Lizzie Clevidence Dennis Helmes (1866-1960).

Unraveling a Web: An Early Kansas City Kidnapping

  David T. Beals screamed up the stairs, “Ring the police, Arista! Our boy is gone!” 

By Diane Euston

    It was a normal Thanksgiving in 1891 with a full table of turkey, stuffing, cranberries and all the fixings for the Beals household on Independence Ave. The servants removed the remaining dishes, quietly disappearing into the shadows as was their duty. 

  David T. Beals smiled at his grown daughter and his 26-year-old granddaughter, Trippie across the table as the conversation shifted to their plans for the upcoming weekend. David’s five-year-old daughter, Dora and two-year-old son, Junior escaped from the table to play in the parlor on the other end of the mansion’s hall as the adults picked at dessert and coffee at the lace-trimmed dining table.

  Their new servant, Lizzie, announced quietly to Mr. Beals that she would step outside and get him his evening Kansas City Star that was tossed into the large yard by a paperboy earlier.

  A few minutes passed before a back door closing to the chilly outdoors echoed throughout the mansion’s interior mahogany-coated walls. The servants should have been quite busy in the kitchen cleaning up the Thanksgiving feast, and everyone else in the home was within view. That was strange at 7:30 p.m., Mr. Beals thought.

  Mr. Beals rose from his chair at the head of the table, placing his hands on each of the finely carved arms as he stretched to a standing position. “I’ll see what’s going on,” he nonchalantly addressed his wife, Arista.

  As he walked down the long hall separating the dining room from the parlor, he smirked at the sight of his young Dora playing with a set of blocks on the floor. And then it quickly occurred to him that Junior wasn’t playing with his big sister.

  “Dora, where is your brother?”

  “He just went downstairs with Lizzie,” the child chirped as she placed a block on top of another.

  Lizzie, our servant? This made little sense. She was not hired as a nanny, Mr. Beals thought as his heartbeat sped up and a flush covered his cheeks.

  He made way to the basement where the servants should be, questions racing as to why Lizzie would take his beloved son with her. He could feel a breeze getting colder as he descended the stairs. 

  When he turned the corner, he saw it.

  The door leading to the outside was left open, the cold air blowing through the room. The room was eerily silent.

  Lizzie was gone into the night, and with her, wrapped in a blanket, was Junior Beals.

  David T. Beals screamed up the stairs, “Ring the police, Arista! Our boy is gone!” 

David Thomas Beals, Sr. (1832-1910)

Entrepreneur David T. Beals

  Born in 1832 in Abington, Mass., David Thomas Beals was the last of three children born to Thomas and Ruth. He received a general education, and at 15 years old, he began working full time for a dry goods merchant in Boston.

  In 1851, D.T. Beals married Ruth Cobb, and in 1853, they welcomed their only child to live to adulthood, Tryphosa. 

  Gambling that there would be better opportunities in the West, D.T. Beals packed up his family and moved first to St. Joseph, Mo. where he and a brother-in-law opened a shoe business. He quickly expanded this industry to Utah, Colorado and Montana. Not one to stand still for long, he invested wisely in other businesses attached to Western Expansion. 

  By the early 1870s, D.T. Beals had left the boot and shoe business to focus on the  cattle trade. He purchased extensive acreage, including investing in land on the Arkansas River in Colorado.

  Needing more of an open range due to his successes, D.T. Beals invested with a partner in the LX Ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1877. Spanning a whopping five counties, the property made Beals a millionaire. 

  When D.T. Beals’ first wife passed away in 1881, he threw himself into his various businesses, oftentimes staying in Chicago where he conducted his livestock deals. There, he met 36-year-old divorcee, Julia Arista Thornton. The two were married in his hometown in 1884, embarking on a year-long tour around Europe for their honeymoon.

  D.T. Beals had much to celebrate. In that year, he and his partners sold the LX Ranch to a London company for about $1.5 million – in 1884! The deal included 187,141 acres, 34,000 cattle and 1,000 horses.

  Before leaving on their honeymoon, the couple had made up their minds. Much of the livestock trade and business had moved to Kansas City, and Beals liked the idea of staying closer to his numerous properties still owned throughout the southwest. He put cash down on 10 prime acres on Kansas City’s east side and hired an architect and contractor to build an impressive red brick mansion on Independence Ave. between Wabash and Prospect Streets. 

