The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


June 10, 2012

Ransom for an attorney’s little boy

Willie Whitla’s kidnappers made a stop in Ashtabula


Found in Cleveland

“A mistake was made in Ashtabula Saturday night,” stated the next note that James Whitla received. This time, he was instructed to go to Dunbar’s Drugstore in Cleveland, where a note of instruction would await him.

Th drugstore note directed him to a candy store, operated by Mrs. Hendricks, who would take charge of the money. It would be marked for the attention of “Hayes.”

Whitla followed the instructions, and the candy store operator slipped him a note from “Hayes” in a sealed envelope. He was instructed to go to the Hollenden Hotel, where his boy would be delivered in a short time.

Several hours passed, and there was still no sign of Willie. Meanwhile, on the Payne Avenue streetcar, two young riders, Edward Mahoney and Thomas Rumsey, noticed a familiar face among the riders — the boy whose picture was on the front page of all the newspapers.

Mahoney and Rumsey struck up a conversation with the boy, who seemed to be in a drugged state. The boy said his surname was Jones and he was going to the Hollenden Hotel, where he would meet his father. Mahoney and Rumsey spotted a policeman and told him what the boy had shared. The patrolman transported Willie to the hotel, where the much-relieved father was reunited with his son that evening.

Willie told his father that Mr. and Mrs. Jones had taken him out of the city to protect him from the raging but phony smallpox epidemic. They kept him in a house, where he was forced to hide under a sink whenever there was a knock at the door because “it might be a doctor to take me to the pest house.”

“It was fun fooling the doctor,” Willie said as he laughed about the whole adventure with his father. Willie called Mrs. Boyle his “nurse” who took care of him throughout the ordeal, and when he learned that she would be locked up in the city jail, told his mother “That’s funny.”

The family boarded a train to Sharon, where thousands greeted them at the depot. Bands played and throngs pressed toward the family just to get a glimpse of the famous 8-year-old. One of the street urchins, seeing the fanfare that the boy received, sadly remarked, “Gee, it must be great to be kidnapped.”

“When a crowd began cheering and waving hats at Youngstown tonight, Willie sat back in his seat and accepted the applause as big as a man,” reported The New York Times on March 25, 1909. “Occasionally he would bow to the crowd or wave his hand. At length a newsboy shoved an ‘extra’ into Willie’s face and said, ‘Here’s a paper. Read all about your kidnapping, Willie.’”

“ ‘I’d rather read a funny paper,’ said Willie.”

A search of all boarding houses in Cleveland was ordered by Cleveland Police Chief Kohler. The search eventually led them to a saloon where a wasted couple were blabbing about how they had pulled off the perfect crime. Despite spending money lavishly at the bar, $9,848 of the ransom money remained hidden inside the woman’s dress.

“I planned the whole thing,” boasted Helen Boyle in her typical loud-mouth fashion as police led her away.

“Yeah, lady, and you did a lousy job of it,” said one of the officers. “You left a trail a mile wide.”

“I’m not stupid. We did it and got away, didn’t we? So you caught us. Everybody gets caught, don’t they? So what?” Then Helen, pointing her finger to her head, said, “I got brains, I do.”

The trial was held in Mercer, Pa., less than 50 days after the kidnapping. James Boyle got a life sentence; his wife got 25 years. He tried to convince the press that the kidnapping idea was not his, but that of Harry Forker, Mrs. Whitla’s brother.

According to Boyle, on the night of June 8, 1895, Boyle found Forker removing papers from the body of Dan Reeble, Jr., on the Federal Street sidewalk in Youngstown. Boyle began blackmailing Forker, mostly small amounts, until November 1908, when he demanded $5,000. Forker allegedly told Boyle he didn’t have that kind of money, and he ought to consider kidnapping his nephew.

The police blew a hole in the story, however, when they produced a cop who had talked to Reeble just a few minutes before he died. Reeble fell from an upstairs window and the cop was only 200 feet from the building when the incident happened. He insisted that no one, including Harry Forker, was near the body when he found Reeble dead.

Jimmy Boyle died of pneumonia at the Riverside Penitentiary in January 1920. Mrs. Boyle served her time, remarried and moved to Chicago. As for Willie, he went to become a successful attorney in Sharon. But, like his kidnapper, Willie succumbed to pneumonia, at the age of 31.

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