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.
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.
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."
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.