The Kidnapping of John Conway

In 1897, Albany was the scene of a famous kidnapping, the abduction of five-year-old John Conway. He was the son of Michael Conway, 99 Colonie Street, a night dispatcher at the West Albany yards. The “History of the Police Service of Albany: From 1609 to 1902” tells it this way:

It was eight o’clock in the morning [August 16] and his mother was busy with her household duties. Two hours later a boy came up the stoop with a note, and it was then that Mrs. Conway first missed her son. She placed no particular significant on the matter, however, until she had opened and read the note. The contents nearly broke her heart, for the writer made an insolent demand for $3,000 ransom, and gave a recital of the kidnapping of her child. It was also stated in the missive, that if all the terms mentioned in the communication were not complied with, violence would be done the captive.

She was warned to send an agent to meet a man near the first toll-gate of the Troy road that evening, but instead she went to the police. Mayor John Boyd Thacher offered a $500 reward, additional forces were called in, and in a short time the boy was found in a place of concealment “on the Schenectady turnpike, near the old Methodist Church.”

Letters were sent. One was on August 17, demanding the $3000 ransom and saying that the kidnappers were willing to keep the boy alive for a couple more days if the parents were willing to negotiate through advertisements in a local paper. The second, postmarked from Baltimore on August 19, said the parents’ greed had cost them their son’s life.

The boy was found August 19, according to a wire story likely put out by the Albany Argus.  Early on came a clue that a relative of Michael Conway might be involved, so in case you’re wondering who kidnaps the son of a railroad dispatcher looking for big money, the answer would be his uncle, Joseph M. Hardy. Along with him was a companion named Henry G. Blake, who also went by the last name Avery. Like something out of “The Front Page,” Blake was found and taken not to police headquarters, but to the offices of the Argus, and questioned by private detectives and reporters. With Blake,

“it was seen that threats would not bring about the desired results and persuasion was brought to bear on him. He was offered a big ransom to tell anything he knew about the kidnapping and finally it was made so large that he confessed the kidnapping and piloted a party of Argus men some five miles out in the country where he left them and in a short time returned with the boy in his arms.

“He was given a stuffed pocketbook for his ransom and an effort was made to arrest him. When he saw that he had been trapped he pulled a revolver, fired four shots and broke away from his captors, who did not pursue him but drove in to the city with the boy.”

They drove down State Street at 9 in the morning, “when thousands of people were on the streets,” and called out that they had the boy. “Men, women and children followed the wagon with shouts of joy to the Argus office, where little Johnnie Conway was placed in the window for the benefit of the admiring and joyous crowd.” Oh, and at some point they reunited him with his parents.

It was clear that the kidnapping was inspired by another of that time, and that the kidnappers were thinking of killing the boy to keep him from betraying them. Blake was caught, and so was another character; the leader of the group was a New York City attorney named Albert S. Warner, who managed to get to Philadelphia, where he was caught and managed to slip away, moving around Pennsylvania until he was found again and brought to Albany. Warner was apparently behind the whole thing, though how he connected to the other two is not clear. He was already known to police as having “an exceedingly unsavory reputation,” including blackmailing prostitutes. All three were tried and sentenced to 14 years and four months, the maximum sentence.

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