Residents of Blackfoot found out about the kidnapping of A.E. Empey on July 22, 1915, even though he was abducted on July 17. Empey had a sheep ranch in Long Valley, which is east of Wolverine Canyon in Bingham County, but his home was near Idaho Falls. Law enforcement officers in Bingham and Bonneville counties had requested the story be kept out of local papers for a time.
Alonzo Ernest Empey, who went by Ernest, was a wealthy sheepman, as were his father, E.S. Empey and his brother Harry. Ernest and Harry lived in Ammon at the time of the kidnapping. Their father lived in Garland, Utah.
Ernest, his 10-year-old son, Worth, and his son’s friend were traveling near the Empey ranch with two wagonloads of poles when they were confronted by a man brandishing a pair of six-shooters. The man marched the three at gunpoint to a small basin nearby. He gave the boys a letter he had prepared and told them to deliver it to Ernest’s father, E.S. Empey.
The boys took the letter back to the ranch house where they spent the night, waiting until Sunday morning to ride their horses into Ammon to deliver the letter and the news of the kidnapping.
The letter to E.S. Empey demanded $6,000 in ransom. The penalty for not complying with the terms of the ransom would be the death of Ernest. Shortly after the senior Empey got the phone call about the kidnapping, he left his Utah home and drove through the night to Ammon, no doubt pondering what to do.
The instructions for the ransom drop demanded that two men drive the distance of Long Valley on the road leading to Henry the following Saturday night in an open wagon. The man in front of the wagon would carry a lantern while the man in back was to have a sack of gold coins in the sum of $6,000. When they heard someone shout “Hey!” they were to drop the sack of coins in the middle of the road, turn around, and leave. If they attempted to follow, A.E. Empey would be killed. The letter said that explosives were planted strategically along the road to discourage anyone who might think of deviating from the instructions.
Meanwhile, the kidnapper had force-marched Empey to a hideout on Sheep Mountain, crashing through brush on the way and wading through streams to throw off bloodhounds. They arrived at midnight at a site about three miles from where the abduction took place. The kidnapper chained Ernest to a tree and secured the links together with a padlock.
E.S. Empey, working with the sheriff’s offices of the two counties, put out the word in the local press that he would pay the ransom. In reality that was a ruse. They had kept things quiet in the newspapers so they could organize search parties to scour the mountains near the Empey ranch.
On Sheep Mountain the kidnapper had fallen into a routine of having Ernest chain himself up at night to a quaking aspen, but setting him free during the day to move around. One day they heard some twigs snapping and brush popping. The kidnapper thrust a gun in Ernest’s face and told him to get down and be quiet. Huddled on the ground they saw two men struggling through the nearby undergrowth. Ernest recognized his brother Bert as one of the searchers.
By Friday, the day before the ransom drop was to take place, the kidnapper and Ernest had gotten quite chummy. The kidnapper said that he wanted to catch some sleep and would chain his captive to the tree. Ernest said, “Ah, don’t do it. It is too lonesome sitting here on the end of a chain. Sit up and let’s talk.”
The kidnapper assented. They talked and talked until the man got drowsy. He lay on his bedding with a gun in his hand facing Empey. Eventually the kidnapper closed his eyes. Ernest got up, gathered a few sticks to make a fire, and moved around venturing a little further from camp picking up wood. After a few minutes of stirring around he determined that the kidnapper was truly asleep. He began a mad dash down the mountain, running smack into two aspens and a pine tree before determining that he had to run and watch where he was going.
The kidnapper woke up a few minutes after Ernest left the camp. He hiked to the nearest cabin searching for Empey. By the time he reached the cabin Empey had made his way to a sawmill and the word had gone out about the kidnapper. The residents at the cabin were ready for the man. When he was within a few steps of the yard the men of the Coumerilh cabin drew their guns and told the kidnapper to throw up his hands. He hesitated. Mrs. Coumerilh, standing in the door of the cabin, lost her patience and fired a shot at him, putting a hole through his hat.
The kidnapper turned out the be a sheepherder who had worked for Empey briefly five years before the abduction. Leonidas Dean had quit his job when Empey had threatened to shoot Dean’s dog because it was nipping at sheep. It wasn’t revenge Dean was after, though. It was simply money.
“I took this means of getting money as I thought I could do more good with it than those who had it,” Dean explained. He said he had no intention of harming Empey if the ransom were not paid.
Dean was convicted of kidnaping and sentenced to from one to ten years in prison. While in the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise, the man would emphatically deny that he had anything to do with the second Empey abduction, this one in 1916. But that’s a story for tomorrow.