The Kidnapping of Freddie Muth – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the story of Freddie Muth. Click here to read Part 1! 

The police did not tell anyone they knew the identity of the kidnapper. They did drop clues that they were closing in on him, probably with the intent of goading Kean. Meanwhile, the newspapers latched on to the story of the missing child. Alarming headlines, usually referencing Charley Ross, dominated the papers:

Philadelphia has another Charley Ross case on its hands!

They were referring to the case of 4-year-old Charley Ross who was abducted in 1874. His kidnappers demanded ransom but the child was never recovered. Charley’s case made a deep impression on the American public.

Charley Ross


The publicity around Freddie Muth’s kidnapping was more than John Kean had bargained for. He wanted ransom, not fame!

Kean penned another letter to the Muth family. When it arrived, Charles Muth recognized the handwriting but he was unprepared for the menacing message it contained.

June 15, 9 A. M.

Mr. and Mrs. Muth: You have had, or going to have, arrested a woman, an ex-policeman and an ex-burglar and a passenger to York, Pa. Papers of Philadelphia are full of your affair. Your boy is kept quiet with whisky, but he vomits a good deal. But he will get it until you get over the sensational excitement. He will probably collapse inside a week.

If it is true police are sincerely active in watching out-of-town trolley cars and trains, there is no chance of getting him in safety from his keepers. If you want your boy before necessity compels us to stop your ever meeting him again, just as Charlie Ross was, because his disappearance was overdone in the papers to supply sensation for the readers. Whether you find your boy alive or not doesn’t signify much to the papers or the police. They’re guessing, and guessing isn’t going to help you, your son can’t be returned while this excitement is kept up. Inside of a week you’ll have no son to worry about if you don’t stop right now!

When the papermen and the police come to you from now on, tell them it is all right; that Freddie is with some relatives in New Brunswick; that the whole [thing] is an unfortunate mistake and stop the whole thing without the public or the police being a party to why you changed your mind. I am willing to negotiate with you alone if you show me you are more anxious to get your boy than to deal in a public way with his keepers.

The risk is too great for us to take any chances. Think of this: $5000 was demanded of Charlie Ross’s father, but he preferred to be guided by the police. They wouldn’t let him have the boy because it spoiled their chances for glory. The enclosed paper is a recent case. Tell the newspapermen what your reward would have been if he had not been found in New Brunswick. Then I will negotiate with you alone. It is up to without the public or police.”

Enclosed with this letter was a newspaper clipping and a slip of yellow paper, upon which Freddie Muth had scrawled some words including “squirrel” and “jump.”  Mr. Muth recognized this as Freddie’s homework. “Kean had evidently enclosed it, in Captain Donaghy’s opinion, to convince the boy’s parents that he was really with the author of the letter,” the Philadelphia Inquirer later explained.

But it was the newspaper clipping that justly struck fear into the hearts of his parents. The clipping was only a day or two old and it referenced the discovery of the body of 14-year-old Maude Haynes of Susquehanna. A reward had been offered for her recovery and detectives had traced her to an Italian neighborhood but no further. She had been dead for months when she was found.

No comment was attached to the clipping. None was needed. The threat was clear.


At Captain Donaghy’s suggestion, Mr. Muth placed the following message to the kidnapper in the papers:

LETTER OF JUNE 15 RECEIVED AND KEPT absolutely confidential.
Writing on yellow paper identified and clipping noted;
agree with you and await further directions.

In Part 3, the kidnapper grows desperate as the police zero in on his location.