John Henry Seadlund

On September 25, 1937, retired Chicago executive Charles Sherman Ross and his friend and former secretary, Florence Freihage, were driving to Ross’s home when their car was forced to stop by another motorist. As they came to a stop, John Henry Seadlund rushed to their car with a gun drawn. He took Ross from his car, leaving Freihage behind, returned to the trailing car driven by James Atwood Gray, and sped off.

Gray, Seadlund, and their captive fled into Wisconsin and then to a remote wooded area near Emily, Minnesota. From there, they began an elaborate series of ransom communications with Ross’s family.

On October 8, $50,000 ransom was paid. Two days later, Seadlund shot and killed Gray and Ross in Wisconsin and buried them. He then traveled west. Subsequent investigation found that over the next three months, Seadlund traveled around the country.

On October 19, Ross’s wife contacted law enforcement, who were heretofore unaware of the crime. The FBI traced the ransom money to the Santa Anita racetrack in California. A sting set up there led to Seadlund’s arrest on January 14, 1938.

Seadlund, who had a lengthy criminal record, provided a full confession on January 17. He pleaded guilty to a violation of the federal kidnapping statute on February 28, 1938. He was found guilty and sentenced to death on March 16, 1938.

His appeal was subsequently rejected and John Henry Seadlund was executed in the electric chair in Chicago on July 14, 1938.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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