The FBI, Walt Disney, and the Murder of a Six-Year-Old Girl

Walt Disney, FBI Office, and Rose Marie Riddle family
Credit: D23/ FBI Archives / Jerry Boen

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.

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walt disney

Credit: Disney Archives

The Murder

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.

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Rode Marie Riddle with Family

Credit: Jerry Boen

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).

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walt disney snow white and the seven dwarfs animations academy award blacklisted snow white voice actress Adriana Caselotti disney princess 1937

Credit: Disney

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.

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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.

Walt Disney Image

Credit: D23

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.

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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.

disney's steamboat willie mickey mouse

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

About Steven Wilk

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)