The Kidnapping of Freddie Muth – Part 5

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

Once apprehended, John J. Kean became very meek. Or, as the Philadelphia Inquirer stated, “Kean was an abject coward and begged piteously for protection.” The police searched Kean and catalogued his belongings:

  • One nickel
  • An old spoon
  • A stamped envelope and a sheet of paper
  • A box of black cartridges

“I am 42 years of age, was born in New York City, where I was in a stock broker’s office. I came to Philadelphia about ten years ago, since which time I have been employed as an agent,” Kean’s confession began. He told of seeing little Freddie on Sunday, June 10, and the idea he had to kidnap him for ransom.

John J. Kean


“I went around Muth’s house Monday, the 11th, but Freddie was not about. I thought if I would give him some candy he would walk away with me. I went from there to Eighth and Vine streets, to see if I could get hold of anyone who would take Freddie away, then I would go to Mr. Muth and get some money, for taking him home again.”

The idea of Kean walking around, looking for somebody who might be up for kidnapping a child, is bizarre. By the next morning, Kean was resigned that he would have to kidnap the boy himself. He went to the post office, wrote the note to Miss Ring, and hired a messenger boy to take it to Freddie’s school, and to bring the child to the corner of Fifteenth and Master streets. He took the boy to the Broad Street Station.

“I took him into the station and bought him some picture books; we sat in the station about half an hour. and then went to Keith’s Theatre, stayed there until the performance was over, about 10.30 P. M.” He mentioned calling the Muth home and hanging up when Mrs. Muth called out to her husband.

“After the show was out. we went to the Automat Restaurant on Chestnut Street, below Ninth, where I got him something to eat. After leaving the restaurant, we rode on different cars until finally we got to Sixty-second and Girard avenue.” They went into an oyster house and Kean ordered coffee. When they left, Freddie was cold so he gave the boy his hat and coat.

Kean then snuck into his own home, leaving Freddie to wait outside. “My wife did not know that I was in the house. I took from my home a pillow, some clothes, and an old cushion from a chair.”

Kean’s house at 415 N. Horton Street


He took the boy into another vacant house on the same street. I had keys for all the houses in this square that were vacant, as I had been acting as an agent to rent them.”

Freddie was allowed to sleep, but Kean was on the move before daylight. Eventually, they landed in the row of the houses where Kean was captured several days later. When the agents came, he had to keep the boy quiet. “I quieted Freddie by telling him that the agent was coming and would arrest us for being in his house.” Kean said he went out while Freddie was asleep to steal food and milk from the front steps in the neighborhood. He also gave the boy two bottles of beer “a little it a time, as we had no water, and Freddie said he was used to getting beer at home.”

But there was another horrifying aspect to Kean’s story. For reasons that remain unclear, he voluntarily told the police about another child he tried to abduct. “About two weeks ago, I sent a boy to Sixty-third and Haverford avenue to try and entice a boy away named Philip Kaloski, who is 5 years of age. His mother had boasted of having plenty of money. I could not get him neither the first or second time that I went for him.” Oddly enough, one of the bottles of milk Kean stole to give to Freddie was purloined from the Kaloskis’ front steps.

After all these admissions, Kean was so dejected he was put on suicide watch. Not a friend or family member came to see him in jail. He spent the night walking in his cell and crying in anguish. The officer who stood guard over his cell watched him pace back and forth all night.

“Oh, why did I do it? Oh, my poor wife. What will my poor family do? Oh, what will they do to me?” Kean sobbed over and over. Once he exclaimed, “I want to die. Life is not worth the living now. I’m the black sheep of the family! I never was any good. Oh my poor mother, my poor brothers and sisters. What will they think of me?”

Mrs. Kean immediately announced her plans to take the three children she and Kean shared and leave the city. The newspapers explained that Kean came from a respectable family and, at times, was respectable himself. They used a table to illustrate Kean’s double character. On the left, his supposed good traits are listed. On the right, we see his sins–the gravest of which is “Probably Burglar.” (John Kean didn’t need any more trouble at the moment, but you could argue that being a chemist, author, or inventor isn’t necessarily a character virtue. Someone invented asbestos, right?)

See Part 6 for the conclusion to this strange tale!