Monday, July 26, 2004

Kidnapping at the U Ranch

July 26, 2004 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Arizona’s most infamous and notorious kidnapping case ended at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County near Apache Junction some fifty years ago. 

Evelyn Ann Smith, the wife of Herbert Smith, a wealthy Phoenix industrialist, was taken in Phoenix and held for twenty-nine hours, then released for $75,000 in ransom money on June 11, 1954. The kidnapper told Mrs. Smith, mother of two small children, he would not be taken alive. This statement by the kidnapper made her fear for her life.

The kidnapper’s ransom note was left in a golf bag at a service station in Apache Junction. Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff Paul E. Mullenax was sent to Apache Junction to check out the golf bag. The deputy drove 32 miles east to Apache Junction, a small desert community at the time, with a zoo and several telescopes trained on Superstition Mountain. The community was the home of the Superstition Mountains, the Dutchman’s Monument and several winter visitors. Several newspaper reporters who reported on this kidnap case confused the Jefferson Davis Highway Monument with the Dutchman’s Monument in Apache Junction.

Deputy Mullenax stopped at Ed’s Place and asked about the golf bag left for Mr. Herbert Smith. Station attendant Robert J. Plucinski, 17, brought out the golf bag. The deputy found a sealed envelope with a note in it. The note basically told Herbert Smith his wife was being held for $75,000 ransom and instructed him to go to Apache Junction and wait for further instructions. Smith carefully followed the kidnapper’s instructions.

The next day Smith drove east along Highway 60 to Peralta Road and stopped at the old Jefferson Davis Monument. Smith found another note under three rocks across the road near a cattle guard. Notes guided Smith east on Peralta Road to the point where the Quarter Circle U Ranch road turned off.

At this point Smith followed the Quarter Circle U Ranch road going through three gates. He went beyond the ranch some four miles, to a spot where he was [supposed] to deposit the valise full of ransom money. Once Smith sat down the valise containing the money he heard his wife scream. She was some two hundred feet away in the desert. He started toward her and a man fired a shot into the rocks near him. After the kidnapper was convinced nobody was with Smith, he released his wife.

Mrs. Smith rushed to the awaiting arms of her husband. The ordeal was almost over. Herbert Smith still feared for their lives as they rushed away from the ransom site. Once to his car Herbert drove straight to his home in Phoenix without stopping, not even for the police. The FBI interviewed the Smiths at their home.

The release of Evelyn Ann Smith sent county sheriff’s deputies, Phoenix police officers and the FBI into the hills south of Superstition Mountain and east of the old Quarter Circle U Ranch. Evelyn Smith’s car was found in a wash off Peralta Road some seven miles east of Highway 60.

According to Mrs. Smith, the kidnappers were going to hike across the Superstition Mountains to Canyon Lake with the $75,000 in ransom money. This was an attempt to throw the police off their trail. 

Posses and bloodhounds began to search the Superstition Mountains north and east of the Quarter Circle U Ranch for the kidnappers. Daniel Marsin, the suspected kidnapper, appeared at the Quarter Circle U Ranch after barking dogs gave him away.

Jimmy Ruiz’s cow dog, Queenie, gave Marsin away at the U Ranch and led to his arrest. Jimmy Ruiz was Tex Barkley’s foreman at the U Ranch and also a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Posseman.

At first Daniel J. Marsin claimed he was lost in the desert. He had walked all the way down to the U Ranch from Randolph Canyon. The police officers that found him at the U Ranch held him as a material witness. It wasn’t long before Evelyn Smith identified him as the man who kidnapped her.

After Marsin’s arrest at the U Ranch, authorities believed he hid the ransom money somewhere near the Quarter Circle U Ranch southwest of Miner’s Needle. The search was on for the $75,000 of ransom money.

The police totally closed off the area to prevent a modern day treasure hunt for the ransom money.

On June 14, 1954, the ransom money was found in a wash just 100 yards from the Quarter Circle U Ranch and some eight feet from a road the posse was using to search for the money. The package containing the ransom money was opened on the front porch of the Quarter Circle U Ranch bunkhouse by Captain Orme Moorehead and detectives Ed Langevin, Jim Wallace, and Lt. Clem J. Hoyt.

Phoenix Police Chief Charles P. Thomas declared the Smith kidnapping was a one-man job, a crime committed by Daniel J. Marsin.

William T. Barkley, Jimmy Ruiz and Tafoya Ruiz all testified in the kidnapping trial. Marsin was eventually convicted of kidnapping for ransom and sentenced to prison.

With the ransom money found, the victim safe, the kidnapper’s weapon located and Daniel J. Marsin in jail, the biggest kidnapping case in Arizona history was solved.