FBI’s Famous Kidnapping Case: The Snoqualmie Valley Connection

On the FBI’s most famous cases list is a kidnapping case with a Snoqualmie Valley connection.

“On May 24, 1935, George Weyerhaeuser, the nine-year old son of prominent lumberman J.P. Weyerhaeuser of Tacoma, Washington, disappeared on his way home from school.” – FBI

Weyerhaeuser Timber Company owned and operated the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company in Snoqualmie and the Cherry Valley Logging Company in Duvall and was the largest employer in the Valley at the time. The kidnapping came just three years after Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped and murdered; leaving grave concern for the potential fate of George Weyerhaeuser. It was in 1932 after the Lindbergh kidnapping that the federal Kidnapping Act was passed placing such cases under the jurisdiction of the FBI, which brought the Portland office of the FBI onto the Weyerhaeuser Case in 1935.

George was living with his family in Tacoma at the time of his disappearance.

“Although the students at Lowell School which he attended were released for lunch earlier than usual, George followed his regular practice of immediately walking to the nearby Annie Wright Seminary to meet his sister Ann. The family’s chauffeur generally met George and Ann at the Seminary to drive them home for lunch at noon. Arriving at the Seminary 10 or 15 minutes early that day, George apparently decided to walk home rather than wait for his sister. But George never reached home that day; somewhere between the Seminary and his house, George Weyerhaeuser was kidnapped.” -FBI

“When the Weyerhaeuser family realized that George was missing, they searched for him and notified the police department of his disappearance. That evening, a special delivery letter, addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” arrived at the Weyerhaeuser home. It listed a series of demands, including the payment of $200,000 ransom in unmarked twenty-, ten-, and five-dollar bills in exchange for the boy. George’s signature appeared on the back of the envelope in which the letter arrived.” -FBI

Weyerhaeuser Residence. Courtesy Tacoma Public Library Image Number 27474.

“…Complying with directions given in the note, Weyerhaeuser drove to a designated point…If the money was in order, George would be released within 30 hours… A man ran out, got in the car and drove away with the $200,000 ransom money. Young George Weyerhaeuser was released at a shack near Issaquah, Washington on the morning of June 1, 1935.” -FBI

Louis Bonifas using drag saw to cut wood for shingles, near Issaquah.

It was on that morning of June 1, 1935 that dairy farmer and wood cutter Louis Bonifas was getting ready for his morning milking routine at around 4:30 or 5am. He and his wife heard a knock at the door and found the nine year old boy standing there, cold, tired and dirty. Seeing George, the same age as the daughter Betty; their parental instincts immediately took over as they feed and cleaned him up before driving to the closest phone to call for help. Bonifas then proceeded to drive George to Tacoma to meet up with the police and his parents.

George would in the following days reveal the details of his harrowing experience. When he left school on May 24, 1935, he took a shortcut and met a man asking for directions. When George responded, the man grabbed him up and took him to a car parked across the street where a second man awaited. George was put in the back seat with a blanket thrown over him for a journey of over an hour.

After some time the car pulled over, the blanket was removed and George was given an envelope and told to write his name in pencil on the back of it. He was then blindfolded and carried over a stream and led by the hand over the countryside for about three-quarters of a mile. George was then put into a hole which had been dug in the ground and his wrist and leg chained, and then a board was placed over the hole, completely covering it. The men took turns guarding him until night when George was carried back to the car and placed in the trunk, where he rode for about an hour. He was then taken from the car and led through the woods again. The kidnappers made George wait by a tree as they dug another hole to place him in.

On May 26, 1935, the two men, accompanied by a woman, drove through Washington into Idaho with George in the trunk of a car. In the early morning he was changed to another tree and guarded until nightfall when he was taken to a house and locked in a closet. On the evening of Friday, May 31, 1935, George was told that he would soon return home.

Again, George was placed in the car’s trunk and taken to near Issaquah, Washington. At about 3:30 the following morning, his captors left him alone in a shack, telling him that his father would come to take him home. George wandered to several nearby farmhouses seeking aid but as it was the middle of the night he was unable to get an answer at the doors. After several attempts, he next tried the Bonifas house just as they were raising and finally succeeded in getting the help of an adult. The family took him in, washed him, gave him clean clothes, and drove him to Tacoma, Washington in their car.

“When the FBI started investigating this case, every precaution was taken to ensure the safe return of the victim. During the period of negotiation, special agents conducted the investigation quietly. Serial numbers of the ransom bills were sent to FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where ransom lists were prepared. Immediately after the kidnappers received the money, these lists were sent to all of the Bureau’s field offices for distribution to commercial enterprises, including banks, hotels and railway companies.” -FBI

In the days that followed, special agents, local police officers and store cashiers kept close watch for any bill that had a serial number from the ransom. Their work quickly paid off, on June 2 a bill was used to purchase railway ticket from Huntington, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah by Harmon Metz Waley. Soon many bills were appearing in stores in Salt Lake City and officers were placed to lay a trap for the next time a bill was passed.

