On the evening of December 16, 1931, Nell Donnelly left her office at the Nelly Don factory in downtown Kansas City and headed home in her 1928 Lincoln sedan driven by longtime chauffeur George Blair.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Nell and George pulled up to the Donnelly home but the entrance to the driveway was blocked by another car. Mr. Blair sounded the horn and rolled the window down to ask the men in the unidentified vehicle to move. Suddenly three men stormed the Lincoln and overpowered Nell and George and forced them out to a remote farmhouse. Once at the farmhouse, the men forced Nell to write ransom notes ensuring that if $75,000 was not paid, they would blind her and kill George.
The Donnelly home
James A. Reed, an attorney, former United States Senator and eventually Nell's husband, was in trial in Jefferson City when he heard the news of Nell's kidnapping. He rushed from the courtroom which drew the attention of reporters on hand who figured out what was going on and contacted their editors in Kansas City to inform them of Nell's abduction.
When Reed later arrived at the Donnelly home, he threatened the kidnappers publicly saying if they harmed one hair on Nell's head he would spend the rest of his life tracking them down and make sure they received the death penalty.
Reed's next move was to get in touch with Johnny Lazia, a political gangster in Kansas City, who delivered votes to Tom Pendergast's candidates in exchange for police protection for the mob's gambling and vice operations.
When told about Nell's kidnapping, Lazia informed Reed it wouldn't make sense for the KC mob to kidnap a prominent member of the business community and attract attention to it. Reed threatened Lazia that if he and his crew did not find Nell within 24 hours Reed would buy a half-hour of national radio time and expose Lazia and his corrupt operations and influence in Kansas City.
Lazia sent 25 carloads of men looking for Nell and through some amazing detective work they found where she and George were and rescued them from abduction. They'd been held for 34 hours. Lazia and his men would not reveal the identity of the kidnappers, so on that front, the police were on their own.
Eventually the ringleader of the failed crime was tracked to South Africa and extradited to Kansas City. Two of the kidnappers received life sentences and one was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
This is an entirely true story of the event as written by Terence O'Malley. A version of this story and many others from Nell's life can be found in Terence's book - Nelly Don: A Stitch in Time