BASED ON A TRUE STORY. During the Great Depression, high profile kidnappings became more and more commonplace. On December 17, 1931, self-made millionaire fashion designer Nell Donnelly becomes the next casualty.
Senator Reed, a family friend, steps in to lead the investigation. Impatient with ineffective police efforts, he is willing to go to extraordinary measures. How extraordinary? How about enlisting the help of two of Kansas City’s most notorious crime bosses. This deal with two devils may very well be Reed’s downfall. But more importantly, will the involvement of hardened gangsters lead to Nell Donnelly’s freedom or her demise?
Targeted Age Group:: 13+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It has been an arduous journey. When I first came across the story of Nell Donnelly back in 2013, I found her kidnapping so compelling that I knew I had to do something with it. At the time, I had no idea if it would become a book or screenplay.
As a reminder, Nell Donnelly was a self-made millionaire in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. She made her fortune by creating everyday dresses that had a bit of pizazz. At the time, the only dresses available for women were boxy, unflattering dresses for cleaning in, and glamorous dresses for a night out. She tapped into an underserved market and struck gold.
Nelly was also ahead of her time as an employer. She hired over 1000 employees, mostly women. She made sure they were paid above-average wages, had paid leave, paid vacations, paid higher education and paid childcare. In fact, when the unions tried to come in and organized in her factory, they were unsuccessful. The employees had nothing to complain about.
Her abduction came just before the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping, and after several other high-profile crimes.
But what really sparked my interest was the involvement of a US Senator who moved heaven and earth to find her; even making deals with organized crime figures.
Kidnappers, gangsters, organized crime, politics, all make for a fascinating story.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters were all based on real persons, as this is a fictionalized account of a real kidnapping that took place December 17, 1931. The main characters all have the names of the real individuals. The secondary characters are fictionalized, and make up a compilation of people.
Chapter 1: White Anemones
Do you know what happens to the human body when it plummets over two hundred feet and makes contact with a body of water? Binding kinetic energy swirls between the two forces, man and water. Once they collide, the body will become more fluid, while the water remains and behaves the same. What is the result? It all depends on the point of contact.
Brook Hart, a handsome young man of 22, had no reason to consider such things as he lived a carefree life working for his father, Alex J. Hart, in one of their family-owned retail stores. The youngest of a brood of siblings, Brook was his father’s favorite. His ambition and leadership skills put him first in line to take over the profitable family business.
Although the Great Depression was in full swing, the Harts were living the American Dream. That was until that fateful day.
“My father, please contact him… He will give you…”
Before Brook could finish his sentence, a terra-cotta brick, taken from a construction site on Hoover Street, knocked him to the ground.
“You people are always givin’ orders,” said Jack, a common hood, now wearing Hart’s new waistcoat. Jack was a man beaten down by his own ineptness; a man who blamed the world for his continual failures. “Tired of the likes of you and your kind dinin’ on deviled eggs, while I gotta steal a lousy loaf.”
Jack and his accomplice, Thurmond, wrapped baling wire around Brook’s legs and hands. The baling wire cut through the fine twill-cuffed trousers and butterfly-collared shirt, gouging Brook’s flesh.
Jack said, “We ain’t figured out where to stash ya during the negotiations, so we figured we’d hide ya in the San Mateo. Sorry, crumb, but this is your big kiss-off.”
Thurmond echoed his sentiments, “Last kiss-off, friend.”
Brook mumbled a few incoherent words as Jack took hold of the upper part of him, while Thurmond grabbed him from his knees down. They lifted him onto the railing of the San Mateo Bridge before heaving him over the side. Brook’s wails reverberated over the river. He plunged into the water, feet first, and bobbed as he came up for air, unaware that hitting the water in this manner allows for a greater survival rate. Brook managed to free himself from the baling wire while thrashing about.
But Jack and Thurmond weren’t through with Brook. “Look at ‘im, making me work for a livin’.” Jack walked to the back of his ten-year-old Hillman Tourer and unlocked the trunk. He reached inside, revealed a worn Thompson machine gun wrapped in yesterday’s paper, walked over to the edge, climbed down onto the stringers, and aimed. Loud bursts in succession, “RAT A TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT,” then a pause, followed by thirteen more. “RAT A TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT.” Brook’s body continued to convulse from the bullets long after he took his last breath. His body unhurriedly slipped below the surface.
Jack climbed back up, “Geez, almost forgot.” Jack reached in the passenger side of the Tourer and pulled out a rumpled bag filled with white anemone flowers; a cup-shaped bloom known for its distinctive deep-lobed foliage. He tossed them to Thurmond as he shoved the Thompson back into the trunk.
Thurmond palmed a handful, scattered them at his feet, and kicked a few over the edge. While working at a nursery, the only legit job Jack held, he learned that this flower signified sorrow and death. This bit of information proved so appealing to Jack that he made it a point to remember.
The anemones danced and swirled as the wind’s sudden gust blew open their petals, the same wind which would eventually scatter the spiritless petals far and away. Jack slammed the trunk shut. Both men climbed into the car and drove away.
These same white anemone flowers were left on the doorstep of Mr. And Mrs. Hart, along with a ransom note demanding forty-thousand dollars. Alex Hart paid the ransom, in hopes that his son would be returned to him. This was at the urging of police and their dear friend and champion, Senator James A. Reed.
His colleagues considered Senator Reed to be a member of the ‘old right,’ an ‘isolationist.’ But he’d assure you that he was neither old nor right. He considered himself progressive: someone who didn’t always tow the Democratic Party line, not if it was used as a noose. The Phrasemaker himself, Woodrow Wilson, and Reed had often butted heads simply because it was a Tuesday.
Senator Reed once stood front and center on the Senate floor, denouncing the League of Nations as an H. G. Wells, ‘One World of Brothers United in a League’ as ‘fanciful’ and ‘absurd.’ Through this same electrified speech, he denounced his colleagues who ushered in Prohibition by calling them gentlemen who ‘vote dry and drink wet.’
When meeting Reed, no smile would grace his face, yet his manner was always courteous. His gray eyes were penetrating, but were nothing but thoughtful. If you were a person with dishonorable intentions, your eyes would refuse to meet his. And if you wanted justice, you would see Senator Reed.
The senator frequently used the power behind his overpowering presence and office to quickly hastily resolve any desperate situation.
He met with the local police and poured over the evidence, including the ransom note and anemone flowers left behind on the bridge. A man of great faith in the system and even stronger fortitude, Reed’s involvement kept the Hart kidnapping case front and center. Reed was not used to losing but had to accept this painful exception once young Brook Hart’s remains surfaced.
His fortitude would be tested yet again, just seven months later, when Nell Donnelly was taken just outside her home.
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