In the early 20th century, kidnappings were a scourge on the nation.
The Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 epitomized a time of widespread fear -- the taking of the famous aviator's son resulted in the FBI's involvement, and later the Federal Kidnapping Act, granting the Bureau jurisdiction in these cases.
Many of the children taken in the '30s were from wealthy families. Ransom demands ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many times the children were never returned and instead found dead. No one imagined the kidnapping of a 5-year-old boy in Princeton, Fla., would garner national attention.
It happened in the late evening of May 28, 1938. James "Skeegie" Cash was taken from his bed on the second floor of his parents' home.
Within a few hours, dozens of the town's residents had gathered around the father, Bailey, as he read aloud a ransom note. Before dawn, local law enforcement and the FBI were on the scene.
There would be three ransom notes discovered in all. Bailey Cash would have to make two attempts at dropping off the ransom. Eventually, thousands of people and dozens of agencies searched the Everglades for the boy.
It took only a couple days before newspapers across the country were once again pasting on their front pages headlines of another kidnapping. The nation was enthralled, especially when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover himself flew down to Miami to oversee the search for the boy and the kidnapper.
As the days passed, hopes of finding Skeegie dwindled. Family members tried to stay positive. The FBI was leaning hard on numerous suspects, but nothing panned out. Hoover was under pressure to keep his heroic image alive and strong in the news.
The unsung hero was Dade County Sheriff D.C. Coleman. With all the attention on Hoover and the bureau, Coleman started trailing a local everyone knew as the preacher's son, Franklin McCall. After a couple of conversations and some detective work, Coleman was convinced McCall did it. He eventually picked up McCall and without incident drove the suspect to FBI headquarters in Miami.
With pressure from Hoover and other interrogators, McCall eventually cracked and confessed and led investigators to the boy's body. A coroner's inquest was held shortly after the funeral. The jury came back within fifteen minutes confirming that the boy had died at the hands of the man in custody.
Many people across Florida wanted a quick trial and a rapid trip to the electric chair. On February 20, 1939, McCall was one of three prisoners listed for execution, but a last minute call came in postponing the execution for one last appeal.
The U.S. Circuit and Supreme Court justices refused the appeal, and Franklin McCall was executed on Feb. 24.
McCall became the first state resident to die under the Florida Lindbergh Law. These were popular in numerous states as a deterrent to child kidnappings.
Even though Hoover got all the credit in the nation's eyes for solving the case, locally, many people knew their man Sheriff Coleman had found the kidnapper. The story never stuck in the national consciousness the way other kidnappings did. That may be due to the fact that the year after the kidnapping, bombs dropped in Europe and World War II had begun.
The story has been turned into a book: "The Kidnapping and Murder of Little Skeegie Cash: J. Edgar Hoover and Florida's Lindbergh Case."
Starting May 28, exactly 77 years after Skeegie's kidnapping, we'll take you back to the Princeton of 1938, when residents watched scared as the search for his taker unfolded.
Zach Waters says his brother was the one who found the story in a 1958 True Detective magazine. Waters says the case was unique for a number of reasons, one of them being that J. Edgar Hoover got involved himself. The FBI director came to Miami because he thought it would be an easy case to solve and he needed the publicity. Congress was debating just how much funding the bureau should get and Hoover wanted a case to prove that the money was warranted.
Another reason this case was unique was the fact that the Cash family was not wealthy. Many kidnappers in other cases were asking for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Skeegie, McCall asked for $10,000. Skeegie's kidnapping burned the fear into American parents that anyone could become victim to this crime.
Hear an interview with Waters below.