Table of Contents
- The Kidnapping of Peter Weinberger Stuns the Country
- Background of the Kidnapping
- Etiology of the Kidnapper
The kidnapping of Peter Weinberger stunned the country in 1956. It brought a dreaded reality to the average family. During my research, I found that kidnappings, the taking of a child by a stranger, were not common in the era of the 50s. A headlining kidnapping case prior to Peter Weinberger was the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932. His father was a well-known aviator. The difference between the two kidnappings was that Peter Weinberger belonged to a loving, average family. It hit home that this type of victimization could happen to anyone, not just to the elite. This kidnapping brought fear into the thoughts of every average family in the country. I explored the possibilities of reasoning behind kidnappings and what could possibly go through the mind of the kidnapper. How could someone take a child from a family with no second thought or regret? The aftermath for the family now lacking one of their beloved children, but also the aftermath for the kidnapper’s family, can be absolutely devastating.
The Kidnapping of Peter Weinberger Stuns the Country
In the 1950s, kidnapping wasn’t something we heard of often. There had been previous cases of kidnappings from well-off families, but that changed on July 4th, 1956. The average family had been under the impression that these occurrences wouldn’t happen to them because they didn’t have much to offer monetarily. How could something like a kidnapping from an everyday ordinary family for a little bit of money even be feasible?
Background of the Kidnapping
In Westbury, New York, Morris and Betty Weinberger, middle class parents to one-month old Peter Weinberger were left in shock and filled with worry. On July 4th, 1956, Peter had been swaddled and put in his carriage on the patio of their home. Betty Weinberger then went into their home for just a couple minutes while Peter was peacefully sleeping in his carriage. When Mrs. Weinberger returned to the patio, she discovered and empty carriage along with a ransom note. The ransom note included an apology for the kidnapper’s actions, and it included the demand for $2,000 with a promise of returning the baby safe and happy the following day if his demand was met. The kidnapper had also threatened to kill the baby at the “first wrong move”; however, Mrs. Weinberger called the Nassau County Police Department (FBI.gov). Morris Weinberger requested a media blackout because he didn’t want the kidnapper to find out that the police had been notified. Most media outlets obliged, except for one, The New York Daily News, which printed the story of the kidnapping on the front page. This caused news reporters to flock to the drop-off area where the kidnapper had asked the money to be left. Police had left a phony ransom package, but the kidnapper never appeared. On July 10th, 1956, six days after Peter’s kidnapping, the kidnapper telephoned the Weinberger home, two times in fact, and explained where to take the money. At the second site, a blue bag had been found along the curbside. Inside the bag was a handwritten note, telling the parents where to find the baby “if everything goes smooth.” Experts examined the note along with the original ransom note and determined they were both written by the same person. The following day, July 11th, the FBI joined the case. During this era, there was a seven-day waiting period before the FBI could get involved in kidnapping cases. The only evidence the FBI agents had to work with were the ransom notes. Handwriting experts from the FBI Laboratory in Washington D.C. had been brought in to give special agents in New York a crash course in handwriting analysis. Millions of samples were examined until on August 22, 1956, a match had been made when comparing the ransom notes to writing in the probation file of Angelo LaMarca. Angelo LaMarca had been previously arrested for bootlegging by the Treasury Department. During the investigation, it was discovered that LaMarca was a taxi dispatcher and truck driver. He was married with two children in Plainview, New York. He and his family had been living above their means, acquiring many unpaid bills and being threatened by a loan shark. He was in a bad state of mind, trying to figure out how to provide for his family. He knew he needed money, but how could he come up with what he needed because his jobs weren’t enough to afford the life they had been living already. He was left with the thought process of what more could he do and how could he get money quickly. He was driving around Westbury on July 4th, 1956 and ended up driving by the Weinberger house just as Mrs. Weinberger was leaving Peter in his carriage and going into the house. Impulsively, LaMarca jotted a ransom note, took Peter, and fled. On August 23rd, 1956, FBI agents along with Nassau County police arrested LaMarca in his home. LaMarca didn’t want to own up to his actions until he had been presented with the handwriting comparisons as evidence. At that point, he confessed to kidnapping Peter Weinberger. LaMarca then told police that he had gone to the first drop site, with Peter in the car, the day after the kidnapping. With the press and police swarming the area, LaMarca had gotten scared away, so he drove away and abandoned the baby alive just off a highway exit in heavy brush, and then he returned home. The decomposed remains of Peter Weinberger were found, and the heart-wrenching search was over. LaMarca did not violate the federal kidnapping statute since he didn’t cross state lines with Peter Weinberger. He was then turned over to Nassau County police for state prosecution. LaMarca had been tried and convicted on kidnapping and murder charges. The jury did not want any leniency given to LaMarca. He was sentenced to death on December 14, 1956. Angelo LaMarca was executed on August 7th, 1958, at Sing Sing Prison, after several failed legal appeals (FBI.gov).
Etiology of the Kidnapper
Angelo LaMarca was an average husband and father. He worked to provide for his family. With life throwing him some curveballs, he was at a crossroads on how to continue providing for his family. Bills were piling up. A loan shark was after him. He needed to figure out a plan fast, so his family wouldn’t suffer. He decided to act when he came to the Weinberger house and watched Mrs. Weinberger leave Peter outside in his carriage. When exploring theories that could explain this behavior, I found myself delving into Merton’s Strain Theory. The theory states that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals, though they lack the means (Merton 1938). The strain of not being able to achieve the socially accepted goals can lead a person to criminal behavior. Examples of this could include selling drugs, participating in prostitution, or even kidnapping to obtain financial security. Merton believed people were forced to work within the system or become members of a deviant subculture to achieve the desired goal (Wikipedia contributors 2019). When faced with strain, according to Merton, people have five ways to adapt:
- Conformity- This is pursuing cultural goals through socially approved means.
- Innovation: This is using socially unapproved or unconventional means to obtain culturally approved goals. Example: dealing drugs or stealing to achieve financial security.
- Ritualism: This is using the same socially approved means to achieve less elusive goals.
- Retreatism: This is to reject both the cultural goals and the means to obtain it, then find a way to escape it.
- Rebellion: This is to reject the cultural goals and means, then work to replace them. (Thompson 2016)
Using Merton’s guide, I would say Angelo LaMarca was using innovation. Kidnapping is obviously not socially acceptable, but LaMarca needed money to provide for his family, so he was willing behave criminally to obtain his goal of providing for his family.