National Affairs: Society v. Kidnappers

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Spectators in a crowded courtroom in Kansas City stirred expectantly one day last week when a trim young woman clad in a grey dress and a white hat climbed onto the witness stand. She was Mary McElroy, daughter of Kansas City's City Manager. Two months prior she had been abducted for $30,000 ransom (TIME, July


"Who told you to 'shut up or I'll shoot through the bathroom door?' " cried the prosecutor.

"Walter McGee," she replied.

''Who said, 'We're kidnappers. We're going to take you away?' "

"Walter McGee."

"Who ordered you to hurry up and get dressed?"

"Walter McGee."

"Who put the quilt over you?"

"McGee, and he ordered me to make no sound."

''Who put the handcuffs on?"

"Walter McGee."

"What happened about three o'clock the day you were released?"

The witness slumped in her chair, began crying. Between sobs she told how Walter McGee, before unshackling her, had demanded that she strip so that the kidnappers could make sure she had concealed no evidence against them.

"What did you say to that?"

"I told them I would rather die than do that, that I never would do it."

Still sobbing, she explained that McGee had not forced her to it. He gave her a bunch of flowers, she said, and set her free.

The prosecutor wheeled around, faced the jury and shouted: "The nation has been in the grip of a deplorable wave of kidnapping. As soon as the message is sent out from this room that a jury has said a man shall hang for this kidnapping, you will have taken a big step to stop that wave!"

Quietly, soberly the jurors filed out to deliberate. They included a watchman, a switchman, a dry goods store owner, two grocers, mechanics and salesmen, a farmer, a sheet metal worker-an average U. S. jury with a national issue in their hands. Theirs was the chance of being first to condemn a kidnapper to death. From Washington, Attorney General Cummings, spearhead of President Roosevelt's anti-crime drive, had sent his Special Assistant Joseph Berry Keenan to help speed up Missouri justice. Late into the night the jurors reviewed the facts: how Walter McGee, Oregon ex-convict, with an accomplice had taken the girl from her bath to a filthy cellar once used as a chicken roost, had kept her chained to the wall for 29 hours; how they had negotiated for a $60,000 ransom from her father and had finally collected $30,000; how Walter McGee, arrested in Amarillo, Tex., had con fessed.

Next day, while the trial of McGee's brother for the same crime was beginning, they returned with their verdict. It was Death.

Kidnapper McGee sat motionless. Said he: "I don't see why anyone should be hanged for a thing like that."

Out of the courtroom strode Lawyer Keenan to telephone the verdict to his chief in Washington. Attorney General Cummings, elated, cried: "The penalty is an indication as to how the people feel. ... If convictions may be obtained and heavy penalties inflicted a sufficient number of times, kidnapping can be stopped!"

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