Paradise Lost, Part 1

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2018 Lei Day

The 91st annual Lei Day celebration at Honolulu’s Kapiolani Park, May 1, 2018. (Photo by Yi-Chen Chiang /

This is Part 1 of a three-part post. 

MAY 1 OF THIS YEAR MARKED HAWAII’S 91ST LEI DAY, a celebration of the “aloha spirit.” American poet and journalist Don Blanding proposed this holiday in 1928, the year Ursula lived in Honolulu. The public loved the idea, and May Day was selected as the official date for giving flower necklaces to one another as an expression of friendliness and the joy of living in Hawaii.

On that first Lei Day, throngs crowded to the Bank of Hawaii for a program of Hawaiian music, the crowning of the Lei Queen and her court, and presentation of prizes in a lei contest. According to subsequent news reports, smiles came easily to Honolulu residents on that festive day; nearly everyone—no doubt, including Ursula—wore a lei of some kind, and “throughout the city the spirit of happiness reigned.”

First Lei Day (“Honolulu Star-Bulletin,” May 1, 1928)

Four and a half months later, the entire city would unite again—but this time in shock and horror, as well as sympathy. On the morning of Wednesday, September 19, 1928, Ursula could not have missed the bold, black front-page headlines splashed across the width of The Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin, respectively: “GILL JAMIESON, 10, KIDNAPED” (sic), and “POSSE SCOURS OAHU FOR KIDNAPPED JAMIESON BOY; SEEK ABDUCTORS.”

Gill, the 10-year-old son and only child of Lulu Jamieson and Frederick W. Jamieson, vice president of the Hawaiian Trust Co., had been kidnapped from his Punahou school the previous morning—Tuesday, September 18, 1928. At first, the family hired private detectives and tried to keep the kidnapping under wraps, fearing that a general search might put their son in more danger. But word got out and spread throughout their community, and the police were eventually brought in.

Gill Jamieson kidnapping headlines

These are the startling headlines Ursula would have seen, spanning late Tuesday night, September 18 through Thursday morning, September 20, 1928.

News of the case riveted virtually every resident and visitor of Honolulu for days. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin actually broke the news late Tuesday night in an exclusive, and published four editions of the paper on Wednesday throughout the day and evening as more details surfaced. Both newspapers put out several editions on Thursday, too, as the story developed further. Ursula would have devoured every word, especially once she read that the kidnapper had been spotted with the boy on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, just blocks from her home in Waikiki Beach.

Gill Jamieson

Gill Jamieson, age 10, “86 pounds, four feet nine and one-half inches tall, with an extremely erect carriage. Light brown hair, eyes blue,… wearing a light-colored sport shirt, flannel knee-pants and did not wear shoes, stockings or hat.”

In a rather large nutshell, here’s what she would have learned from the papers by Thursday morning:

  • Shortly before 10 am on Tuesday, the principal of Punahou Junior Academy, Mary P. Winne, receives a telephone call from a man telling her that Mrs. Jamieson has been seriously injured in a car accident and Gill is needed by her side. A car will be sent to pick him up.
  • Soon afterwards, a Studebaker sedan arrives and parks in front of the school. A man gets out and walks up to the school. Later described as “Oriental” or Japanese, he is dressed in a white suit, like that of a hospital intern, and Ms. Winne releases the boy to him, while a driver waits in the car.
  • Meanwhile, a hired messenger delivers a large envelope to Mr. Jamieson at the bank. Inside is a two-page, rambling ransom letter handwritten in ink on white stationery, informing Mr. Jamieson that his son has been kidnapped and will be returned once $10,000 has been delivered, upon penalty of death to the boy if instructions are not followed. Printed in full by the newspapers, the letter is signed “The Three Kings,” and warns, “You are not dealing with a lone hand.” The police later deem the letter “to have been taken from some cheap adventure novel and adapted to this particular case.”
  • Thinking at first it’s a joke, Mr. Jamieson calls the school to check on Gill, and learns about the ruse used to steal the boy, for Mrs. Jamieson is safe at home—there was no car accident. His son is, indeed, kidnapped.
  • Tuesday evening at 8:45 pm, Mr. Jamieson receives a call instructing him where to exchange the money for his son. The police devise a plan to catch the kidnappers during the money drop by having detectives precede and follow his car to the site, but their plan is foiled by heavy traffic.
  • Mr. Jamieson proceeds to the designated spot in Thomas Square, where a band concert is in progress. Brandishing a hammer, a man wearing a white handkerchief over his face enters Mr. Jamieson’s car and orders him to start driving. They stop shortly afterwards, and Mr. Jamieson starts counting out 5-dollar bills into his hat after the man assures him his son is waiting safely nearby in the bushes and will be delivered to him as soon as the money is counted. The masked man appears agitated, and as Mr. Jamieson reaches $4,000—with $6,000 more to go—the man grabs the counted money, jumps out of the car and disappears into the bushes. Gill does not appear.
  • In conference, a judge, the sheriff and other officials decide to call for a citywide search, and ask all of Honolulu to join in. Eventually, thousands of people, including the police, army, navy and civilian volunteers, hunt for the boy and comb the city for traces of the kidnappers, believed to be a band of three.

