The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash
J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case
Publication Year: 2014
In his long and storied career, J. Edgar Hoover investigated only one case personally, the 1938 kidnapping and murder of five-year-old Floridian James “Skeegie” Cash. What prompted the director himself to fly from Washington, DC, to a rain-drenched hamlet on the edge of the Everglades? Congress had slashed FBI funding, forcing Hoover to lay off half his agents. The combative Hoover believed if he could bring Skeegie’s killer to justice, the halo of positive publicity would revive the fortunes of the embattled FBI.
In The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash, Robert A. Waters and Zack C. Waters bring to life the drama of the abduction, the payment of a $10,000 ransom, the heartbreaking manhunt for Skeegie and his kidnapper, the arrest and confession of Franklin Pierce McCall, and the killer’s trial and execution. Hordes of reporters swarmed into the little village south of Miami, and for thirteen days until McCall confessed, the case dominated national headlines. The authors capture the drama and the detail as well as the desperate and sometimes extralegal lengths to which Hoover went to crack the case.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the authors obtained more than four thousand pages of FBI files and court documents to reconstruct this important but forgotten case. The tragedy that played out in the swamps of Dade County constituted the backdrop for a political struggle that would involve J. Edgar Hoover, the United States Congress, and even president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hoover and the president prevailed, and within two years the FBI grew from 680 employees to more than 14,000. No books and few articles have been published about this historic case.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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In 1939, “Murderer’s Row” at Florida Prison Farm consisted of six steel cages. Called death cells, they stood in a compound separate from the main housing unit. The prison, located near a backwater town called Raiford, had been designated the state’s execution facility since Florida’s legislature abolished...
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The authors owe a debt of gratitude to a number of individuals and institutions that helped in the preparation of this book. Since the very foundation of our research consisted of the documents prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1938, totaling over four...
1. The Lost Boy
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At about nine o’clock in the evening, Vera Cash gave five-year- old Skeegie a bath, then dressed him in white-and- rose- colored one-piece pajamas. Placing her child in his crib, she read to him from the Miami Herald. Stories about Adolph Hitler’s occupation of Austria and Josef Stalin’s latest Five...
2. “We Have the Child”
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At about one o’clock in the morning, a caravan rolled up to John Emanuel’s house. Bailey Cash drove his 1936 Plymouth sedan while several relatives, employees, and neighbors followed. Cash had previously requested that the group circle the house, and they did so, their headlights illuminating the exterior...
3. “An Obscure Country Merchant”
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The morning news must have rattled Bailey Cash. Headlines of an Associated Press story read, “Find Body of Peter Levine Near His Home.”1 The article itself spared none of the gory details: “One hundred local police and G-men searched nearby shores today for the remnants of the body...
4. “Call in All the Spies”
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At exactly midnight, James Bailey Cash walked to his car. A crowd of about five hundred people had gathered in the street outside his house and store. As Cash placed the shoebox on the seat beside him, reporters, radio broadcasting crews, and photographers crowded close, hoping to get a scoop.1...
5. Searching for Little Skeegie
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Dawn came and went. Inside the Cash home, a soul-crushing depression took hold of the occupants. Everyone knew that Skeegie should have been returned long ago.1 After returning from the ransom drop-off, Cash rushed to his wife’s side and informed her that the money had been delivered. Brimming with confidence...
6. “The Greatest Manhunt Ever Seen in Florida”
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Newspapers labeled the search for Skeegie Cash as “the greatest manhunt ever seen in Florida.” Preston Bird, the county commissioner in charge of the volunteers, wrote: “On this day, Thursday, more than three thousand men were on foot and [adding] the diving detail, the Keys detail, boat and aeroplane...
7. Interrogating the Carpenter
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The hunt for Skeegie resumed the following morning. By now, all hope for finding the boy alive had vanished, and many posse members apparently no longer thought they would even be able to locate the child’s corpse. Still exhausted from the previous day spent trudging through miles of swamps, palmetto...
8. The Paperboy
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Saturday dawned on a community shaken to the core. Exactly one week earlier, in the no-stoplight town of Princeton, Florida, an innocent child had been snatched from his home. It was the type of crime small-town residents naively believed only happened in big cities. In rural southern Florida, people tended to live harsh but simple lives...
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9. Sheriff of Dade County
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D. C. Coleman, forty-six, had been the sheriff of Dade County for five years, replacing colorful veteran sheriff Dan Hardie in 1933.1 Hardie came to Miami in the 1890s, in an era when outlaws brazenly roamed the city. Opium dens and bawdy houses were commonplace, and local lawmen often turned...
10. Politics and Peccadillos
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidency in a landslide victory in 1932, sweeping into office in 1933. A progressive, he quickly began implementing programs designed to stem the Depression. For several years, until America’s entrance into World War II , the economic situation maintained a steady...
11. “A Roll of Money as Big as My Head”
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FBI files on the Cash case contain dozens of newspaper clippings. Not only did the New York, Washington, and Los Angeles dailies come under the scrutiny of J. Edgar Hoover, but so did the weekly journals of rural county seats in the southern and midwestern hinterlands. Each day the director would...
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At midnight, in an upstairs room at FBI headquarters, Franklin Pierce McCall sat fidgeting like a rat in a cage. As SAC Connelley interrogated him, the noose slowly tightened around the suspect’s neck. Special agent H. B. Dill assisted in the questioning.1 Director Hoover stood in the back of the room. The top G-man almost...
13. Skeegie’s Funeral
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Dr. Otto accompanied the sad corpse of James Bailey Cash Jr. to Turner Funeral Home in Homestead. There he performed a meticulous autopsy on the remains.1 While the resulting postmortem analysis revealed little information about the cause of Skeegie’s death, it added a great deal of horrifying detail. Dr. Otto later testified: “I first saw the body after entering this pine thicket where...
14. “The Most Cold-Blooded Thing I Ever Heard Of ”
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The wheels of the Dade County justice system began turning almost as soon as J. Edgar Hoover announced the FBI had secured a confession. S. L. Kendrick, serving as both coroner and Homestead’s justice of the peace, impaneled a six-man jury for the coroner’s inquest. They assembled in a room of...
15. Time Runs Out
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On the morning of February 20, 1939, prison officials had scheduled three executions at Raiford. The condemned men, Clyde Hysler, Paul Fried Bunge, and Franklin Pierce McCall, waited in their cells for Superintendent Chapman to appear and lead them one by one into the death chamber...
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Page Count: 212
Illustrations: 11 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth