Crime History, Jan. 15, 1954: Media keeps kidnapping of prominent son secret until dramatic capture

Maurice Moskovitz thanks the media for not leaking information about the kidnapping of his son before his abductors were captured.

Maurice Moskovitz, right, thanks the media for not leaking information about the kidnapping of his son before his abductors were captured.

On this day, Jan. 15, in 1954, Leonard Moskovitz, the son of a prominent San Francisco business family, was kidnapped and held for ransom in an unusual case in which the media kept the story quiet for days until the kidnappers were captured.

Moskovitz, 36, was abducted after leaving his real estate business during the middle of the day. He was held in a rent house and ordered to write a $500,000 ransom note to his father, Alfred Moskovitz.

“Get it for them right away or you won’t see me again,” he wrote. “Do not let police or authorities know or they’ll kill me now if it comes out in the newspapers.”

The abductors demanded that a coded message be placed in The San Francisco Examiner classified section when the money was ready to be delivered.

The family negotiated for three days while detectives sought clues and launched the biggest city manhunt in two decades. Although whispers about the kidnapping spread throughout the city, all the newspapers, wire services and radio stations kept the story secret.

The break for investigators came three days later during a phone call while Moskovitz kept the caller on long enough for detectives to trace to a phone booth.

Telephone switchboard operators were given the Moskovitz telephone and the moment the number was dialed police were notified. Detectives in radio equipped cars were alerted to seal off the area from where the call originated and found Joseph Lear, 43, inside a phone booth.

He quickly led police to the hideout where they found the plot’s mastermind, Harold Jackson, 57. Moskovitz was shackled but safe.

Jackson and Lear were convicted and got the death penalty, but their sentences were changed to life in prison. Both died in San Quentin.

— Scott McCabe

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