The victim’s attention to detail and good memory were the keys to solving the 1933 kidnapping of a wealthy Oklahoma City oilman. Charles F. Urschel and his wife, Bernice, were playing bridge with Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Jarrett on July 22 on the sun porch of their home when two men pushed open the screen door and came inside. One carried a revolver; the other a machine gun.
“Stick ’em up.We want Urschel,” one gunman ordered. “Don’t bat an eye, any of you, or we’ll blow your heads off. We want Urschel. Which man is Urschel?” No one identified the oilman, so one of the gunmen said, “We’ll take you both.” They forced Urschel and Jarrett into a car and sped away after warning the women not to make an outcry.
The kidnappers, later identified as George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Albert Bates, threw Jarrett out of the car a few miles away after they determined which man was Urschel by examining the wallets they found in the victims’ pockets. They tied Urschel hand and foot, bandaged his eyes tightly and placed cotton in his ears so he couldn’t hear.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Urschel telephoned police, who called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in Washington. The abductors took Urschel to a farm near Paradise, Texas, where he was kept blindfolded through his nine days of captivity except for once when he was told to write a note asking that a ransom be paid and another time when he was allowed to shave.
Although blindfolded, he said later, he could distinguish night from day. The first night he was held in a house where he heard guinea hens. He was moved the next day to a house about a mile away where he heard pigs. He also heard airplanes fly over about the same times twice a day except for one afternoon during a severe thunderstorm. When he heard the airplanes, he asked casual questions to establish the time.
After a ransom of $200,000 in used $20 bills was paid in Kansas City, Mo., by the Tulsa oilman E.E. Kirkpatrick, Urschel was released July 31 at the north edge of Norman, where he took a cab to Oklahoma City. He immediately began working with the FBI to solve the crime in spite of warnings from his kidnappers.
The FBI found the farm by checking airline schedules and flying on the two flights, using binoculars to find a farm with two houses Urschel had described at the times he had remembered. Finding guinea hens at one of the houses and pigs at the other, the FBI raided the farm, which was owned by the R.G. Shannon family. Mrs. Shannon’s daughter was Kelly’s wife. Agents found Urschel’s fingerprints, which he had left on as many surfaces as possible to prove that he had been there.
Harvey Bailey, the leader of a notorious break of 11 convicts from a Kansas prison, was found asleep on a cot in the back yard with a machine gun by his side. His pockets contained some of the ransom money. The remaining members of the kidnap gang, including Kelly, were rounded up within a few weeks. The Kellys, the Shannons, Bates and Bailey were sentenced to life in prison. Other members of the gang got shorter terms.
The kidnappers probably singled out Urschel because of his estimated $75 million wealth. He had been a protege of Tom B. Slick, who became wealthy as the “king of the wildcatters,” and had married Slick’s widow about a year before the kidnapping, giving him control of both his own fortune and Slick’s. Slick had died in 1930, and Urschel’s first wife, Slick’s sister, had died a year later.
By GENE CURTIS Staff Writer
TulsaWorld 1/9/2007 Photograph research by Rachele Vaughan.