Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast

Fact or Fiction : Author Series presents Bryan Johnston

November 22, 2021 MaxMin Labs, LLC Season 3 Episode 2
Fact or Fiction : Author Series presents Bryan Johnston
Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast
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Fact or Fiction: A Mostly-True Crime History Podcast
Fact or Fiction : Author Series presents Bryan Johnston
Nov 22, 2021 Season 3 Episode 2
MaxMin Labs, LLC

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In this episode of Fact or Fiction: Author Series, Bryan Johnston, author of Deep in the Woods shares the story of the 1935 kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser, but he adds one fictional detail.  Will I guess it?  Will you?

Play along with me and then order a copy of Deep in the Woods to learn all the stranger-than-fiction details about the kidnapping, the kidnappers, and the rest of the story.

Support the Show.

Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support the pod by giving it a five star rating, writing a complimentary review, or joining the Fact or Fiction Fan Club. Thanks for listening!

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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

In this episode of Fact or Fiction: Author Series, Bryan Johnston, author of Deep in the Woods shares the story of the 1935 kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser, but he adds one fictional detail.  Will I guess it?  Will you?

Play along with me and then order a copy of Deep in the Woods to learn all the stranger-than-fiction details about the kidnapping, the kidnappers, and the rest of the story.

Support the Show.

Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support the pod by giving it a five star rating, writing a complimentary review, or joining the Fact or Fiction Fan Club. Thanks for listening!

Fact or Fiction: Author Series

presents Bryan Johnston, author of Deep in the Woods

Laura:  Hi there, Fact or Fiction fans! I'm your host, Laura. And today I'm back with another installment of the Fact or Fiction: Author Series. Today's guest is Brian Johnston. He's a talented guy with lots of experience and expertise in the world of Northwest affiliate television, both behind the screen and on camera.

Laura:  He's been nominated for numerous honors and been awarded many of them, including 11 regional Emmys. He's written for a variety of magazines and websites. He’s published five books, including his most recent Deep in the Woods, which is the story of the 1935 kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, Washington.

Laura:  I'm delighted to welcome Brian to the show to discuss deepen the woods. 

Thank you. Good to be here. 

Laura:  Hey so I love the book I and the best part of it honestly is that it was very, well-written super, I want to say it's an easy read because it's just so engaging. 


Laura:  I thoroughly enjoyed it and the story is fascinating. And I guess it's okay to talk about this. Cause you mentioned in the introduction George Weyerhaeuser, the kidnapped young man is still alive. 

Laura:  Right? 

He’s 96. 

Laura:  Wow. 

Two years ago, I got to chat with him about it, 

Laura:  That's amazing.

It was totally trippy. 

Laura: And he must've remembered a lot of details because in the description of his kidnapped his conditions where he was held in the closet and in the hole in the woods is that from his descriptions? 

Bryan: His memory was pretty good, but he was 94. So it wasn't great. But you have to understand, I had 2,500 pages of FBI documents. I had court transcripts, I had 200 plus newspaper articles. There was a lot of content for me to draw from. George was simply the the cherry on. 

Laura:. Just the idea that you were able to pack the, him, like you said, a cherry on top. I love that. So I wanted to, I am not familiar with the Weyerhaeuser family at all. But they are remarkable. Can you share a little bit about their history in the Washington area?

Bryan: Yeah, absolutely. Warehousers own timber. They own more timber than every other lumber industry and any, every other limber lumber company in America combined. 

Laura: Wow. 

Bryan:  They own, here's a goofy statistic for you. A one 640th percent of America. They own 4% of the entire state of Washington. 

Laura:  Wow.

Bryan:  They own so much of the forests. You go out in the forest, there's a good chance. The warehousers own it, or at least are the stewards of it. And that's how they made their fortune. George, he was nine years old, when he got kidnapped his great grandfather, Fredrick Weyerhaeuser or the guy who started the Weyerhaeuser empire to this day. He’s considered the 12th richest man in American history, Bill Gates being number 11. 

Laura: Wow. 

Bryan:  you a sense of how wealthy that family was. But even then, and now the Weyerhaeusers lay low. They don't like the spotlight. Back when Frederick Weyerhaeuser was buying acreage at $5 a share and then selling it for a hundred dollars share like two years later.That's how fast. Yes. 

This was the time of the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, And he was right up there with many of them, but he liked to let them stay on the east coast, get the spotlight.  I’ll  stay squirreled away here in the Northwest quietly, going about my business.

And that's just that's why most people never heard of the Weyerhaeuser family. 

Laura:  And they're still around, like you said, and some of those other families. They’re not top tier wealthiest families anymore. They seem like a, just genuinely 

Bryan: They're totally down to earth, 

Laura: Yes, exactly. 

Bryan: It's funny. When I talked with George and I was chatting, I said, George, do you know how much you're worth? And he said, “Bryan, I have no clue.” He says, “I have no idea how much money.”

Laura: Wow. 

