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Nelly Donnelly was born Ellen Quinlan into a large and poor Irish immigrant family in 1889 in Parsons, a Kansas railroad town, per The Parsons Sun. After moving to Kansas City, Missouri, as a teen, her business acumen, sense of style, and sewing ability would thrust her into fame and fortune. By the 1920s, she and her husband Paul’s business, the Donnelly Garment Company, had become wildly successful. It was the largest dress manufacturer in the country and employed 1,000 mostly female employees, producing more than 5,000 dresses a day. She was a millionaire and Fortune magazine called her possibly the most successful businesswoman in the country, per “James A. Reed: Legendary Lawyer; Marplot in the United States Senate.”
Following the stock market crash in 1929, which helped usher in the Great Depression, desperate people began turning to kidnapping the rich and famous looking for an easy payday. On the evening of Dec. 16, 1931, Nell Donnelly and her chauffeur, George Blair, became the latest victims to fall prey to the snatch racket.