The early spring morning was chilly in Southampton. Michel Navratil, Sr. repressed a shiver and smiled down at his small sons.
Michel was a tailor and a Slovak by birth, though he had lived in France for some time. He had come to Nice to teach sewing classes and met his Italian wife Marcelle when she began taking classes with him. They had gone to London to elope, and the following year Michel, Jr. had been born. Two years later, Edmond followed.
He crouched down next to the boys, straightening their clothes, and reassuring them by saying what a fine time they would have on the steam ship. Michel, Jr., 3½, and Edmond, 2, seemed bewildered. The frequent angry outbursts between their parents had given way to a series of rapid changes in their lives. First, their father had moved out of their home, then they were shuttled back and forth between he and their mother for a few months, and now they had been ripped away from France altogether.
Their father told them they were going to America on a big boat called the Titanic, and reminded them they would have pretend names. He was Louis Hoffman and the boys were Lola and Momon Hoffman.
It was anything but a game. Michel Navratil had kidnapped his children, and was posing as a widower named Louis Hoffman with his two sons. After learning Marcelle had a lover, Michel moved out. Still burning with anger, and convinced his wife was incapable of raising the boys properly with the stigma of her infidelity, he decided to leave the country. And he would take Michel, Jr. and Edmond with him. He purchased tickets on the Titanic, in the second-class cabins. It was a bold plan, but he was a bold man.
On board, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Michel was reluctant to let the boys out of his sight. One night, he played cards with a few other men, and left them in the care of a nurse who spoke French.
Many years later, Michel recalled the fateful night the Titanic struck the iceberg. “My father entered our cabin where we were sleeping. He dressed me very warmly and took me in his arms. A stranger did the same for my brother. When I think of it now, I am very moved. They knew they were going to die.”
Navratil put his sons in Collapsible D—the last lifeboat leaving the ship. His last words to his eldest son were: “You will convey all my affection to your mother.”
“I don’t recall being afraid; I remember the pleasure, really, of going plop into the life boat,” Michel, Jr. said.
There is some debate about little Michel’s memory. The newspapers reported that Michel, Sr. had rushed to the lifeboat with his sons. Michel, Jr. wore only a flannel shirt and Edmond was naked. The other passengers wrapped them in blankets and urged Michel, Sr. to get into the lifeboat but he refused, adding that the boys’ mother would be waiting for them.
This is a bit outside our normal timeframe, but I hope you like this little story.
In April 1937, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart William Blodgett, were still new to Oakland, California. The couple had moved to California from Saint Paul, Minnesota, with their 5 year old son, William Grinnell Blodgett II. One day, the boy was at a local park with two neighbor children, when he was kidnapped.
Leroy Gardener, 5, and Joan Gardener, 8, told police that a smiling, hatless young man of about 23 had approached them in the park early in the afternoon. He wore a gray suit and white shoes, and he suggested a race to the corner store for candy, the children said. During the race, the children became separated. Leroy said he saw William and the young man get into a brown roadster with a light tan top, Captain James Ritchie, sheriff’s investigator, reported.
It was not until an hour later when the boy’s father went to the park in search of his son that anyone knew about the kidnapping. Mr. Blodgett appeared to be perplexed by the whole situation. He didn’t know anyone who would want to kidnap his son, and he wasn’t in financial circumstances to pay a large ransom.
Five hours later, just before dark, William walked into a gas station about 5 miles away from home. An explanatory note pinned to his clothing read:
“I was going to hold this boy for ransom, but I decided to go straight. Please get him to his parents in Berkeley. I am in great need, but would rather starve than make his parents suffer. If they want to contact me, let them address me as Chuck in Wednesday’s Oakland Tribune.”
A grave, quiet child, William, was reportedly unimpressed by his adventure.
When his anxious mother asked how he was, he replied, “I’m hungry.”
His mother produced a piece of pie. A news photographer asked the boy to pick up the pie for a “picnic picture.”
“No,” said the child, “I don’t pick up my pie. I’d like a spoon, please.” After finishing his pie, William went to bed.
I’m a little torn about this behavior from William. On the one hand, it’s pretty funny he put the news photographer in his place. On the other hand, this child is so imperturbable, it’s unsettling. What 5-year-old gets kidnapped, dropped off at a strange gas station, and returns home to face a bevy of police and reporters, but has nothing to say, beyond a polite request for a spoon?
I’m guessing “Chuck” the kidnapper was never found. I looked at the Oakland Tribune for the following day, and there was one obscure reference that might be connected.
The newspapers didn’t relay anything William told them about the encounter, and I couldn’t find any follow up to this story. I’ve learned not to say, “That’s the last we’ll ever hear of this story!” because that makes it almost inevitable it will resurface later, but the important thing is, everything turned out well for William.
