Plot To Kidnap Betty Bloch

Wheeling Intelligencer
October 5, 1934

Seek Third Person In Bloch Kidnaping

T. F. Bowen And Harry Thornton Held Under $100,000 Bond Each

Admit Attempt To Kidnap Betty Bloch, Daughter Of Mr. And Mrs. J. A. Bloch; Kirdwood Heights Hideout Sought; Each Faces One Year To Life In Pen

With two men under arrest for Plotting to kidnap Miss Betty Bloch, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Bloch, of Pleasant Valley, City and Federal investigators are turning up every clue in an effort to ascertain if there was not a third person connected with the plot.

Thurman E. Bowen, 31, and Harry "Hotbun" Thornton, 31, both of Bridgeport, were arrested early Thursday morning by Federal officers, after they left the spot where the kidnaping was to have taken place and fled to Bridgeport. They confessed to plotting the crime, and said they were going to demand payment of $25,00 for the safe return of the heiress to the Bloch fortune, which was founded on the Bloch Brothers Tobacco company.

McKee Certain Another Took Part

Donald McKee, prosecutor of Ohio county, is firm in his belief that there is a third person in the case, although the two men being held under $100,000 bail deny this.

The "third party," it is the conclusion of Prosecutor McKee, had little to do with the actual planning of the kidnaping or the act itself, but was to be the go-between who would contact Mr. Bloch and arrange for the transfer of money.

Federal agents were searching Kirkwood Heights Thursday evening for a hide-out. It is believed Miss Bloch was to have been whisked from Howard's Hill, where she was guest of honor at a party Wednesday night, to Kirkwood Heights, to be held until the ransom was paid.

Bowen and Thornton, both well-known to hundreds of residents of the Wheeling district, have nothing to say as to where they had intended hiding their victim. They have made full confessions as to planning the crime, but have not yet revealed minute details.

Held In Jail

The two men are confined in the Ohio county jail on default of $100,000 bonds as result of being trapped in the swiftly moving machinery put into operation by federal county and city officers. They are charged with conspiracy to violate the Lindbergh kidnaping law, which provides for penitentiary sentences of one year to life.

The pair will await action of the October grand jury of the U. S. district court in Wheeling, which goes in session October 16. They entered pleas of guilty to the charges at preliminary hearings held a few hours after their arrests before U. S. Commissioner J. W. Kindelberger.

Perfect "Trap"

The arrests of Bowen and Thornton were made early Thursday morning in one of the most successful police coups in the history of the country. Agents of the department of Justice cooperating with Ohio county and city officials took the two men into custody without the least disorder.

Information that the kidnaping was being planned had been in the hands of officials for several weeks, and was obtained through the chance hearing of a conversation on a street in Bridgeport, between Bowen and Thornton, by a person whose name has been withheld. A report was made at once to Prosecutor Don McKee.

Federal Men Called

Federal officers were notified at once and the investigation was started. A conference was held in the office of Prosecutor Don McKee at which time, Jesse Bloch, father of the intended victim. Thomas Bloch, a brother, James J. Waters, head of the Department of Justice in Pittsburgh, Sheriff Edward Steinbicker, Police Chief Joseph Burhart were present.

A plan was devised by which the plotters were to be permitted to complete their arrangements, but they were to be taken into custody as they approached their victim.

The two men suspected of planning the crime were placed under constant watch immediately after the conference. Almost a score of Federal officers were sent to the city and the suspects were always under guard. The suspects were watched and were seen to meet on the street in Bridgeport.

Used Dictaphones

Police, in an effort to hear their conversations, installed a dictaphone in an old second-hand automobile and parked it near where the men usually met. A similar dictaphone was installed in a business establishment where the men also visited occasionally. Through these machines and other means the officers learned that the pair intended to kidnap Miss Bloch as she was leaving one of the many parties being tendered her because of her marriage which is to take place Saturday afternoon.

The men intended to kidnap the girl as she was leaving a party to be given in her honor at the Howard apartments by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Leedy, Jr., Wednesday evening. Preparations were made at once to arrest the pair as soon as they approached their victim.

Miss Bloch Informed

Miss Bloch, who had complete knowledge of the plans, was told that the kidnaping was planned for Wednesday evening. She had been under constant guard since the first information was received. She and her fianc , Wilmot L. Harris, were taken to the Leedy home at 7:10 o'clock in a police auto, followed by another car carrying officers.

The Howard apartments were completely surrounded by officers. The plotters were seen to drive up to the apartments between 7:30 and 8 o'clock. They wre watched as they made a circuit of the grounds, with the intention of seeing what method they could use in making their get-away after grabbing the girl.

