Botched in ’Bula
The following day, James Whitla’s answer appeared in the newspapers as instructed, and he received another note from the kidnappers. He was instructed, in a letter written partly in Willie’s handwriting, to travel to Ashtabula and call upon the desk clerk at the Smith Hotel upon arriving. He was to identify himself as C.A. White and collect the letter that would be waiting for him.
But Temple botched the kidnappers’ plan when he opened the letter and read the instructions. Whitla was to deposit the ransom under a cannon in Flat-Iron Park, which stood where the intersection of Center Street and Route 20 is today.
When Temple saw the instructions, he notified Ashtabula’s police chief. When James Whitla secretly arrived in town with the money later that evening, the plan was no longer a furtive deal.
Nevertheless, Whitla insisted on going through with it, and placed the money under the butt of the cannon. Meanwhile, a squad of detectives under the command of G.C. Perkins, head of the Perkins Detective Agency of Pittsburgh, waited in the Hollendon Hotel, Cleveland, for any word of the boy’s return. The detectives had a special train prepared and waiting to take them to Ashtabula upon notification.
The city itself was swarming with law enforcement officers certain that the kidnappers and Willie were either in the city or nearby. At the state line, a squad of 20 mounted members of the Pennsylvania State Constabulary waited for the signal to move in and apprehend the kidnappers.
Come the morning of March 21, the $10,000 was still under the cannon. It was obvious that the kidnappers had received a tip-off that the police were wise to them. They moved on, and Ashtabula faded from the spotlight as quickly as it had fallen into it (the New York Times ran a long story about the Ashtabula incident on March 22, 1909).