Ransom Kidnapping in America, 1874-1974: The Creation of a Capital Crime

By Ernest Kahlar Alix | Go to book overview

reaction to the Cudahy case), it had been one of the few states to provide a death penalty for ransom kidnapping in which the victim was harmed, Missouri, a few months before the Keet case, had abolished capital punishment for all crimes. Two years later, it would be reinstated.

The distance of the case from New York City and the Times resulted in sketchy details of the prosecution of the suspects, but the indication was that the case against Piersol and his associates was not strong. Initially, Piersol was indicted for first degree murder of the Keet infant, but apparently he was never brought to trial on the indictment. Eventually, he was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to thirty-five years' imprisonment.


Summary

Between 1900 and 1919, a number of significant developments occurred with regard to the crime and the societal reaction to it. The number of cases increased and occurred over a much wider geographical area than in the nineteenth century. The victims in the twentieth century represented the extremes of wealth and prominence. The Black Hand ransomings had no precedent in the nineteenth century, and for the first time, a kidnapper in a major case was successful in obtaining a large ransom. On the whole, however, such cases continued to be rare. Finally, a kidnap victim was murdered; although this may have been the fate of Charles Ross, the fact never was determined.

Reactions to the crime also differed in comparison to reactions in the nineteenth century. The assessment of the crime by the social audience as heinous became more widespread. Calls from several reactive sectors for more severe punishment of ransom kidnappers mounted. The belief in the deterrent efficacy of more severe punishments consistently was more in evidence among reactors, although retribution also was cited.

The most striking development in the first two decades of the twentieth century was the creation or modification of legislation in reaction to the crime. In response to the Cudahy case,

-36-

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Ransom Kidnapping in America, 1874-1974: The Creation of a Capital Crime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Perspectives in Sociology ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction A Sociological and Historical Perspective xv
  • 1 - Ransom Kidnapping in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: 1874-1919 3
  • Summary 36
  • 2 - Slain Children and Unharmed Businessmen: 1920-32 38
  • Summary 76
  • 3 - The Federal War on Ransom Kidnapping: 1933-39 78
  • Summary 123
  • 4 - Decline, Dormancy, and Resurgence: 1940-74 125
  • Summary 164
  • 5 - The Crime, Societal Reaction, and Law Creation 166
  • Conclusion 195
  • Notes 199
  • Index 213
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