On June 2, 1935, a $20 ransom bill was tendered in payment of a railway ticket from Huntington, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Investigation by FBI agents determined the purchaser to be Harmon Metz Waley. “As a result, on June 8, 1935, a police detective stationed at a Woolworth store was notified by a cashier that a woman had presented one of the ransom bills. The detective took the woman, who proved to be Margaret E. Waley, wife of Harmon Waley, to the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office.” -FBI

From their interview of Margaret, the police were able to learn the location of her husband. “Later that day, Harmon Metz Waley was arrested at home. After making several false statements, he confessed that he and William Dainard, whom he had met in the Idaho State Penitentiary, had kidnapped the boy. He added that his wife had no knowledge of the kidnapping until their arrival in Spokane, Washington. She had been at the hideout house and helped them negotiate the ransom.” -FBI

From their interview with Harmon Waley, the FBI learned “that he and Dainard planned to split the money evenly, but that Dainard cheated him out of $5,000. After further questioning at the field office, Waley said that he bought a Ford Roadster, which he registered as Herman Von Metz, when he arrived in Salt Lake City. Under a clump of trees or bushes, he had buried $90,790”. Special agents were able to recovered the buried money on June 11, 1935 but Harmon and Margaret had burned $3700 in their stove trying to cover up evidence.

“Learning that Waley arranged to meet Dainard at the home of Margaret Waley’s parents, agents proceeded to that house. Her grandfather advised that a man answering Dainard’s description had come to the house asking for the Waleys. The grandfather told him that the Waleys had been there earlier to pick up their suitcase but they returned to Salt Lake City and had been arrested. The man exclaimed, “My God, did they get everything they had?” before returning to his car and driving off.”

William Dainard was on the run. After he spoke with Mrs. Waley’s grandfather, he proceeded to Butte, Montana where on June 9, 1935, he was recognized by a police officer who attempted to apprehend him. Eluding the officer his car was found abandoned with $15,155 in ransom money.

An Identification Order, which included Dainard’s photograph, fingerprints, handwriting specimen, and background information, was distributed throughout the United States, Mexico and Australia.

“In early 1936, bills with altered serial numbers began to surface in the western part of the country. The FBI Laboratory’s examination of these bills revealed the true serial numbers to be identical with those of ransom bills. Banks were advised to be alert to any person presenting altered currency for exchange.” -FBI

On May 6, 1936, two different Los Angeles, California banks reported that a man whose license number was issued to a Bert E. Cole exchanging altered bills. After surveilling Bert Cole’s address, on the morning of May 7, 1936, special agents searched the neighborhood and found his car with they disabled.

“Later, a man entered the car and attempted to start it. When it failed to start, he got out of the car and lifted the hood. Agents approached the man, who was readily identified as being Dainard. He submitted to arrest without resistance, and a .45 caliber Colt automatic pistol was removed from his person.” -FBI

Dainard admitted his part in the kidnapping and at the time of his arrest, agents recovered $37,374.47 in ransom money and bills that he admitted he had received in exchange for ransom money. They also recovered $14,000 in $100 bills that he had buried in Utah.

“Further investigation by the FBI revealed that Edward Fliss, an associate of Dainard’s, had assisted him in exchanging the ransom money. Fliss was locate at the Delmar Hotel, San Francisco, California, where he was arrested by FBI agents. He offered no resistance and admitted to helping Dainard dispose of the ransom money.” – FBI

Harmon Waley from Idaho Historical Society
Nome Daily Nugget article, June 12, 1935.
William Dainard from Idaho Historical Society.
Edward Fliss from Idaho Historical Society.

“On June 19, 1935, the federal grand jury, Tacoma, Washington returned an indictment charging William Dainard, Harmon Metz Waley, and Margaret E. Waley with kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap.” -FBI

Harmon Waley plead guilty on June 21, 1935, and was sentenced to serve concurrent prison terms of 45 years on charge of kidnapping and 2 years on charge of conspiring to kidnap. He was sent to the United States Penitentiary on McNeil Island, Washington, but later was transferred to Alcatraz Island, California for a while. He was paroled from McNeil Island, Washington, on June 3, 1963 at the age of 52.

The next day, Margaret Thulin Waley pleaded not guilty to both charges. She tried in United States District Court, Tacoma, Washington, on July 5, 1935. She was sentenced to serve two concurrent 20-year terms in the United States Detention Farm, Milan, Michigan.

William Dainard was sent back to Tacoma, Washington, where he entered a guilty plea on May 9, 1936. He was sentenced to serve two concurrent 60-year prison terms for kidnapping and conspiring to kidnap and sent to McNeil Island, he later transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas. In Leavenworth, prison authorities determined him to be insane and confined him to a hospital.

Edward Fliss was also sent to Seattle, Washington for indictment. On November 10, 1936, he was charged with assisting in the disposition of ransom money. He plead guilty and was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison and to pay a fine of $5,000.

