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Stolen from the Garden

Stolen from the Garden

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The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper

Author William Swanson

Minnesota Historical Society Press (August 1, 2015)


The inside story of the shocking Piper kidnapping: from the abduction and recovery, through the grueling investigation and trials, and into the Pipers’ haunted final years. New in paperback in August 2015.


“Swanson gives a detailed retelling of the kidnapping and the harrowing ransom drop-off procedure that Harry Piper went through to get his wife back. Cooperation from the Pipers’ sons enables Swanson to give an insider account of the family’s ordeal and access to FBI files on the case obtained by the son, Harry Piper III, after court battles with federal officials.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

On a July afternoon in 1972, two masked men waving guns abducted forty-nine-year-old Virginia Piper from the garden of her lakeside home in Orono, Minnesota. After her husband, a prominent investment banker, paid a $1 million ransom, an anonymous caller directed the FBI to a thickly wooded section of a northern Minnesota state park. There, two days after her nightmare began, Ginny Piper––chained to a tree, filthy and exhausted, but physically unharmed––awaited her rescuers.

The intensely private couple lived through a media firestorm. Both Bobby and Ginny Piper herself—naturally reserved and surprisingly composed in the aftermath of her ordeal—were subject to FBI scrutiny in the largest kidnap-for-ransom case in bureau annals. When two career criminals were finally indicted five years after the abduction, the Pipers again took center stage in two long trials before a jury’s verdict made headlines across the nation.

Drawing on closely held government documents and exclusive interviews with family members, investigators, suspects, lawyers, and others intimately connected to the case, William Swanson provides the first comprehensive account of the sensational Piper kidnapping and its long, eventful aftermath––and makes a case for the most plausible explanation for what really happened on that July afternoon.

Author information

William Swanson is the author of Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson and Black White Blue: The Assassination of Patrolman Sackett.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“The kidnapping of Virginia Piper, a crime that combined incredibly brilliant planning with unaccountably foolish mistakes, remains among the most complex and baffling cases in Minnesota’s history. In Stolen from the Garden, Bill Swanson tells the story of the crime with his usual sleek expertise while presenting many inside details never before made public. It would be hard to find a better crime thriller than this real-life tale of a case that even after forty years has not lost its power to astonish.”
Larry Millett, author of Strange Days, Dangerous Nights and Murder Has a Public Face

“In Stolen from the Garden, William Swanson artfully combines the wonderful writing of an authentic prose stylist with the shoe-leather grit of an investigative reporter. With his brilliant telling of the infamous Piper kidnapping, Swanson continues his reign as the maestro of mayhem in the supposedly peaceful Midwest.”
Neal Karlen, author of Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip

In the Media:

KSTP Feature: Million Dollar Mystery
Star Tribune
Pioneer Press
WCCO Radio with John Hines (10/14/14 10 am)
Lakeshore Weekly News
Garage Logic, 1500ESPN with Joe Soucheray (10/29/14 Hour 1)
KUMD’s MN Reads
Twin Cities Live Book Club Pick!
Historical Markers Media podcast

Related resources

MNopedia article: Kidnapping of Virginia Piper

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 280 pages
  • 24 B&W Photos, Index
  • 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519939

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