Transcript: 161. The Kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser | USA

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 


Nine-year-old George was hungry and ready for his next meal. He had not been home in a week and wondered when his ordeal would end. His captors fed him okay: fruit, hot dogs, sandwiches, a boiled egg sometimes… He was given food twice a day and looked forward to the brief moment when his minder handed it over. He heard the other masked kidnapper calling his minder Harry and surmised that was his actual name. 


Harry wasn’t really threatening, and had the circumstances been different, George would even consider him a friend. When they were alone, they talked, Harry played the Ukulele and they killed time together. However, George was not allowed out of the closet where he had been locked away. If he wanted to go to the toilet, he had to use a bucket provided. At least this was a step up after being held in a hole in the woods for days. At least he was in a house now, although he wasn’t sure where. 


For any nine-year-old kid this experience would be unbelievably traumatic. But George kept his wits about him, understood that he was worth a lot of money to his captors and remained the polite and smiley boy everyone back home in Tacoma knew him to be. This is the story behind one of America’s most infamous kidnappings that occurred in the 1930s, when abducting wealthy children for ransom was all-the-rage. 


Fortunately, J Edgar Hoover and his G-men were able to bring the kidnappers to justice after an interstate manhunt, that reads every bit like a movie script. And at the centre of the story: a curly-haired boy, who just wanted to be home with his family and pets again.


>>Intro Music


It is hard to distinguish between the Weyerhaeuser family and the Weyerhaeuser Company. The lucrative timber company was founded in 1900, by patriarch, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and grew to be an ongoing legacy. 


In 1933, Frederick’s grandson, John Philip, or JP, was appointed the company’s executive vice president. JP and his wife Helen moved their young family to Tacoma from Lewiston Idaho, to take residence of the family mansion, Haddaway Hall, overlooking Commencement Bay. JP and Helen had four children: Ann, Philip, George and baby Elizabeth, or Wiz as they called her.


Despite the collapse of Wall Street in 1929, the Weyerhaeuser Company managed to stay afloat. At a time when unemployment was on the rise, the Weyerhaeuser Company was able to provide jobs and by doing so, saved many American families from homelessness.


However, Washington State had one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire country. And the logging and construction industries took the biggest blow. The 1935 Timber Strike saw thousands of loggers and sawyers walk out, demanding higher wages and more reasonable working hours. The strike, that kicked off in May, turned violent and an agreement was reached to return to work in July.


JP Weyerhaeuser was a strong leader and a fair man and would have done everything in his power to resolve his worker’s issues. He had only recently taken over the reins, after his father’s death in May, and his competence kept the business strong. The Weyerhaeuser’s owned large properties all over Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Vermont and Oklahoma, growing tress and harvesting timber. Despite their wealth, they always kept a low profile. 


One could say that JP and Helen’s third child, George Hunt Weyerhaeuser, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, being a 4th generation timber dynasty heir. But the slight boy of 4ft5 with his short, curly brown hair and bright brown eyes was as down-to-earth as they come. His teachers and friends described him as the ‘manliest little man’ with a ‘smiling, handsome face’. He was a boys’ boy who loved watching baseball heroes like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. He loved playing sports and was a keen athlete.


On Friday the 24th of May 1935, George was excited when school broke up early for lunch. He made his way from Tacoma's Lowell Elementary School the Annie Wright Seminary where the family chauffeur, Oswald, usually picked up George and his sister, Ann to take them home. 


Because he was released from school earlier than usual, George had to wait for 15 minutes. But being a young boy who struggled to sit still, he decided to carry on and walk the five blocks home to 420 Fourth Street North. This decision would prove to be a grave mistake, because somewhere between the Seminary and the Weyerhaeuser home, George was taken hostage. 


At first, Oswald and Anne assumed that George didn’t show up because he had opted to walk home. When he wasn’t home, they thought he could be with his friends. He was a popular, sociable kid, and it wouldn’t have been the first time he stayed behind with his pals. But Oswald had the gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right. He drove back to the school, looking for George everywhere along the way, but couldn’t find him. 


