The 1930s was known not only as the decade of the Great Depression and the ending of prohibition, it was also a time of high-profile kidnapping-for-ransom of children with well-to-do parents.
The most nationally-publicized kidnapping case was that of the 20-month-old son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1932 — a case which ended with the death of the Lindbergh child, as well as the controversial death of the suspect.
Later, in Tacoma, Washington, the publicity surrounding the 1935 kidnapping of nine-year old George Weyerhaeuser, heir to the prominent Weyerhaeuser timber fortune, drew the nation’s attention. The ransom in that case was paid and young George was returned safely to his family. George Weyerhaeuser lived a long and productive life — eventually heading the family’s lucrative lumber business. He lived to the age of 95, passing away during 2022. He was one of the lucky victims of this type of crime.
Since these cases fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the background of the FBI in the Seattle area is noteworthy. The Bureau’s presence in the area goes back to 1914 when it was known as the Bureau of Investigation. Mainly active during the WWI time period, the Bureau’s cases included those which violated federal criminal law. The early cases were mainly prohibition, violent bank robberies and suspected German sympathizers. With the ending of WWI and the elimination of most of the notorious crime figures during the 1920s, the Bureau’s office in Seattle was closed in 1932 and cases were then handled out of the Portland office.
Little of national importance happened in the Seattle area until the 1935 kidnapping of young George Weyerhaeuser in Tacoma, as mentioned above. However, it was later because of the December 1936 kidnapping and subsequent murder of another Tacoma boy, Charles Fletcher Mattson, Seattle established a permanent FBI presence in March of 1937 and an Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau’s Field Division was appointed. Since that time, the FBI has always maintained an office in Seattle.
With the 1936/1937 kidnapping and death of Charles Fletcher Mattson, the FBI soon realized it had another major case to solve. On a personal note, the fatal conclusion to the Mattson kidnapping was too close to home, and as a young girl, I learned about monsters.
The kidnapping and death of 10-year-old Charles Fletcher Mattson
I was 9 years old (soon to be 10) when the frozen and partially snow-covered body of 10-year-old Charles Mattson was discovered lying in a field a few miles northwest of our north Alderwood Manor chicken farm. The finding of his naked and battered body so close to Alderwood Manor and north Edmonds brought FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel swarming over the brush-covered area several miles south of the Everett city limits. Possibly because of its isolation and a few unoccupied farms in the vicinity, the north Alderwood Manor area appeared to be of special interest.
Eighty-six years later, I have never forgotten that snowy January of 1937 and the events happening in what is now Lynnwood. When a couple of stone-faced federal agents come knocking on your door to ask questions, you tend sit up and take notice — and to remember.
Thus, with the kidnapping and brutal murder of Charles Mattson, the FBI had another nationally prominent case to deal with. Code named MATTNAP, the case was first opened by the Portland division of the FBI, but soon became the responsibility of the reopened Seattle office. At least eight local agents were assigned to the case. Also, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered about 40 extra agents to the area, along with his assistant director to take charge of the investigation. To this day, even with the involvement of the big guns, the mystery of this fatal kidnapping has never been solved, and MATTNAP continues to remain an open case in the FBI files.
A synopsis of the Charles Mattson kidnapping case and its fatal ending
Two days after Christmas, on a Sunday evening about 8:45 on Dec. 27, 1936, the three Mattson children and a family friend were in the living room of the home of socially prominent Tacoma physician and surgeon Dr. William W. Mattson and his wife Hazel. The children were enjoying an evening eating popcorn and drinking root beer. In the house with 10-year-old Charles Mattson, were his 16-year-old brother Billy, his sister Muriel, age 14, and Virginia, a 15-year-old friend from Seattle. The parents, Dr. and Mrs. Mattson, were attending a holiday social function that evening and were scheduled to be home soon.
Suddenly there was the sound of a loud knocking on the French doors opening onto a terrace at the back of the Mattson family’s Tudor-style mansion. As Charles went to look outside, he saw a man standing on the terrace; his face covered by a mask. The masked stranger continued banging on the door, when suddenly, using a handgun, he broke the glass in the door. Opening the door, the masked man walked into the house. After demanding money, which the children didn’t have, and then frightening them, he grabbed Charles, dropped a note on the floor, and with the small boy in his arms, he fled into the night, heading toward Tacoma’s Commencement Bay. During the time, the rather agitated intruder was menacing the children, his mask slipped, giving them a clear view of his face. From the description given, the FBI was able to construct a drawing of the kidnapper.
