This is Part 4 of the Freddie Muth story. Click the links to go to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.
The time had come for action! Captain James Donaghy knew that he needed to act. He met with Freddie’s father, Charles.
“Mr. Muth,” Donaghy said, “I have a plan for meeting this emergency, but you must consent to be put in a very unfavorable light. You must allow yourself to be held up in the newspapers as a fraud and a faker who has deceived the police for some ulterior motive.“
“Say anything you please about me but find the boy,” replied Muth. “Blacken my character, mix me up with a woman, make me any kind of a criminal you like, I give you carte blanche to use my character. I will leave it all to you, but for God’s sake, find my poor boy. The papers can say anything they please, but find my boy.”
The newspaper editors were sent for, and arrived at City Hall to meet with Captain Donaghy. “Boys,” Donaghy announced, “I want a favor. I want you to do an unusual thing, to print a deliberate, fake story.”
(Personal comments withheld.)
The captain laid out the evidence the police had gathered and laid emphasis on the fact that Freddie Muth had scarcely a chance to survive, if the tide did not appear to turn in the kidnappers favor. “I want you boys to get together on a yarn to the effect that Muth has been fooling the police and we have thrown up the case in disgust.”
The editors looked at each other and the captain uncertainly.
“Muth will stand for anything you say,” the police captain reassured them. “Bring in the places of New Brunswick and Brooklyn and your story, so the man, when he sees the paper, will know Muth got his letter.”
Charles Muth woke up the next morning to find himself an object of scorn and ridicule. Neighbors refused to speak to him. Men read the story and avowed that Muth ought to be horsewhipped. The press was unanimous in depicting the boy’s father as a double-dealing scoundrel.
Every paper ran some version of the following story:
That Freddie Muth, the seven-year-old boy over whose kidnapping the police and detective forces of every city in the country have gone to endless worry and trouble, is alive and in the hands of relatives was the startling statement made by Charles Muth, the father of the boy, to Captain of Detectives Donaghy late last night.
This startling information given out by Captain Donaghy brought about an entirely new and unexpected phase of the kidnapping case which will go down in history as being second in interest only to the famous Charlie Ross affair.
According to Donaghy the father, after the closest questioning, told what the police now believe to be the true facts of the case. He intimated that it was a relative living either in Brooklyn or New Brunswick, N. J., but would not divulge the name of the person, nor would be give a clue as to what was his motive in with. holding the information all this time.
He told Captain Donaghy that it was useless for him or his men to further attempt to find the kidnapper, as the family had no desire to prosecute him, but would in due time make negotiations for the care of the boy and looking to his ultimate recovery. In police parlance such a story is known as a “throw-off.”
The ruse worked. John Kean relaxed. But Special Agents Clear and Bale continued to work the case. They returned to a row of vacant houses they had searched the day before. They were fairly certain that Kean was hiding out in a vacant home with the boy but they had found nothing.
Unbeknownst to the officers, Kean and Freddie had been inside one of the houses while they were searching. Kean was listening to the police as they rummaged through one of the vacant homes in the row, and he hustled Freddie onto the roof to avoid detection. When they left, he took Freddie into the house they had just searched. When the newspapers came out that morning, Kean was immensely relieved.
For some reason, the special agents returned to the same row of houses. While Clear was in front of the houses, Bale climbed onto the roof and spotted the missing child there.
“Hello,” he called in a friendly voice. “Is that you, Freddie Muth?”
“Yes,” the boy replied. Then he burst into tears.
Meanwhile, Agent Clear noticed a face peering out of one of the windows. It was John J. Kean! He burst through the door and, after a mad chase, the kidnapper threw up his hands and begged the officer not to shoot. “I didn’t hurt the boy!”
In the next post, we’ll hear John J. Kean’s unbelievable confession. Go to Part 5!