William B. Kinne, Lieutenant Governor of Idaho, is kidnapped on June 12, 1929.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 6/12/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7806
On June 12, 1929, William Barker Kinne (1874-1929), the newly elected Lieutenant-Governor of Idaho, is driving from Lewiston to Orofino. Near the small community of Arrow, four armed men kidnap him and steal his automobile. After wrecking Kinne's car near Orofino, the bandits hijack another and kidnap the two occupants. The three victims are taken into the foothills near Greer and tied to a tree, but manage to escape and spread the alarm. A manhunt ensues across the four states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Two days later Latah County Sheriff's Deputies find the fugitives hiding along the Potlatch River and they are taken to the city jail in Juliaetta. The four kidnappers and a fifth man, the ringleader, confess to the crime. On June 20, 1929, the five miscreants plead guilty to kidnapping charges in Nez Perce County District Court, Lewiston, Idaho, and are given sentences totaling a maximum of 102 years in the Idaho State Penitentiary. A few years later one of these bandits, Edward Fliss, will become involved in the kidnapping of 9-year-old George Weyerhaeuser, from Tacoma, Washington.

The Crime

On Wednesday morning, June 12, 1929, William B. Kinne, age 55, Lieutenant-Governor of Idaho, was driving east along the Snake River Highway (U.S. Route 12) from Lewiston to his home in Orofino when four men brandishing handguns stepped into the road and hijacked his car. They dragged Kinne from behind the steering wheel, forced him into the back seat and onto the floor. The men piled into the automobile and sped away at a high rate of speed. Kinne estimated they were traveling toward Orofino at approximately 60 miles-per-hour when a front tire had a blowout. The driver lost control and the vehicle wound up in a ditch. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but the car was a total wreck.

Shortly thereafter, Warren L. Tribbey, age 41, an Idaho Building and Loan Association officer, accompanied by Paul Kilde, age 32, a Lewiston lumberman, stopped his automobile at the scene of the accident to lend assistance. Kinne and the kidnappers had already extricated themselves from the wreckage and were standing in nearby field. When Tribbey and Kilde approached, they were greeted with drawn guns and told their car was being commandeered. The men resisted and a struggle ensued during which several shots were fired. Kilde was shot twice in the legs and both he and Tribbey were pistol-whipped and beaten unconscious.

The kidnappers loaded the three victims into Tribbey's car and drove into the foothills near Greer. After finding an isolated spot off the road, they tied the trio to a tree and then drove off, leaving a redheaded man standing guard. After about four hours, the men returned and threatened Kinne, Tribbey, and Kilde with death if they tried to escape. Then all the kidnappers piled into Tribbey's car and drove away.

Before leaving, the kidnappers stole $14 from Kinne and $200 from Tribbey, but overlooked a small penknife in Tribbey's pocket, which he used to cut himself loose and free the others.  Kinne overheard conversation that the men were en route to Pierce to rob a bank and needed an automobile for the escape. Within 15 minutes, the three hostages were walking toward Greer, only a short distance away, to spread the alarm.

Desperate Men

Law enforcement authorities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana were immediately notified of the abductions and told to be on the lookout for a stolen blue sedan, bearing Idaho license plate number 249-060. The four kidnappers were described as being between 18 and 25 years old and "very desperate men," all carrying pistols. Lewis County Sheriff Alva W. Mitchell organized three separate posses, which consisted of nearly the entire male population of Nez Perce, Lewis, Latah, and Clearwater counties, including farmers, loggers, skilled Indian trackers, and Boy Scouts. Guards were posted on every road and bridge. A pack of bloodhounds was flown from Yakima in Washington state to Lewiston to participate in the manhunt. By nightfall, the entire Central Idaho region, for a radius of 200 miles, was being guarded and searched.

For the next two days, thousands of men searched for the four assailants without success and law enforcement officials were nearly ready to admit that their quarry had escaped. However, early Friday morning, June 14, 1929, Latah County Deputy Sheriff Miles B. Pierce was searching the area alongside the railroad tracks near the town of Juliaetta when he spotted two men asleep in the deep undergrowth. Pierce leveled his shotgun at the men, ordering them out of the bushes. One of the men had bright red hair and was in possession of three loaded handguns wrapped in a pair of overalls. He was identified as Edward Fliss, alias Frank "Red" Lane, age 24. The other man, who was tall and blond, was identified as Engolf Snortland, age 20.

