One Saturday in 1938, J.E. Thompson was playing cards with his staff at Rancho Joaquina, when a stranger came calling.
“He said he was broke and needed some money,” remembers Ralph Gaxiola, who was head gardener at the time. Gaxiola related the story to a Phoenix Gazette reporter whose piece was published in the May 17, 1970 edition. “Mr. Thompson said come back Monday and he’d give him a steady job.”
But when the man came back the following Monday, he didn’t ask for a job — he asked for ransom. He was “holding a gun to young Joe and demanded $35,000.” Young Joe was Thompson’s son, who lived in a carriage house on the sprawling estate. He was 39 at the time.
The elder Thompson, who grew up in wild-and-woolly Butte, Montana, decided the situation called for frontier justice. He went back in the house, gathered the money and got a gun (either a pistol or a shotgun, according to conflicting family accounts.) He carried the gun under a newspaper.
When he returned, he shot the kidnapper.
Police who investigated the incident told Thompson that he had handled the situation properly, according to descendants. But they also discovered a letter on the kidnapper saying that his wife was ill and hospitalized. Thompson cried over shooting the man, according to Gaxiola. Thirty days later, he gave the $35,000 to the man’s family.