Kidnapping of “Plucky” Clara Thiebaud

Newspaper headlines often offer a snapshot of an exciting, and perhaps scary, event in an otherwise normal person’s life. One such headline jumped out at me from a 1920s issue of a local newspaper and I could not resist learning more. I have chosen not to use Clara’s later married name(s).

Charles Thiebaud and his wife Mary immigrated to the United States, and Ohio, in the last decade of the 1800s. Charles was born in Switzerland while Mary was born in France. They settled in Warwick Township in Tuscarawas County where Charles worked as a miner in the local coal and iron mines. The couple raised their children in their home located between Tuscarawas and Gnadenhutten. One of their daughters, Clara born in 1905, would find herself the subject of an alarming newspaper headline in December 1920.

It was Tuesday, November 30, 1920, and 15 year old Clara Thiebaud decided to collect walnuts along the towpath of the nearby Ohio Canal. The Ohio Canal and towpath were located almost parallel to the main road from Tuscarawas to Gnadenhutten. It was early afternoon when a large automobile pulled up with four passengers; two older men, a woman, and an 18-year old boy.

The Thiebaud family’s property highlighted on a map of Warwick Township, Tuscarawas County, 1908.

The car parked near where Clara was collecting walnuts and one of the older male passengers asked Clara to take a ride with them. Clara, wisely, declined the offer but the older men in the car were not taking ‘no’ for an answer. The two men quickly grabbed Clara, blindfolded and bound her, and threw her onto the floor of the car. According to Clara’s account of the kidnapping, the men claimed that they were on their way to Mexico but offered no other information on their plans for Clara.

After driving a “long distance,” how far Clara could not say, the men stopped the automobile and got out of the car. The woman and the young man had second thoughts about kidnapping Clara and, when the two men returned to the car, the 18-year old held the men at bay with a revolver while he and the woman turned the car around and drove back in the direction of Gnadenhutten.

Headline in the Coshocton Tribune, 2 Dec 1920.

The woman and 18-year old drove Clara back to just below Gnadenhutten on the Tuscarawas River. After they untied Clara, and fearing they might change their minds, Clara wasted no time and jumped into the Tuscarawas River and swam to the far shore. While she was swimming the car drove off, though Clara could not say in which direction it went. Her quick-thinking led to the newspaper referring to Clara as “plucky.”

Clara, wet and cold from her swim, walked the rest of the way to her home. She arrived home just after dusk and the family notified a neighbor who was a police officer of what had occurred. Clara was unhurt, other than the cold from her swim and exposure to the elements but she was undoubtedly shaken by her experience. There is no record of the kidnappers ever being caught, their identities, or what happened after they released Clara.

Clara Thiebaud, as a nurse, in a 1950s issue of the New Philadelphia Daily Times. (Back row in red box)

Clara Thiebaud lived in Tuscarawas County her entire life, eventually settling in Dover. She worked as a nurse, would outlive one husband, remarry and, while she had step-children, she apparently had no children of her own. Clara would die in the 1980s with no reference to her dramatic and frightening experience as a kidnap victim in her obituary or the public record. She is buried in Dover.

If you think you may be related to Clara, feel free to reach out.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


One thought on “Kidnapping of “Plucky” Clara Thiebaud

  1. Totally interesting history. Born in Tippecanoe (Harrison County), I have lived in Dennison, Ohio for the last 17 years. How do I join or keep track of these local stories ? Thanks.


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