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Plot To Kidnap Betty Bloch

Wheeling Register
October 5, 1934


Foiled Kidnapers Face Long Terms

Ohioans Admit Plot to Hold Betty Bloch When Arrested Here

Harry Thornton, 31, Aetnaville and Thurman F. Bowen, 31 Kirkwood, Held for Grand Jury in Scheme to Obtain $25,000 Ranson.

Lindbergh Law May Mean Life Terms

Tobacco Heiress Cooperates With Federal and Local Authorities to Ensnare Pair on Her Wedding Eve; Careless Talk Tips Plot.

Thwarted in what authorities described as a daring plot to kidnap Betty Bloch, 26-year-old heiress to the Bloch Brothers tobacco fortune, and hold her for $25,000 ransom, a 31-year-old haberdasher's clerk and a former high school football star remained in jail here last night in default of $100,000 bond each and faced the prospect of a year to life in prison under the newly-enacted Lindbergh kidnaping law.

The two prisoners, Harry "Hot Bun" Thornton, 31, Aetnaville, and Thurman F. Bowen, 409 Howard street, Kirkwood, confessed early yesterday morning their bold plan to abduct Miss Bloch almost on her wedding eve, authorities said. They are held for federal grand jury action on October 16 when the attempted kidnaping charge will be among the first presentments.

Thornton, former Bridgeport high school football star, and Bowen, the $20-a-week haberdashery clerk, were arrested late Wednesday night after "getting cold feet" in their plan to seize Miss Bloch as she energed from the Howard Place apartment of Mr. and Mrs. W. Edgar Leedy, Jr., who were hosts to Miss Bloch and her fianc‚, Wilmot Harris, at a pre-nuptial party. Miss Bloch and Harris, who formerly was a national bank examiner, will be married in the Bloch mansion in Pleasant Valley at 4:30 o'clock tomorrow afternoon.

Under Surveillance for Days

The two men accused of planning the kidnap had been under surveillance of federal, county and city authorities for nearly two weeks after officers had been informed of the intended abduction. Wednesday night Thornton and Bowen were seen in an automobile in the vicinity of Howard Place, but left without attempting to carry out their plans.

Officers said the would-be kidnapers apparently decided to postpone the seizure because of bright illumination about the apartment house. They left Howard Place and were trailed to Bridgeport by detectives and a federal agent in an automobile.

After Bowen and Thornton parted company in Bridgeport, they were arrested and brought back to Wheeling and whisked into the hotel Windsor where they were questioned for more than four hours before the first break in the case developed. Bowen broke under questioning first, officers said, and attempted to claim entire blame for the plot. Later Thornton was confronted with his companion's signed confession and he too admitted the scheme, authorities added. The contents of their confessions were being closely guarded, however. The men were arrested shortly before midnight and by 9 o'clock yesterday morning they had pleaded guilty at preliminary examination and were held for grand jury action.

In Separate Cells

The two prisoners were locked up in widely separated cells, Bowen on the second jail range and Thornton on the third. Jail officials said only one will be permitted at a time to leave his cell and go to the confinement area. This procedure will be followed pending further orders from federal authorities.

In the automobile used by the two men, officers reported finding a small bottle of chloroform and a supply of linens.

It was believed Thornton and Bowen intended to seize Miss Bloch as she emerged from the Leedy apartment, thrust a chloroform-soaked towel over her mouth and nose and bundle her into an automobile. She apparently was to have been taken to an isolated section of Belmont county and held there while ransom notes were sent to Jesse A. Bloch, her father, who is president of the Mail Pouch Tobacco company, vice president of the Bloch Brothers Tobacco company and a director of the United States chamber of commerce.

Were To Ask $25,000

Twenty-five thousand dollars was to have been demanded for the return of the bride-elect heiress and the kidnapers had expected to obtain the money within 24 hours, authorities said.

Ever since officials learned of the plot nearly two weeks ago, Bowen and Thor[n]ton have been trailed constantly by special agents of the federal department of justice under the direction of James A. Waters, chief of the Pittsburgh bureau. Their meetings were watched and from time to time the agents managed to pick up a snatch of conversation, it is reported.

Sometimes they met in beer gardens and talked over the plot, but always there was an agent nearby, listening. On several occasions dictaphones were called into play.

