Story’s coincidental twists show truth is stranger than fiction

Things have been hectic and complicated lately. As faithful readers of the Ranger-Review realize, we lost two full-time reporters back in February. At the time we had been without a bookkeeper for about six months. As a result you now find your publisher’s and editor’s names as bylines sprinkled liberally throughout this newspaper and might also find your publisher and editor running on edge. This is not a normal situation and it is uncomfortable to find ourselves covering the news and involved in it. Yet this is a small community and we must do our best.

When our newest employee received an obscure phone call asking for a phone number in the midst of a day-long-struggle on deadline, I grew irritable. “We are not a directory service!” I snapped. Sam calmly explained that her boss said we couldn’t help. Thirty seconds later the phone rang again from the same caller, this time asking for me by name.

The gentleman calling told an unbelievable story to an impatient listener. He had just read a ‘reviewing the past’ article in his hometown newspaper in Minnesota, and the story from 70 years ago had jogged his memory. It had been he who 70 years ago had found an automobile belonging to a young man from Glendive who had been kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to drive east. He said he hoped to speak with the “newspaper historian” in order to obtain the phone number of a James Osborne who had been the owner of the car and victim of the crime.

Busy, distracted and annoyed, I wanted to scream at the man that I don’t even have reporters, let alone historians! In the event I explained in the politest way I could muster that we simply didn’t have the resources to help him, but I offered that if I could find the time to ask around, I’d be happy to call him back if he would leave his number.

A few hours later I sat in the council chambers at City Hall waiting to cover a meeting I shouldn’t be covering for a reporter I couldn’t hire. Daydreaming, staring at the newly updated photos of Glendive’s mayors I noticed one James Osborne. Happenstance 1.

I immediately realized local historian Avis Anderson serves as a city councilwoman. Happenstance

2. After the meeting I explained the story of the caller to her and noted my new discovery that James Osborne had been a Glendive mayor. We note he was mayor from 1947-1953. I posit he may have had a son by the same name. She agrees we should solve the mystery.

The next morning Avis calls to update me: There were three generations of Osbornes who lived in Glendive. The second generation was the mayor, and the third was indeed kidnapped. Moreover, she had put together that James W. Osborne, Jr. had married a Svingen, and that she had attended their wedding as a young girl. Happenstance 3.

Avis knew a niece of Osborne Jr. who lives in Glendive and asked her about the story. It was true, but the niece didn’t know a lot of details.

Meanwhile, talk in our office landed on the ears of our sales representative Tracy Dey. “I know this story,” she said. “I’ve read this.” Despite our skepticism, it turns out Tracy had stopped to read the story during a search for the original grand opening ad for the Beer Jug in Aug. 1947. Happenstance 4.

The kidnapping had occurred just weeks after the Beer Jug had opened. Happenstance 5.

The kidnapping was brought to our attention just weeks after the Beer Jug experienced a devastating fire. Happenstance 6.

Eventually we found the news articles from 1947 and 1948. Young Osborne had been driving a brand new 1947 Mercury convertible when he was abducted in downtown Glendive.

One local car buff put this into perspective for me: there were no automobiles manufactured between 1941 and 1946 due to the war. A brand new 1947 was likely driving alongside Model Ts that had been around since before the depression. “He was living in high cotton.”

Forced to drive to Minnesota in the days before Interstate, Osborne was able to escape while his abductors slept. He told his story to skeptical local authorities, but eventually he was sent home and the FBI was called in. A nationwide manhunt resulted in the captors arrest in early 1948: one in Utah, the other in Texas. Both were transported to Billings, tried on federal kidnapping and auto theft charges and sentenced in federal court.

This experience, which started as a nuisance call, is such an important reminder that too busy really means too distracted. The story was a good one spanning generations and state lines. It was a fascinating part of Glendive history – the day the mayor’s son was kidnapped.

We have been overwhelmed at the Ranger trying to fill in and make sure we continue to provide good news coverage. As we struggle to understand why we do what we do, this was a good reminder that no matter what chaos we are experiencing in our daily lives, it is important to take time to remember life’s strange, coincidental, unimportant, totally fascinating moments where things just come together. And just maybe they aren’t so strange, coincidental or unimportant after all.

This experience, which started as a nuisance call, is such an important reminder that too busy really means too distracted.