Bryan:  I thought was a pretty cool. 

Laura: That is cool. That is cool. I'm like that too. I don't know how much I'm worth. 

Laura:  That's fascinating about the Weyerhaeuser family and like I said, I didn't know anything about them, but the fact that they're down to earth and now they have like you said, stewardship of the land.

They're into reforestation. Is that the correct term? Which I don't know, that just fits my idea of the Northwest in general, 

Bryan: They like their forests out here. 

Laura:  Yeah, and they’re beautiful.  I've only been to Washington state once, but it was gorgeous. 

Laura:  So you do a great job in this book of bringing all the characters to life:  George the kidnappers. And I know that you spoke with the adult George, but how did you manage to get so much insight into the personality of those kidnappers? 

Laura: Okay especially, I want to, I just want to, especially Margaret,

Bryan:  I know poor Margaret.  The dupe, Margaret, the sap.

[Bryan: Okay. A couple of things. The conversations, most of the conversations that I put in the book are basically. I don't want to say it made up dialogue, but they are, they were representative dialogue based on my research on them. . And then in my research, I would find some conversations from them and I would use those in the book sometimes.

Bryan I didn't, but I knew I had to put, have a conversation between some people. And so I said, okay, based on what I know, what would they, how would they say, would they say and how would they say it? And so those things I extrapolated conversations based on what I knew about them.

Bryan: However, in the courtroom, Spoken word in the parts the book in the courtroom that's taken verbatim. I didn't take any liberties with that at all.

Laura:  Wow. Yeah. I like where Margaret was her school friend? 

Bryan: when they went on a shopping spree?

Laura:  Yes. With the kidnapping…

Bryan:  ransom.  Most of that dialogue was taken verbatim 

Laura:  Oh, that's from the trial.

Bryan: that no, that was taken from it might've been from the trial. It was taken from court documents and also transcripts that were in the newspaper.

Bryan: It, her describing what they talked about and what they were and what they were doing and saying. 

Laura:  Okay. But it's just crazy. She was only 19.

Bryan: Yeah, 19.years old, never been in trouble in her life, but did everything her husband told her to, because that was what she was raised to believe in the Mormon faith. 

Laura:  Wow. 

Bryan: what your husband tells you to do. And that was her undoing.

Laura:  And she didn't pick the best choice of husband. 

Bryan: No, 

Laura:  could have been worse. 

Bryan: he could have been, he could have been more like bill Mahan the ringleader 

Laura:  that's actually what I was going to say, 

Laura:  What was her husband's name? 

Bryan: Harmon. 

Laura:  That's right. 

[00:07:50] Yup. 

Laura:  Yeah. So Harmon and the picture that, I guess it's is a mugshot that you have in your book, he just looks like a big goofy.

Bryan: It was it's funny. was a big guy, back in 1935, the average was like 155 pounds. And he was about one 90 and a broad shoulder. He would've been like a lineman for a pro football team, but you look at him, you wouldn't think that he just looked like a dude. 

Laura:  He was about 20, what was he?

[Bryan: 24, 26 years old, something like that. a petty criminal. 

Laura:  And then he must not have been too terrible because George, he wouldn't say that he remembered him fondly, but 

Bryan: He's said he was a reasonable man. 

Laura:  yeah, I love that. That was a nine-year-olds description of him, which is amazing. Also speaking of George the quote, and I think I saw. I don't remember if it was in the book or if you talked about it in an interview that I saw, but the mice after George was released.

Bryan: isn't that amazing? the type of, I'll tell your listeners that in just a second, but I have to share, and this is not hyperbole on my part. This is remarkable story that I've ever stumbled across in my life. And by far the layer, there are so many layers and little bits of information that just kept coming up over and over night I would run upstairs to my wife yelling.

Bryan: You can't believe what I just said. It's just remarkable. Every day I was stumble across things. And what you were just talking about there with the mice after George was released, not a spoiler since I talked with George, but after he does the dog and pony show with the. He goes upstairs to the second story porch and a reporter happened to be standing underneath deck.

Bryan: And he heard George talking to his pet white mice that he had a little cage up there. And the reporter heard George saying to the mice. I'm so sorry that I had to leave you, but it couldn't be helped 

Laura:  Oh, I love George. 

Bryan: everybody does. 

Laura:  Oh my gosh. What an amazing person and his wife is still alive, correct?

Bryan: George's wife. Yes. 

Laura:  I think. And they have children. 

Bryan: know that I've talked one of his daughters 

after I got a chance to interview George, I got a call from a person who's like a representative of the company and the family.

Bryan: And he was so excited that I was, that I got a chance to talk to George talk about the kidnapping. He was just the family's so fired up.  This blew me away. Really. Yeah a pleasant surprise. 

Laura:  Cause I know in one interview you said his family, he didn't really talk about this, that much.

Bryan:] no. In fact, his his daughter just contacted me awhile back saying. My dad didn't talk to us the kidnapping hardly at all, ever. And so now that your books come out, I am having conversations with him about it, and I'm learning things about it that I never knew, and she's in her fifties. 

