Weyerhaeuser Kidnapping

In 1935, the FBI helped recover a young boy from a prominent family who was kidnapped and held for ransom. 

Ultimately, all of the culprits were caught and sent to prison, and the boy was safely recovered. 

The Kidnapping 

On May 24, 1935, George Weyerhaeuser, the nine-year old son of prominent lumberman J.P. Weyerhaeuser of Tacoma, Washington, disappeared on his way home from school.

Although the students at Lowell School which he attended were released for lunch earlier than usual, George followed his regular practice of immediately walking to the nearby Annie Wright Seminary to meet his sister Ann. The family’s chauffeur generally met George and Ann at the Seminary to drive them home for lunch at noon. Arriving at the Seminary 10 or 15 minutes early that day, George apparently decided to walk home rather than wait for his sister.

But George never reached home that day; somewhere between the Seminary and his house, George Weyerhaeuser was kidnapped.

Ransom Demands 

When the Weyerhaeuser family realized that George was missing, they searched for him and notified the police department of his disappearance.

That evening, a special delivery letter, addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” arrived at the Weyerhaeuser home. It listed a series of demands, including the payment of $200,000 ransom in unmarked twenty-, ten-, and five-dollar bills in exchange for the boy. George’s signature appeared on the back of the envelope in which the letter arrived.

The FBI Portland, Oregon Field Office was advised of the facts in this case, and special agents were sent to Tacoma, Washington to investigate. Adhering to the kidnappers’ instructions, an advertisement, signed “Percy Minnie,” was placed in the personal column of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to indicate that the Weyerhaeusers would comply with the kidnappers demands. Similar messages were placed in the same newspaper on May 27 and May 29, 1935.

Mr. Weyerhaeuser received a letter from the kidnappers on May 29, 1935. He was instructed to register at the Ambassador Hotel in Seattle, Washington as James Paul Jones and to await further contact. Also enclosed with the kidnappers’ letter was a short note from George, stating that he was safe. Mr. Weyerhaeuser followed instructions, and at 10 that night, a taxicab driver delivered another letter to him at the hotel.

Complying with directions given in the note, Weyerhaeuser drove to a designated point, where he found two sticks driven into the ground with a piece of white cloth attached. There he found a message directing him to another signal cloth further down the road. However, when he reached the second signal cloth, he found no message. He waited there for two hours before returning to the hotel.

On the morning of May 30, 1935, an anonymous party telephoned Mr. Weyerhaeuser, saying that he had not followed orders the previous night. George’s father assured the caller that he wanted to cooperate but that he could not find the last note.

At 9:45 that night, a man with a European accent telephoned Mr. Weyerhaeuser and advised him to proceed to an address where he would find a note in a tin can. Thereafter, he proceeded from one point to another, following directions he found at each place.

On a dirt road off the main highway between Seattle and Tacoma, he found a flag and another note advising him to wait for five minutes with the dome light of his car burning and then to go to another white sign on the same road. The note he found there told him to leave his car and walk back toward Seattle. If the money was in order, George would be released within 30 hours.

Mr. Weyerhaeuser had walked about 100 yards when he heard a loud noise from the bushes. A man ran out, got in the car, and drove away with the $200,000 ransom money.

George’s Story 

Young George Weyerhaeuser was released at a shack near Issaquah, Washington on the morning of June 1, 1935.

George revealed that when he left Annie Wright Seminary on May 24, 1935, he took a shortcut through some tennis courts. As he left the tennis courts, he met a man of about 40 with brown hair and a moustache who asked for directions. When George responded, the man picked him up and carried him to a sedan which was parked across the street.

The child noticed that a second man was sitting in the front seat of the car. George was put in the back seat and a blanket was thrown over him. He was driven around for over an hour, during which time he heard the men conversing in whispers.

The men stopped the car by the side of a road and removed the blanket covering George. He was given an envelope and told to write his name in pencil on the back of it. He was then blindfolded and carried 10 or 12 steps, where he said the man must have waded across a stream because he heard rushing water. On the other side of the stream, he was placed on the ground and led by the hand over the countryside for about one-half or three-quarters of a mile. The boy noticed that the area was covered with bushes or trees, which he frequently brushed against, and that the ground was very uneven.

