The Kidnapping of Freddie Muth – Part 3

This is Part 3 of the story. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2!

After the kidnapper’s last furious letter, the police stepped up their investigation. They knew Kean had not come home all week and that he was an agent who rented properties to clients. He would have keys to many vacant homes and apartments. Perhaps he was holding Freddie Muth captive in one of them. Detectives fanned out across Philadelphia, visiting vacant properties.

They also visited barbershops to see if anyone had come in, seeking to rid themselves of a Van Dyke beard. John Kean was known to sport this style of facial hair.

The Van Dyke beard, courtesy of


The next day another letter arrived. The kidnapper had adopted an alias, A. Adams.

Dear Sir—Have you kept faith with us? Now, this is your last letter; we are going to move quickly if not responded to at once. The North Front street place is not excepted. We want you to put the $200 near the engine, Front and Market streets, at 9. P. M. tonight. The least doubt in this case will make trouble for all. In newspapers near the engine boards, Market and Front streets, right side coming up Market. This is final. Keep quiet. A. Adams.

P. S. You must burn all these letters, this and the one from Wilmington, Del., at once, for your safety or the boy’s. Now don’t postpone action. A. Adams.

P. S. Everything today pointed to a sell-out by you. Now time is short and as a friend in one way meet this case with the money at 9 P.M. I know what will happen if you don’t. A. Adams.

No doubt, if you were the father or mother of Freddie Muth, you would be thinking only of how to get your child back safely. You probably wouldn’t be distracted by wondering what kind of a person, who is not a middle school student, tries to write a threatening letter with multiple post-scripts. The fact he signed each post-script would likely escape your notice as well. Not even worth mentioning.

The Muths were in fact working on a response, but Kean must have thought he would hear from the couple in the afternoon newspapers.  When he did not, he wrote to William Gano, a druggist who lived a few doors down from the Muths.

Mr. Gano: I wrote to Mr. Muth last Thursday. My message contained actual information of his son. Perhaps it became mislaid, in the hundreds of letters the papers say Mr. Muth received, or maybe it went astray. Freddie is becoming a physical wreck. If his father and mother want to save him it is within their power to get him. He gets very little food, because he doesn’t want to eat, but he is dosed with whisky to keep him thoroughly quiet. Will you see that the enclosed is given to Mr. and Mrs. Muth’s hands personally. The inclosed slip is something Freddie did the first day after he went away. He was anxious to do his home work so he said.

Mr. Gano hurried to his neighbors’ home and brought the letter he had received as well as the enclosed letter for the Muths. It would be the kidnapper’s last letter.

Mr. and Mrs. Muth: I wrote to you Thursday last and I told you how you could get your boy back before he became a physical wreck. His stomach is gone. He won’t or can’t eat. He vomits everything solid. He is feverish and delirious at times. He knows too much to be returned without some guarantee of safety to his keepers.

This is what we want. You must notify the police in an apparently sincere way that Freddie has been [taken by] a relative in New Brunswick or Brooklyn, that a great mistake been made and the one who took him away is personally known to you and that you do not intend to prosecute him or have any harm come to him through his misdeeds. Ask the police to drop all their clues and suspicions (none of them are any good to you) and to notify the different police departments in other cities and all precincts in Philadelphia to relieve perhaps a hundred persons from suspicion.

Do not let the papers imagine there is anything insincere in your announcements. Do not vary away from the spirit of the above directions. It would be better if you would use most of the exact wording when you have stopped the news sensations and have cleared away from the police interference. They have been very hopeful for your sake, but they depend upon Freddie’s keepers making some mistake or suspicious move.

They don’t know anything positive about anyone, and they won’t, either. It is for you to make the first move. We will negotiate for his return. Then you will have to make known in your announcements to the papers what reward you had intended to [offer] if he had not been found. There will be no haggling. If it is satisfactory you will get your boy. If it isn’t, we know what to do. If things are made right you will get him through Mrs. Becker, of New Brunswick.

Mrs. Becker was Charles Muth’s sister. The strangest thing about the letter was the kidnapper refusing to name a specific amount for ransom. The police were grim. The kidnapper’s increasingly agitated missives were not a good sign. They had to find Freddie Muth quickly but now they had to do it while appearing to stop looking for him. John Kean must be kept calm and believing he was in control.

Captain Donaghy hatched a desperate plan. Go to Part 4!