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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Author Archives: Steve Silverman

The Missing Groom

Robert C. Buttolph and Leona Benell were scheduled to be married on March 8 of 1911 at 4 PM at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Manhattan.

After a great evening with family, Robert agreed to meet Leona the next day, the morning of their wedding, at 10 AM. Robert didn’t show up and the family began a search for him. They were unable to locate him, so the police were called in.

Did he get cold feet and run away? Was Robert mugged or murdered? Did he jump off the nearby arch of the Riverside Drive viaduct?

It was none of these. At 2 PM that afternoon, Robert walked right into his parents’ apartment. It turns out that he had stopped off to visit a friend the previous night and fell asleep there. He was such an abnormally sound sleeper that he slept right through to that afternoon.

The couple was married at the church at 4 PM that day, just as scheduled.


 

The Coal Mountain Casanova

Back in 1952, a man named Jesse L. Garrett of Scott Depot, West Virginia, was watching Groucho Marx on television. The comedian was interviewing a woman who had previously appeared on his show and later married one of the men who had seen her on the air at the time. Garrett said, “I thought if a woman could do it, so could a man.” 

So, in June of 1952 he wrote to the editor of the Rockport Democrat in Indiana and expressed his interest in advertising in the newspaper for a wife. He was very particular in what he was looking for: he expressed a preference for a Midwestern woman, and one who would make for “an intellectual wife, companion and mother of my two sons.” He felt that “A woman from a rural community would be more like my way of thinking.”  

Jesse preferred “a farm woman of good standing… A woman with some financial backing so that life would not be uneven and our social standings would be about the same.” 

He added, “I prefer a woman about 135 pounds, a little more or less, and between the ages of 35 and 45.” He also insisted that she be a good cook. “No others need apply.” 

Garrett explained that he picked the Rockport newspaper for the advertisement because he had once lived there. He was a thin, balding, 49-year-old man who stood 6-feet, 2-inches tall (188 cm) and described himself as “not bad to look at, love any kind of fun, have a fair education and am at home in hogpen or in a mansion’s drawing room.” 

He had left Indiana years earlier. “I hitchhiked out of there one winter day with only 49-cents in my pocket, vowing that I might starve to death, but I wasn’t going to freeze. I headed south, and when I got to Belle and saw the DuPont plant there, I went in, told them I was broke, and they gave me a job.” 

He saved up his money and eventually had enough to open a grocery store on US Route 60 near St. Albans, West Virginia. The store was named after his ex-wife Georgie, who he had recently divorced on March 14, 1951 after 14-years of marriage.  Shortly after the divorce, the store was sold and Jesse Garrett officially became a retired man. 

But he was not without an income or assets. Rentals of houses that he owned provided Jesse with a steady income and he claimed to be worth in excess of $28,000, which would be more than a quarter of a million dollars today when adjusted for inflation. 

As he embarked on this journey to find Ms. Right, Jesse was certain to carry his divorce papers with him to prove to his prospective bride that he wasn’t to blame for the breakup of his first marriage. He insisted that his next wife would need the approval of his two sons, 10-year-old Jimmy and 11-year old Jesse, Jr., for whom he had been granted full custody. They were quoted in the press as stating, “We don’t want a fat mama.” 

Jessie Garrett looking at one his many replies with his sons James, Jr. (left) and Jimmie (right). Image appeared on page 7 of the June 18, 1952 publication of the Salisbury Daily Times.

This story of a hometown boy who made it good was soon making headlines from coast-to-coast. Responses began to pour in. “I received between 3,100 and 3,300 letters, phone calls, and telegrams. A few were from men who wanted me to help them find a wife, but all the rest were from women. I got letters from women in London, Mexico, Guadalcanal, Canada, and about every state in this country.”   

Jesse was shocked by how many lonely women there were. “I had no expectation I would get the response I did. I was dumbfounded and mortified to learn that there were so many women who want husbands.”  