A short time later, two farm boys from Juliaetta happened upon another of the gang members.  Ward H. Alexander, age 14, and Sam B. Bryant, age 16, were searching along Potlatch Creek, approximately 100 yards from where Deputy Pierce had arrested his two men, when they saw another man asleep in the bushes. They ran to town and told Deputy Pierce, who went to the spot and arrested Albert Reynolds, age 24.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Town Constable Ernest Davis received a tip from John Kite, who owned a dairy located between Juliaetta and Kendrick, that shortly after 6:00 a.m., he sold two quarts of milk, a loaf of bread and some jam to two scruffy men who claimed to have arrived in the area on the morning freight train from Spokane to pick cherries. Within an hour, Constable Davis, with the help Latah County Sheriff's deputies George K. Moody and Frances Jordan, rounded up the last members of the gang. They were identified as Robert Livingston, age 19, and "Seattle George" Norman, age 45, a well known Northwest outlaw, gang leader, and fugitive.

Justice Is Served

Two hours later, Lieutenant-Governor Kinne and Warren Tribbey arrived at the Juliaetta city jail to identify the men. Both Kinne and Tribbey positively identified all the kidnappers except Norman, who was not involved in the abductions. They fingered Reynolds as the man who shot Paul Kilde in both legs, and Fliss as the red-haired man who stood guard while they were tied to a tree.

Livingston, the youngest of the prisoners, broke down immediately when officers questioned him and made a full confession, implicating the other four in the plot to rob a bank in Pierce. At first, the others refused to talk, but later all the conspirators gave signed confessions, except Norman, the leader of the gang, who firmly maintained his innocence. The men explained that they needed a getaway car for a bank robbery in Pierce and had no intention of holding anyone for ransom.

Livingston said that after the assaults on Tribbey and Kilde, the gang "got cold feet" and decided to call off the bank robbery scheme. They picked up George Norman, who was scoping out the bank in Pierce, and then drove west toward the mountains, crossing over the Clearwater River at Ahsahka. The men became increasingly nervous about driving Tribbey's car on the highway, so they ditched it in the woods outside of Cavendish and set out on foot, heading toward the Washington state border. The five gangsters hiked cross-country, using the timber and underbrush for cover, and eventually wound up on the bank of the Potlatch River near Juliaetta, where they were caught sleeping.

Idaho State Patrol Officer Ernest Robinson located Tribbey's automobile hidden in a grove of trees on a ridge east of Cavindish. Blood and a 38-caliber revolver were found on the floor of the vehicle and the $200 stolen from Tribbey had been stuffed under the front seat. The car was taken to Moscow and held as evidence of the crimes.

On Saturday, June 15, 1929, Sheriff Summerfield and deputies took the five prisoners to the Nez Perce County Jail in Lewiston for safety. When they arrived, there were approximately 1,500 citizens, many armed with guns, thronged around the front entrance to the court house. While Nez Perce County Sheriff Harry Dent created a diversion at the front, Lewiston Police Chief Eugene Gasser quietly spirited the prisoners through the back door. Fearing the mob might attempt to harm the men, the court held the preliminary hearing in the jail. District Attorney Ray E. Durham filed charges against Reynolds, Fliss, Snortland, and Livingston for kidnapping, robbery, and assault. Norman was not charged initially, but was held on arrest warrants in connection with several burglaries and robberies in Eastern Washington and Idaho. Judge Ernest L. Parker set bail for each of the men at $8,000, which they were unable to post.

The defendants were arraigned in Nez Perce County District Court on Thursday, June 20, 1929, and pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charges. Judge Miles S. Johnson sentenced Reynolds, one of the gang's ringleaders and the man who shot Kilde, to 12 to 25 years; Fliss drew 11 to 25 years; Snortland was given 10 to 25 years; Livingston, the "baby bandit," received one to 25 years in prison and a stern lecture from the judge.

Because he was not involved in the kidnapping, George Norman was allowed to plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the kidnapping. Judge Johnson told Norman: "The only crime you may be charged with is being an accessory after the fact on which the maximum punishment is two years. Thus you are escaping with a light sentence while your tools get a heavier one. If you ever appear before me again, you will get the maximum sentence for whatever crime you are charged with. We haven't room in this country for men of your type" (Lewiston Morning Tribune).