Waited at Home

The pair waited for sometime about the home, but later started their automobile and went toward Wheeling. Bowen drove back to Bridgeport, where they separated. Bowen went to his home, while Thornton got out of the automobile and went into a nearby store.

Officials, fearful that their carefully laid plans might be disrupted, decided to make the arrests at once. It was first intended that the men would be allowed to grab Miss Bloch, but it was later decided that the best thing was to take them into custody at once.

The men were arrested and brought to Wheeling. They were taken to a room in the Windsor hotel, where they were questioned. The pair first denied any knowledge of the plot, claiming that they had been to Wheeling only on an automobile ride.

First To Confess

Bowen is said to have been the first to confess. He made a complete statement shortly before 4 o'clock to Prosecutor Don McKee, Assistant Prosecutor T. H. Duval, City Detective Charles Flanagan and Federal Agent Dan DiLillo. The confession of Thornton followed a short time later and was made to Federal Agent Waters, Assistant Prosecutor Wm. C. Piper and County Detective Hamilton Ritz.

The men were not admitted to the Ohio county jail until after 9 o'clock Thursday morning. They were not taken from the hotel until their statements had been typed and signed. The pair was also photographed and fingerprinted by Officer George Dixon of the Wheeling police department. The pair was later arraigned before U. S. Commissioner Kindelberger when they entered pleas of guilty and were held pending action of the federal grand jury which convenes in Wheeling October 16.

Bowen Takes Blame

Bowen, it has been learned, takes full blame for the plot. He is reported to have told officials that he had worked up the preliminary plans, later securing the assistance of Thornton, who he knew from his high school days. All further planning was made by the pair at their meetings on the street.

Neither of the men would say why they did not go through with their plans to kidnap Miss Bloch Wednesday evening. Authorities are of the belief that after seeing how well the grounds about the apartment were lighted and how difficult it would be to race an automobile onto the National road, they decided to postpone their plans until Thursday evening when another party for the victim was to be held.

Bowen and Thornton were firmly convinced that they would have the $25,000 ransom money within twenty-four hours after they had spirited their victim away. They are said to have made this statement early Thusday morning during the midst of the confessions.

Chloroform Found

The pair intended to grab Miss Bloch and put her in Bowen's automobile. After she was in the auto rags soaked with chloroform were to be placed against her nose, to avoid any outcries. This fact was learned when Bowen's automobile was searched. A bottle containing about an ounce of chloroform and a bundle of rags was found in the machine. Bowen has admitted that he purchased the chloroform several days ago at a Wheeling drug store.

The wedding of Miss Bloch and Mr. Harris will take place as scheduled Saturday afternoon at the Bloch home in Pleasant Valley, Mrs. Bloch, mother of the intended victim said Thursday. Parties for Miss Bloch and her fianc this evening and Saturday noon will also be held.

The cooperation of the members of the family with the police in the plot has been highly commended. Although Miss Bloch has been under constant police guard for several weeks none of her closest acquaintances knew of her plight. She attended the post-wedding parties and seemed not to have a worry in the world.

Miss Bloch Calm

Although Miss Bloch had been informed that the kidnaping had been planned for Wednesday evening she attended the party at the Leedy home with Mr. Harris. She had been told what to do after leaving the home, but gave no hint of nervousness to the other guests.

Miss Bloch's nerves are reported to have been slightly affected when she was informed that the kidnapers had left the vicinity of the Leedy home, complaining that the worry would have to continue until the men acted. She was highly elated when informed that the pair had been taken into custoday [sic] and had made complete confessions.

"It was nothing at all," Miss Bloch said Thursday after the men had been placed in the Ohio county jail. "I am surprised anyone even has heard about it." The same thoughts were expressed by her mother, who said she saw no reason for postponing the planned betrothal parties and the wedding.

The arrest of the pair by federal, county and city police has been declared one of the finest pieces of police work to be completed in the country. The arrests resulted in congratulations being issued by Attorney General Cummings in Washington.

The men even if they had not "got cold feet" and postponed their kidnaping, would not have had a chance to make a get-away after securing their victim. The entire section about the Howard apartments was completely covered with officers, with every avenue of escape blocked.

Federal Officers Waters and Di Lillo were stationed at the upper end of the apartment building. Federal Agent Fred Ames and Assistant Prosecutor T. H. Duval were located at the lower end. On the hillside overlooking the grounds were, Federal Agent Leon Riley, Assistant Prosecutor Wm. C. Piper and Deputy Sheriffs Errett Lemmon and John Fitzpatrick.

