In October 1934, 28 year old socialite, Alice Speed Stoll, was kidnapped from her Louisville, Kentucky mansion. Seven days later, an injured Alice was set free but her kidnapper remained on the run and became one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted. Who kidnapped Alice? And why?
The oldest museum of art in the state of Kentucky is the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Constructed in 1927, the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum was a memorial to Hattie Speed’s husband who was a prominent businessman, art collector and philanthropist.
The Speed name has always been associated with wealth and success. The family name is also associated with one of the most captivating and terrifying stories of kidnapping of the 1930s.
Alice Speed met her perfect match in Berry Stoll, an executive in his family’s oil company which included refineries and gas stations throughout Kentucky. Barry’s father, CC Stoll was one of the richest men in Louisville.
Alice and Berry were devoted to one another. When Alice was kidnapped from their Louisville mansion , Berry pleaded with her captor for her safe return and appeared on local radio broadcasts each night she was gone, asking that her captor set her free.
On October 10th, 1934, Alice Stoll was home in bed, recovering from a cold, when her maid and an unknown man rushed into her room. The man had posed as a telephone repairman and was allowed to enter because there had been issues with phone lines in the home. Once inside, the man made small talk with the maid asking about the family and who was home. He checked the downstairs phone line and then asked to check the upstairs line which was in the master bedroom with Alice Stoll.
The maid knocked and tried to enter but would be pushed into the room with a gun to her back. Alice immediately tried to diffuse the situation by offering to write a check for any amount the man wanted, if he would just leave without hurting them. But the man said he had come to take a Stoll.
He laid his gun on the bed while he reached in his pockets for the wire he brought along to tie up his victim. Alice attempted to grab the gun at which time the kidnapper grabbed a pipe and hit her on the forehead. Alice continued to resist and tried to run from the room but was hit again and fell to the ground, bleeding and disoriented.
The kidnapper forced the maid to bind Alice’s wrists with wire and made her tape Alice’s mouth shut. He then bound the maid’s hands and feet.
He forced Alice, at gunpoint, to walk outside to his car where he placed Alice in the back seat floor of the car and drove away.
Hours later, Berry Stoll arrived home to find blood on the door and the maid, bound and gagged in an upstairs bedroom. Inside one of the upstairs rooms, he found a typewritten and lengthy ransom letter that made odd references to Stoll family and demanded $50,000 in cash for the safe return of Alice.
The letter warned that if police were called in and the money was not paid, the victim’s body would be burned in a quote “galvanized tank and the ashes scattered in water and the tank would be cleaned so as to defy detection.”
The letter instructed that the ransom should be handed over to the kidnapper’s intermediary, Thomas H. Robinson Sr. of Nashville, Tennessee, with instructions to drop off the money at an express station and await word from the kidnapper.
Berry Stoll never hesitated to call in the police and soon city, county and federal authorities were searching most of the state and searching for Alice north across the Ohio River into Indiana.
The following day, authorities released a statement from Barry Stoll. It was addressed directly to the kidnaper and read as follows: “Berry Stoll has just found the note regarding the ransom and arrangements are being made accordingly.”
As Berry, the FBI and all of Louisville waited for any word on Alice Stoll, no reply came from the kidnapper for days. The kidnapper’s name was not initially released by authorities, but they knew who he was.
Fingerprints found at the scene confirmed the kidnapper was the son of the man who had been named intermediary.
27 year old Thomas Robinson, Jr had a criminal record and a complicated background. He was born in Nashville in 1907. His father was a successful engineer who provided for the family. Robinson, Jr. attended Vanderbilt University where he studied law.
When he was 20 years old, Robinson, Jr. was forced to marry a woman he had been intimate with. He soon learned she was already pregnant with another man’s child which gave Robinson grounds for divorce. Robinson claimed the embarrassment and scandal surrounding the ordeal ruined his life and led him to withdraw from law school and his friends.
In January of 1929 he met and married Frances Robinson and the two welcomed their first child later that year. But in March 1929, Robinson, Jr. posed as a law enforcement officer, broke into a home and stole jewelry and a car for his getaway. He then took out a loan at a bank, using the jewelry as collateral.
He was arrested and sent to Central State Hospital in Tennessee following a plea of insanity. He remained at the state hospital until May of 1930 when his father brought lunacy proceedings against him. A judge ruled he was of unsound mind and was committed to Western State Hospital at Bolivar, where he remained until his father was appointed his guardian in August of 1930.
Court records show that the doctors who examined Thomas Robinson Jr found that he had delusions of grandeur with the doctor writing the following to the court: “He knows right from wrong as any normal person would, but he is just one of those types that cannot resist the temptation of doing wrong, committing crimes, and hurting others.”
Thomas Robinson, Jr spent the next few months in his parents home where he threatened to kill his father, hit his mother and grew increasingly paranoid and jealous of his wife. His father tried to help him find a job which proved difficult because Robinson would become violent at work and lose his job, often being fired on the same day he was hired. Over the next two years, he held jobs in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana working in different plants and gas stations.
Robinson, Sr had connections with wealthy businessmen and in 1934, he took his son to CC Stoll, the president of the Stoll Refining Company and begged him to give his son a chance. CC Stoll agreed and gave the young man a job managing one of his filling stations. Robinson remained on the job for about a year before he quit.
Months later, when he was applying for jobs and finding it hard to find work, Robinson began to blame CC Stoll for his troubles. He claimed Stoll was a powerful man who trying to keep out of the workforce and referred to CC Stoll as a quote: “powerful capitalist and a menace to the country … responsible for the Great depression.”
In the summer of 1934, Thomas Robinson Jr drove to Indianapolis and rented an apartment under the name of Thomas W. Kennedy. He planned to kidnap CC Stoll or his son Berry when he arrived at the Stoll home on October 10th. When he learned Alice was the only Stoll in the house, he took her instead.
As the Feds searched for Alice, she was being held in that apartment in Indianapolis. Alice realized her kidnapper had maniacal tendencies and tried to help him remain calm as he awaited word on the ransom money and threatened her life.
How Alice was freed and the curious mistake that led to Thomas Robinson, Jr’s capture? Well those answers can be heard in the episode.
Speed Museum History. SpeedMuseum.org
The bizarre story of a kidnapped Louisville heiress held captive in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Star. 20 December 2019.
Robinson v. United States, 144 F.2d 392 (6th Cir. 1944) US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit – 144 F.2d 392 (6th Cir. 1944). July 31, 1944
Money for Mrs. Stoll Is Ready Authorities Refuse to Reveal ‘Definite Leads’. Healdsburg Tribune, Number 290, 11 October 1934
Stoll kidnapping–outtakes. Fox Movietone News Story 23-486…23-487. Filmed on October 12 and 13, 1934. Moving Image Research Collections
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