[Laura:  Oh, wow. 

Bryan: Yeah. 

Bryan: It's amazing. I guess probably he didn't want to talk about this that much.

Bryan: Interestingly enough I asked George a couple things. I asked him, first of all, did the kidnapping have a profound effect on you? Like emotionally, did you have nightmares? Did you have PTSD? He was like, Nope, nothing whatsoever. 

Laura:  He just felt bad for his mice.

Bryan: Yeah, he felt bad for his mice. He felt bad for his parents more than anything else.

Bryan: He said that took the biggest toll and he all, and then I said come on shore junior in college, he had to have used it as a pickup line. You had to have it's the greatest pickup line in the history of pickup lines. I'm George Warehouser. I was kidnapped for $200,000, blah, blah, blah. How's that not going to work. And he said, Nope, never said never brought it up in conversation. 

Bryan: it's like somebody giving you a plate full of gold and you're not spending it. 

Laura:  Actually that's a great analogy because he has a plate full of gold that he's not really spending in general, because he's so wealthy. That's just a great analogy for his personality, I think. So back to the book The FBI's role in this, you said you went through, I think 2,500 pages of FBI documents.

Bryan: Yeah. And they said you want more? went well that's plenty. Thank you. 

 Bryan: The information act is a wonderful thing. 

Laura:  yeah, that's a little too much information almost. Yeah.

Bryan: Yeah. It get a lot of. Stuff you don't need and care about is what you get. 

Laura:  Yeah. But I was surprised by the FBI. They really wanted it to be a high profile gang that kidnapped George Weyerhaeuser. 

Bryan: Everybody did 

Laura:  Everybody did?

Bryan: Let me give you a little backstory here. So in the late twenties and early thirties, that was the golden age of in America. Okay.

Bryan: And all these high profile criminals that everybody knew. Everybody knew who Bonnie and Clyde was and John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson and machine gun Kelly, and pretty boy Floyd.

Bryan: And they were getting away with murder literally. J Edgar Hoover. basically rebranded the FBI as the FBI. Really not long before the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping. And he said, enough is enough. We're going to bring this to an end. And that's when all, a lot of those criminals, Scott Gundy. Just a year earlier Bonnie and Clyde killed 1934, 

Bryan: So all these bad guys get brought to justice. And so Hoover, who was just a master marketing the FBI, as these. White hat guys who are just here to help out. And they're here to rescue America from all the evils that are out there hiding in the shadows. And he had ghost writers, writing articles in newspapers, all over America, always talking about what a wonderful job the FBI is doing and stuff like that.

Bryan: And Yeah.

Bryan:] it makes sense to be able to make it look. You've got these criminals that are doing this kidnapping. When it actually was a bank robber, a petty criminal as 19 year old and foreman life back then it wasn't as sexy. Now it's actually much more interesting. 

Laura:  It's fascinating. So were, they disappointed?

[Bryan: They weren’t disappointed. Hoover was, he was frankly pissed off that Mahan and Harman Whaley even had an opportunity to commit the crime because they got out on they were paroled 

Laura:  That's right. 

Bryan: And Hoover hated the parole system. He thought that criminals were being led out left and right to run rampant.

And he, oh my gosh, that just rubbed him raw. 

Laura:   Roosevelt came out and said something like in support of Hoover's?

Bryan: he did. Because again, this was a high profile kidnapping you have to understand. . So in the early thirties, kidnapping became the crime measure. . It really became in Vogue for criminals because they came to the conclusion. I could make a lot of money and not get. I just grab a kid, grab a adult, put them away somewhere, wait for the money to come in.

Bryan:] And boom person very seldom worked out that way. They almost always got caught, but it was just the, it was the thing to do and the warehousers just happened to be one of the unlucky people at that. 

Laura:  And George was just a typical kid walking home from walking home for lunch.

Bryan: Yeah, that's exactly right. , his parents wanted him to be just other kids, even though he was a lot richer than the other kids. And it was just walking home from school a half mile walk and he was three blocks from home. He didn't realize that for that day on the previous day.

Bryan: That out of a movie, criminals were stalking him. They were following him in a car, watching him walk down the streets and stuff from a distance. And he had no idea until he was grabbed blocks from his house right out plain as day, right out in the middle of But there wasn't a person standing nearby to witness it as it happened. Pure luck 

Laura:  And you did a great job describing that. I love the three little boys walking home, talking about baseball and soccer. I'm assuming you made that up. 

Bryan: I did, but again, it was made up based on what I knew because George, he, all three of the kids played baseball together and they were talking about baseball when they were walking home from school. They were also talking about who could jump the highest, the stuff that nine year old kids talk about.

Bryan: I knew that they talked about those things. And so I said, okay, if you're going to be talking about it, what are you gonna be talking about while you're going to be talking about the best baseball players? So they're going to talk about archi Vaughn and babe Ruth. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So Yeah.