In at least one instance, a dictaphone was set up in a second-hand automobile which had been parked at a spot where Thornton and Bowen met frequently to discuss the kidnaping scheme, it was revealed. Wires from the sensative [sic] microphone apparatus led to a spot where the agents were hidden nearby with headphones clamped to ears. On another occasion a dictaphone was placed in a telephone booth known to be frequently used by the pair. From theses sources and others which they would not reveal, the special agents picked up the threads of the plot, while other officers were guarding Miss Bloch.

Intended Victim Aware

Throughout the investigation, Miss Bloch cooperated with federal, county and city authorities, continuing her ususal comings and goings and attending all pre-nuptial parties held in her honor. Only the immediate family and a few officers knew of the plot.

Following the arrest of the two suspects, Miss Bloch admitted she had been frightened while the plotters were being trailed, and said she had agreed to carry on Wednesday night in order to get the ordeal over. The intended kidnap victim is prominent in Wheeling and state society circles. She _____ ice League, Inc., and is a golfer of recognized ability.

The attempted kidnaping will not interfere with the plans for her marriage to Harris tomorrow afternoon, according to her moth. Mrs. Bloch said the wedding will take place on schedule - at 4:30 o'clock.

Contrasts In Appearance

The two prisoners offer a striking contrast in appearance. Bowen, married and the father of a five-year- old daughter, dressed nattily as befits a haberdasher's clerk. Thornton, who won considerable recognition as a football player a dozen years ago, was a careless dresser. Bowen sports a small mustache, while Thornton is smooth-shaven. In addition to his football prowess, Thornton once fancied himself a prize fighter but did not get more than a half dozen bouts.

Belmont county authorities said he has served at least two terms in jail at St. Clairsville and authorities there knew him as a petty thief. His latest crime was the hijacking of a slot machine at Bethesda, officers said.

The apparent carelessness of the two men in discussing their kidnap plans whenever and wherever they met, either in a beer garden or on street corners, led directly to their arrest.

Prosecutor "Tipped Off"

Prosecutor Donald McKee said he learned of the kidnaping plot on Saturday night, September 22, when a person whose name he refused to divulge came to him and related a snatch of conversation he had heard between two men on a street in the Wheeling business district. Special agents of the department of justice bureau at Pittsburgh were notified immediately and a guard was thrown about Miss Bloch the same night.

Meanwhile, Thomas M. Bloch, brother of the intended victim and state amateur golf champion, was advised of the plot and called into a conference on Sunday afternoon, September 23, with Prosecutor McKee, Police chief Joseph Burkhart, Sheriff Edward L. Steinbicker and Special Agent Waters. The threatened abduction was kept secret for the time being from all other officers.

It was on that Sunday that Thomas Bloch communicated with his father in New York by telephone and the tobacco magnate left at once for Wheeling, traveling by plane for the first time in his life.

Miss Bloch Cooperates

Prosecutor McKee said Miss Bloch was not told she was the target of a kidnap scheme until Wednesday, September 26. She was highly nervous when first informed of the plot against her safety and possibly her life, McKee added, but then became calm and agreed readily to carry out her part of the plan to trap the two suspects. Authorities said they knew from the first the identity of their quarry.

"Both Miss Bloch and her mother carried themselves through the long ordeal like troopers," the prosecutor said.

From the time the special federal agents took a hand in the case until the suspects were taken into custody late Wednesday night, Miss Bloch was never without a guard. Even before she was informed of the plot, she went nowhere either on foot or in an automobile without a federal agent or other officer within a few feet of her. When the bride-elect traveled by automobile, a car bearing officers was always close behind and this surveillance continued as she went to and from the parties her friends were tendering as pre-nuptial courtesies.

Constant Shadowing

Sometimes the guard would be composed of federal agents and at others it would consist of City Detective Charles Flanagan and County Detective Hamilton Ritz. When Miss Bloch attended the theater, her guards would either enter the show house and take seats near her or they would wait outside until she emerged to go home. For the last week, it was revealed, Patrolman Otis Galentine had been assigned quarters in the Bloch mansion in Pleasant Valley, where he remained every night to watch over the heiress after other guards had seen her safely into her home.