The press caught up with the ex-Mrs. Garrett and she made it clear that Jesse was no bargain, even with all the money that he claimed to have. Georgie didn’t elaborate, but her warning message to all of the women out there was perfectly clear. She did state, “I’m not sure about his exact age.” Noting that he lacked a birth certificate, she added, “I know he was 49 for a year or two while he and I were married.” My calculations indicate that he was really a couple of months shy of his 54th birthday at the time. 

Just for the record, the former Georgie Garrett was 32-years-old, weighed 100 pounds (45 kg) and stood 59-1/2” (151 cm) tall. In other words, the boys didn’t have a fat mama.  

With thousands of women expressing interest in a possible marriage, Jesse began the process of selecting the bride-to-be. He did express disappointment that only one woman from Rockport had contacted him, but she was quickly knocked out of the running. 

“About 65 per cent of them are sincere and the rest are mercenary. I found six of them interesting and am arranging to interview them. I would like to be married in the next three or four days, and I see no reason why I won’t.” 

Many women went out of their way to catch Jesse’s interest. Some sent photographs of themselves in bathing suits, of their children, their homes, their cars, and more. He said that he wasn’t interested in women who sexually teased him or those from Canada who wrote in French. Even a woman worth $2,500,000 didn’t make the cut. 

Here is a sampling of some of the correspondence that he received: 

A woman in Indiana wrote, “I’m babbling like a little, old West Virginia Brook at the thought of marrying you.” Jesse’s sarcastic response was, “I bet she is – what does she know about a West Virginia Brook anyway?” 

“How about letting a Texas gal enter the competition? I assure you that I am no unattractive old hag. I weigh 130 but could reduce some, of course.” 

Another from Indianapolis said, “I was reared on a farm but am citified now. I am a good-looker and I don’t pat myself on the back either.” 

A telegram from Lubbock, Texas was short and to the point. “If decision not made, contact 128-pound vision of loveliness.”  

Then there was a 29-year-old Wisconsin woman who penned, “I know you want a woman who would be responsive to you, gentle yet warm and exciting. Someone who would welcome you with warm lips and arms. You sound like quite a man – six foot two – just right for me as I’m five foot eight. If you’re interested, I’ll come see you on my vacation, the first two weeks in July.” 

Clearly unhappy with some of Jesse’s female specifications, a lady from Minnesota wrote, “Don’t forget, you’re not buying a horse or cow. And listen, boy, you’re no spring chicken yourself. 

Dozens of others who were anxious to meet Jesse called a nearby store, one of the few places with a telephone. About one dozen showed up at the local post office, one woman said that she would be there soon. “I will look for you Saturday, June 28, at 8 p.m. at the O. Henry Inn on Triplett Street. I will be wearing a green dress. You wear a brown suit so I’ll know you.” 

Not all were serious inquiries.  For example, here is one from Cleveland that was “writ by hand” on a paper bag. “I love children if you keep them away from me. I just lost four teeth in front and one of my eyes is crossed, but I can hoe taters, man.” 

Jesse interviewed twenty-six applicants and decided that Mrs. Maxine Berry, a 30-year-old redhead, would make the perfect wife and mother to his children. Unfortunately, she got cold feet and removed her name from his list of possibilities. 

On June 23rd, twelve days after Jesse’s story broke in the national news, date #25 announced that she had accepted Jesse’s proposal of marriage.  She was 33-year-old Mrs. Etta R. Crosbie, who worked in the classified ad department of the Elkhart Truth newspaper.  Mrs. Crosbie said that she had answered Garrett on a dare.   

Mrs. Etta R. Crosbie of Elkhart, Indiana with her daughter Karin on the left and son Quin on the right. Image appeared on page 12 of the June 26, 1952 issue of the Mount Vernon Register News.

Mrs. Crosbie said, “I know how to write a letter. I work on a newspaper and I know you’ve got to sell yourself. I even tore my picture in two. Anything to arouse interest.” She mentioned in the letter that this “is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done.” 

Jesse told the press that prettier women were willing to marry him, “However, she is one of the sweetest and most sincere ladies I’ve ever met. She’ll be a real mother, and that’s what counts.” 

