Kidnapping, Extortion, and Drama… oh my!

Edward Hampton Jack

Edward Hampton Jack was my 3rd great grandfather (my dad’s dad’s dad’s mom’s dad). Born in 1823 in Indiana, he lived in Kentucky, was involved in steamboating, and ultimately ended up in Peoria Illinois.

His professions over the years included a general mercantile business, the manufacture of tobacco, steamboating, the grain and lumber business, distilling, banking, and real estate.

Annie William Moss

Edward married Annie W. Moss, the daughter of Captain William Simms Moss, in 1856. Captain Moss lived an interesting life and built up a small fortune — though his full story will be saved for another post. Just note that Edward served as an executor of Captain Moss’ estate. It’s not clear if Edward and Annie inherited anything … that’s another research project.

Edward and Annie had 7 children:

– Minnie H. (b. 1857, d. Unk.)
– William S. (b. 1862, d. Unk)
– Anne (b. 1863, d. 1952)
– Lile Angela (b. 1867, d. 1965) … my 2nd great grandmother
– Noel Hampton (b. 1874, d. Unk)
– Rose Choate (b. 1875, d. Unk)
– Edward M. (b. Unk, d. Unk)

Annie, his wife, died in 1888.

Over the course of his life, Edward (the subject of this story, not his son) amassed quite a fortune. Now… what do you get when you mix an aging parent, 7 children, and a ton of money?

A truly harmonious family with zero drama!

And they all lived happily ever after. The end.





Okay, that’s not even close to what happened.

The exact details vary, depending on which publication you read. That said, the first articles hit the papers nationwide on January 23, 1907, with headlines like:

Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, WI, 23 Jan 1907
The Boston Globe, Boston, MA, 23 Jan 1907
The Washington Post, Washington, DC, 23 Jan 1907
The Inter Ocean, Chicago, IL, 23 Jan 1907
Bureau County Tribune, Princeton, IL, 1 Feb 1907

You get the picture. The short version of the story generally goes as follows:

William Jack, second child of Edward and Annie, kidnapped his father, then 84 years of age, and took him to California where he demanded $1,000,000 of his father’s estate. Failing that, he planned to force his father to marry “some woman” and later split up the inheritance after his father’s death. William, of course, had an accomplice: William Humphrey.

The specific details get a little murky.

Some articles say William threatened his father with violence or death.

Some say Edward H. Jack was “mentally deficient,” “mentally distracted,” or “mentally incompetent,” referring to his advanced age. There’s another mention of him having cataracts, possibly causing near-blindness.

Many articles say that William Jack was also “mentally unsound” – except his was a result of alcoholism, and that he was angered by his father’s refusal of additional financial support. The Inter Ocean reported that, according to Edward’s daughters, William had to be confined to a “sanitorium to restore his mind to its normal state.” It’s unclear when this would have happened, and I haven’t found any supporting documentation of this account yet.

Where Edward was taken is also a question. Most articles simply say he was taken to California. The Los Angeles Times said on 24 January 1907 that he was being kept hidden on a ranch near San Joaquin. The Inter Ocean said that William had a ranch in Calaveras County, insinuating that this is where he took his father. Another article from The Los Angeles Times, on 25 Jan 907, quotes a man named Ansel Smith (purported one-time attorney of Edward) as saying that Edward was safe, sane, and not under duress in Los Angeles.

Things get even more strange when, in March of 1908, more articles are published. One in The Butte Daily Post (Butte, Montana), said that he was taken to The Palmer House, a hotel in Chicago, and kept there as a prisoner for 2 weeks… not California. That said, in the same article The Palmer House had no record of anyone from the Jack family having been a guest there.

The size of the Jack estate was also unclear. Some articles said William was trying to get his father’s $1,000,000 estate. Others indicated it was $ 1,000,000 OF the estate, suggesting the estate was much larger than that. The Inter Ocean on 23 January 1907 said Edward’s fortune was estimated to be between $5 million and $10 million. After Edward’s death, the Stockton Daily Evening Record, on 23 April 1908, said the estate consisted of buildings in Chicago and Peoria Illinois and land in San Joaquin County, valued at $2 million. Years later (1915, to be precise), an article in the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) was published covering the wedding of one of Edward’s daughters, and claimed the estate was $50 million. The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) also covered the wedding, and said the estate was $50 million – $60 million.

Let’s put this in perspective. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator only goes as far back as 1913. That’s close enough for this blog… so comparing 1913 money to 2020 money (and rounding to the nearest dollar):

  • $1 million (what William demanded) = $26,553,980
  • $2 million (Stockton Daily Evening Record) = $53,107,959
  • $5 million (The Inter Ocean) = $132,769,898
  • $10 million (The Inter Ocean) = $265,539,796
  • $50 million (Arizona Daily Star) = Error. The CPI Inflation Calculator limits your initial value to 10 million or less… but math tells us that it is roughly $1,327,698,980
  • $60 million ( Oakland Tribune)… roughly $1,593,238,776

Regardless of which number was the true value of the estate, that’s an INSANE amount of money. It’s no wonder this event hit newspapers throughout the country.

So, how was this resolved? It’s not totally clear to me.

Edward’s one-time attorney, Ansel Smith, said on 25 January 1907 in the Los Angeles Times that there was no kidnapping.

Ansel Smith’s Statement
The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, 25 Jan 1907

William, returning to Peoria in May 1907, was reported to have said that the whole abduction story was untrue, and that a Cook County judge dismissed the suit to appoint a receiver for the estate.

Those strange articles that published in March 1908 (about The Palmer House in Chicago) are allegedly based on accounts from Edward himself. He said that after he was released he discovered that he was “made to sign a declaration which took his property rights away,” and that he was fighting that action.

Edward died suddenly the following month, on 17 April 1908. The Peoria County Register of Deaths lists “Enlargement of the heart” as his cause of death. His daughter (my 2nd great grandmother) escorted his remains from Illinois to Stockton California where he was to be buried next to his late wife, Annie W. Moss.

What happened to the hefty estate is a mystery to me. The article about his daughter’s wedding in 1915 said that she (Anne) had inherited most of his estate.

My 2nd great grandmother was granted a divorce from her husband in June 1908 on the grounds of infidelity. My thought is she waited until after her father died to pursue the divorce. Her ex-husband (my 2nd great grandfather) remarried almost exactly one year later. The article about his nuptials said that litigation over the estate began in January 1907 (when the alleged kidnapping took place) and that “soon after this litigation [he] was divorced from his wealthy wife.” This wording suggests to me that the estate was finalized by June 1908… but that seems far fetched, as Edward had only died 2 months earlier. Surely an estate of that size, and with that much controversy, would be in limbo for years.

This is as far as my research has taken me. Some questions and possible research paths remain:

  • If Edward was in fact kidnapped, was any legal action taken against his son William (and William’s accomplices)?
  • Was there a will? If so, I’d like to get my hands on a copy.
  • Are there probate records? Again, if so, I’d like to get a copy.
  • Find more stories about the children. There may be some information in other news articles that could hint towards other research paths.

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