Throughout their constant shadowing while Miss Bloch was attending teas and showers arranged in her honor, officers saw Bowen and Thonton near the scenes of the parties, the officers said. The plot reached its climax last night when Miss Bloch and her fianc‚ were to attend a party at the Leedy's, Howard Place apartment.

A score of officers - federal, county and city - surrounded the Howard [a]partments. All were heavily armed and carried powerful flashlights.

Pair Trailed To Ohio

Under a police guard, Miss Bloch and her fianc‚ went to the Leedy apartment at 7:10 p. m. Their automobile was followed by a car bearing Assistant Prosecutor Duval, Special Agent DiLillo and Special Agent Waters. After seeing the couple safely to the scene of the party, the three officers cruised about in the neighborhood of Howard Place and saw Bowen and Thornton in an automobile, they said.

They trailed the two suspects through Wheeling and across the Ohio river to Bridgeport, where Bowen and Thornton separated, apparently giving up their kidnaping plan for the night. The arrests followed, and the first confession was obtained at dawn, officers said, when Bowen broke under questioning by DiLillo, Duval and Detective Flanagan.

Prosecutor McKee said that the questioning of Bowen reached a climax when the haberdasher's clerk asked to talk to him. The admission of the abduction plot followed, McKee added, and shortly afterward Thornton confessed.

Heavy Bonds Fixed

Both men were taken to jail where they were arraigned before United States Commissioner John W. Kindelberger and pleaded guilty. Assistant District Attorney Robert J. Riley recommended the bonds be fixed at $50,000 each, but the commissioner advised doubling the surety.

The Lindbergh law warrant under which the men are held charges them with

To unlawfully, willfully, knowingly and feloniously violate Section 408-A, Title 18, of the United States Code, in that they at Bridgeport, Ohio, and at Wheeling, W. Va., between the dates of September 22, 1934, and October 3, 1934, unlawfully, willfully, knowingly and feloniously did conspire, combine, confederate and agree together and one with the other, to seize, kidnap and abduct Betty Bloch, and that they should unlawfully, wilfully, knowingly and feloniously transport, and cause to be transported, in interstate commerce from Wheeling, W. Va. to Bridgeport, Ohio, the said Betty Bloch, where she could be held for ransom; that after the formation of said unlawful conspiracy and for the purpose of carrying out the object thereof, the said Harry Thornton and Thurman F. Bowen, on or about October 3, 1934, did travel from Bridgeport to Wheeling for purpose of viewing and studying the place at which the said Betty Bloch was to be kidnaped, abducted and seized, contrary to the form of the statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

When the guard was arranged around the Leedy's apartment, Special Agent Leon Riley, Assistant Prosecutor William C. Piper and Deputy Sheriffs Errett Lemmon and John Fitzpatrick were stationed on a hillside overlooking the apartment. Blocking the upper entrance to the scene were Police Chief Burkhart and Desk Sergeant John Schott and at the back of the apartment were Sheriff Steinbicker and Deputy Sheriffs Russell Riggs and Charles Fuhrman.

In two automobiles stationed near the National road entrance to Howard Place were County Detective Ritz, City Detective Flanagan, Special Agent W. B. Haynes and City Detective James Null. Ritz and Flanagan cruised about in the vicinity of the exclusive sub-division, but the car in which Haynes and Null were seated remained stationary.

Example of Cooperation

Federal Agent Waters said the foiling of the plot was an exemplary piece of co-operation between city, county and federal authorities. His congratulations were extended to all officers, while Prosecutor McKee, in turn, lauded the work of the special agents.

The father of the intended victim was warm in his praise. He said, "I want to give my congratulations on the way this case was handled, the consideration given to my family and the wonderful exhibition of co- operation on the part of the prosecuting attorney's office, the department of justice, the sheriff and the city police."

The thwarting of the Bloch kidnaping plot brought commendation for the special agents from Attorney General Cummings at Washington. He said the defeat of the scheme was another piece in a series of brilliant pieces of detective work by federal agents, already credited with triumphs in the Dillinger and Lindbergh cases.

No Others Involved

Prosecutor McKee and federal agents said they were satisfied the two men acted alone.

They asserted that dictagraph conversations and clues picked up in "shadowing" the pair failed to show any one else linked with the case.

Bowen, quizzed by the officers, said there were no confederates. The agents quoted him as saying he and Thornton had been working on the scheme several weeks and though they had arranged everything to perfection.


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