The note the stranger threw on the floor was a demand for $28,000 as ransom. The paper on which the demand note was printed was folded and worn as if it had been in the man’s pocket for a lengthy time, and the seemingly generic message appeared to have been printed using a child’s toy typewriter. Without success, Dr. Mattson tried several times to make arrangements with the kidnapper to pay the ransom demand. The ransom was never paid and, Charles was never seen alive again.
On Monday morning, January 11, 1937, fifteen days after the kidnapping in Tacoma, Charles Mattson’s body was found in south Snohomish County, many miles to the north. His remains had been left in an alder thicket about 150 feet west of the Edmonds-Beverly Park Road, one-half mile west of Pacific Highway (Highway 99) and Westerberg’s Corner (a gas station and home belonging to Conrad Westerberg). Nineteen-year-old Gordon Morrow, was out that morning hunting rabbits in a field nearby when he stumbled upon the body. He ran home to tell his father and then ran a half mile to the Westerberg’s gas station where he was able to use a telephone to notify the Snohomish County Sheriff of his grim discovery.
Nearby footprints and tire tracks in the fresh snow indicated to authorities that Charles had been killed at a different location and his remains dumped in that out-of-the-way snow-covered field either late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
An examination showed Charles Mattson had been bound with a rope and harshly mistreated — in fact, brutally beaten. It was assumed that Charles had probably died close to the previous Thursday — his body frozen for several days before being dumped at the spot where it was discovered.
Labeled as Public Enemy No. 1, the drawing of the suspect was published locally, as well as in many newspapers around the country, and it also appeared on flyers posted by the FBI on the walls of U.S. Post Offices and other public and private buildings.
From the time I was an impressionable 9-year-old girl, to this day, the image of the unknown abductor will be remembered by me as the face of a monster. A few months after this tragic event, I was glad when we moved from our wilderness farm to live close to downtown Edmonds.
More concern for law enforcement and residents of Alderwood Manor
During the tumultuous days of the search for a vicious killer, law enforcement personnel and residents of Alderwood Manor remained nervous and on high alert. Consequently, on Friday, Jan. 22, 1937, concern was immediately raised when someone broke into the Alderwood Manor Post Office and it was burglarized.
On Jan. 29, the Edmonds Tribune Review reported that “Less than $45 in silver, one money order book and rubber stamps were the loot obtained from the Alderwood Manor post office last Friday night when the place was broken into by forcing open the front door shortly after midnight. A sleighing party reported seeing a light in the post office about one a.m., but the only thought it occasioned was that someone was working late.
“Upon entering the place Saturday morning, Mrs. H. Parker, the postmaster, saw something to arouse her suspicions, and her attention was attracted by numerous small articles in the outer office that were not in their usual places, as if someone had dropped them to leave in a hurry. Then she noticed the door to the inner room was open and upon entering she found that drawers had been pried open and ransacked and two bags, one containing silver and another rolled pennies were gone. The currency, however, was untouched, the robber evidently thinking the two bags, which were quite heavy, represented a considerable sum of money and all that would be found. The strangest part of it was, Mrs. Parker said, that the drawers containing the currency had been gone through, possibly in searching for the money order blanks, and the currency remained undiscovered.
“All indications were that the theft had been committed hurriedly and had ended abruptly, probably upon some alarm coming from outside. Fresh snow had fallen so that all footprints were obliterated, the only sign of anyone approaching the place were tracks of an automobile that had swerved in toward the door, but evidently had not stopped.
“The sheriff’s office in Everett was immediately notified and following an investigation it was announced that they believed there might be some connection between the theft and the Mattson kidnapping case which kept Alderwood and the surrounding territory under close surveillance for the past several weeks.”
After several months of investigation and a few false leads, in November of 1937, a former Seattle street car operator was arrested and pled guilty to the post office burglary and, it was determined there was no connection to the Mattson kidnapping case. In addition to the guilty plea, evidence from the theft location was found at the suspect’s home. Since the suspect was unable to post the $5,000 bond, he was held for the federal grand jury. Convicted of the post office burglary, he was sentenced to serve time at the federal penitentiary on McNeil Island, where he was still imprisoned in the 1940s.
Updates to the story of Charles Fletcher Mattson
In 2006, the palatial Tudor-style home built for Dr. William Mattson and his family was razed by the current owner — to be replaced by a completely different style home.
In 2011, the book Taken in the Night, written by popular Northwest true-crime writer Gregg Olsen, was published. In his book, Mr. Olsen tells the story of the kidnapping of Charles Mattson, and the finding of his body by 19-year-old Gordon Morrow.
— By Betty Lou Gaeng
Betty Gaeng was a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Now living in Alaska, she still researches and writes about the history and the people of early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.