“Pop” Nathan (far left), kidnap victim George Weyerhaeuser, and EJ Connelley (far right) at trial. Courtesy of the Connelley family.
“Pop” Nathan (far left), kidnap victim George Weyerhaeuser, and EJ Connelley (far right) at trial. Courtesy of the Connelley family.

 

The FBI of the 1930s used internal code names for its cases.  In addition to its unique numbered filing system, the code was a quick way to identify the case.  In the case of the George Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, it also served to abbreviate a long and difficult to spell name.  “Weynap” became the case name for one of the 1930s most publicized and famous kidnapping cases.

If you’ve never heard of the Weyerhaeuser family, the patron Frederick Weyerhaeuser immigrated to the United States (from Germany) when he was 18 years old.  Frederick’s story mirrored that of many self-made tycoons of the era (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt).  Weyerhaeuser worked his way through menial jobs in railroad and lumber yards around Rock Island, Illinois.  While working as a timber speculator in Wisconsin forests, he foresaw the value of the timber land.

His hard work and speculation led to an immense profit.  Weyerhaeuser’s mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul perched on the river bluff overlooking the Mississippi.  It was no coincidence one of his closest neighbors was Northern Pacific railroad tycoon James. J. Hill (the “Empire Builder).  Hill helped Weyerhaeuser purchase land along his railroad in the Pacific Northwest that would increase each of their fortunes.

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt compared Weyerhaeuser to “that man whose idea of developing the country is to cut every stick of timber off of it and leave it a barren desert.  That man is a curse!”   Despite Teddy’s nascent environmental concerns, Weyerhaeuser’s timber empire helped the country grow and build.

That fortune made Frederick and his descendants famous.  His grandson, J.P. Weyerhaeuser Jr., followed the founder’s path and worked his way up through the ranks of the family business.  It was a matter of practice that they received no favors, and put in hard labor working in the timber yards and mills to learn the trade.  J.P. Jr, or Phil as he was known, lived in Tacoma with his wife and four children.  One of them, George, would be the unfortunate target of kidnappers seeking to extort $200,000 from the family.

The kidnapping case is part of my upcoming book on the career of FBI legend E.J. Connelley.  I’ve spent the better part of two months researching FBI files and newspapers to piece together the investigation.  It’s an incredible story – a highlight of Connelley’s work as an “ace” kidnapping investigator – and one the FBI’s best moments of their 1930s campaign against crime.  Many people think of Dillinger, the Barker-Karpis gang, and Bonnie and Clyde as the main terrors of the era.  But between the passage of the Federal Kidnapping Statute in 1932 (which gave the FBI jurisdiction) and 1939, the FBI investigated 144 kidnapping cases.  Known as the “snatch racket,” kidnappings occurred at the rate of nearly 20 a month.  (Retired SA Larry Wack has a great blog on this at http://historicalgmen.squarespace.com/fbis-blog-opinion-historical/).

I’m also honored to be able to publish an article about Connelley and Weynap in an upcoming issue of the Grapevine, the magazine for retired FBI agents.  Many thanks to retired agent (and published author) Ray Batvinis for bringing this about (I’d be remiss not to plug Ray’s site, www.fbistudies.com and encourage you to check out his books on the WWII era of espionage).

Stay tuned for more information about Connelley, Weynap, and other famous kidnapping cases of the era.