  The couple welcomed their first child, Dora, in 1886 just as their extensive six-acre property sitting at 2506 Independence Ave. was ready to move in. 

The David T. Beals home at 2506 Independence Ave. Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

  Eight-foot-tall Massachusetts stone columns  flanked the main entrance on Wabash and led to a fully-landscaped six-acre property which included fountains made in Florence and Naples. The Romanesque mansion was built of red brick with brown stone accents and climbed three stories.

  A grand hall decorated floor to ceiling with frescos, led to a reception room, drawing room, library, office and dining room, all accented with finely-carved red and white mahogany. Walls and ceilings on each floor were “highly frescoed in different colors” and “the structure is crowned by a Roman tower.” 

  After arriving in Kansas City in 1887, D.T. Beals got straight to work and helped organize Union National Bank and invested in several large real estate deals in the city.

  Fifty-seven-year-old D.T. Beals and his wife, 41-year-old Arista welcomed a healthy son, David Thomas Beals, Jr. on Sept. 5, 1889. They affectionately called him “Junior.”

  Tending to two young children and an expansive home required extensive work for Arista Beals, and the loss of one of the hired servants in the fall of 1891 led her to venture down to the Kansas City Star offices to place a classified ad. 

  A competent girl or colored man wanted for first-class second work. Apply 2506 Independence Ave.; references required.

  Lizzie Smith applied, and the Beals’ lives would forever change.

The advertisement placed by Arista Beals that Lizzie Smith answered in the Kansas City Star, November 5, 1891

The Wrong Hire with Many Aliases: Lizzie

   In early November 1891, Lizzie Smith, “rather homely in appearance,” walked up to the Beals mansion with the Kansas City Star clutched in her hand. She rang the bell and quickly straightened her hat and smoothed out her dress to prepare for the person behind the large front door.

  The Beals’ coachman, Joseph Hewings, opened the door and inquired, “How may I help you?” 

  Lizzie held the paper up in her hand and announced, her voice clear and concise, “I’m here to inquire about the position available.”

  The coachman invited the tall young woman with dark hair and eyes into the home and asked her to wait in the parlor while he fetched the woman of the house.

  Lizzie thanked him and crooked her head up, noting the impressive details of the palatial home. 

  When Arista Beals arrived to greet the stranger, she did with a large smile and a trail of two small children- Dora and Junior – barreling up behind her. “Hello! Welcome. What is your name?” 

  “Lizzie. Umm. Lizzie Smith, ma’am.” 

Lizzie Smith was descrubed as“rather homely in appearance.”

  Without wasting any precious time, Arista announced to the applicant what was expected of the needed position. It was for a second house servant, and she would be tending to the chambers and serving meals to the family.

  Lizzie nodded in agreement and quickly responded to every question asked. “She was pleasing in appearance, frank and open in her answers to the questions asked and altogether created a favorable impression,” the Kansas City Star later reported.

  “You are my twelfth applicant,” Mrs. Arista Beals told Lizzie. “I will be making a decision quite soon. Where can you be reached?” 

  Lizzie wrote down her new address on a piece of paper and handed it to Mrs. Beals. “1528 Lydia, ma’am. I hope to have you call soon.” 

  She felt confident about her interview as she replayed the event in her head on the streetcar. When she arrived back at the home, the men inside were very angry that she gave the address out.

  The next day, the coachman arrived at the home on Lydia and announced that Lizzie had been given the position. She reported promptly with a few of her belongings and began her work.

  While staying at the Beals home for just a few days, one of the men she lived with arrived at the door of the Beals home and quietly passed her a note. It read, We have moved from Lydia to 1517 Park. Don’t tell anybody. Destroy this.

  As she worked with the servants inside the home, Lizzie began telling small stories about her background. She claimed to be 19 years old and from Illinois. She ran away from home because her father wouldn’t let her marry who she wanted. She told another person that her stepmother was awful and she couldn’t live with her, so she moved to Nebraska. She confessed to the coachman that she missed her father who she hadn’t seen in five years.

  She seemed to have little trouble mingling with the men, and the cook would later say Lizzie “could swear like a trooper.”

  Just two weeks after her employment began, Lizzie Smith was gone, leaving her few possessions behind and carrying round-faced Junior Beals, the fair skinned, light-haired two-year-old dressed in an all-white outfit. Headlines nationwide reported on the rare event, describing Lizzie Smith and little Junior, whose hair was “recently clipped by his little sister in fun in front and behind.”