The kidnappers and their accomplices were sentenced to actual prison terms aggregating 135 years. During the course of the investigation, special agents of the FBI recovered a total of $157,319.47 of the ransom.

Maragaret Waley on way to court. Vintage Photos.

On the way to return George to the FBI and his parents, Bonifas had phoned ahead to let them know of their coming.

One reporter, Johnny Dreher claimed that word quickly spread while on the way he flagged down and convinced Bonifas that he was a police officer sent ahead to recover the boy. The reporter continued to claim, that he, Johnny Dreher, took George the rest of the way to his family all the while interviewing him. Bonifas never forgave the media for that deceit of implying that he would allow George to be taken a second time nor for the many misrepresentations of him and his family within the reports.

Additional stories included that “He (Johnny Dreher) drove back to the Weyerhaeuser mansion to deliver the kid expecting to be swept up and greeted and, ‘Oh, thank you for bringing a child back,’” newspaper columnist Emmett Watson would later say. “But he said that he got pushed in the face.”

The Bonifas grandchildren have various recollections of the story. One saying that reporter didn’t take George and the other saying he did. This is not surprising as the Bonifas family refused to talk about the incident for decades and younger family members relied on learning about the connection via newspaper articles.

In a 2017 interview Mr. Weyerhaeuser told reporter Isolde Rafterty:

“Although his story is part of Northwest lore, his family chose not to dwell on it. It wasn’t a sensitive subject for him, he said, but it wasn’t something they discussed. He didn’t remember Dreher. He said it had been too long for him to say definitively whether the reporter had made up or embellished the account, but he said the story seemed off to him, too. He was a reserved child, he said, so his quotes didn’t make sense – and he certainly wouldn’t have kissed a stranger.”

Newspaper clipping of “High Lights of the Kidnaped Boy’s Return”
Louis Bonifas in his car.
George at Press Conference after his return.

“’If you had talked to me before all this’ – before reading The Seattle Times’ version – ‘I would say the farmer took me home.’”

“He said he doubted the farmer would have given him up so easily. ‘He was a welcome man, and a nice one,’ Mr. Weyerhaeuser said. ‘I felt that he really did me a great favor. I would say that was an unusual effort he went to. I do remember him and always will.'”

Once home, George had to endure multiple press conferences and interviews by the police, but as quickly as possible he and his family stopped talking about the kidnapping to help George move past the trauma.

After his return the media stalked the Weyerhaeuser and Bonifas families. For a time Bonifas’ wife and four children had to move in with relatives in Enumclaw to hide from the reporters. But life carried on. George’s father offered Bonifas a job at the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co in thanks for helping return his son; the Bonifas family moved from the Hobart Road to Snoqualmie Falls and later North Bend. All of the Bonifas children worked for Weyerhaeuser over the years. When the kidnappers were released, each were also offered jobs at the company.

George returned to his family and continued his education. Graduating during World War II, he joined the Navy. Having completed his naval service during World War II, Mr. Weyerhaeuser took as summer job in the woods of Washington state as a choker setter—the logging crewman who wraps the cable around the log before it is hauled to the landing.

Attending Yale University, graduating with honors in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Administration. He and his wife, Wendy, were married on July 10, 1948. Upon graduation, he began working at the pulp mills in Longview, Washington, before transferring to Springfield, Oregon, lumber manufacturing operations in 1951 where he progressed from foreman to assistant manager and then to wood products area manager in 1954.

In 1957, he became assistant to the executive vice president at corporate headquarters in Tacoma, Washington before becoming manager of wood products the next year and a member of board of directors in 1960. Soon he became executive vice president for wood products and timberlands in 1961, followed by executive vice president for all manufacturing and timberlands operations in 1964.

In 1966, Mr. Weyerhaeuser became the company’s chief executive officer and ninth president. He served as chief executive officer until 1991. He became chairman of the board of directors in 1988 and continued in that role until his retirement in 1999. George and Wendy went on to have four daughters, Leilee, Susan, Phyllis, and Merrill; and two sons, George, Jr., and David.

Mr George Weyerhaeuser. Photo courtesy of the Paper Discovery Center.

For more information on the case visit the FBI’s website.

by Cristy Lake

Cristy Lake is the Assistant Director at the Snoqualmie Valley Museum but is also the great granddaughter of Louis and Willena Bonifas. She first learned of her families connection to the case at the age of 7 when her mother warned her there was to be a story in the newspaper about her great grandparents on her dad’s side of the family in a Centennial of Washington State history edition in case the other kids at school mentioned it. At the time she was told that the family did not talk about it and not to ask questions about it. It wasn’t until Lake was an adult that she ever heard the connection mentioned by a member of the family who was present and that was only to hear her great aunt Lucille (Louis and Willena’s eldest) shut a conversation on the topic down when Lucille’s cousin Gene tried to bring it up.