Reforming Beef
9 of 9

1906 Kidnapping

Edward Cudahy, Jr. & his two sisters, circa 1900
Source: Douglas County Historical Society

One strange story related to the Progressive Movement involved one of the most sensational crimes in Nebraska history. In Omaha, petty crook Pat Crowe’s small butchering business had been wiped out by the mega-industrialist, meatpacking business tycoon Edward Cudahy, Sr. Later, Crowe was also fired from a job in a Cudahy store for allegedly stealing store funds. Crowe’s resulting grudge against Cudahy led him to kidnap Cudahy’s son, 16-year-old Edward Cudahy, Jr. The boy was seized as he returned home from an errand on December 18, 1900.

The details of the crime were not too unusual. Crowe asked for $25,000 in gold. Cudahy, Sr. paid, and Edward, Jr., unharmed, was returned home a few hours later. Then, Cudahy, Sr. hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to find Crowe. In the five years before Crowe was caught, Omaha's three daily newspapers (the Daily News, Daily Bee, and World-Herald) gave the crime and its suspect extensive coverage.

Pat Crowe
Source: Douglas County Historical Society

Cudahy Packing Plant, Omaha, circa 1900
Source: Douglas County Historical Society
The prosecution of Crowe, on the other hand, was very unusual. Nebraska had no kidnapping statute. So, he was first charged with shooting a policeman in an attempt to escape. The jury acquitted Crowe after only 80 minutes deliberation.

A new charge of grand larceny (for the robbery of the ransom money) sent Crowe to trial in February 1906. After 92 witnesses for the prosecution, and no witnesses for the defense, the jury again acquitted Crowe.

Cudahy mansion in Omaha, NE
and E. A. Cudahy, Sr., circa 1900
Source: Douglas County Historical Society
& Nebraska State Historical Society

Why? At the time, the average working-class Nebraskan hated big capitalists. Many thought Edward Cudahy, Sr. got what was coming to him. Sympathy was with the poor working stiff, Pat Crowe. He became something of a celebrity. The Omaha Daily News once described him as "one of the few really spectacular and truly named desperadoes" of the day. The Chicago Examiner proclaimed the defense's closing statement in the last trial to be "considered the best speech in a criminal case ever made in Omaha." Responding to the conclusion of the trial, The Washington Post wrote, "Omaha is evidently a happy hunting ground for savages and malefactors."

Click the Magnifying Glass icon or the picture for a closer look.

Mag Me!
Workers at Cudahy meatpacking Plant, Omaha, NE, 1895
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society

In this case, the sentiments of reform had been taken to an extreme, but this first quarter of the twentieth century was the end of an era for the free reign of the stockyard and packing plant businessmen, just as it was for the cattle barons.

Beef’s next big adventure was to modernize.

  Women’s Voting Rights
1925-1949 Beef Goes Modern
Follow THE STORY OF BEEF through the decades.
Beef Moves
to Nebraska
High Falutin’
Beef Goes Modern
NE Beef
Goes Global