At 1:30 PM, George’s aunt, Mrs Titcomb phoned the school and learnt that George never returned for afternoon classes. All of his friends were at school and said that the last time they saw the young heir, he was heading home for lunch.


Panic ensued and the Weyerhaeuser family informed police. Along with investigators, family and friends searched the immediate area for George. Everyone in Tacoma was out looking for the young curly-haired kid.


That same night, at 6:26pm a letter was dropped off at the Weyerhaeuser home by special delivery. It was a typed ransom note, with 21 demands. Firstly, the kidnappers wanted $200,000 in return for the Weyerhaeuser’s son. In today’s terms that would be about 4 million dollars. The letter also contained clear instructions: the money had to be paid in unmarked bills: 100,000 dollars’ worth of 20-dollar notes, 50,000 in 10- and 5-dollar notes respectively. The family had five days to come up with the cash, or George would never return home.


“Just follow the rules and you will get along fine. Don't follow them and it will be sorrowful. FOR YOU NOT FOR US.”


The note ended with: 


“So just remember, a slip on your part is a slip by us. Don’t do it.”


Then it is curiously signed off as ‘Egoist. Egoist.’


George had signed his own name on the back of the envelope, proof that whoever sent the letter, had him with them. What started as a missing child investigation, was now a case of kidnapping and extortion and local law enforcement contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ask for assistance. 


Snatching children from their wealthy families was a lucrative way to make quick money for criminals who were down on their luck. Like the 1932 kidnapping and murder of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son, Charles Jr. George Weyerhaeuser’s kidnapping was the 37th attempted kidnapping after the Lindbergh case.


George Weyerhaeuser’s kidnappers outlined a way to communicate in their ransom note. It stated that messages should be placed as personal ads in the newspaper the Seattle Post Intelligencer – or the P-I as it was known by locals. Ads would be signed ‘Percy Minnie’.


Although the Weyerhaeuser family was one of the wealthiest families in the country, most of their wealth was tied up in their business and their property portfolio. It was possible to get the funds, but it would not be an easy task. But their son’s life was in danger and they were prepared to do whatever it took.


Despite clear instructions to keep law enforcement and the press out of it, the case was already public knowledge and beyond the Weyerhaeuser family’s control. Journalists and photographers descended onto Tacoma, chasing the biggest story of the time. It made national news, with the Lindbergh case still fresh in everyone’s memories. Newspapers ran in-depth features about the kidnapping case. Fortune tellers and psychics wrote letters to the Weyerhaeuser family, with information about George’s possible whereabouts. It was a circus.

The next day, the Weyerhaeuser’s placed an ad in the PI, which read: 


“Due to publicity beyond our control, please indicate another method of reaching you. Hurry, relieve anguished mother. Percy Minnie.”


The kidnappers also had an ad in the personals that Saturday, which read: 


“Expect to be ready to come Monday. Answer. Percy Minnie.” 


A second letter arrived at Haddaway Hall on the 29th of May, an excruciating five days after George was last seen, instructing JP Weyerhaeuser to check into the Ambassador Hotel in Seattle, using the name James Paul Jones and providing his place of residence as Seattle. He would receive further information once he was there. In the envelope was a note from his son, assuring his mother that he was still alive and that he was safe. However, if they did not comply by the end of the day, the kidnapper claimed they could no longer guarantee George’s wellbeing.


George’s letter read:

“May 28, 1935. I don’t know where I am mother. We got baby in 1933. The baby was born in 1933. Do not worry because I am all right. Phillip was born in 1925. Ann was born in 1923. I was born in 1926. My teacher is miss Berg. My best friend is Cordy Wagner. We go to the Titcombs to swim every summer. I am telling you this because I don’t want you to worry. I have plenty to eat. Your son George.” 

