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Cudahy Kidnapping

The kidnapping of sixteen-year-old Edward Cudahy Jr., son of the prominent Omaha meatpacker, one hundred years ago was one of the most sensational crimes in Nebraska history. The boy was seized on December 18, 1900, as he returned home from an errand. A ransom note was delivered to the Cudahy family demanding $25,000 in gold for his safe return. The following evening Edward Cudahy Sr. paid the ransom, and the boy was returned unharmed several hours later.

It was several days before the name of a principal suspect, Pat Crowe, emerged. Crowe had already achieved notoriety for other crimes and had a grudge against the Cudahy meatpacking business, which had wiped out a small butchering business Crowe owned. Later Crowe was fired from a job in a Cudahy store for allegedly stealing store funds.

Omaha's three daily newspapers (the Daily News, Daily Bee, and World-Herald) gave the crime and its suspected perpetrator extensive coverage. Reports of the picturesque and flamboyant Crowe (in such divergent places as Chicago, Nantucket Beach, and St. Joseph, Missouri) flowed into Omaha for five years. In 1905 Crowe was suspected of robbing two Council Bluffs streetcars and later that year was accused of shooting Albert Jackson, an Omaha policeman.

It was not until October 2, 1905, that Crowe was finally arrested in Butte, Montana. Since kidnapping had been an infrequent crime, Nebraska had no kidnapping statute. Because of this, Crowe was first tried and acquitted on the charge of shooting Jackson. He was then charged with robbery (of the ransom money) from Edward Cudahy Sr., for which he was tried in February 1908. After seventeen hours of deliberation, the jury returned the verdict of "not guilty." Crowe was also acquitted in a trial in Council Bluffs on the streetcar robbery charges.

Although many professed outrage at the verdicts, Crowe had become something of a folk hero. His subsequent descent into obscurity included stints as an author, lecturer, and actor. His death in a New York City rooming house in 1938 ended the career of a man whom the Omaha Daily News once described as "one of the few really spectacular and truly named desperadoes" of the day.

(December 2000)

 

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