Laura:  Yeah, that was a great detail. I just really liked that. it's the stuff like that, that you infused in the book that made me enjoy it. 

Laura:  So I know that Harmon and Whaley retyped the ransom notes. From what I missed this in the reading, like where did he get the originals?

Bryan: Let's see here. Let me explain that. And then I'll go back and we'll backtrack the story of how it all played out. Harmon and Bill Mahan were…Bill had just showed them the holes in the ground that he was gonna use to stash George away.

And he then pulled out these pre-written pre typed ransom notes that he made. And he says, okay. And he handed them over to Harmon and said, I want you to re-type them So that there's not a billion typos, like he made. So piece said, here you go. I want you to basically edit them, clean them up.

Bryan: that's that's how it came about.

Laura:  So Mahan actually wrote those initially.

Bryan: Yes Mahan wrote the first drafts and Harmon. He typed them up and made them more, professional. 

Bryan:, let's just give your listeners a a summary of what happened here . It's May, 1935 and what happened was Harmon bill Mann and Harmon's wife, Margaret were in Spokane and Margaret flipped open a newspaper, and she saw that George's grandfather had died and she just made a comment on it. Oh,

Bryan: gosh. Look at this rich Weyerhaeuser guy just died. That was it just an offhand comment and it never really occurred to her that she was completely setting the future in motion making that comment, bill Mahan heard that and went, and he saw an opportunity. He went, okay, this guy dies.

Bryan: That means he's going to get his money to a son. That guy is going to have more money and he's probably got kids and I, we could kidnap. okay.

Bryan: So you how it came about. And this was only like three day, four days before the kidnapping, 

Bryan: they rush off to Seattle, get an apartment they flip open white pages.

Bryan: Oh, there's the Weyerhaeuser family. there's their address? There's their phone number. Can you imagine flipping open the paper and saying, oh, there's Jeff Bezos phone number. There's this address doesn't work that way anymore, but 

Laura:  Probably thanks to people like Harman, Whaley 

Bryan: and middleman. So they started tracking George and they saw an opportunity.

Bryan: He's coming home from school. He walked this one parking lot. There was nobody around may have jumps out of the car. Grabs George throws them in the trunk derive. Okay. And then they put them, stashed them in a hole in the ground, out in the forest of his Acqua, which is outside of Seattle. Ironically, it was probably a forest owned by George's parents. So they put them in this hole, in the ground and chained him up in there. It's like a grave. . And they covered it up and everything, and they kept him there for two days. So while this is going on, they send a ransom note to the family in the. Ransom demand was $200,000 in small unmarked bills. Weyerhaeuser's were rich, but they didn't have 200 granted, small unmarked bills laying around. They wanted it in twenties and tens and fives. It was 20,000 bills, which they had to accumulate and they had five days to pull it off or else. And then one of the other demands was, do not alert them. The police ha do not alert the media.

Bryan: Ha. So what happens? The newspaper publishes the ransom note on the front page of the paper after it says, do not alert the media. That's called irony. One of the demands was, is that the, whereas her family would communicate with the kidnappers using personal ads in the Seattle post intelligence or newspaper using a code name.

Bryan: And the code name was Percy Minnie. And so every day the, where the kidnappers would look in the personal ads and then okay, let's see here, a truck for sale to meet handsome, man. blah, blah, blah. Oh, here we go. Ready to make the money drop signed Percy mini. And so that's how it would play out.

Bryan: Also, you made the comment about egoist. That was the name that they put at the bottom of the random. Nope.

Bryan: We are professionals and we expect to be treated like professionals. This is a business deal, egoist. There was no explanation as to why they chose that name.

Bryan: They thought they were being clever. And 

Bryan: the Weyerhaeusers finally were ready to make the money drop. And so flipped it open. They looked at the newspaper and they saw we're ready to make the drop. So then they sent the next letter saying, this is how you're going to make the drop.

Bryan: Now the money drop is something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. I couldn't make this stuff up if I wrote this stuff up, they'd go hush or right. So they say you're going to go to this location. It's about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma.

Bryan: And you're going to go to this abandoned house and in the yard of this abandoned house, you'll see a little stick sticking out of the ground has got a little piece of white fabric attached to it, like a little flat bag. And underneath it, you'll see a tin can and inside the tin can, you'll find a note taking you to the next location. So George's dad has got a briefcase, a suitcase for. 200,000 bucks his car it's midnight on a dirt road. and he goes to the house and he finds the little piece of fabric attached to the stick and he finds the tin cannon. He finds a note it says, go up 700 yards of its next place, rinse and repeat.

Bryan: And he finds the next little flag. There's no tin can, and there's no node. And the money is due that night. He's freaking. 

Laura:  Oh, sure.

Bryan: He's crawling around on his hands and knees in the dark with a lighter and matches, trying to find next note, telling him where to bring the money and find it. So he drives back home, scared to death, he gets a phone call from the kidnappers, basically saying what the.

