, kid. I got this letter I need you to deliver for me to the Smith House, right over there,” the man whispered, pointing to the hotel across the street. “I got a buddy by the name of C.A. White who’s arriving on the 8:45, and he’s going to be looking for this letter as soon as he gets in. Make sure they hold it for him at the desk, OK, kid?”

“Yeah, well what’s in it for me?” Tony asked.

“Here’s a dime. Go buy yourselves some candy after you deliver the letter. And remember, I’m watching you, so don’t goof up,” the man warned.

The boys were about halfway across the street, heading toward the hotel, when the man yelled at them again.

“Hey, you guys know where I can find a telephone?” he said.

“Sure, the depot has one,” Willie said.

“No good, kid. I had fight a there, and I dare not go back, unless I want my face smashed in,” the man said, disappearing into the alley again.

The boys continued on to the hotel, where they handed the letter to Clerk Temple. The clerk, paying no attention to the “C.A. White” inscription, opened the letter and read the contents. He scanned the words, then gasped as his mind processed the implications: Ashtabula would be, for a few hours, the epicenter of an investigation into one of the most high-profile kidnapping cases of the early 20th century.

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