    The “Honolulu Star-Bulletin” ran a photostat of the ransom note in full.

  • On Wednesday morning, the hired driver of the Studebaker comes forward when he realizes the boy who rode in his car was the kidnapped Gill. He tells the police that the kidnapper told him to drive them to Waikiki, and that he dropped them off on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. That night a group of private citizens makes an exhaustive search of that and other Waikiki hotels, including the Moana, where Ursula had stayed and which is now closed for the season—all to no avail.
  • The city talks of nothing else. School is let out early so teenaged students can join in the search. One of the papers reports:

“The wheels of progress, politics, commerce and industry in Honolulu [have] been all but completely halted today by the missing figure of a small, good-natured, 10-year-old boy. Virtually no business [is] being done on the island of Oahu…”

  • Among several suspects in custody, the primary one is the Jamiesons’ former chauffeur, Harry C. Kaisan, whose handwriting is declared by a handwriting expert to be similar to that of the ransom note’s author. But the suspects are all holding up “stolidly” under questioning, and Gill is still nowhere to be found.
  • The Honolulu automobile association puts 50 cars and drivers at the disposal of the sheriff for day and night duty.
  • The sampan owners’ association offers to mobilize their sampan fleet—the small boats used by Japanese immigrants working as commercial fishermen in Honolulu—to guard against the kidnappers leaving the Island by boat.
  • Thursday morning at 7 am, the hunt for Gill widens into a house-to-house search intended to cover the entire city.
  • In addition, the Island of Oahu is divided into 54 designated sectors for search parties to scour “every occupied premises, every vacant lot, every stream, every dry wash and every valley and ravine” for Gill or clues to his whereabouts. Hundreds of men from all walks of life volunteer their assistance, and at least 200 of them are sworn in on Wednesday and Thursday as deputy police officers with full legal authority.

Ursula’s beau, Samuel B. Riddick, was one of those men. Sworn in at the police station on Wednesday, he received a badge and instructions, and was assigned to the unit searching Diamond Head Road to Waialae Park. He would have told her all about it (if, indeed, they were dating by then—I’m unsure of the exact date they met in 1928.)

Samuel B. Riddick volunteer searcher

Ursula’s beau is listed as one of the volunteer searchers deputized as a special police officer (“The Honolulu Advertiser,” September 20, 1928)

In all the excitement, Ursula must have been unsettled, or even scared, by the kidnapping’s hitting so close to home, and I’m sure her heart went out to Gill and his family. (This would not be the only kidnapping to emerge in Ursula’s life story, but that is a tale for another time.)

It was a criminal case so sensational that there was “outspoken demand in responsible quarters for putting the city and county under martial law” (a request denied by the sheriff and governor). The Honolulu Advertiser’s Thursday morning editorial acknowledged that:

“Honolulu is shocked to its center by the bold kidnaping (sic) of Gill Jamieson…In Honolulu, there is not a home but is grieving in sympathy with Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Jamieson. Every heart is sending up a prayer for the safety and return of their boy…It is difficult to realize that such a crime has been committed in this peaceful community.”

By Thursday afternoon, Gill’s fate would be known and trumpeted across the city.