Bryan: Whereas our money, you screwed up. no, the note wasn't there and they went, all right, we'll give you a second chance. So they sent him to a new location. He goes, there, finds a tin, can finds the note, takes them to another location. Here's a can. Here's a note, takes them to another location.

Bryan: Leave the money in the back seat. Turn on the dome light, walk down the. He starts walking down the road. He's about a hundred yards away. rustling in the bushes, turns around and sees a dark figure. Jump out of the bushes, jumping out of the car, drive away, kidnappers have $200,000. And now George's dad is are they going to give me my kid? 

Laura:  Sure, absolutely poor guy.

Bryan: So for the last five days, George has been kept hidden in a closet back in Spokane. And that's where Harmon's kind of been watching him for the last week, interestingly enough Margaret never once saw George in those seven or eight days, never once saw him in fact the first time she even got wise to him, this is a really cool part of the story.

Bryan: Margaret and Mahan are driving they're driving off into the forest and Margaret's like, why are we driving off into the forest? I don't understand this. And he says, okay, you sit right here. I'll be right back. minutes later, Harmon comes walking out of the woods a flashlight saying, okay, Margaret, here's what I want you to do.

Bryan: You're going to get on your hands and knees on the front seat, put your head down and I'm going to fold the front seat over on top of. And she's like what? He's like do it. Okay. Because it's Margaret and she's naive and she's trusting. And she sits there and all of a sudden she hears the trunk open and slam shut.

Bryan: And then all of a sudden there's Mahan and all of them are in the car. And he's okay, here we go. And she's what was that about? And he goes, nevermind, shut up. And so they keep driving a couple hours later, they get about halfway across the state of wash. And they have to stop to get gas.

Bryan: And suddenly Margaret hears this voice the trunk of the car saying, Hey Mister, can I get out now? And then all the puzzle pieces came together and she was like, oh my God.

Bryan: George Weyerhaeuser, the kid who's been on the front page of every newspaper in America and is on radio all the time in the trunk of the car that I'm in right now. And even when George was being kept in the closet, They never let Margaret see George. She only heard him a couple of times, which was a small mercy, because then she had plausible deniability in her favor, which was a big deal in the court and in the trial. So yeah, that was going on. So another kind of cool story side note was while this was going on in the FBI they're trying to find the kidnappers the New York times called it the greatest manhunt in Northwestern, they're trying to track down the kidnappers after George released and I'll get to how he was released, which is fascinating story in and of itself, 

Laura:  That was a scary part of the book, 

Bryan: It was, but this was interesting. There were people, or coming out Of the woodwork saying, I can help you find George, a guy with a divining rod.

Bryan: can help you find George scientific genius to have a brilliant plan that can help them find George for a thousand dollars. And so in fact, his business card even said scientific genius on it. 

Laura:  Oh, I love that.

Bryan: Yeah. And so there, there was all that type of stuff going on. So the kidnappers, okay.

Bryan: They've got their money. They're going to return George. And so they're driving across the state and they're like where do you want to drop them off? I don't know. Where do you want to drop them off? I don't know. You didn't think about this? No, I thought you did. Okay. Thank you. Brilliant kidnappers.


Bryan: And they thought, okay, let's drop him out in the woods where we had them stashed originally. Issaquah Forest. So they him off on this old timber road. gave him a blanket a dollar bill okay, George, you wait Right. here. Your dad's going to come pick you up. Gone.

Bryan: They're gone. They disappear. So George is sitting there in the rain with a blanket and a dollar bill at midnight is nine years old on the. And he sits there and he does his dad's not coming because his dad has no idea 

Laura:  They intended to call the father, but for some reason they didn't 

Bryan: didn't because they would have to find a place that had a phone and it was like midnight. 

Bryan: So they wouldn't be able to call them until the morning when they could find a gas station or train station or someplace that had a phone. They didn't have a cell phone. How was that? 

Laura:  Yeah, of course.

Bryan: So George is standing there in the rain for a couple hours and finally said, this is stupid. I've had enough. And he starts walking and he walks from miles in the rain and the forest in the middle of the night. He finally comes to a farmer's house and he knocks on the door and farmer opens the door at six in the morning.

Bryan: And there's this. Standing on the front porch and the kid says, hi, I'm George Weyerhaeuser. Can you take me to my house? So at that point, probably the most famous child in America has magically appeared this farmer's doorstep step. 

Laura:  Amazing.

Bryan: Ah, Throws him in his model T and takes off for Tacoma

Bryan: bring him back to his parents. And he gets, as far this town called a Renton, which is a little south of Tacoma and he goes to a gas station and he calls the Weyerhaeuser family. Because again, you can just open up the white pages and call those rich, famous people. 

Laura:  Crazy.

Bryan: And so they call and the FBI had an agent and a phone system set up the Weyerhaeuser house for this call and it failed completely.

