KIDNAPPED! 15 Minutes of Fame for St. Paul, 1949

© Jerry F. Couch

DURING WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN A SLOW WEEK FOR NEWS, an incident took place in St. Paul during the summer of 1949 that captured the attention of national newspaper media.  The story was probably successful because it contained all the scandalous elements so beloved by reporters.   After being picked up by wire services the story took on a life of its own.

Kidnapping Hoax 1
St. Paul Police Chief Walter Neely (right) looks highly amused.

From the Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1949


Girl ‘Rescued’ After Dropping Note

St. Paul, Va., June 24 (Special) — Police tonight cast doubts on the complaint of a pretty blond trapeze artist that she had been kidnapped in Houston, Tex., last Sunday by the two sons of a policeman, held as a hostage, and forced to drive them here in her car.

The Trio was held for further investigation after police had captured the two men and supposedly “rescued” the girl in a chase through this hilly coal mining country that was started when the blonde dropped a note from her automobile near a state trooper.

The girl identified herself as Barbara Gail Lamarr, 24, of Houston, and said she had been a circus performer in Miami.  The men are William and James Bearden, 24 and 29, sons of policeman John A. Bearden of Walahalla, S. C.  Both of the young men and the girl have police records.

Visit Relatives

In Decatur, Ga., Police Capt. Tom Ellis said his investigation indicated Barbara was not kidnapped.  He said the three stopped in Decatur Tuesday to visit a relative of the brothers and that Barbara was left alone in the car for 15 or 20 minutes.

“If she’d been kidnapped,” Ellis said, “I don’t think she’d have stayed in that car alone when she could have gotten away in the crowds on a busy street.”

In Houston, police said they had no information concerning a kidnapping, but they remember Barbara.  They said they stopped her twice on the night of April 25 for speeding in her 1949 Packard.  Houston police records showed she had been arrested previously in New Orleans, Memphis, and Florida on morals charges.

1949 packard
A very dignified 1949 Packard convertible.  It was not amused.

State Tropper J. W. Williams of St. Paul stopped the girl and two men in their car near here last night for a routine inspection.  As the car drove away after he found nothing amiss, Miss Lamarr dropped a note out a window.

It was addressed to the sheriff at Meridian, Miss.  It said she had been kidnapped in Houston last Sunday and was being held as a hostage by the two men.

Road Block Set Up

The trooper notified other officers, road blocks were set up, and the car was caught 45 minutes later near Norton, Va., a few miles from here.  The brothers threatened to “shoot it out” when police surrounded the car but desisted n the face of superior numbers and rifles.

Police said James Bearden is on parole from a life term for murder on which he served seven years in the South Carolina State Prison.  William had been a fugitive from a Florida prison road gang from which he fled while serving a term for armed robbery.

Barbara said the two men had planned to rob a store near here last night to replenish their funds, which had been reduced to nine cents.

From the Kingsport Times-News, June 26, 1949


Lebanon, Va. — (Spl) — Barbara Gail Lamarr, the girl acrobat who rode to Southwest Virginia from Texas with two brothers she accused of crimes, was released from the Russell County jail Saturday afternoon without charges.

State Trooper S. N. Norris of Norton, one of the participating officers in the arrest Thursday of James Brady Beardon, 29, Walhalla, S. C., and William E. Bearden, 24, stood beside the blonde, willowy girl as she talked over the telephone.  He said she was free to go wherever she chose and he assumed would go back to Houston, Texas.

Trooper Norris said the Bearden brothers remain in the jail at Lebanon until officers from other states may call for them to answer charges held against them in those states.

He said Miss Lamarr was released without bond and without charges.

The girl claimed she was forced at the point of a gun to drive the two men from Houston, Texas to St. Paul, Va. where she dropped a note Thursday afternoon, leading to the arrest of the two men near Norton.  She said the two were planning to rob a store near St. Paul.

Her story of being kidnapped didn’t stick very real with law enforcement officers, however.  The Decatur, Ga., police chief, where the trio stopped at Bearden’s sister’s place, said she didn’t, in his judgement, try hard to get away. 

The Lamarr girl dropped a note addressed to the sheriff of Meridian, Miss., which said the men were wanted in several states in connection with crimes.

Officers here expected South Carolina and Texas officers to claim the Beardens for charges in those states.

The trio were removed from the jail at St. Paul to the county jail here Friday.

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Kidnap victim Barbara Lamarr looking remarkably fresh after her shocking ordeal.


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