A drawing of David T. Beals, Jr. “Junior” and his sister, Dora, appeared in the Kansas City Star November 27, 1891

The Manhunt for the Missing

   When police arrived, they immediately searched Lizzie’s room in the basement. They found her trunk left behind, and inside the contents told a confusing story about the mystery woman. 

  There was a letter to an attorney from a J.C. Dennis in Denver, and an autograph book with the inscription “Miss Lizzie Clevidence, Woodland, Ill.” 

  Who was Lizzie Smith? 

  Wasting little time, Mr. Beals called in the help of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. The superintendent proclaimed, “The object for kidnapping David T. Beals, Jr., is unquestionably to extort the father a large sum of money as a ransom.”

  D.T. Beals wasn’t taking any chances with his son’s life. He ordered the paper to print the next day:

  Ransom! To Whom It May Concern: Return my child, receive five thousand dollars and no questions asked. DT Beals.

  Kansas City police spoke to the Beals’ laundress who told them that Lizzie asked her where Park Avenue between 15th and 16th was, stating that she needed to go there to retrieve some clothes.

  The day after the kidnapping while the police and Pinkerton worked out numerous leads away from the Beals home, a knock on the front door echoed through the home’s interior. When the man waiting stated his intentions, the house servant yelled for Mr. Beals.

  The man, about 28 years old, with a smooth, thin face and “piercing black eyes” stood in front of Mr. Beals. He claimed to be a detective who could help recover Junior unharmed.

  “If they are thwarted or betrayed, they will wreak their vengeance on your baby,” the alleged detective claimed. “They want $20,000, but I think I can get them to take less.”

  Mr. Beals eagerly agreed to the deal, but the man had a stark warning for him. There could be no police involved.

  The deal was struck. Mr. Beals would deliver $5,000 cash to the self-proclaimed detective, and the man would bring Junior back between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. 

  At 10 p.m. that night, a light knock rapped on the front door. Wrapped in a dingy blanket, Junior Beals was handed back over to his parents 27 hours after being kidnapped.

  The strange man was handed “five crips $1,000 bills” and disappeared into the darkness of the night.

The house at 1531 Park Ave. where Lizzie and Malden Sipole, alias Albert King was arrested. Courtesy of the Kansas City Star, November 28, 1891.

  Police missed the entire incident; they were busy chasing leads of Lizzie Smith sightings. It led them that same night just 30 minutes earlier to the door of a three-room cottage at 1517 Park. Captain Burns knocked on the door and quickly arrested Lizzie. 

  The questions surrounding this Lizzie Smith continued as they searched the small cottage. They found a school report card from a school in Denver reporting an Effie Dennis’ progress and the book “A History of the Twenty-Second Illinois” where a quick scan of the pages revealed a Civil War private named John T. Clevidence- the same name found in her trunk. 

  After carting Lizzie away to jail, police officers surveilled the house. As a man wrestled to open the front door of the house on Park Ave., police ambushed the man and put him under arrest.

  He claimed to be Albert King. He had little on him but 90 cents and a 32-caliber revolver. Neighbors said there were two men and one woman living there.

  Who had the ransom money?

November 27, 1891 headline in the Kansas City Star

Unraveling the True Story

  It was quickly discovered that the man who returned Junior was missing. Neither Albert King nor Lizzie Smith was talking – at first.

  Lizzie Smith claimed she was forced to do what she did, and her story kept changing. She claimed she was forced by masked men to take the child.

  Pinkerton Agency was the first to clear up some of the confusion. Detectives discovered that a woman named Lizzie Dennis, living in Denver, had been caught in October 1891 stealing a dozen horses. But she wasn’t alone.

  Lizzie’s husband, John C. Dennis, was an accomplice along with Malden and Ed Sipole. They all fled to Chicago but had been brought back to Denver just weeks prior to fleeing to Kansas City.

  Malden Sipole, 30, was none other than Albert King, the man caught at the house on Park Ave.

A drawing in the Kansas City Times depicting Albert King, conspirator of the kidnapping

  Lizzie vehemently rebuffed any accusation that she was anyone other than Lizzie Smith.

  Lizzie’s denial of the Clevidence and Dennis connections was short-lived, especially when her father, John T. Clevidence (1832-1901) arrived at the jail to pay his daughter a visit on December 11, 1891.