JP Weyerhaeuser followed the kidnapper’s instructions and waited anxiously in his hotel room. At 10pm a letter was delivered by a taxi driver. This letter gave directions to a designated point of contact: Renton Avenue South and 62nd Avenue South in the Rainier Valley. Weyerhaeuser wasted no time and drove to the location where he found what looked like a flag: a stake with a white cloth tied to the top. Under the white cloth was a tin can with a note inside, with directions to a second location. Weyerhaeuser rushed to the second point, where he found another stake in the ground. But this time, there was no note. There was no other message anywhere in sight and Weyerhaeuser waited, brimming over with frustration, for two hours. He realised no one was coming and with some hesitation he returned to the hotel.


The next morning at 11:30am Weyerhaeuser received a phone call from an anonymous man, reprimanding him for not following instructions. Weyerhaeuser assured him that he wanted to co-operate and would never do anything to jeopardise the safety of his son. He told him that he was at the second location, but that he could not find the instructions. The caller hung up without saying anything else. After a sleepless night, no doubt, JP Weyerhaeuser was not sure if this would be his last contact with the kidnappers. He dreaded the possibility that they could dispose of George because he couldn’t get to them.


Just before 10pm that night, the phone in his hotel room rang, cutting through the silence. This time, the man on the other side of the line seemed to have a European accent. However, Weyerhaeuser got the impression the accent was fake. The caller said that he would find a note in a tin can outside a house on Madison Street. When he arrived, he found the note and so began a night that played out like a scavenger hunt. 


The last stop was along a dirt road off Highway 99 near Angel Lake, outside of Seattle. The note in a tin can next to the road instructed Weyerhaeuser to leave the dome light of his car on and wait outside, in front of his car for five minutes. Then he had to walk until he found a white sign where the next note would be. Weyerhaeuser followed the instructions to the letter. When he reached the white sign, a note commanded him to walk in the direction of Seattle. And if the money was in the car as they agreed, his son would be returned within 30 hours. As Weyerhaeuser set off to walk, he saw someone come out of the bushes next to the road, get into his car and drive off.


John Weyerhaeuser walked along the highway and flagged down a car, that took him back to Tacoma. It was a gruelling wait to see if the gamble had paid off: was young George Weyerhaeuser still alive? On the 1st of June 1935, the tween was left in a rural area near Issaquah, Washington. A farmer and his wife took him in and saw to his safe return.


George’s family was relieved to have him back and elated that he had survived the ordeal unscathed. Police were eager to learn what he had been through in the preceding days. George had a clear recollection of his week in captivity, and diligently took note of small details whenever he was not blindfolded. 


He explained that he did not want to wait for his sister on that Friday afternoon and decided to walk home instead. After leaving Annie Wright Seminary, he cut across the Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club, seeing as it was a quicker way home. At the other end of the courts, on Borough Road, he met a man who asked him for directions to Stadium Way. But before George could answer, the man picked him up and took him to a green Buick sedan that was waiting nearby. Another man was behind the wheel and George was shoved onto car floor, between the front and back seats. His captor blindfolded him before he covered him with a blanket. 


They drove around for about an hour, after which George no longer knew where they were. The men spoke to each other in hushed tones, and he could not quite make out what they were saying. When they stopped, one of the men handed him an envelope and a pencil. George was told to write is name, which he did. This was the ‘proof of life’ sent with the first ransom note.


After this, the man threw the blanket over his head again and carried him out of the car. They walked a short distance. George knew they were outdoors, and he heard the sound of water so he assumed that they had gone through a stream. Once on the other side, the man put George down and commanded him to walk. He held onto the man’s hand and scraped his arms and legs on bushes and branches in the underbrush. Once they had reached their destination – an isolated spot in the woods – the man took the blanket off George’s head. George saw a large log on the ground and next to it, a deep hole, like a grave – about four square feet. Little did he know that this was to become his prison cell. His right leg and wrist were chained up and the hole was covered with a tin sheet. His captors took turns standing guard next to the hole, wearing masks with eyeholes. 


That evening George was allowed out and ate with his kidnappers, a meal of sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg and cookies. Afterwards, he was chained back into the hole, not knowing what fate awaited him.


It was late that first night, George guessed probably about 10pm when one of the men became anxious and said they had to move the boy because he was bound to be discovered by police out looking for him. At this point they carried him back to the car and threw him in the trunk. 


