3/2/1932 - Most people never have a monetary value placed on their lives, but on this day in 1932, 31-year-old Charles Boettcher II, heir to one of Denver's wealthiest families discovers his value, when his family pays a ransom of $60,000 to get him back alive and whole from the men who kidnapped him only a few weeks before, on 2/13/1932.
Charles Boettcher II
Born in 1901, Boettcher is the grandson of Charles I, a self-made millionaire who immigrates to the United States from Germany at the age of 17 to work with his brother Herman in Wyoming selling hardware (earlier in Germany, the family owned a hardware store) ... nails specifically at first in the town of Cheyenne's Hoyer & Company Hardware store, with that added perk that Charles I can sleep for free behind the store's front counter. Moving to Colorado in 1871, Charles I opens his own hardware store in the town of Evans (just a few miles away from the city of Greeley) and is in the right place at the right time to service miners and settlers when the state experiences gold and silver rushes. In the years that follow, hardware money goes into creating a sugar industry in the state (the Great Western Sugar Co.), and that wealth in turn goes into other businesses and interests that include expanding into Nebraska and Wyoming, establishing Leadville's first electric company, going into the cement industry (Portland Ideal Cement Co.), becoming the largest landowner in downtown Denver, starting an investment company that becomes known as the "Wall Street of the West," building the famous Brown Palace Hotel, opening a school for crippled children, and giving generously to a variety of "good causes" around the state and country.
The Brown Palace Hotel
Growing up, grandson Charles II is brought up in the lap of luxury, and as a young adult, enjoys being one of Denver's wealthiest playboys, with a deep and abiding passion for flying. Settling down somewhat, in 1926, he marries Anna Lou Piggott of Helena, Montana (they will have two children together). The good life (they live in a newly built mansion at 777 Washington Street in Denver) ... until 2/13/1932. Returning on a snowy night from an evening of partying, the couple are just getting out of their car at home when a man steps out of the shadows, pointing a gun. Telling Charles he won't be hurt if he does as told, Anna is given a strange ransom notice of misspelled words and fill-in-the-blank sections for the kidnapped person's name asking for $60,000, before Charles and his kidnapper vanish into the night.
The kidnapping is the work of the man who will become Public Enemy #1 in America for the year of 1932 ... Verne Sankey. Born in Canada in 1890, Sankey works for the Canadian Pacific Railway before coming to South Dakota to try his hand at farming. A failure, to make ends meet when the farm doesn't pay off, along with partner Gordon Alcorn, Sankey becomes a bootlegger of fine Canadian whiskey, dabbles in bank robbing, and then decides to try kidnapping, first successfully picking up $35,000 in ransom for the release of St. Paul, Minnesota refrigerator magnate, Haskell Bohn. Look for a new target, the pair compile a list of 30 wealthy Denverites they believe are rip for the plucking, and in turn, narrow the list down to 5 ... a list that along with Charles II, includes the beer brewing giant, Adolph Coors. They are on a scout to determine who should get taken on 2/13/1932, but decide their man is chosen when Boettcher and his wife get out of their car, hence a ransom note not yet fully filled out.
Alcorn (L) and U.S. Marshal Arthur Anderson
Told to keep the kidnapping private, the Boettcher Family nonetheless contact authorities, and soon police and FBI agents (Hoover assigns the case to his then favorite agent, Melvin Purvis, operating out of the Chicago office he heads) are searching from coast to coast for Charles II. Paid their $60,000 fee, Sankey and Alcorn release Boettcher from the South Dakota farm near Sioux Falls where they have been holding him, and begin planning their next caper ... the totally insane kidnapping of sports figures Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey ... plans that are interrupted by the men being arrested. Following up on a tip that Sankey frequents the two-chair Chicago barbershop of John Mueller, FBI agents and police stake-out the establishment (some will sleep in the caskets of an undertaking business near the barbershop). When Sankey shows up at the barbershop on 1/31/1934, a group of over a dozen officers places him under arrest ... handcuffed, the public enemy is carrying no weapon, but does have 12 poison pills on his person that he had planned on taking if caught (he has stated to numerous persons over the years that he would rather die than go back to prison), and at his apartment, they find a small cache of weapons, ammunition, and $3,450 of Boettcher ransom money. A day later, using clues found at Sankey's residence, Alcorn is arrested in South Dakota where he has been living under the alias of Walter Thomas.
Victim freed and culprits caught (most of the money is never recovered though) in a seemingly happy ending, tragic epilogues to the story include 44-year-old Sankey being true to his word and committing suicide in jail (depressed at his circumstances and the prospect of seeing his wife and children on his son Orville's 5th birthday, and despite guards walking by his cell every five minutes, Sankey is able to fashion a noose out of a necktie and hang himself ... though many will believe it is an assassination by the guards, or even a hit paid for by Boettcher), 29-year-old Alcorn being sentenced to life for his part in the crime (with stays at Leavenworth and Alcatraz), still traumatized by the kidnapping and upset at the state of her marriage, Boettcher's wife kills herself in 1941, while Purvis will use the successfully captures of Sankey and Alcorn to springboard into the desperado pursuits of 1934 that take the lives of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson (listening to his demons too, in 1960 at the age of 56, Purvis will also commit suicide, using the revolver given to him by fellow FBI agents on the day of his retirement from the Bureau to put a death hole in his head). Only Charles II has a seemingly normal life after the kidnapping ... remarrying, having more kids, working in the family business, and dying at the age of 62 in 1963.
Off To Prison For Alcorn (Center)