In 1900 the New York Times ran a short announcement on the front page:
OMAHA BOY HELD FOR $25,000 RANSOM; Son of E.A. Cudahy, the Packer, in Kidnappers’ Hands. WRITE FOR THE MONEY Said to Have Threatened Violence Unless Money Is Paid. Entire Police Force and Number of Private Detectives Trying to Find the Boy and the Abductors.
Pat Crowe never had it easy. A raw, tough Irishman, he hung out with James Callahan and others from the Q Street Gang that haunted South Omaha around the turn of the 20th century. H
e was a bit thugish, and along with Callagan he had been arrested before for robbery, shooting a policeman, fighting and a few other charges that were tough.
On December 18, the pair pulled off a kidnapping that gained them international fame, $25,000 in ransom, and a $50,000 bounty for their arrest.
A Wealthy Omahan
|Edward Cudahy Jr. around the time of the abduction.|
The son of an Irish meatpacking owner, Eddie Cudahy, Jr. was a thin kid. At 16 he was treated like a little man – although he didn’t make much of it.
One night before Christmas he was walking back home through his neighborhood just south of Little Italy.
The neighborhood, then called the “Gold Coast”, was Omaha’s original mansion neighborhood where all of the city’s magnates and politicians built opulent shacks waiting for praise. Eddie’s father was no different.
As the founder and owner of one of the Big Four packers in Omaha, Edward Cudahy, Sr. had put on airs about himself and wanted to show his wealth.
Along the way to his wealth, Cudahy stomped out many competitors, large and small – which would eventually make his case against Crowe fall apart.
|The Cudahy mansion at 518 S. 37th Street was the site where the kidnapping happened.|
In the early 1890s, Crowe ran a butcher shop along South 24th Street. At first successful, Crowe was undercut by a large packing house that was started in 1890 near his shop.
The Cudahy Brothers, including Edward Sr., were a vicious and savvy bunch of Irishmen from Chicago who’d worked for Phillip Armour before coming to Omaha. When they got to the city they built a massive operation, which by the 1920s made them major players across the United States.
In the mid-1890s they upset a lot of local Omaha butchers by running them out of business, including Pat Crowe.
Crowe hatched a plan to get payback at Cudahy and his big bucks.
The night of December 17, 1900 was cold and unfriendly in Omaha. 16-year-old Eddie Cudahy was walking back from running errands for his mother that night when a carriage pulled up beside him. “Get in – your father sent us to pick you up” came from a gruff voice within.
Eddie hopped in and almost immediately knew something was wrong.
Crowe and Callahan took young Cudahy to a secret location and delivered a ransom note. When Cudahy senior indicated he’d take the deal, Crowe made the drop off location on the road to Fremont, outside Omaha.
Senior Cudahy wrestled with Omaha Police about meeting the demands. They didn’t want him to, as nobody had ever met a kidnapping demand, supposedly. Cudahy did it anyway. Dropping the $25,000 demand in the secret location, the next day Cudahy Jr. was dropped off in Omaha and made his way home.
|This is Eddie Cudahy, Jr. with his two younger sisters, years after his abduction.|
After the kidnapping, things were never the same again. Pat Crowe got away from Omaha, was caught and thrown in jail, and then represented himself in court. After a break in the trial, Crowe inflamed the jury’s passions and won their support. When he was acquitted, the Omaha Daily News described him as “one of the few really spectacular and truly named desperadoes.”
Cashing in on this good sentiment, Crowe began writing about his escapade, elaborating and exaggerating at will. Invited back East, he started speaking to huge audiences and selling his book over and over.
Crowe reportedly made a million bucks.
However, his lifelong struggle with alcohol ended up winning. Crowe died penniless in a gutter in Harlem in 1938.