Bryan: Utterly failed. So the farmer is this is stupid. This isn't working. So he calls the police. Now this is where it gets. Interesting. It depends on who you believe. Do you believe the reporter or do you believe the FBI? All right. So while the kidnapping has been going on, this is a media circus. 

Bryan: There's reporters camped out on the warehousers lawn. There's police there. Souvenir seekers, stealing flowers out of the warehousers yard is, and so the reporters were there and this reporter who was a, actually a golf reporter for the Seattle times, but 

Laura:  Did you say golf?

Bryan: G O L F.  He was a golf reporter, but it was all hands on deck for the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, 

Laura:  Okay. 

Bryan: the journalists, all the journalists combined, we're writing 40,000 words day on the kidnapping, which is about half a novel every single day. So they would write. Anything, absolutely anything. So this reporter claims that he was at the Weyerhaeuser's house and he got a tip from his publisher saying, Hey, George has been released.

Bryan: He's been released . And he's heading this way from. He's on a model team. Okay. There you go. So this is what the police say. The police say that's a bunch of crap. This reporter actually at the police station in Tacoma overheard the phone call between the farmer and the police officer taking the information down and he heard it there and he went, Okay. I know where the kid is. I'm going to intercept the kid. And so he went and got a cabbie, told the cabby George's coming this way in a model T let's go get him. And so they jumped at a cabbie and they took to the cabin. They took off heading. And Sure. enough, comes a Model T chugging up the other direction.

Bryan: look, they see George in the front seat, a spin the car around chase. After the farmer, get him to pull over. rush over We're here to save you. They give the farmer five bucks insinuate there with the police, the farmer hands, George, over to these strangers. No questions asked. Because it was a different time. The reporter puts George in the backseat Of the cab, a low, the window level sits in the wheel. Below the window will level. It tells the cabinet Right.

Bryan: back to George's house he interviews George in the backseat and writes this Pulitzer prize nominated article. 

Laura:  ] Oh my gosh. What a scoop? Does George. Remember this part of the story. Did he talk about it?

Bryan: Yeah. Oh, yes he does. 

Laura:  Oh, my,

Bryan: Yes, he does. 

Laura:  I just can't imagine what this little kid's thinking. Like he's been in a hole in the ground, in a closet ,he's been in trunks. He's been… 

Bryan: Yeah. 

Laura:  in the woods and then suddenly this farmer's like here, just, know. 

Bryan: Hands him over. And then 

Laura:  And then this reporter grills him, poor kid. 

Bryan: a reporter grills them and you should read the article. It's just, entertaining. 

Laura:  I would love to read that.

Bryan: Yeah. But so then George gets home and then becomes the, like I said, the greatest man hunted in Northwest history as they tracked down the bad guys and the bad guys being dumb, bad guys, they didn't really plan well enough in advance.

Bryan: They didn't have money and advanced to spend to live on. Which means they had to spend some of the ransom money while the FBI, they, again, this is a remarkable thing with the FBI yet. They only had five. Check that.

Bryan: they didn't even have five days. they had a couple of days the money was collected and they had to log every serial number on all 20,000 bills and took them 4,000 man hours do that 4,000 hours.

Bryan: And they had to pull it off in three days. . 

Laura:  Wow.

Bryan: just crazy, absolutely crazy. And, so they then print it up for better lack of a better term, a book it's 50 pages long. Each page has seven columns with 50 numbers. Then it is a huge amount of numbers and they would send this out or to. To stores and to train stations and anything else, any place somebody would have spend any money.

[Bryan: And that's eventually how they capture the bad guys. Is Margaret bought a 20-cent cigarette case with a $5 bill out of the ransom money.

Laura:  And I remember that from the book. And then the store clerk just recognized, like she was comparing the number on the bill with the numbers in that book.

Bryan: Yep. And immediately called the cops. Cops showed up and boom. 

Laura:  That's finding a needle in a haystack, right? 

Bryan: You're right. That's.

Bryan: why this was down in Salt Lake City where Margaret and Harmon were originally from. They went back to where they are from again, not the smartest thing here. We're here was, this is. Side note again, these are the types of things that he just stumbled across doing the research.

Bryan: So after Margaret and Harmon get busted bill, man, he goes down to salt lake city. I forget exactly why he went down there, but he goes there and he finds out that co-conspirators are busted. So he jumps in his car and he takes it on a lamp, drives up to Butte, Montana.

Bryan: So he standing on a street corner, seven o'clock in the morning and he looks across the street and there's a. And the cop staring at him and he's staring at the cop and the cop staring at him. And now all of a sudden Mahen's getting nervous and he's okay, the jig is up. And he takes off running.

Bryan: The cop wasn't staring at him because he recognized him as a kidnapped suspect because he had no idea that he was a kidnapped suspect. He was staring at him because he recognized him because he arrested him three years earlier. 

