The Kidnapping of Freddie Muth – Part 6

This is Part 6 of the Freddie Muth story.  Click the links to go to Part 1, Part 2Part 3, Part 4 or Part 5.

Justice was served quickly for John J. Kean.

In the morning before court, the prisoner picked at his breakfast. “There was not a relative or solitary friend to stand by his side. Captain Donaghy even tried to get the man a lawyer, but no member of the bar would touch the case,” the Philadelphia Inquirer stated. (Isn’t it amazing to think of the world pre-Miranda rights? John Kean was a lousy person so nobody had to defend him.)

Kean was arraigned before Magistrate Eisenbrown, but all eyes were on Freddie Muth. “It was a different looking boy from the ragged, scared, dirty, faced lad, that had been gathered in the night before. Freddie Muth looked as though he had been scrubbed and scoured, petted and perfumed, combed and brushed, as boy had never been before. He was immaculate. His blue sailor suit fitted like new, his shoes shown, his hair was carefully dressed, a red rose blossomed on his breast.”

Freddie Muth, the morning after he was rescued


“Kean…looked like a hobo. His shirt was dirty, musty, and colorless. His ragged clothes hung limp on his gaunt frame. His face was covered with a stubby beard. His trembling jaw and big, staring eyes gave him an almost uncanny look.” Kean gave his name and address but the judge silenced him when he tried to say more.

Kean in the prisoner’s dock


The Special Agents testified, followed by Mr. Muth. Then Freddie was called to the stand.

“We will not swear him,“ said the judge. Freddie gave his name, address, and age.

“Do you know that man?“ said the magistrate, indicating the prisoner. For a moment the boy seemed confused and shook his head.

Kean leaned over the rail and pleaded, “Don’t you know me, Freddie?”

“Yes,” said the boy.

“Tell us what he did to you,” continued the magistrate. Freddie repeated the basics of John Kean’s confession, with no new details.

 “How many days ago did he take you from your school?”

“Six days ago.”

“Did he strike you in the face?”

“No,” Freddie said. Eisenbrown pressed the boy on this but the child was firm. “No, he didn’t hit me.”

The magistrate asked Kean if he wanted to ask Freddie any questions.

Kean began to stammer out a story about how he was kind to the boy. “I didn’t restrict him at the railroad station. I let him go wherever he wanted. I took the boy to the theater. I gave him candy. I allowed him liberty. I telephoned his family–“

Eisenbrown interrupted him. “That’s all I care to hear,” he said. “If I had my way, I’d assemble a mob of women who had children of their own. I’d get the biggest mob I could and let you loose in it. The law, however, permits me to do one thing: hold you without bail to await the action of the grand jury.” The session ended at 10:30 a.m.

By 11:15, a grand jury indicted Kean for assault and battery and kidnapping in an attempt to extort money. He was funneled into another courtroom where the indictment was read. His trial commenced immediately with Judge Sulzberger presiding. “How say you, guilty or not guilty?” the court’s crier demanded.

“I am not guilty in one sense,” stammered the prisoner.

“How’s that?” Judge Sulzberger asked.

“How say you, guilty or not guilty?” the crier repeated.

“I guess—I…Guilty,” faltered the prisoner. When he took the stand, Kean said, “There might be someone that would say something that would put this case in a different light.”

“Tell us what it is, as if that person was here,” Judge Sulzberger said.

“I treated the boy as nicely as I could. After taking him away from school, I took him to Broad Street station. I bought a book and let him sit down for 20 minutes. Then I took him to Keith’s Theatre and I phoned his home. I intended to return him home, but I got frightened when I heard a man’s voice on the other end of the phone.“

“When you realized the crime you committed,” asked Judge Sulzberger, “why didn’t you take the boy home?”

“I intended to but when I left the theater, I was afraid to go straight to the boy’s neighborhood.” Instead they took the streetcars and the boy and Kean fell asleep.

“Why didn’t you take him home then?”

“I did bring the boy back, but on the way I again fell asleep and woke up at Fifty Second Street.” He took the boy to get some food, then to an empty house.

“Why didn’t you take him to your home where your wife would care for him?”

“It was too late,” Kean protested. “It was nearly 3 o’clock. I went home and got a coat and a pillow so the boy should not be cold. We went to sleep and I did not wake up until 5 o’clock. When I saw the newspapers with the full account of the affair, I got frightened and was afraid to go out with the boy.”

Judge Sulzberger asked to see the letters that had been sent to Mr. Muth. Assistant D.A. Taulane got Kean to admit he had written the letters.

At 12:25, the judge announced his decision. “The sentence of the Court is that you shall be in prison for 20 years at solitary confinement at labor in the Eastern Penitentiary.”

Kean was shuttled off, bound for the penitentiary.

He appealed to the state board for a pardon in 1915. He’d already served over 9 years. When asked his opinion, Freddie said he didn’t care whether Kean was pardoned or not. The board denied the request.

The last reference I found to John J. Kean was in 1920, fourteen years after the kidnapping. He was still serving time. Freddie lived until 1977, hopefully putting the incident out of his mind.

Freddie (third from left) with his friends.