Two days earlier, March 18, 1909, in Sharon, Pa., 8-year-old Willie Whitla, the son of prominent lawyer James Whitla, had just settled into his day of lessons at the EastWard School when he was called from class by the school’s janitor, William Sloss.
Outside the school, James H. Boyle and his wife Helen McDermott Boyle were waiting in a horse-drawn buggy. James Boyle had told Sloss that Willie’s father sent him to pick up the boy from school. Willie’s teacher, Anna Lewis, complied with the couple’s request, put Willie’s coat on him and led him to the buggy.
“I hope that man doesn’t kidnap Willie,” Lewis said to Sloss as they watched the buggy disappear into the spring morning.
Inside the buggy, Willie began asking questions.
“When am I going to see my daddy?” Willie said.
“Pretty soon, kid,” said James Boyle, unwrapping a cheese sandwich and handing it to him. “You see, we came here to keep you safe. This whole town is about to be quarantined because of small pox; it’s all over the place. Now your dad loves you so much, he asked us to take you to another town, where you’ll be safe.
“But first, we got a little business to take care of. I’m going to stop up here by the postal box, and we want you to get out and mail this little letter to your mom and dad, so they will know you are safe.”
That night, the ransom note arrived at the Whitla home.
“We have your boy and no harm will come to him if you comply with our instructions. If you give this letter to the newspapers or divulge any of its contents, you will never see your boy again. We demand $10,000 in $20, $10 and $5 bills. If you mark the money or attempt to place counterfeit money you will be sorry. Dead men tell no tales. Neither do dead boys. You may answer at the following address: Cleveland Press, Youngstown Vindicator, Indianapolis News, and Pittsburgh Dispatch in the personal columns. Answer: “A.A. will do as you requested.”