  The truth unraveled. Lizzie’s identity was confirmed.

  She was Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clevidence Dennis, born in 1866 in Illinois. “Smith” was her deceased mother’s maiden name.

  After marrying John Dennis in 1882, Lizzie had two children, Effie (b. 1883) and Ivy (b. cir. 1885). Her father explained, “Dennis treated her so bad she could not stay with him. I never thought much of Dennis.”

  Further evidence showed that after the couple moved to Denver, Lizzie paired up with a man and operated a boarding house. There, she met Malden Sipole who was staying there. She was later introduced to his brother, Ed.

  Within a short amount of time, the newly-formed kinship developed into a crime family. They were charged with horse stealing, and Lizzie was desperate to get away from her husband. The ring was formed around a lawyer allegedly named Felix Robertson. Lizzie referred to him as “Ralston.”

Headline from the Kansas City Star, November 28, 1891

  Lizzie rebuffed that she ever intended to kidnap Junior Beals, but the “Ralston” man along with Malden Sipole, alias Albert King, made her do it. She claimed they were stalking the house, looking into windows and meeting her outside. She claimed that on Thanksgiving 1891, “They said they would take me and the child and would ‘hold up’ the whole house.”

  Lizzie and Malden were supposedly in love, and Lizzie was desperate to get away from her husband, John Dennis. She used an alias as she arrived in Kansas City only to elude her husband.

  The only one who seemed remotely concerned about Lizzie’s two children was her father, John Clevidence. “I think more about those children than anybody,” he said. “I’m goin’ to find them, no matter how long it takes. I can’t help it if their mother has gone to the bad, but I don’t want the little girls to follow her.”

  On April 20, 1892, the gig was officially up. After months of denial, the two suspects in custody, Lizzie Dennis and Malden Sipole, pled guilty to “enticing away a child.” The minimum penalty at the time in Missouri for the crime was six months – and the maximum sentence was five years.

  The judge sentenced Malden to four years and gave Lizzie two years for the crime.

  Both Lizzie and Malden swore the other man, “Ralston” – otherwise referenced as Felix Robertson, lawyer, got away with the $5,000 ransom.

Kansas City Star headline, November 28, 1891

The Aftermath

   David T. Beals, Jr., known as Junior, inherited his parents’ impressive mansion on Independence Ave. when his father died in 1910. The house was sold in 1922, and it caught fire quickly thereafter.  

  Junior graduated from Yale, worked for Interstate Cattle Company and owned several country banks. He married Seth Ward’s granddaughter, Helen, and had one child. Interestingly, Junior’s nephew, David Conover (1920-1983; Dora’s son), worked as a photographer and is credited with discovering Marilyn Monroe. Junior passed away in 1963 in Kansas City.

David Thomas Beals “Junior,” the kidnapping victim (1889-1963).

  Malden Sipole served just shy of four years and was released in 1896. He worked as a road contractor and married his wife, Mae, in 1897, settled in Illinois, and had numerous children. He died in 1939.

  Lizzie Clevidence Dennis was released from prison in 1893 after serving 16 months. Her husband, John Dennis filed for divorce in Nebraska and took her two children, Evie and Ivy with him. Ivy passed away at a young age, but Evie stayed in close contact with her father and passed away in 1914 after marrying and having children in Washington. 

  Lizzie moved to Chicago and married Joseph Helmes (1870-1915), a horseshoer. After her husband passed away, Lizzie moved back to the place where she couldn’t wait to leave as a young woman; she died in 1960 at Sunnyside Nursing Home in Warren, Ill. Her obituary plainly claimed, “There are no immediate survivors.”

  Surprisingly, the man both Lizzie and Malden referenced as the Denver lawyer who made off with the $5,000 did exist! His name was Felix Robertson, and he is listed in city directories for 1890 and 1891. After living in Denver with his family, Robertson had the Kansas City police on his tracks. They were too late; after “leaving part of his furniture in the house and an uneaten breakfast on the table,” Felix Robertson disappeared from the records and from the police’s grasp. 

  A kidnapping story that engulfed the newspaper headlines in 1891 was full of mysteries and surprises.  This early event is one of the first documented kidnappings for ransom, and luckily for the Beals family, the event, although tragic, ended in the safe return of a two-year-old innocent victim.

Diane writes about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to 





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