24 October 2020

Spooky SLC: Kidnapping of Richard Henricksen

John D Billett the day of his arrest 1952, from UDSH.

In Oct 1951, 13-year-old Richard “Ricky” Henricksen was kidnapped and chained to a bed for 79 days in a dilapidated house in SLC. (Warning, this gets harsh)

Ricky worked part time at Battle Fatigue Anderson’s used car lot at 1355 S State where he washed cars and ran errands. 

On the night of October 20, 1951, Ricky did not come home after work and his parents became very worried; his mother called the SLC police who brushed it off as just another runaway. She then called SLC Mayor and the Public Safety Commissioner but ultimately ended up going directly to the newspapers to help find her boy. 

She insisted he was not a runaway because his wallet and money was at home, his bike was left at his job, and he was a happy boy.

Days turned into weeks. Halloween passed, his Nov 7 birthday passed, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years passed without Ricky. It wasn’t until Jan 7 1952 and the armed robbery of $20K from a First Security Bank at 40 E 800 South that led police to Ricky's whereabouts

SLC Police received a call from the lawyer of John D Billett when Billett failed to show up for work; he was a salesman at the same used car lot that Ricky worked. The lawyer asked if Billett was in jail because Billett instructed his employer to call his lawyer if he did not show up to work that Monday. 

That’s when police suspected Billett in the Bank robbery and employees of the bank positively identified Billett as the robber. While in police custody for robbery, Billett admitted to kidnapping Ricky. Billett had been the primary suspect in the kidnapping case and police had followed him a few times but Billettt had always eluded them.

Police found Ricky in a small dilapidated 3-room house at 1706 S 1100 East (now a parking lot for Jolley’s Corner Pharmacy). Debris was scattered knee high in the kitchen and Ricky was found lying on a dirty mattress with his foot attached to a chain which was locked to the iron bed frame.

With Billett's confession, the story finally came out about Ricky's kidnapping: Billett had told Ricky that he was a police officer and was arresting Ricky for stealing cars. He told Ricky his parents were aware of his arrest and were not expecting him home. He put a chain around Ricky’s legs and locked the other end to the bed. He put handcuffs on his wrists and put an old gas mask on Ricky’s head. He often beat Ricky with his fists and shoes in sessions that Billett called “tests.” Ricky said the purpose of these “tests” were to confess to crimes Billett had accused Ricky. Billett also made Ricky drink whisky until Ricky passed out. A few times Billett took Ricky out of the house to eat at a drive-in cafĂ© and each time Billett would drive past Ricky’s house so he could see his family inside. Billett told Ricky his family was not looking for him. He told Ricky he would hurt him if he made any noise or tried to run away. Billett made Ricky swear an oath every Sunday to not run away or make noise or his family would be killed. Ricky thought he was going to be killed eventually so he wrote his initials on the web of his left hand and the initials of Billett on the thigh of his leg thinking that maybe it would lead police to the person responsible for his death.

Billett provided sandwiches, soda, and milk to Ricky and also brought him toys and comic books. When Billett was captured by police he told police that he and Ricky were friends and that Ricky was not held against his will.

This was not the first time Billett had done something like this. A few years previous when he was in the Navy he took his shipmate hostage in California and held him for 32 days with a rope, handcuffs, and a respirator mask.

John D. Billett was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. He was convicted of 2nd Degree Kidnapping and sentenced to 1 year to life. 

He was sent to the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, MO to serve his sentence. Billettt died in 1992.

Sources: SL Trib 1952-01-08; Deseret News 1952-01-08

 Ricky Henricksen after his release,
Ogden Standard Examiner 1952-01-08

Ricky’s bed of imprisonment, from Ogden Standard Examiner 1952-01-08

1950 Sanborn Map showing house at 1706 S 1100 East

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