They drove for about an hour and parked in another wooded area. They walked a while and George was made to watch as they dug another hole. This time, they placed one of the car seats and the blanket in the hole with George and covered it with tar paper.


Here he stayed, inside the hole, until Sunday the 26th of May – two days after he was taken. He was thrown into the trunk again and by this time a woman had joined his two captors. They drove for hours, what was eventually determined to be a route through Washington and Idaho. The Monday morning George found himself in the woods again, and when he was let out of the trunk, it was early in the morning. 


Here, in the woods near Newman Lake, George was handcuffed to a tree all day, with his kidnappers taking turns guarding him. He was blindfolded, but it was clear that the two men didn’t want the woman to see him. They let him out of the trunk every so often, so he could stretch his legs, and she was told to hide on the floor of the car. 


At dusk, George was shoved into the car yet again and this time they drove 300 miles to a house in Spokane, Washington. In the two-bedroom house at 1509 W 11th Avenue, George was locked inside a walk-in closet. There was a mattress and table with two chairs. He stayed there for four days.


The woman left with one of the men, while George was left with the taller of the two men, the one he concluded was ‘Harry’. The other man was Bill. George and Harry formed a friendship of sorts during this time. His captor allowed George to walk free for short spurts and entertained him by playing the ukulele. He also showed the boy newspaper clippings reporting on his kidnapping. George knew his parents would be extremely worried, and the man assured him it would soon be over. All the while, Harry wore a face mask, only sometimes pulling it up over his nose, so he could talk and eat.


On Friday the 31st of May, George noticed the time: it was just before 6pm. His kidnappers informed him he’d be home soon. He could have taken a chance to escape, but George trusted that the men would see to it that he made it home safely. 


Once night had fallen, George was taken out to the car and told to get into the trunk. After a long drive, they stopped next to the road near Issaquah, Washington where they let him out.  They gave him a blanket and a one-dollar bill and said their goodbyes. George recounted the moment of his release, his captor said: 


"Just walk down this road. Pretty soon your father will come along and give you a ride home. You don't have to be afraid of anything, even if it is dark. Just keep walking this way and you'll get home. You've been a very fine boy."


However, after waiting out in the cold for a while, George decided he’d rather go and look for help. After walking for six miles, in the dead of night in the pouring rain, without shoes, he came upon a farmhouse and knocked on the door. The Bonifa family was shocked to see a nine-year-old boy on their porch so early in the morning. The boy identified himself as George Weyerhaeuser and asked if they could take him home. Willena Bonifa took George in, gave him dry clothes and breakfast. George ate quietly while the four Bonifa children were still asleep. They had no way of informing anyone that George was okay, seeing as they had no telephone. 


As the sun rose, with a clean set of clothes, shoes borrowed from one of the Bonifa girls and a full belly, George and Louis Bonifas set off for Tacoma in the family’s rickety Model T Ford. They stopped at a gas station at 6:30am and asked the store clerk to call Tacoma police to inform them that they were bringing George home. When George saw Louis needed gas, he offered to pay for it with the dollar bill he had been given by his kidnappers.


A reporter caught wind of the news and intercepted Louis and George as they drove into Tacoma. The reporter, who was in a taxi, convinced the well-intentioned farmer that he was a police officer, and after offering $5, took custody of the boy. Louis made sure he got his daughter’s shoes back and handed George over. As soon as George got into the taxi, he was interviewed by the journalist, ensuring the scoop of the decade. At the Weyerhaeuser house, the taxi drove into the garage and George entered through the basement door, without much fuss or drama. After an eight-day ordeal, he was finally back in the safety of his family home.


For law enforcement, it was a great win that the young heir was alive and well. But this case was far from over, in fact, it was only just gearing up. On the day of George’s return, JP Weyerhaeuser’s Pontiac was recovered in Seattle’s Chinatown. The bag that he had used to transport the ransom money was inside, but all the money was gone. There was also a tin can with all the instruction notes from the kidnappers.


