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RANSOM MARY McELROY

DATE OF EVENT: Saturday, May 27, 1933

DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, May 29, 1933, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: Mary McElroy, 25-year-old daughter daughter of City Manager H. F. McElroy, was kidnapped and held more than 30 hours. She began to sympathize with her captors, Walter McGee, George McGee, Clarence Click and Clarence Stevens. When all but Stevens were captured, charged with kidnapping and convicted, McElroy would persuade the judge to commute Walter McGee’s death sentence.

In the last seven years of her life, McElroy would suffer nervous breakdowns, killing herself in 1940.

The Kansas City Times’ account of the crime reads like the detective novels popular at the time, detailing her captivity.

Miss Mary McElroy, only daughter of H. F. McElroy, city manager, was kidnaped from her home at 11 o’clock Saturday morning and released at 3:50 o’clock yesterday afternoon, unharmed.

Judge McElroy delivered $30,000 into the hands of the kidnapers to save her from death. They had demanded $60,000, but he pleaded with them for consideration and insisted he could only pay half of the ransom.

For almost twenty-nine hours, Miss McElroy was held prisoner in a small basement room of the kidnapers’ hiding place. A handcuff, locked around her left wrist, was chained to the wall allowing her freedom to move in a radius of five or six feet. …

In the meantime, Judge McElroy sat helpless in his home, awaiting instructions from the men who had struck at his very heart. He had reared his motherless children; they were dearer to him than anything on earth. At his command were all the resources of the city. He controlled the police department. Cruisers, radio and regiments of patrolmen were at his beck and call. Yet he could only sit, his face ashen, his hands trembling, until the kidnapers acted. …

The kidnapers had demanded secrecy. They had ordered him not to enlist police or newspapers in the search. They would tell him what to do and he would do it — or die. It would be death to lose his child.

When the day came, the gang called by telephone and negotiations were opened. Judge McElroy talked with the kidnapers three times. … And at last came the summons to go on a mysterious errand with his son, Henry F. McElroy, jr., to meet the peril face to face and deliver $30,000 wrapped in a newspaper, for the deliverance of his daughter. …

On a lonely road in western Wyandotte County, Judge McElroy gave the money into the hands of two masked men in overalls. …

Then the long suspense, agony unspeakable until at last the call came that she was safe.

She had been released near the gate of the Milburn Golf and Country Club. …

And when her father and brother came at last — they had fought the long fight together — she ran to them with a glad cry, almost sobbing, and said: “Oh, Daddy, Daddy. They gave me roses.” …

One must go back to understand. … One must go back to 10:30 o’clock Saturday morning, when Miss Heda Christensen, maid of the McElroy house at 21 West Fifty-seventh street, answered a peal of the front doorbell. …

The man at the door drew a sawed-off, pistol-handled shotgun from under his coat and said abruptly: “Open the door or I’ll kill you.” …

“What do you want, anyway?” the young woman (McElroy) called.

“We’re going to kidnap you,” was the reply. “We’re going to make your father pay $60,000 for you.” …

Just before Miss McElroy left the house Miss Christensen burst into tears and cried: “Oh, please bring her back safely.” …

“You stay here,” commanded one of the kidnapers tersely. “Don’t move. After fifteen minutes, call Judge McElroy at his office. Understand?”Miss Christensen understood. She had read about such frightful things before. She dared not disobey. They might kill Miss Mary if she did. …

(The kidnappers put Mary McElroy into their car and put a lap robe over her head so she couldn’t watch as they drove her away.)

Miss McElroy was sitting on the floor of the car, between the front and back seats. She was terrified, of course, but her head was clear as she was carried blindly away on the strange and awesome adventure. …

(The car stops, and Mary is led blindly into a room by her captors. Following the detective story convention, and because their identities were unknown at the time of publication, they were referred to by their characteristics. “Smoked glasses” was the man in dark glasses who had originally kidnapped her; “Doc” was the young kidnapper who had hoped to go to medical school. The third was “Bandana mask.”)

The robe was lifted. She looked first at her captors. … The room was small, about 8x10 feet, and evidently a part of the basement. …

Soon the fan was singing and presently the voice of some remote radio station came in with a roar.

“You see,” said smoked glasses, “we are making you comfortable. Sorry we have to chain you up, but you can reach the radio.” …

They treated her with great consideration. …

“We hate to do this to you,” Doc broke in sympathetically. “You’re a good kid. We like you. But you see how it is.”

“I would recommend you,” said Bandana-mask, “to any kidnaper.”…

(Description of the evening continued with their dinner and conversation topics. Finally, Mary McElroy reflects on her experience.)

“It really was a delightful evening but a very expensive one. I wanted to talk about prison reform. They didn’t. … The round-faced man was interested in spiritualism. … They showed me their automatic pistols and sawed-off shotguns and how they worked. … Then they said, ‘I suppose you hate us because we are criminals and outlaws?’ I told him I didn’t hate anybody. …”

(Meanwhile, at the McElroy home, Judge McElroy had received a call demanding $60,000. He attempted to persuade the kidnapers to lower it to $30,000.)

“Go to 1310 State avenue (Kansas City, Kansas),” the voice commanded. “You’ll find instructions there.”…

Judge McElroy turned from the table and picked up his hat.

“Men,” he said in a trembling voice, “please don’t follow me. Keep faith with me, won’t you?”…

Twenty-five miles the father and son rode together in silence. They made three stops. …

“I think I was shadowed most of the way,” the judge said afterward. “Soon after we left our house, I noticed a car about a block behind us. We slowed down to see whether it was following us. We turned odd corners. It turned. We knew then that they were watching us.”

(Judge McElroy gave the money to the kidnappers.)

Less than an hour later, Mary McElroy walked into the Milburn Golf and Country Club. …

There was rejoicing in the block when Mary stood at last on her own lawn, a heroine returned from a great adventure. She was flushed and laughing. Her eyes were bright.

Men, old friends of the family, seized and kissed her.

“I’m glad I was kidnaped,” she cried, laughing. …

When Judge McElroy finally was restored to strength, even to jocularity, somebody asked him whether he considered his money well spent.

“Considering that I had to pay it to get Mary back,” he replied, “I would say yes. But if it had been a matter of investing it, I think I could have done much better.”

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