Laura:  Oh,

Bryan: And so a bank robbery charge. so he just, all of a sudden sees an ex-con running from him and he that he's okay, he's done something bad. So He chases after him. So Mahan jumps over this fence into a yard and the yard has a guard dog in it. And by the kind of the guard dog reacts may hands past him.

Bryan: But the guard dog turns on the cop who comes over the fence the cop has to make a decision. Shoot the dog the kidnapper not shoot the dog and let kidnapper get away. Even though he doesn't know, he's the

Bryan:] He doesn't know, he's a kidnapper. He doesn't even know these done anything wrong. Want to guess what he does? 

Laura:  I remember from the book.

Bryan: Okay. He chose not to shoot the dog. And as a result, Mahan runs free for another year. how many man hours did the cops spend for the next year? Trying to track him down that they wouldn't have. If the cops have shot the dog. 

Laura:  Yeah, but he didn't know. 

Laura:  Every time I read about these crimes, I'm struck by how much money is spent, trying to capture these criminals. You talked about the 4,000 hours for the FBI to log the and then they've had to publish all those books and then also how much work the criminals do.

Laura:  Like just get a real job. 

Bryan: Okay. Now think about this $200,000 in 1935 is three and a half million dollars. Now average income in 1935 was $1,500 a year. So $200,000 was the equivalent of 133 years of the average person's salary. So they get this money. They're set 133 years. 

Laura:  If they can spend it, they can't spend it. But I see what you're saying. 

Bryan: right. They couldn't spend it.

Bryan: And that's that's why they got busted and that's how everybody had busted. another terrific part of the story. So Margaret and Harmon, they go before the judge and Harmon says guilty. And he goes, yep, you're right. 45 years, Alcatraz, boom done. And Alcatraz, is brand new.

Bryan: It's a year old the paint's still probably wet, and so Margaret goes before the judge and she says guilty he says wait a minute. So you didn't participate in the case. No. You never saw George. You discovered that they had kidnapped George, but you didn't do anything about it, which is worst thing you could have done but you didn't do anything because bill Mahan said he was going to shoot you and shoot the kid and shoot your husband.

Bryan: I'm not going to let you plead guilty. That's stupid. And so he says you're going to go to trial and it goes to trial and it's the biggest trial in Northwest history it's just huge. It's huge. And Margaret. The lawyer, her defense lawyer is the former mayor of Seattle. Okay. Really 

Laura:  Oh, 

Bryan: lawyer.

Bryan: he realized that the best way to defend her is to describe her as an absolute. A complete moron and he's on her side. And so she sitting there telling the public and telling the press and everybody else Margaret's a complete dummy. And if her husband told her to jump off a building, she would 

Bryan: so. 

Laura:  He’s not wrong.

Bryan: No, he's not wrong. That's what I say. Poor Margaret. She sat up and the reporters kept talking about how much gum she chewed. She chews a lot of gum and 

Laura:  But again, she's 19. 

Bryan: she's 19.

Bryan: and they described her in the newspaper as plain and plump. woman weighed 120 pounds. 

Laura:  Yeah, she wasn't plump. I didn't think, I thought she was pretty.  You have a picture of her. She's not unattractive.

Bryan: I know, but like I said, is the media, they want something juicy. This is also a sign of the times too. The newspapers would print who all the juror jurors, the jurors were and they would put print their name. They would print what they do for a living. They would print their address, and they even described them as better looking than average Oh yes. 

Laura:  My goodness.

Bryan: so she got 20 years in a work farm, 

Laura:  Okay. 

Bryan: it finally captured Mahan and he got 60 years in Alcatraz. And here was, this was also an interesting thing while Harmon was in prison, he's there and he got in fights with Elica pony. Yes, he got in fights with Al Capone and he says that he was in the music room and Al Capone came up behind him and hit him with a mandolin case.

Bryan: And Harmon got pissed and turned around and he was going to hit him with a saxophone, but he didn't want to dent his saxophone. So he chose not to have at it with with Capone.

Laura:  So wait, so Alcatraz had a band too, or just a music room. What do you think? 

Bryan: I only know they had a room where the criminals could play music together. Yeah. 

Laura:  One of my earliest episodes was on a band in the Missouri state penitentiary, which would have been about that time. And their piano player became world famous. 

Laura:  But we're getting close to running out of time. You mentioned the press was super involved and they printed how many, you said 40,000 words a day.

Bryan: Between all the reporters that was the estimation was 40,000 words a day. 

Laura:  So you had to weed through all this, and I know from my own research, the reporting back that they just made stuff up sometimes.

Bryan: Yeah. They never once used the word allegedly. If they heard a rumor, they'd run with it.

Laura:  Well. thank you for sharing all this. And we are going to pause real quick if you don't mind, and then you can come back and give me my four choices. 

Bryan: Yes. 

Laura:  Okay. All right. We're going to pause for a word from our sponsor and then we'll be right back. 