That afternoon, the valiant nine-year-old George faced the gaggle of more than 50 reporters on the front lawn of Haddaway Hall. He stood alone, hands in his pockets and obliged journalists by smiling and waving. With his endearing manner, he won over everyone who witnessed it. One journalist noted:


“He puts a mist over your eyes. He grips your very heart, he digs into your soul like a warm, summer sun.” 


In the days that followed, George gave his full co-operation to the FBI. His information proved invaluable in understanding the dynamics between the people who had taken him. The FBI knew there were two men and a woman involved. When he was taken, they drove a Buick, but later changed the car to another sedan, most likely a Ford.


Despite the kidnappers’ demands for unmarked 20-, 10-, and 5-dollar bills, the FBI were sure to take note of the serial numbers of all the notes. This information was distributed to media outlets around the country and printed in newspapers. Hotels, gas stations, retail stores and railway stations were asked to keep a lookout for anyone spending the cash.


And it didn’t take long to yield a result. The day after George Weyerhaeuser was reunited with his family, a man by the name of Harmon Metz Waley purchased a train ticket from Huntington, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah. He used one of the $20 bills paid in ransom by JP Weyerhaeuser.


In the days that followed, multiple stores from the Salt Lake City area reported payment with the ransom bills. Undercover police officers were stationed inside stores around the city and on the 8th of June, their efforts paid off. A cashier at Woolworth alerted a police officer that a woman had paid for a 20-cent box of cigarettes with a $5 ransom bill. The woman was still inside the store and the officer apprehended her. 


The woman was a non-descript, 19-year-old called Margaret Waley, wife of Harmon Waley. She had another ransom bill in her handbag – there was no denying that she was linked to the kidnapping. But she tried to lie her way out of it. At first, she said her name was Margaret Von Metz. She gave many conflicting stories and explanations, but one thing she could not lie about was her home address.


That same day, police surrounded the Waley home at 847 Condus Place, Salt Lake City, and arrested Harmon Metz Waley. He confessed that he had kidnapped the Weyerhaeuser boy, together with William Mahan, an ex-con whom he met while in prison in Idaho. In fact, his name wasn’t Mahan, but Dainard, and everyone called him Swede Davis.


Harmon Waley was 24 years old, and a small-time crook – with some burglary and larceny charges behind his name. He received a six-month prison sentence for vagrancy and that’s when he met Bill Mahan, who was serving 20 years for bank robbery. However, Mahan received a full pardon and was released. 


Waley moved around between Salt Lake City, Camden, New Jersey and Tacoma, Washington living off welfare and escalating his criminal behaviour by committing robberies. He met Margaret Thule in Salt Lake City, and after knowing each other for only a week, the couple married in November 1933. In April 1935, Waley and Mahan met by chance in Salt Lake City and decided to go north to Spokane, looking for jobs to pull. 


According to Waley, it was Mahan who masterminded the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping. Margaret read about the death of John Philip Weyerhaeuser Sr in the newspaper on May 17. The obituary contained a lot of information about the extent of the Weyerhaeuser family’s wealth, and Mahan sensed an opportunity. 


Waley and Mahan then went to Seattle and drove to Tacoma every day for about a week, while Margaret stayed home, in a rented apartment. In Tacoma, the two crooks followed all members of the Weyerhaeuser family in turn, looking for an opportunity to abduct one of them. It was sheer coincidence that George quite literally walked into them on that fateful day. 


Waley said that his wife was not involved in the kidnapping and only leant about it after they had taken the boy. She never once saw George as they kept him hidden from her: Harmon Waley would ask his wife to crouch down below the dashboard on the passenger side of the car. He then pulled the seat forward, over her, so as to obscure her view. Once in Spokane, she assisted them with the ransom negotiations, but that was all.


Law enforcement needed to recover the ransom money, which meant that had to locate Waley’s co-conspirator Bill Mahan. According to Waley, they were going to split the 200 grand 50/50, but that Mahan pocketed $5,000 more when he divided it. As for Waley and his wife… They buried $90,790 under a tree and went on a shopping spree with the rest. The biggest purchase was a Ford Roadster, registered in the name of Herman Von Metz in Salt Lake City. They also spent money on clothing and homewares and when Waley heard that his wife had been arrested, he tried to burn what was left in their stove at home. The FBI Lab determined the par-burnt 3,700 dollars came from the same batch as the ransom money. Agents recovered the buried 90 grand on the 11th of June.