The upper entrance to the apartment grounds was guarded by Chief Police Joseph Burkhart and Sergeant John Schott. The rear of the building was guarded by Sheriff Edward Steinbicker and Deputies Russell Riggs and Charles Furhman.

Autos On Pike

Two automobiles were stationed on the National road as a protection so that if the men did escape the grounds they could be stopped. County Detective Hamilton Ritz and City Detective Charles Flanagan were in one machine, while Federal Agent W. B. Hayes and City Detective James Null were in the second.

The necessity of instant police action was unnecessary when the pair gave up their attempt for the kidnaping Wednesday evening. Their automobile was followed by another carrying officers and when the pair returned to Bridgeport, it was decided to make the arrest.

McKee Speaks

Prosecutor McKee in commenting on the case Thursday evening, said: "I want to complement [sic] the Federal, city and county officers. All three agencies worked as one department and the fullest cooperation was received from every man brought into the case. I am pleased with the secrecy that the officers kept, although almost a score of men knew of the investigation we have not found one place where there was a leak to other persons not connected.

"The work of all officers," McKee continued, "was exceptional. I am especially proud of my staff for the work that they did in the case and I believe the results of the investigation will be a vital lesson to the persons intending to complete such a plot in the Wheeling district. The two men now held, if found guilty, can be sentenced from one year to life in the penitentiary."

Similar praise to the work of local officers was given by Federal Agent Waters, who said, "one of the outstanding features of this case was the excellent cooperation of Prosecutor Don McKee and other local officers and the whole-hearted cooperation of the family. I believe that through this cooperation we were able to bring this case to its successful conclusion."

Happiness that the men had been captured and were in jail was expressed by the father of the victim. 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 cooperation on the part of the prosecuting attorney's office, department of justice, sheriff and state police."

The Warrant

The warrant on which the men are held charges:

To unlawfully, willfully, knowingly and feloniously violate Setcion [sic] 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, willfully, 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 statute in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.

Bowen Held 'Model' Young Man; Thornton Has A Crime Record

Both Born and Reared in Immediate Valley Area And Are Well Known in Wheeling District

By their own admission they plotted a kidnaping, but where, in their past records, is there anything to indicate that they would turn to so heinous a crime?

That's the question City and Federal police are trying to clear up as they delve into the frustrated abductions of Betty Bloch, as Thurman F. Bowen and Harry Thornton languish in the Ohio county jail.

By comparison of their past records, the police investigators can find nothing of value in rounding up the data to make their case 100 per cent complete.

By nature they are exact opposites.

Bowen has always been looked upon as a "model" young man.

Thornton's reputation has not been the best, but his several runins with the law have been for minor infractions.

The two were born in Eastern Ohio, and spent the most of their lives there. The father of each is dead, while in boths cases the mother is living. Both attended Bridgeport high school, but Bowen was the only one to complete the course and receive a diploma.

Bowen Has Worked

Bowen has always had work. He was graduated from Birdgeport about 1921. Bowen, who admits he originated the plot, worked as a pinboy in a Wheeling bowling alley during his years in school. He is an expert bowler and at one time held a West Virginia championship.

Upon graduation from high school, he worked several years at a local swimming pool as a life guard, and later held a position in the office of the old LaBelle mill, which he held until the plant was discontinued. About seven years ago he became associated with a Wheeling men's furnishing store, where it was said he has given excellent service.

He has been married twice, the first marriage ending in divorce. He resides with his second wife and five-year-old daughter at 209 Howard street, Bridgeport. Neighbor and acquaintances were very much shocked. Thursday, when they heard of his connection with the kidnaping plot.

Thornton Grid Star

Thornton has resided in Bridgeport, Aetnaville and Wheeling. He also attended Bridgeport high school, where he was one of the greatest of its football heroes. He was a member of the all-Ohio Valley football teams in 1923 and 24. Thornton did not complete his course at the high school.

He has held a number of jobs since leaving school and played semi-professional football several seasons. He was a member of a professional team at St. Louis for several weeks, as well as a semi-professional team at Cambridge. Thornton has held jobs at the Aetnaville and Laughlin mills on the Ohio side.

Thornton has been arrested a number of times. One of the most serious of these offenses was the impersonation of an officer. He, with another man, went into a gasoline station just west of St. Clairsville and reported they were deputy sheriffs. The pair seized several slot machines, but were later arrested. Thornton served a sentence in the St. Clairsville jail as a result of this charge. He has also been arrested for fight and possession of liquor.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History