Many people know Walter Elias Disney as the friendly face that launched the empire which bears his name. Between his contributions to the world of animation, entertainment, Hollywood, and the tourism industry, Walt Disney is one of the most famous people in the world. Even after being gone for over 55 years, the legacy of Walt Disney Studios, Mickey Mouse, Disneyland Park, and Walt Disney World Resort lives on.
In addition to many documentaries and books covering his life, few (if any) seem to address his meeting with the FBI after a local child was kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered.
The victim’s name was Rose Marie Riddle. The six-year-old girl was kidnapped from a labor camp in Shafter, California. Soon after, she was assaulted and murdered. The awful story sent shockwaves throughout the Golden State, including Los Angeles.
A podcast about the murder can be heard here.
It was one of those horrific stories that turned a small town upside down and struck fear into the hearts of parents, children, and families everywhere. The perpetrators of the crimes were a pregnant married couple (Mr. and Mrs. Richard Arlene Lindsey).
So where exactly does the Academy Award-winning “Uncle Walt” fit into all of this?
The FBI Meeting
According to FBI documents, the Bureau met with Mr. Disney in January of 1961 – a few weeks after the girl was found murdered. According to the documents, the conversation quickly became a discussion of the Rose Marie Riddle case. The agent(s) discussed with Walt Disney (and another individual) concepts behind a cartoon series directed at school-aged children to warn them of strangers.
The document states that Walt Elias Disney was very interested in the idea of trying to provide warnings for children to not talk to or get into cars with strangers. In addition, they discussed the concept of creating a series of cartoons targeted to different age groups, warning them of what is now known as “stranger danger.”
It seemed that the Bureau wanted to utilize the fantastic success, popularity, and good reputation of Walt Disney to help create a program to protect children.
Walt Disney left the meeting intending to speak to another associate (presumably a Walt Disney Studio producer or director). However, there were no official commitments written or offered between the FBI and Walt Disney.
The Follow Up
A few weeks later, in February of 1961, the FBI reached out again to Walt Disney for a follow-up. The documents suggest that Walt Disney was working to raise funds for the project and was looking into producing the precautionary films on a non for profit basis.
However, it seems that these plans never fully materialized. The Walt Disney Company was balancing a lot on its shoulders throughout the 1960s, as was the FBI (and the United States). If not, perhaps a cartoon warning children of “stranger danger” would have manifested with characters such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck warning youngsters to stay away from adults they didn’t know.