There have been several kidnappings throughout contemporary history that have reshaped the political landscape. The abduction of world leaders has swayed the course of world history. Even smaller profile cases have yielded iconic legislation, forever changing the way kidnappings are assessed and prevented. It's impossible to choose winners and losers in these instances, but whether the kidnapper or the victim's families won out in the end, laws and geopolitics were always forever changed.




Charlie Ross

23 Letters

It was the afternoon of July 1, 1874, and Charlie (age 4) was enjoying the summer weather with his brother Walter (age 5) in the yard of their Philadelphia home. Then two strangers approached the unsupervised boys and lured them into their carriage on the pretense of candy and fireworks. When they reached the general store, Walter was sent in to buy fireworks, whereupon the carriage took off with Charlie.

Their father, Christian Ross, received ransom notes with demands for $20,000. Unable to pay due to heavy debt, he contacted the police, but Charlie was never found. Charlie Ross marked the first high profile ransom case in the U.S., and spawned the phrase “don't take candy from strangers.”

Edward Cudahy Jr.

North Omaha History

Edward Cudahy Sr., wealthy owner of Cudahy Packing Company, lost his son to kidnappers on December 18, 1900. As Cudahy Jr. strolled along his Omaha neighborhood, he was wrestled into a passing carriage. Cudahy Sr. shut down his company the next day, urging his employees to help search for his son. His competitors, in an act of pure chivalry, did the same. A search force of 7,000 total scoured Omaha for traces of Cudahy Jr.

The father received a ransom note days later for $25,000. It came with a curt reminder of Charlie Ross's fate. Fearing for his son's life, he paid the ransom and his child was returned. The kidnapper, Pat Crowe, evaded authorities for years before his trial in 1905, where he was found not guilty by the jury. The case created debates on the ethics of paying ransoms, and prompted business tycoons to guard their heirs more closely.


Charles Lindbergh Jr.

Daily News

At 20 months old, Charles Lindbergh Jr. was whisked from his crib on the evening of March 1, 1932. A ransom note for $50,000 was left in his place. Charle's Lindbergh Sr. used several close connections to communicate with various mobsters and mafiosos as to the whereabouts of his child. When a third ransom note for $70,000 appeared, one famous school teacher, John Condon, was chosen by the kidnappers to serve as middle man.

Lindbergh Sr. had only raised $50,000 by the time Condon gave them the money on April 2. Condon was assured of the baby's safety, but Lindbergh Jr. was found dead a month later with a fractured skull. The kidnapper was German immigrant Richard Hauptmann who was executed four years later. The outcome of the case caused Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act, making the transportation of kidnapping victims across state lines illegal.

Frank Sinatra Jr.

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Frank Sinatra's son was abducted on December 8, 1963, by a group of men who also had their sights on Bing Crosby and Bob Hope's sons as well. Those plans were aborted, and Sinatra Jr. was hustled at gunpoint to Canoga Park. There, the gang phoned his father and set the ransom at $240,000.

The transfer went smoothly, with the money being dropped off, and the FBI picking up the unharmed Sinatra Jr. at Mullohand Drive, Los Angeles. Days later, a man named Irwin confessed and ratted out his comrades. At trial, they accused Sinatra Jr. of organizing the kidnapping for publicity. Their attorney, Gladys Root, actually used this accusation in their defense, but it fell flat and the men were prosecuted. Still, it was a prime example of how kidnappers could potentially turn the case against their victims. For in the court of public opinion, many believed Sinatra Jr. was behind his own kidnapping despite evidence to the contrary.


John Paul Getty III

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John's teenage years were spent in Rome living large where he sold jewelry and paintings for pocket change, and snagged the odd role an extra in local movies. As the son of a rich oil tycoon, John was targeted for abduction on July 10, 1973. The initial $17 million ransom note was interpreted as a stunt by John, and his father was refusing to negotiate anyways. But when a severed ear was delivered to a newspaper, negotiations were made.

Yet, Getty II, being the staunch business man he was, only paid $2.2 million. The rest was sent as a loan for his son, set at four percent interest rate. After his safe retrieval, John's captors were caught, but only two received prison sentences; the rest used their mafia connections to escape prosecution.


Patty Hearst

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Patty Hearst was yet another heir snatched from an affluent family. Her grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, owned the largest newspaper chain with over 30 American newspapers. The hefty influence their family wielded over the media made them the perfect platform for the Symbionese Liberation Army, a domestic anti-capitalist terrorist group. With Patty's kidnapping on February 4, 1974 came the front page headlines nationwide, just as they intended.

The real bombshell went off April 2, when the SLA released a videotape of Patty pledging to join their cause. Security footage several days later recorded Patty assisting the SLA in robbing a bank. Arrested on September 2, 1975, United States V. Hearst ended in a seven year sentence, which was pardoned by President Carter two years later. It was a monolithic case study on prosecuting and defending when the accused had obviously been brainwashed.

Aldo Moro

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May 9, 1978 marked an earth-shattering day in Italian history when former prime minister Alto Moro's corpse was retrieved from the trunk of a car. Of course, the impact was equivalent to the day he was kidnapped 55 days earlier by the Italian Red Brigade. Yet, hope held out as Pope John Paul VI appealed to their religious side in attempts to save Alto Moro without acquiescing to their conditions.

The demands were for the release of their comrades from prison. The Italian Socialist Party urged negotiations, but Moro's own Christian Democracy party opposed it. The "Historic Compromise," which intended to unite the Christian Democracy and Italian Communist parties, died along with Aldo Moro, as well as Italy's last communist strangleholds.

Adam Walsh

NBC News

Adam Walsh became separated from his mother on July 27, 1981 inside of a Sears department store. Adam was waiting near the cash register when a gang of rowdy boys caused a commotion. A security guard ordered the boys outside, and mistakenly cast Adam out with them. That was his last known whereabouts before his head was discovered two weeks later in a drainage canal by local fishermen.

Ottis Toole was responsible for the kidnapping and murder, but was never charged despite his graphic depictions of what he did to Adam. Adam's parents became heavily involved in child safety advocacy, and played a role in getting sex offenders registered and grouped into tiers via the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. John Walsh, the father, became the lead host of "America's Most Wanted," which aided in apprehending hundreds of criminals like Toole.

Elizabeth Smart

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Smart was held captive by Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee for nine months after being kidnapped from her bedroom on June 5, 2002. A massive search effort ensued the day after her disappearance. About 2,000 volunteers scoured the Salt Lake City neighborhood each day for a month. The searches eventually petered out as police had dwindling numbers of leads to work with.

Many months later, Smart's 9-year-old sister who had hid during the kidnapping spontaneously remembered where she had heard Mitchell's voice. He had done yard work one day at the Smart residence. Investigators drew a facial sketch, and with John Walsh's help, featured it on "America's Most Wanted." A viewer spotted Mitchell, Barzee, and Smart the next day, marking the triumphant return of Elizabeth to her family.

Chiang Kai-shek

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Honorary generalissimo of China's nationalist forces, Chiang Kai-shek led the front against Chinese communists. Conflict arose due to disagreements over military use; his top generals Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng insisted the Japanese invasion of northern China posed the biggest threat, while Kai-shek was more concerned with warding off the communists.

He was arrested by Zhang Xueliang on December 12, 1936 while visiting Xueliang's military base in Manchuria. Xueliang, along with Hucheng, demanded that Kai-shek's nationalist forces join the communists in a “United Front” against the Japanese invasion. He agreed to the terms and a second United Front emerged, but he later arrested Xueliang until the war's end. Hucheng was relieved of his post and consequently executed in secret.