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The California Snatch Racket: Kidnappings During the Prohibition and Depression Eras

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Bringing a dark and forgotten era into vivid life, this fascinating history explores a booming criminal enterprise that was spawned in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Exposing a spree of kidnappings referred to as the “snatch racket,” true accounts of the crimes and the unfortunate victims are revealed. Driven by greed, desperation, or sheer stupidity, this detailed dis Bringing a dark and forgotten era into vivid life, this fascinating history explores a booming criminal enterprise that was spawned in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Exposing a spree of kidnappings referred to as the “snatch racket,” true accounts of the crimes and the unfortunate victims are revealed. Driven by greed, desperation, or sheer stupidity, this detailed discussion explains that the ransom artists preyed indiscriminately on Hollywood socialites, wealthy heiresses, and even the poor—while each new disappearance brought new headlines and sales to the newspaper companies. Illustrating the manner in which even the simplest capers would often run tragically awry, 15 bizarre and often ironic tales are presented, including how a modern city rose to lynch a pair of kidnappers, the college kids who chose to imitate Leopold and Loeb, and the famed evangelist who faked her own abduction to cover up an affair. Early forensic techniques are described, including the first documented call tracing using a bevy of operators in a phone chain, as well as the birth of the modern symbiotic relationship between the news media and high-profile crime, demonstrating how the sensationalism of personal tragedy became a source for increased media sales.


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Bringing a dark and forgotten era into vivid life, this fascinating history explores a booming criminal enterprise that was spawned in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Exposing a spree of kidnappings referred to as the “snatch racket,” true accounts of the crimes and the unfortunate victims are revealed. Driven by greed, desperation, or sheer stupidity, this detailed dis Bringing a dark and forgotten era into vivid life, this fascinating history explores a booming criminal enterprise that was spawned in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Exposing a spree of kidnappings referred to as the “snatch racket,” true accounts of the crimes and the unfortunate victims are revealed. Driven by greed, desperation, or sheer stupidity, this detailed discussion explains that the ransom artists preyed indiscriminately on Hollywood socialites, wealthy heiresses, and even the poor—while each new disappearance brought new headlines and sales to the newspaper companies. Illustrating the manner in which even the simplest capers would often run tragically awry, 15 bizarre and often ironic tales are presented, including how a modern city rose to lynch a pair of kidnappers, the college kids who chose to imitate Leopold and Loeb, and the famed evangelist who faked her own abduction to cover up an affair. Early forensic techniques are described, including the first documented call tracing using a bevy of operators in a phone chain, as well as the birth of the modern symbiotic relationship between the news media and high-profile crime, demonstrating how the sensationalism of personal tragedy became a source for increased media sales.

34 review for The California Snatch Racket: Kidnappings During the Prohibition and Depression Eras

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beth Cato

    What a fascinating book! Kidnappings were quite the fad through Prohibition and the Depression. The Lindbergh baby case is the most well known out of the east coast, but kidnappings--and sadly, subsequent murders--were quite a California thing throughout the era. Smith and Roger's created a well-written and researched book that breaks the incidents into easy-to-read true crime stories with photographs and other documentation included. The incidents gravitated around Los Angeles and the Bay Area, What a fascinating book! Kidnappings were quite the fad through Prohibition and the Depression. The Lindbergh baby case is the most well known out of the east coast, but kidnappings--and sadly, subsequent murders--were quite a California thing throughout the era. Smith and Roger's created a well-written and researched book that breaks the incidents into easy-to-read true crime stories with photographs and other documentation included. The incidents gravitated around Los Angeles and the Bay Area, though my native Central California gets mentioned quite a bit, too. One would think that the targets of these crimes would all be wealthy and/or famous, but no. Not always. Some of the cases are pretty disturbing. If you're triggered by things happening to kids (one horrible case involves a mutilated young girl) or by photographs of bodies (the book starts off with a case wherein the accused are lynched by a mob of citizens), then this isn't a book for you. One strange case has a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome--the crooks came to adore their victim and after being busted, were praising her to everyone who would listen.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I'm a sucker for this stuff but somebody needs to sit down and proof this with a compass, a map and a calendar to get the geographical relationships of some of the California cities straightened out, plus a couple of confusing photo caption/text discrepancies. But I really enjoyed the book, it was highly entertaining and educational, to boot. I wouldn't bother pointing out the little slip-ups if the rest of the presentation wasn't so accomplished.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charles Markee

    A great read! An educational read! Every case a page turner! And a step into the wild past! Crime, history, mystery and adventure combine in each of the tales in this fascinating picture of California crime culture as it was almost a century ago. The real-life criminal characters range from intellectuals to immature fools, and sometimes sociopaths. They execute their crime dramas against a backdrop of seat-of-the-pants police work and out-of-control newspapers hungry for headlines. Kidnapping fo A great read! An educational read! Every case a page turner! And a step into the wild past! Crime, history, mystery and adventure combine in each of the tales in this fascinating picture of California crime culture as it was almost a century ago. The real-life criminal characters range from intellectuals to immature fools, and sometimes sociopaths. They execute their crime dramas against a backdrop of seat-of-the-pants police work and out-of-control newspapers hungry for headlines. Kidnapping for ransom, the Snatch Racket, became a nefarious fad during the Prohibition and the Great Depression, the decades of 1920s and 30s. Smith and Rogers have done a masterful job of research, embedding these crime stories within a historical construct, which both sets the stage for the crime and concludes with its legal resolution. Each story has its own arc, building tension to its conclusion. In addition to recreating events in elaborate detail, the authors have captured the sensationalism that seduced journalists and fired up the populace. Yet, implicit within each story is the rule of law and the legal system that protects us, albeit with slow, ponderous steps.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    A good read, covering the golden era of ransom kidnapping in the early part of the 20th century in California. Includes hideous cases like the kidnapping of Marian Parker, and runs the gamut all the ways to truly laughable cases.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Farmer

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Labonte

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  9. 5 out of 5

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  10. 5 out of 5

    Jenni

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alice

  12. 4 out of 5

    James

  13. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  14. 4 out of 5

    Krista the Krazy Kataloguer

  15. 5 out of 5

    Satine Dali

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Meleya

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lady ♥ Belleza

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tina

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christian

  22. 4 out of 5

    1126985

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erica Steimetz

  25. 4 out of 5

    Quill Driver Books

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kristy Harding

  27. 4 out of 5

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  28. 5 out of 5

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  29. 5 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

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  31. 4 out of 5

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  32. 5 out of 5

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  33. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  34. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin Macariola

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