On Saturday, June 22, 1929, two traveling guards from the Idaho State Penitentiary arrived in Lewiston to take the five prisoners to Boise by train, to start serving their sentences.

Epilogue

On Saturday, September 28, 1929, Lieutenant-Governor William B. Kinne was stricken with an appendicitis at his home in Orofino. His physician believed the condition was not life-threatening and waited until Sunday morning to perform an appendectomy. But Kinne's appendix had already ruptured, causing peritonitis, an often fatal complication. He died on Tuesday, October 1, 1929, after less than a year in office.

On July 23, 1934, after serving only five years of his sentence, Edward Fliss was granted a full pardon by Idaho Governor Charles Ben Ross (1876-1946) and released. But he didn't stay out of trouble for long. During his stay at the Idaho State Penitentiary, he became friends with two prisoners, Harmon Metz Waley and William Dainard, who kidnapped 9-year-old George H. Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, on May 26, 1935. It was one of the most sensational crimes in Washington state history. The FBI arrested Fliss on October 22, 1936, for assisting William Dainard in laundering large quantities of the ransom money and conspiracy to kidnap.

Fliss was arraigned in U. S. District Court, Tacoma, on Saturday, November 14, 1936, before Judge Edward E. Cushman. He waived the appointment of an attorney and pleaded guilty to the charge of being an accessory after the fact in the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping. Fliss pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy count stating he was serving a 30-day jail sentence for vagrancy in Missoula, Montana, when the kidnapping occurred.

Fliss was sentenced on Friday, November 27, 1936. During the proceeding, he admitted his past crimes to the court and then added: "The kidnapping of the lieutenant-governor [Kinne] was not a real kidnapping. We just forced the man to ride with us for a couple of hours and when they found out who he was, we let him go. There was no ransom money involved"(The Seattle Times). Judge Cushman was not amused and sentenced Fliss to 10 years imprisonment at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and fined him $5,000 -- the maximum penalty.


Sources: "4 Men Kidnap Idaho's Lieutenant-Governor; finally Leave Him and 2 Others Tied to Trees," The New York Times, June 13, 1929, p. 1; "Idaho Executive Dies," Ibid., October 2, 1929, p. 27; "Four Bandits Wreck Auto; Rescuer Shot," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 13, 1929, p. 1; "Four Kidnaper Suspects Held," Ibid., June 16, 1929, p. 3; "Idaho Bandits Are fleeing Down River," The Seattle Times, June 13, 1929, p. 14; "2 Farmer Boys are Heroes of Idaho Capture," Ibid., June 15, 1929, p. 2; "Kidnapers Companion Exchanged Hot Money," Ibid., October 23, 1936, p. 1; "$5,000 Fine Assessed to Distributor of Ransom," Ibid., November 27, 1936, p. 1; "Prison Closes on Kidnapers," The Seattle Star, June 21, 1929, p. 6; "Automobile Bandits Hold Up Lieutenant Governor Kinne; Leave Victim Bound to Tree," Idaho Daily Statesman, June 13, 1929, p. 1; "Bandits Capture Near; Posses Drive Fugitives into Wilderness Trap," Ibid., June 14, 1929, p. 1; "Kinne Bandits Caught; Thug Confesses Attack; 4 Prisoners Identified," Ibid., June 15, 1929, p. 1; "Bandits Plead as Mob Menaces," Ibid., June 16, 1929, p. 1; "Kinne Kidnapers Held on Charge," Ibid., June 17, 1929, p. 1; "Kinne Kidnapers Are Sentenced," Ibid., June 21, 1929, p. 1, "Lieut. Governor Kinne Dies at Orofino Home From Major Operation," Ibid., October 2, 1929, p. 1; "Gangsters Kidnap Kinne With Pair of Rescuers," Lewiston Morning Tribune, June 13, 1929, p. 1; "Gangmen Elude Guards, Escape," Ibid., June 14, 1929, p. 1; "Bandit Gang Captured, Now In Lewiston Jail," Ibid., June 15, 1929, p. 1; "Kidnappers Will Fight Sentence," Ibid., June 16, 1929, p. 1; "Give Kidnappers Long Sentences," Ibid., June 21, 1929, p. 16; "Bandits to Arrive at Boise This A.M," Ibid., June 23, 1929, p. 3.

Related Topics:   Crime

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