National News in Montrose – The Gettle Kidnapping
It seems Montrose just couldn’t stay out of notoriety in the 1930s. Just four months after the great Montrose Flood of New Year, in a neighborhood still devastated by that flood, a nationally famous kidnapping took place with spectacular “gangbusters” style arrests at the culmination.
William Gettle had made his fortune in oil in L.A., and lived the good life in a Beverly Hills mansion. On the night of May 9, 1934, Gettle, spectacularly fat at over 500 pounds, was drinking with a friend. Two men, dressed in bed sheets like ghosts, burst in and forced Gettle into their car at gunpoint. They drove him to Montrose, where they had rented a small house at 4256 Rosemont Ave. (which today is the 210 Freeway overpass). He was tied and gagged in the bedroom of the house, but otherwise treated well.
A ransom note was sent to Gettle’s lawyer demanding $60,000, and another to Gettle’s wife demanding an additional $40,000. Gettle was held in the house for six days while the ransom was negotiated and police scrambled for clues. On May 15, the police finally broke the case, but the tale of the capture of the kidnappers varies widely in the various news sources. All were exciting, but I’ll show my hometown bias by using the CV Ledger’s version.
A spot to drop the ransom money was settled on and a car carrying $60,000 in cash was dispatched. A lookout for the kidnappers spotted the police following the car, and called police headquarters telling the “coppers” to “lay off tailing the car.” As the lookout talked, the police traced the call to an L.A. address. They nabbed the caller, a woman, and found in her pocket a business card from Nate Zimmer, a La Crescenta real estate agent who had his office at Rosemont and Foothill, where Foster’s Donuts is today. A quick call to Mr. Zimmer revealed that he had just rented a house on Rosemont to strangers to the valley.
By the evening of the 15th, the police felt they had the location of the kidnappers. This was before the days of police negotiators and psychologists, so a score of L.A. police and local sheriff cars converged on the house with sirens blaring. Police surrounded the house armed with Tommy guns and shotguns, and crashed through the front door. Two kidnappers inside, a man and a woman, surrendered immediately while another male kidnapper abandoned his accomplices and piled out the back window. He miraculously evaded the surrounding police but was quickly caught down in L.A. Imagine the racket this noisy police bust made in our very quiet valley!
William Gettle was released unharmed and the ransom money was retained. In all, five kidnappers were arrested – Roy Williams, Jimmy Kirk, Larry Kerrigan and two women, Loretta Woody and Mona Gallighan. If you think the police were quick to react, that was nothing compared to the swiftness of the court system. The three male kidnappers were brought straight from Montrose to a courtroom where in an amazing 14-minute court proceeding the men plea-bargained from death penalty charges to a guilty plea and sentenced to life in prison with no parole. Within 60 hours of their arrest, the three men were behind bars in San Quentin. The women were tried and sent to a reformatory.
Sadly, the nightmare wasn’t over for William Gettle. By June of 1934 he had received two death threats against him for his testimony against the women kidnappers and at Christmas he was threatened with another kidnapping. The stress was too much for the family and the next year his invalid wife died at the young age of 34. Gettle himself died just six years later at 54.
Some Montrose entrepreneur made money by giving tours of the Rosemont house Gettle had been held at, and there’s a photo in the Glendale Library’s collection of a parked car with a sign on it reading “kidnapping house” and an arrow. The house itself is gone, but the story lives on – another chapter in CV’s dynamic history.