They arrived at a point by a large log, and the man who was leading George put him into a hole which had been dug in the ground. George, whose blindfold had been removed, estimated the hole to be about four square feet. After chaining the boy’s right wrist and leg, his two captors placed a board over the hole, completely covering it. The men took turns guarding him until about 10 that night, when one of them said that the police might find the hole.

The boy was carried back to the car and placed in the trunk, where he rode for about an hour. He was taken from the car and led through the woods again. Reaching their destination, his kidnappers dug another hole while George waited by a tree. George was placed into this hole, along with a seat from the car and two blankets, and the hole was covered with tar paper. Subsequent examinations of this hole revealed the presence of lizards and spiders which could have endangered the child’s health.

Investigation determined that on May 26, 1935, the two men, accompanied by a woman, put George in the trunk of a Ford and drove through Washington into Idaho. Having passed through Blanchard, Idaho, they followed the highway until they turned at a point on the mountain. During the early morning, the boy was taken from the car and handcuffed to a tree, where he was guarded until nightfall.

His abductors then took him to a house and put him in a large closet with a mattress, two chairs, and a small white table. On the evening of Friday, May 31, 1935, George was told that they were leaving this house. He noticed a watch on the table indicating it was 5:55. The two men, who addressed each other as “Bill” and “Harry,” went upstairs. George did not try to run away because the men had told him that he would be going home soon.

Again, George was placed in the car’s trunk and taken to a little shack near Issaquah, Washington. At about 3:30 the following morning, his captors left, telling him that his father would come to take him home. George wandered into a farmhouse and announced his identity. The family took him in, washed him, gave him clean clothes, and drove him to Tacoma, Washington in their car.

Investigative Success 

When the FBI started investigating this case, every precaution was taken to ensure the safe return of the victim. During the period of negotiation, special agents conducted the investigation quietly.

Serial numbers of the ransom bills were sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where ransom lists were prepared. Immediately after the kidnappers received the money, these lists were sent to all of the Bureau’s field offices for distribution to commercial enterprises, including banks, hotels and railway companies.

Alcatraz booking photo of Harmon Metz Waley, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping George Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, Washington, in 1935.

Booking photo of Harmon Waley in Alcatraz prison in July 1935. National Archives photograph.

On June 2, 1935, a $20 ransom bill was tendered in payment of a railway ticket from Huntington, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Investigation by FBI agents determined the purchaser to be Harmon Metz Waley.

Shortly thereafter, many ransom bills appeared in discount stores in Salt Lake City, Utah. Due to the limited number of special agents available there, police officers were placed in each downtown discount store, and each store was furnished a copy of the ransom list. As a result, on June 8, 1935, a police detective stationed at a Woolworth store was notified by a cashier that a woman had presented one of the ransom bills. The detective took the woman, who proved to be Margaret E. Waley, wife of Harmon Waley, to the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office.

Upon her arrival at the field office, another ransom bill was discovered in her pocketbook. Although she told a number of conflicting stories, her correct home address was obtained.

Later that day, Harmon Metz Waley was arrested at home. After making several false statements, he confessed that he and William Dainard, whom he had met in the Idaho State Penitentiary, had kidnapped the boy. He added that his wife had no knowledge of the kidnapping until their arrival in Spokane, Washington. She had been at the hideout house and helped them negotiate the ransom.

Approximately $3,700 of the ransom money was found to have been burned in the Waleys’ stove. The ashes were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where it was determined that a sufficient number of the bills remained to positively identify them.

Waley claimed that he and Dainard planned to split the money evenly, but that Dainard cheated him out of $5,000. After further questioning at the field office, Waley said that he bought a Ford Roadster, which he registered as Herman Von Metz, when he arrived in Salt Lake City. Under a clump of trees or bushes, he had buried $90,790, which special agents recovered on June 11, 1935.

Learning that Waley arranged to meet Dainard at the home of Margaret Waley’s parents, agents proceeded to that house. Her grandfather advised that a man answering Dainard’s description had come to the house asking for the Waleys. The grandfather told him that the Waleys had been there earlier to pick up their suitcase but they returned to Salt Lake City and had been arrested. The man exclaimed, “My God, did they get everything they had?” before returning to his car and driving off.

Physical evidence found in the hideout, the holes and the kidnappers’ homes was examined by personnel of the FBI Laboratory. Fingerprint identification positively linked the Waleys and Dainard to the shack where the ransom had been divided. Also, Harmon Waley’s fingerprints appeared on the cans in which notes for Mr. Weyerhaeuser were placed, and a fingerprint identified as Margaret Waley’s was found at the hideout.

Fitting Conclusion 

On June 19, 1935, the federal grand jury, Tacoma, Washington returned an indictment charging William Dainard, Harmon Metz Waley, and Margaret E. Waley with kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap.

Harmon Waley entered a plea of guilty on June 21, 1935, and he was sentenced to serve concurrent prison terms of 45 years on charge of kidnapping and two years on charge of conspiring to kidnap. He was sent to the United States Penitentiary, McNeil Island, Washington. Waley later was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, California.

On June 22, 1935, Margaret Waley pleaded not guilty to both charges. She was brought to trial in United States District Court, Tacoma, Washington, on July 5, 1935. Four days later, she was sentenced to serve two concurrent 20-year terms in the United States Detention Farm, Milan, Michigan.

After William Dainard had spoken with Mrs. Waley’s grandfather, he proceeded to Butte, Montana. On June 9, 1935, he was recognized by a police officer who attempted to apprehend him. Dainard eluded the officer, and later his car was found to have been abandoned, along with $15,155 in ransom money.

An Identification Order, which included Dainard’s photograph, fingerprints, handwriting specimen, and background information, was prepared, and copies were distributed throughout the United States. In response to information received that Dainard may have gone to either Mexico or Australia, copies of the Identification Order also were furnished to police agencies in both countries.

In early 1936, bills with altered serial numbers began to surface in the western part of the country. The FBI Laboratory’s examination of these bills revealed the true serial numbers to be identical with those of ransom bills. Banks were advised to be alert to any person presenting altered currency for exchange.

On May 6, 1936, employees of two different Los Angeles, California banks reported that a man had exchanged altered bills at each bank. His license number, obtained by personnel of both banks, was issued to a Bert E. Cole. A surveillance was maintained at the address listed for that license number. On the morning of May 7, 1936, special agents assigned to the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office were instructed to search that neighborhood. Two agents found a Ford bearing the reported license number in a parking lot enclosed by a wire fence.

Later, a man entered the car and attempted to start it. When it failed to start, he got out of the car and lifted the hood. Agents approached the man, who was readily identified as being Dainard. He submitted to arrest without resistance, and a .45 caliber Colt automatic pistol was removed from his person.

When questioned, Dainard admitted his participation in the kidnapping. At the time of his arrest, agents recovered $37,374.47 in ransom money and bills that Dainard admitted he had received in exchange for ransom money. Special agents also recovered $14,000 in $100 bills that Dainard had buried in Utah. In addition, various dyes and other paraphernalia used to change serial numbers on paper currency were found in the garage of his Los Angeles, California home.

Dainard was removed to Tacoma, Washington, where he entered a guilty plea in the United States District Court on May 9, 1936. He was sentenced to serve two concurrent 60-year prison terms for kidnapping and conspiring to kidnap. That same day, he was sent to the United States Penitentiary, McNeil Island, Washington. Upon his subsequent transfer to the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas prison authorities determined Dainard to be insane and recommended that he be confined to a hospital.

Further investigation by the FBI revealed that Edward Fliss, an associate of Dainard’s, had assisted him in exchanging the ransom money. Fliss was locate at the Delmar Hotel, San Francisco, California, where he was arrested by FBI agents. He offered no resistance and admitted to helping Dainard dispose of the ransom money.

Fliss was removed to Seattle, Washington, where an indictment was returned on November 10, 1936, charging him with assisting in the disposition of ransom money. He entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison and to pay a fine of $5,000.

The participants in this kidnapping were sentenced to actual prison terms aggregating 135 years. During the course of the investigation, special agents of the FBI recovered a total of $157,319.47 in ransom money and cash received in exchange for ransom money.

Harmon Metz Waley was the last of the kidnappers to be released from custody. He was paroled from the United States Penitentiary, McNeil Island, Washington, on June 3, 1963 at the age of 52.

The victim of this kidnapping, George Weyerhaeuser, ultimately became the Chairman of the Board for the Weyerhaeuser Company.