At the end of the last post, Judge Nathan Q. Tanquary – who had been presumed dead for just over a month – unexpectedly communicated to his wife that he was in Peru, and heading home to Texas.
Upon his return to Fort Stockton, the judge lost no time in explaining what had befallen him in Alpine and the strange odyssey he embarked upon afterward. He wrote his whole story to the El Paso Herald, as a thank you for their support during his time of need, and they ran the story on the front page on the 16 April 1913 edition. I’m leaving the judge’s article just as he wrote it.
Carried Off to Peru, as in a Dream
“I take this opportunity to thank you personally for the stand which your paper has taken in my behalf during the terrible ordeal which myself and especially my family passed through. I assure you it is no small matter to have some one stand for you when a great crisis is on., and I think it is due to you that I write you as fully as I can, what occurred.
On the morning of March 1, I left my home for Fort Stockton, attended to some business there on the 3d and on the morning of the 4th appeared as a witness before the grand jury then in session there. Leaving there, I went immediately to Alpine to look over and pay for some reservoir work which I was having done for Mr. Murphy some 13 miles out of Alpine. I had some cash with me, about $250. This reservoir work is not on the Alpine road but the road made from the camp comes into the Alpine road about 10 miles out from town, and here I met Ira Hector, the contractor for this job, and in talking with him, I learned he would expect more money than I had, hence I went into the bank of Alpine and cashed two drafts amounting to $500.
While on this road, I made arrangements with Mr. Hector to come there that night and stay over night at the camp. After transacting the business at the bank, I went to a restaurant in the Masonic temple and had lunch about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and an hour or so later, started for Hector’s camp in my automobile.
While I was at lunch, a man I had never seen before, but who called me by name, came in and talked with me about going out to the Hector camp and after a suggestion or two on unimportant matters, went out. Although as I say, I had never seen this man before, I would know him now among a thousand.
The Mysterious Stranger.
When I had got out a few miles from Alpine, I overtook this same man walking in the same direction I was going. He stepped out to the right hand side of the road and indicated for me to stop, that he wanted to speak to me.
When I had stopped, he asked me if I had met anyone in an automobile. I told him I had not unless it would have been just as I was coming out of Alpine. He explained to me that he had just come into the road and was looking for someone in an automobile and thought they might have passed before he came into the road.
In the meantime, my engine, which was not in very good working order, stopped and I had to get out to crank it.
I remember absolutely nothing after that for several days. I do not remember any one striking me while I was on the ground or at any time, yet from the terrible pain, I know that I was struck on the back of the head. And the surgeon who examined me at Callao said that the blow was delivered just at the base of the brain.
Whether I was afterwards drugged, I do not know, but the taste in my mouth and the feeling I had was not like that I have after being at a Woman’s Club banquet.
Everything a Blank.
Everything even now seems a blank. Although I have a hazy recollection of being on a dark closed car, but it is too indistinct to give anything definite. When I recovered consciousness, I was in a small cabin on some blankets on a freight boat with no one on board except a small crew of Peruvians, who were taking a cargo, principally oil, to Callao, Peru.
None of these men could speak a word of English but as nearly as I could learn from them, they were on the Gulf of California below Guaymas, and after a day or two they wanted money from me to pay fare. I finally managed to gather from them that someone brought me on board and told them that I was in poor health and was going to Palia for my health, that I had plenty of money and would pay them well.
Had Nothing Left.
I succeeded in showing them, I think, making them fully understand, that I had absolutely nothing. Not even a watch, pen knife or a paper of any kind or description. I stood absolutely stripped of worldly except my clothes, and no friends in sight.
I think I made them understand that I was there against my will for when they understood they were very kind and gave me as good as they had. They offered to take me ashore at two or three places, but these places were small and no way out, hence I preferred to stay with them until I might find a place with English speaking people.
When I reached Callao, their destination, I found, almost immediately a J. W. Hazlett, who some years ago lived in Colorado Springs Colorado, when I tried a law suit there. He and J.P. Johnson assisted me in arranging and getting some money for a little clothing and my expenses home. I might add that when I left Alpine I had on my person some papers which might have been thought to be of great value in a case pending at Fort Stockton, but which were really of but little value.
Again thanking you for your good spirit in this matter.
“Very truly yours,
I wish I had been able to find a picture of the judge, and I really wish he had provided a bit more detail about those Woman’s Club banquets he attended.
I don’t know, you guys. Even with Judge Tanquary’s unimpeachable reputation, there’s something about this whole story that seems just a lit-tle bit fishy.
I happened to read the judge’s explanation while I was looking for something else, and I thought it was a joke – like The Onion, circa 1913. But it turned out to be a real story… though whether the judge was being 100% truthful may be up for debate!