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Column: Historic kidnapping makes for great cocktail fodder
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
April 24, 2013 05:02 PM | 2748 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
The abduction of Atlanta banker John King Ottley is one of the most sensational stories in the annals of Atlanta history.

Widely reported as the first executive kidnapping in American history, Ottley served as the president of Atlanta’s First National Bank and was among the city’s top citizens when two men took him hostage as he left his Buckhead estate July 6, 1933.

His home, called Joyuese, is the present-day site of Lenox Square mall. It was somewhat surprising when his great-grandson, Vinings resident James Ottley, published his book in 2009, “Atlanta History for Cocktail Parties,” that the story didn’t make the cut. That is except for the fact that James is not one to talk about himself or his family’s deep Atlanta roots unless asked.

I myself have told the story of the kidnapping at a few cocktail parties, even in front of James on one occasion. He patiently corrected my many mistakes, setting the record straight until I realized the buffoonery of trying to tell a story about someone else’s great-grandfather and ceded the floor.

Enough people must have asked him about it as the harrowing tale is one of the many in James’ new book, “Atlanta History for Cocktail Parties II: Another Round.” It and the first book are available at

As the names suggest, the books are fun, easy reads. That is very much on purpose. As a younger man, James read noted historian Franklin Garrett’s colossal “Atlanta and Environs,” all three volumes, 3,000 or so pages of the most comprehensive and complete history of Atlanta ever published.

Garrett (and in Volume III Harold Martin) left no stone unturned tracing every event, every family, every significant land transaction, almost to present day. “Atlanta History for Cocktail Parties” takes some of the more interesting and noteworthy stories from Garrett’s opus and puts them into digestible bites.

In the second volume, James expanded his repertoire to include stories about The Coca-Cola Co. and Asa Candler, along with many more interesting historical tidbits from various sources. I will not attempt to write the story of Ottley’s abduction here. James has done a better job of it than I can ever do. He even included a gripping, first-hand account written by John K. Ottley’s son.

One detail, however, I think is apropos. Ottley convinced his young kidnapper, Pryor Bowen, to release him. Together they walked back to Atlanta from Suwanee until they were given a ride.

Ottley requested no charges be filed against Bowen, pleas which fell on deaf ears as the young man spent a year on the chain gang for his crime. The older kidnapper, William Delinski, was sentenced to 28 years for the crime.

That magnanimity — an Ottley trait if ever there was one — I think is why James left the story out of the first book. It is a good thing enough people pressed him to include it in this one. It makes for a great read.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Altantan and can be reached at

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