ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1928—two days after 10-year-old Gill Jamieson was kidnapped from his Honolulu school—the entire city was on pins on needles still awaiting news of his fate. A house-to-house search had begun that morning, and people hoped and prayed the kidnappers would be caught and the boy would be returned safely to his family.
It’s possible Ursula was in her Waikiki home early that afternoon (I’m not sure when she started her job at the local business college). If so, she would have heard the commotion in the neighborhood and learned the terrible news before the papers had time to broadcast it in their “Extra” editions: Shortly before noon, high school student Carl Vickery, who had been hunting for Gill with some friends near the Ala Wai Canal, discovered the body of a young boy lying under dense brush in a small, secluded glade between the canal and the rear of the Seaside Hotel property (opposite the Royal Hawaiian Hotel)—just four or five short blocks from Ursula’s apartment. Word quickly spread that the community’s worst fears had been realized: little Gill Jamieson had been murdered!
Within 15 minutes of the news reaching the Hawaiian Trust Co., where Gill’s father worked, pedestrians and cars full of spectators choked the main avenue and side streets of Ursula’s neighborhood as thousands of people rushed to the vicinity. Local police worked to secure the area and, as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin noted (September 20, 1928), “The body was placed at once under heavy guard, [a] …United States marshall standing over it with a drawn pistol to keep the ever-increasing crowd away.”
Over the course of that afternoon and evening and into the next day, multiple editions of the papers would describe the gruesome crime scene and Gill’s body in ghastly detail. There was no sign of sexual assault, thank goodness, but I will spare you the particulars, and just say the cause of death was suffocation by strangulation; he had been killed even before his father had paid the ransom money. After the body was removed, thousands of people—men, women and children (maybe even Ursula?)—solemnly visited the scene over the next couple of days.
The investigation of this true crime possessed several hallmarks of the fictional international crime dramas my husband and I are addicted to watching:
- Mysterious markers at the crime scene: “…a rude cross made from sticks and tied together with white string” covered the body, along with newspapers and dead palm fronds; the boy’s left hand held “a crumpled and blood-stained page torn from a magazine, on which appeared a poem sardonically entitled ‘Immortality’”; a cryptic message scrawled in pencil on cardboard that covered his face; and a note with a slightly garbled excerpt from Macbeth: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” etc.
- Tantalizing clues discovered nearby: In an adjacent hollow, police found footprints, a broken chair and some pieces of lumber on which were resting the torn halves of three Kings from a deck of playing cards, and an empty packet of Three Kings-brand cigarettes, corresponding with the ransom note’s signature line, “The Three Kings.”
- Going after the wrong suspect: Police are convinced that the Jamieson’s ex-chauffeur Harry Kaisan, who is in custody, is one of the culprits. They administer a “truth serum”—the drug hyoscine hydrobromide—to Mr. Kaisan, who confesses under the influence to writing the ransom note. But he later recants and clams up. By Saturday, due to new evidence, the detectives determine their prime suspect is innocent.
- High passions in the community: According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (September 21, 1928), “Indignation, bitter and wrathful, such as probably never before seen in Honolulu, swept the community following the discovery [of the body]…Feeling mounted as the day wore on and demands for action, action of some kind, were on virtually everyone’s lips.” Fears of mob violence or vigilante justice prompt authorities to put two companies of the National Guard on call. And rather than release Harry Kaisan, they keep him in prison for his own protection “until sentiment against him dies down.”
- Anonymous messages from the perpetrator(s): Two hours before the body is found, the Honolulu-Star Bulletin receives a “death” letter, thought to be penned by the “Three Kings,” that tells of Gill’s murder: “Master Gill Jamieson, poor innocent lad, has departed for the Unknown, a forlorn ‘Walking Shadow’ in the Great Beyond…” Additionally, a bouquet of flowers is delivered to the cemetery on the day of Gill’s funeral, with the message “With the deepest sympathy from The Three Kings.”
- Misdirection: Based on the ransom letter, investigators and the media work mainly on the theory that it was a band of three kidnappers/murderers working together—a theory that will turn out to be false.
The difference is that when we watch these TV shows, we can rest easily knowing the characters are just actors in a story that somebody made up. But when I read these newspaper articles, it broke my heart to know the horrors this real little boy suffered, just as I’m sure it did Ursula’s. And poor Ursula—she was experiencing these events in real time and had to try and sleep knowing that tragedy had struck mere blocks away, and that the murderer or murderers were still out there.
George Gill Jamieson (he went by his middle name) was born in Honolulu on March 20, 1918 and died on September 18, 1928, when he was 10 years, five months and 29 days old. Gill’s ashes were buried in Nuuanu Cemetery (now known as Oahu Cemetery), “where a venerable monkeypod tree spreads its benediction of sunlight and shadow, and a young palm tree casts its spears of shadow upon the crosses” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 21, 1928). I like these words the minister spoke at his funeral: “We thank thee for this little life, for all its beauty and all the memories that are clustered about its memory.” Rest in peace, little Gill.