Monday, September 22, 2008

The Abduction of Little Lee Crary

Lee Crary's Wild Ride
by Robert A. Waters

In 1957, George Edward Collins, Jr. was an unemployed aircraft riveter with a live-in girlfriend and an infant daughter. At twenty-three, he was broke and desperate. His car was a rattle-trap with holes in its trunk, his electricity had been cut off, he’d had his television repossessed, and he was about to be evicted from his ramshackle Everett, Washington home.

On September 24, Collins began driving aimlessly through the countryside, brooding over his bad luck. By mid-afternoon, he’d come to the town of Edmonds when he spotted a lone boy in a schoolyard.

Like Collins, eight-year-old Lee Crary had also had a miserable afternoon. Because he’d been taking daily penicillin shots to recuperate from a bout with rheumatic fever, his mother had forbidden him from going swimming. But as Lee was bicycling home from school, several older bullies accosted him and flung him into a pool.

Lee escaped and started home, frightened and wet, when his mother met him. She was furious that he had disobeyed her. “I told him to get home and prepare himself for a spanking...” Beth Crary later told a newspaper reporter. “I didn’t know what the boys had done.”

Instead, Lee turned and cycled back to the schoolyard. He was angrily throwing rocks at trees when Collins drove up. After a brief conversation, Collins suddenly grabbed Lee from behind. “He gagged me, tied my hands behind my back, and forced me to get into the trunk of his car,” Lee said in a later interview with FBI agents. The boy was able to see where he was going because of the holes in the trunk. He was taken to a house a few miles away and sent to bed.

After dropping Lee off with his girlfriend, Katherine Myers, Collins wrote a hasty, illiterate ransom note demanding $ 10,000 for Lee’s safe return. He took it to Lynnwood and placed it in the mail.

On the afternoon Lee had vanished, Ed and Beth at first thought he might have run away to avoid punishment. They were quickly disabused of that notion when his bicycle was found in the schoolyard and the boy was nowhere in sight. Within hours of the disappearance, law enforcement officials concluded that Lee had been abducted. On the following day, after the ransom note arrived, it was certain.

Over the next three days, hundreds of local police, FBI agents, and volunteers searched forests and lakes surrounding the school. They interviewed hundreds of “perverts” and potential witnesses. To FBI agents, who’d investigated many abductions, this case was beginning to look like it might not have a happy ending.

Then, on September 27, twenty-five miles away Edmonds, near Lake Stevens, A. W. Armistead was driving home when a young boy flagged him down. The motorist opened the front door and a flea-bitten mutt hopped in, along with Lee Crary. “I’m the boy they’re looking for,” he announced.

Armistead raced home and called Snohomish County Sheriff Bob Twitchell. Lee told police and FBI agents that he’d been abducted by a man with a “ducktail,” held for three days, then tied to a tree in a nearby forest. He’d escaped and walked through the forest until he came to a road where he was picked up by Armistead. Surprised lawmen were amazed when Lee told them the license plate number of the old Chevrolet in which he’d been held.

That number led police to the desolate home of George Edward Collins, Jr.

The hapless Collins quickly confessed. Because of their financial woes, he said, he and Katherine had planned to abduct the child of a wealthy person in the area. They’d scouted potential victims and were still developing their scheme when Collins spotted Lee. On the spur of the moment, he decided to put their plan in motion.

When he later found out that Lee’s father was an auto parts salesman, not a wealthy magnate, he was devastated. But he decided to go through with the plan anyway, hoping the father could raise the money.

After being arrested, Collins showed some remorse. “It was a dumb trick,” he said. “I’m sorry I ever got involved. I’m ready to take my medicine.”

In several interviews with lawmen, he described the abduction. At first, he’d attempted to befriend the boy by talking about animals and nature. After snatching Lee, he placed his victim in the trunk, he said, knowing he could breathe because of the holes in the lid. They spent three days roaming the forests near Lake Stevens where they saw deer and grouse and other animals. Along the way, they were adopted by a homeless dog they called Rex.

On the fourth day, Collins tied Lee and the dog to trees and left to see if the ransom demand had been met. Because of the massive publicity, he was afraid to contact Ed Crary again, so he drove back to the forest. When he found that Lee was gone, he said he knew he would be captured. Lawmen then asked Collins if he planned to murder the boy. “No,” he replied. “That was way, way out of my mind.”

In his interview with investigators, Lee described how he’d escaped. “I remembered how Wild Bill Hickock got loose in a TV picture when he was tied up like that,” he said. “I figured I shouldn’t be sitting around in the brush like that, doing nothing, so I worked my wrists trying to get loose. Then I reached around with my teeth and got that bar in the buckle to drop loose.”

He freed Rex and made his way to the road where he was picked up.

After the interview, Lee and his parents were reunited. When the boy walked into the room, his father fainted.

On February 27, 1958, George Edward Collins, Jr. was convicted of second-degree kidnapping and sentenced to ten years in prison. The judge called it a “cruel and inhumane crime.” Then he added: “You are lucky that you weren’t found guilty of first degree kidnapping.” That would have carried the death penalty, he added.

Katherine Myers was convicted of reduced charges. She was released from jail and placed on probation.

1 comment:

CA said...

I wonder what happened to Rex.