FBI agents were determined to track down Bill Mahan. The Waley’s revealed that he was supposed to meet them at Margaret’s parents’ house in Ogden, Utah. When the FBI arrived, Margaret’s grandfather told them that a man fitting Mahan’s description had been around, asking for the young couple. According to the grandfather he informed the man that they had been arrested to which he said:


“My God, did they get everything they had?”


He left abruptly and the grandfather had no idea where he had gone to. 


In 1935, forensic science was basic: fingerprinting was considered to be cutting edge technology. Still, in solving the Weyerhaeuser case, the FBI left no stone unturned. They employed handwriting analysis, forensic tracing of the type of typrwriter used and traced it to its manufacturer. Psychologists were approached to provide insight into the type of person they were looking for, based on the content of the ransom notes and the phone conversations.


FBI forensic investigators found fingerprints at the Spokane home that could be linked to the Waleys and Mahan. The same prints were found in Mahan’s shack, a rural building in the middle of nowhere where they got together to divide the loot. Waley’s and Mahan’s fingerprints were also on the tin cans that contained the instruction messages for Mr Weyerhaeuser.


Despite the fact that Mahan was still a free man, legal proceedings against the Waleys commenced in June, two weeks after their arrest. Harmon Wiley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 years for kidnapping and 2 years for conspiring to kidnap. He was sent to McNeil Island, Washington for a month before being transferred to Alcatraz.


Margaret Waley stood trial in Tacoma, Washington and pleaded guilty to both charges, despite being a marginal player in the kidnapping. The judge advised that she pleaded NOT guilty, seeing as though she just went along with the crime. 


George testified bravely, stating the facts of his kidnapping in a matter-of-fact manner. He identified his kidnappers and confirmed that he never saw Margaret Waley while he was in captivity but said that he heard a woman’s voice when he was locked in the closed in Spokane. 


Margaret defended her actions, claiming that because she was raised in the Mormon faith, she was conditioned to obey her husband. Also, she helped with logistics regarding the ransom, because Mahan had threatened to kill her, her husband and young George if she didn’t. Her defence attorney, the renowned John Dore, claimed that Margaret was simply too stupid to have been a part of the kidnapping plot. He said:


“I’ve met a lot of stupid people, and maybe dumb ones. But never have I met anyone whose stupidity is as great as this girl’s. She was just a dupe for these two crooks. If her husband should send her a telegram ordering her to jump off this building, she’d do it!” 


U.S. Assistant District Attorney Owen Hughes commented on the fact that Margaret hid on the car floor, so as to NOT see George when Waley let him out of the trunk. Hughes argued:


"It was foolish to presume that any American wife, I don't care whether she is Mormon or Jew, would not protest getting into such a position...I know my wife would, and any other wife would too."


Hughes felt that Margaret was well aware of the fact that her husband and his co-conspirator had a young boy in captivity, yet she did not do anything to help George. After her arrest and during the trial, she also did not display any signs of remorse. Hughes didn’t believe Margaret was acting under duress, but rather that she was a willing participant. She was the one who secured the home rental in Spokane. She helped with the ransom notes. Hughes ripped into Margaret and even implied that there was something romantic between Margaret and Mahan, at the very least a flirtation. 


In the end, Margaret Waley was found guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy and sentenced to two concurrent 20-year-terms at the Federal Detention Farm in Milan, Michigan. This was to serve as a cautionary tale to all would-be kidnappers out there.


On the 9th of June Bill Mahan was recognised by a police officer in Butte, Montana. In a twist of fate, this was the officer who had arrested him years before, and he was unaware of the fact that Mahan was a fugitive at the time. He simply had a double take when he saw Mahan. Mahan thought his number was up and he gave the policeman the slip. The policeman followed up and Mahan’s abandoned car was located, with $15,155 of the ransom money inside.


