There are not very many cases of kidnapping that have occurred in Sheffield in the past. It is a relatively unusual crime which makes the following even more unbelievable. In fact the case and its aftermath received world - wide coverage in the press and this has enabled me to piece together the events surrounding the disappearance on 18th October 1904 of JOHN WHITNEAR

The New Zealand newspaper - Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXXIV, Issue 12761, 5 May 1909, Page 2 reported


Favourite Child Found In New Jersey.

A bright, fair-haired little boy, who has gone missing from his home in Sheffield for over four years, has been traced to New Jersey by his brother. His disappearance involves a story of unusual affection on the part of a neighbour. In Woodburn Road, Attercliffe, there lived Mr John William Whitnear, an artisan engaged at one of the large Sheffield steel works. He had three children, the youngest being a bright, fair-haired little boy about five years of age. The child was a general favourite, and appears to have especially attracted a man named Henry Ross, a friend of the family.

Ross was married, but was separated from his wife, and had no children. Ever since the boy was able to toddle Ross had shown an extraordinary fondness for him. He was continually bringing him chocolates and sweets, and frequently he took him on fishing excursions. The two disappeared after one of these fishing trips on October 18, 1904, and all efforts to trace the child failed until recently, when a man came to the Sheffield police and stated that Ross was living under the name of William Ingle, at 81, State Road, Newark, New Jersey. The missing boy's brother William, aged 21, was despatched to America. To pay his passage the parents had to scrape together every penny they possessed. A cablegram has just been received announcing that he has succeeded in finding his little brother.

Ten days later another New Zealand newspaper - Marlborough Express, Volume XLIII, Issue 117, 15 May 1909, Page 3 updated its readers on the story


Extraordinary 'scenes were witnessed in the Darnall district of Sheffield, recently when Johnny Whitnear, the long-lost child, of Mr and Mrs Whitnear, of Woodburn Road, Sheffield, was brought home by his elder brother, who went to America to find him. In 1904 Johnny, who was only four years old, was kidnapped by a neighbour, Henry Ross, who had conceived a strong attachment for the child. The two disappeared, and the distressed relatives made an unavailing search in all parts of the country. It was not until a few weeks ago that definite information was received by the police that Ross and the kidnapped boy were in Newark, New Jersey. The Whitnears are. in poor circumstances, but they scraped together sufficient money to send their eldest son, William to America, where occurred a dramatic meeting between William and his young brother. Ross wept when the boy was taken from him.

A great amount of local interest was shown in the affair, and the boy's return, in company with, his overjoyed mother, who had gone to Liverpool. meet the Mauretania, on which vessel he came back to this country, was a veritable triumph. The entire population of the neighbourhood turned out to see him, and the streets were decorated with hundreds of banners, on many of which appeared the words "Welcome Home" Numerous flags, including the Stars and Stripes, were also displayed. Thousands of spectators were present when the cab containing Johnriy and his mother and brother entered Woodburn Road, and the crowd cheered loudly as the boy. was taken into the house. They insisted, however, upon getting another glimpse of him, and the delighted father had to take him to the door and raise him in his arms to exhibit him once more. The scene of enthusiasm lasted for some minutes.

As stated above the story was covered extensively in the US press with much the same detail.  As far as I could find out no mention was made in the press of any action or criminal proceedings being taken by either the US or UK authorities against Henry Ross.

And that is how it remained. John was re-united with his family and Henry Ross continued to live in America

It is therefore astounding when I came across the following headline in 1935, thirty years after the kidnapping!

The Times dated 1st February 1935

A week later the following report in the same newspaper appeared which gave the reader far more detail on the case than hitherto had been the case

   The Times dated 8th February 1935

The revelations at the committal hearings of the Sheffield magistrates put a whole new complexion on the case. Henry Ross alleged that he and Mrs Whitnear were "very friendly", so friendly in fact that Ross believed that John Whitnear was his son. Mrs Whitnear vigorously denied this was the case, and stated that she was glad that Ross had been apprehended and punished for what "he did to me and my husband". The report also details further allegations that were made about Ross's relationship with her husband, and provision he may have made for the family prior to the kidnapping. Again these were denied by Mrs Whitnear, but after deliberation the magistrates agreed that there was a case to answer and committed Ross to trial at Leeds Assizzes. He was granted bail

The case came to court on 19th March 1935 and once again there was a remarkable twist to the case. The Manchester Guardian reported that

Mr Justice Atkinson had clearly read the case papers and came to the conclusion that it was going to be a complete waste of time prosecuting Ross because of firstly the length of time that had elapsed since the offence, and secondly, and more importantly, there was consternation that there was no way that either sides version of events could be proven one way or the other. He added that it was "preposterous" that an event that occurred 30 years ago which resulted in no harm to anyone should be raked over. Even the victim agreed!

Henry Ross was therefore acquitted of a charge that carried a seven year sentence if found guilty, and he walked away from the court a free man. Under the circumstances the Judge really had no option. From the reports it appears that the case against Ross was only brought because of the warrant the father John took out in 1904 was still in force. Police seem to have been alerted to the fact that Ross had returned to the country by a grasping and avaricious nephew who possibly thought that with a childless Ross in prison he may come into some money. The case against Ross was  further compromised by the death of the father in 1911, less than three years after the return of John. He is buried in City Road Cemetery, Sheffield

  WHITNEAR, John William (mill foreman, age 49).
     Died at 24 Woodbourn Road; Buried on December 16, 1911 in Unconsecrated ground;
     Grave Number 6393, Section K of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.


An abductor takes a victim for his own selfish purposes and tries to maintain a low or even an anonymous profile. A kidnapper eventually makes his abduction known, either to the media or strictly to the immediate family of his victim. He uses his captive as a bargaining tool, whereas the typical abductor keeps his captive as secret as possible. Clearly this was a case of abduction and not kidnapping.


1911 Census - Personal Information
Name John William Whitnear
Relationship to Head of Household Head
Condition / Years Married Married / 26 Years
Total Children Born Alive 3
Children Still Living 3
Gender Male Age 49
Estimated Year of Birth 1862
Occupation Steel Rolling Mill Foreman
Employed Yes Working at Home No
Place of Birth Brightside Yorks
Enumerator Information
Address 24 Woodbourn Road Sheffield Parish Sheffield Town Sheffield Type of Building Private House
Number of Rooms 5 Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN28025 RG78PN1600 RD510 SD7 ED37 SN168 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Sheffield
Registration Sub District Attercliffe Enumeration District 37

1881 Census

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Edward WHITNEAR Head M Male 50 Edwinstowe, Nottingham, England Labourer In Iron Works
Elizabeth WHITNEAR Wife M Female 48 Barlborough, Derbyshire, England
John Wm. WHITNEAR Son U Male 19 Sheffield, York, England Labourer In Iron Works
Joseph WHITNEAR Son U Male 16 Sheffield, York, England Labourer In Iron Works

Source Information:
Dwelling 94 Chippingham Streeet Census Place Attercliffe Cum Darnall, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342128 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4667 / 116 Page Number 28


The New Zealand newspaper - Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXXIV, Issue 12761, 5 May 1909, Page 2

Marlborough Express, Volume XLIII, Issue 117, 15 May 1909, Page 3

The Times dated 1st and 8th February 1935

The Manchester Guardian dated 20th March 1935

UK Census

Sheffield Indexers

Return To Main Homepage

This page was last updated on 15/05/12 09:53