Laura:  All right. Welcome back listeners. I'm here with Brian Johnston discussing the kidnapping of George Weyerhaeuser and his book deep in the woods. And Brian has just told me a mostly true story about the events that he talks about in the book. Now Brian's going to share four things from our interview today. One of which he made up and I have to guess which one he made up. Join me and we'll figure it out together. So are you ready to give me my choices?

Bryan: Yup. So number one Margaret was forced to get on her hands and knees in the front seat have the front seat folded over on top of her so that she couldn't see. And she went along.

Laura:  Okay.

Bryan: Number two, the FBI being contacted by somebody with genius, totally Wiley IQ, coyote scientific genius on his business card, trying to get a thousand bucks to help them solve the. 

Bryan: Harmon choosing not to hit Al Capone with a saxophone because it was afraid of my dented and how Weyerhaeuser family was. So happy that they, that he talked with me about this and they, they learned so much about about this and they couldn't wait to talk with them about the. 

Laura:  Wow. Okay. Those are good ones. So I do remember from the book, you did talk about Harmon and Al Capone, not getting along. I don't remember the detail about the saxophone, but that makes sense. That Margaret was forced. I remember from the book also that Margaret never saw George when they kidnapped him.

Laura:  And then I do remember the detail of Mr. Can I get out now? That's cute. I totally believe that somebody in 1935 had a business card that said scientific genius and the last, what was the last one that Weyerhaeuser, 

Laura:  um, oh, that their family was grateful.

Bryan: they're just so that I got a chance to talk with George about the kidnapping.

Laura:  Oh, man. Those are all so good, Bryan. I believe all of those, but they're all crazy. Except the fourth one, I believe that the family was grateful. I think my family would be grateful. I just, I love stories from my, that my grandmother and my parents shared with me. Okay. So I think I'm going to go with the, that they folded the seat on top of her choice. Number one. 

Laura:  No!

Bryan: would you like to hear the real, that real answer that was made up? 

Laura:  I would. 

Bryan: Okay. 

Laura:  The real fake answer.

Bryan: so in all of my research when I was doing this before, I got a chance to talk with George all the time, I kept stumbling across George doesn't like to talk about the kidnapping. This is a very sensitive subject. That's what I was told over and over.

Bryan: So when I finally tracked him down, which was no small task I left a message on his voicemail. George, I'm a local author. I'd like to talk with you about your kidnapping, unless it's a sensitive subject for you. And if he called me back three days later, much to my surprise saying not sensitive at all happened a long time ago.

Bryan: Happy to talk with you. 

Laura:  Wow.

Bryan: Okay. So I. Sat down and talked with him with his daughter there and everything was fine. Okay. Two days later, get a phone call from a person who's a Warehouser representative. Mr. Johnston. I understand you spoke with George Weyerhaeuser over the weekend. Yeah, I did. His family called me.

Bryan: They're very concerned about this. 

Laura:  No.

Bryan: Really? Why is that?  George doesn't like to talk about the kidnapping. He had no problem talking to me about the kidnapping.  But George doesn't talk about the kidnapping. But he talked with me about the kidnapping. And, then he was like, so is this for an article?

Bryan: it's a book. So it's a book of fiction? No, it's a book, true crime book about what happened to George.  But George doesn't talk about the kidnapping. I'm like, what part are you missing here?

Laura:  I'm thinking this man might be related to Margaret.

Bryan: And so finally he just he's quiet for a minute and he goes, Weird. You got lucky, Brian, good luck with the book and he hung up. So then, yeah. And then when the book came out I've talking with George's daughter. And this has been crazy on learning first of all, Brian, you had some wrong stuff in the book and I'm like that's no shock. I have all the information I got. I there's no doubt that some of it was. 

Bryan: He says, yeah, my dad has pointed out some things that are wrong. She didn't tell me what those things were but she says, but I have to tell you, dad, never talked to us about the kidnapping growing up. , I would usually have to hear it from another relative or something like that.

Bryan: And so this was, she was now getting a chance to learn about the kidnapping from her dad just now for the first time in her life. But she said that some of her siblings were very concerned about this whole thing. I'm like had no problem talking to me about it. I have no idea what to tell you. He seemed to enjoy himself. We had a good time talking. So yeah, isn't that weird? 

Laura:  It's amazing. You had mentioned that he didn't have nightmares or PTSD. I'm pretty sure I would. If I'd been in a pit in the middle of  the forest. 

Bryan: I know. 

Laura:  Wow. That's fascinating. I loved your book ,and I am so glad you decided to participate in fact, or fiction and I will have a link to your Amazon page. 

Bryan: I also recommend people it from your mom and pop bookstore.  Knock on their door and say, I'd like to order this book and they'll be happy to order it.

Laura:  Okay. Thank you so much. It was nice to meet you, Brian, 

Bryan: It was nice to meet you, too. 

Laura:  All right. Thank you so much. You did a great job.

Bryan: By the way, I got a kick out of what you pronounced Missouri. 

Laura:  Oh!

Bryan: I felt like I was listening to Waiting for Guffman.