In the 1930s, without email and computer databases, police departments communicated via phone, post and telegraph. An Identification Order of Bill Mahan, aka William Dainard aka Swede Davis was compiled, containing his photograph, his fingerprints, a sample of his handwriting and his last known whereabouts. This was distributed to law enforcement agencies across the country. 


A tip-off warned that Mahan had plans to leave the United States, and copies of the Identification Order were also sent to Mexico and Australia. Despite there being no sign of Mahan, ransom bills were being used for random purchases along the West Coast. But when police followed up, it was not Mahan who had spent it. He had managed to exchange the incriminating bank notes, and as time went by, it became harder and harder to track him down.


All the while, Mahan was hiding out like the outlaw that he was, spending time in the foothills of Idaho and Washington, before moving on to sunny California. 


Vigilant bank employees noticed a man exchanging bills for no apparent reason in Los Angeles on the 6th of May 1936 – almost a year after George Weyerhaeuser’s kidnapping. He tried this at two different banks and employees from both banks managed to write down the registration number of his car. The car was registered to a Bert E Cole from San Francisco.


Surveillance on the property delivered Mahan into custody. He was armed with a .45 caliber pistol but did not resist arrest. Agents recovered more than 37,000 dollars of the ransom money at the time of his arrest. Mahan had also buried 14,000 in 100-dollar bills in Utah, which was recovered soon after. In his garage police found dyes and equipment used to alter serial numbers on dollar bills. 


The FBI later found a fourth accomplice in the kidnapping scheme. Edward Fliss was approached by Bill Mahan to assist him in exchanging the ransom money. When arrested, Fliss confessed to assisting Mahan. He claimed he only did it because he was desperate for money, and Mahan had offered him 15% of all cash exchanged. Fliss was sentenced to ten years in prison and also received a fine of 5,000 dollars.


In the end, the FBI recovered a total of $157,319.47 of the ransom money.


Bill Mahan was tried in Tacoma, Washington, and pleaded guilty 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 McNeil Island Penitentiary. 


Some time later, Mahan was transferred to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas, where he was found to be clinically insane and on the prison psychologist’s recommendation, he was sent to a mental hospital in Missouri, before being transferred to Alcatraz. He was released in 1965, serving less than half of his 60-year sentence. After his release he moved around a bit and eventually settled in Great Falls, Montana where he died at the age 90.

When Margaret was sentenced, she professed that she would remain loyal to her husband. 

“It will be easier waiting on the inside for Harmon than on the outside.”

…she said. However, she changed her mind later on. Years on a labour farm made her bitter as she reflected on how her life had turned out. She blamed Waley for ruining her life and stated after her sentencing:


"If it hadn't been for him, I would not be where I am today. I'm through with men forever. When I come out, I'm coming out alone."


Margaret served 13 years and divorced Waley as soon as she was released. She eventually returned to Salt Lake City where she married and lived out her life.


While in prison, Waley wrote many letters to George Weyerhaeuser, apologising for his actions. He was released in June 1963, after serving 28 years. In a big gesture of forgiveness, George Weyerhaeuser, then in his thirties, offered the 52-year-old Waley a job, as a truck driver, at one of the Weyerhaeuser Company’s logging plants in Oregon. 


George’s father, JP Weyerhaeuser rewarded Louis Bonifas handsomely for taking care of his son. Louis received enough money to purchase a sizable piece of land where he built a new house. He was also given lifetime employment at the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company’s Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Mill. 


George Weyerhaeuser lived a long and prosperous life and refused to be defined by the unfortunate events that took place in 1935. After graduating from Yale, he joined his family’s lumber dynasty and when his father stepped down, he took over. In an interview at the age of 94 he commented on his kidnapping:


“I consider it to be a novelty, and a dangerous occupation to be involved in, but you know, it had a wrap up that was ‘all’s well that ends well’.”


Fortunately, George lived to tell his tale, and survived undamaged, becoming the embodiment of forgiveness and kindness. 


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