A brunette with hazel eyes, Mrs. Crosbie described herself as “thin, a sort of athletic build, 5 feet 7-½ inches tall, a 27-inch waist, quite good size bust, and small hips.” 

Etta had married her first husband, Rollo M. Crosbie in 1938. Sadly, he passed away on October 6, 1947 at the young age of 33.  She was alone to raise her two children, Quin and Karin, who were aged ten and five, respectively, at the time that she accepted Jesse Garrett’s proposal. 

She said, “The children think it’s fun and trust their mother’s judgment. Those who know me as a serious person cannot understand how I could do a thing like this, but I know it’s right.” 

And, yes, the two Garrett boys had a hand in choosing their soon-to-be stepmother.  “The boys were along when Mr. Garrett visited me a few days ago. I believe they decided I was O.K.”  In other words, Etta wasn’t going to be a fat mama. 

Jesse was quoted as stating, “She’s good looking and smart. She is a good mother, an efficient housewife, and competent in business affairs. She has held a good job as a newspaper ad-taker for eight years. She isn’t mercenary and is not a social climber. She is charming and gracious. She is an all-around good woman, a fine woman for any man to have around the house.” 

Etta R. Crosbie and Jesse L. Garrett with their children: Karin Crosbie (lower Right) and Jimmy Garrett, Quin Crosbie, and Jesse Garrett, Jr. (left to right in the back row). Image from the June 26, 1952 issue of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on page 30.

The plan was for the two to wed as soon as possible. Garrett said that they had an offer from WFMB, at the time the only television station in Indianapolis, to wed on the air. At first Mrs. Crosbie was game to the televised nuptials, but quickly cooled to the idea. 

The couple arrived at Garrett’s West Virginia home on Wednesday, June 25th. Etta stayed at Jesse’s house that evening while he stayed with friends. 

The issue as to where the couple would ultimately settle popped up quite a bit in the press.  Etta preferred to live in Indiana, stating, “The mountains make me think I’m smothering.” Jesse was initially a bit more open minded, “I could be happy with her no matter where we were,” but seemed to be leaning toward residing in West Virginia. 

On Friday the couple made their way to the Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, West Virginia to get their obligatory blood tests.  After that, they headed to the county courthouse to obtain a marriage license, but several legal difficulties prevented them from doing so. First, Etta was not a resident of the state.  Second, they were told that they would have to wait three days before they could wed. And, finally, they wished to be married by a justice of the peace, which was not permitted under West Virginia law. 

They were thinking of heading to Kentucky to marry, but for some unknown reason that plan fell through.   

Jesse said, “I’m determined to marry that woman if I have to go to the ends of the world.” 

By Tuesday the couple was back in Indiana, attempting to obtain a marriage license in Jeffersonville.  That didn’t work out, so the next day they were back in Rockport, but the county clerk there would not accept their West Virginia blood tests.  

The couple’s next stop was the nearby small town of English. The Justice of the Peace there, George Megenity, was willing to perform the ceremony, mainly because the deputy county clerk had failed to notice that their blood test was from out of state. 

Finally, on Wednesday, July 2, 1952 at 12:45 PM the couple became Mr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Garrett.  The wedding took place at the law office of Henry Mock with Mr. Mock and reporter John M. Flanigan acting as witnesses.  

The bride wore a yellow dress with a floral pattern on it and a white hat, gloves, and shoes. Due to the extreme heat of the day, the groom opted not to wear a jacket, but did put on a tie for the occasion. A five-diamond wedding band sealed the deal as all of the couple’s children looked on. 

From there, the newlyweds and their children left for a short honeymoon in Elkhart. After that, the plan was for them all to head back to the Garrett home in West Virginia.  

Where they were going to live permanently was still undecided.  Mrs. Garrett stated, “I am willing to do what is best for all concerned, but things are too indefinite now. I can’t say where we will live.”  Her new husband said that upon his return back home, “I will either dispose of my property or talk my wife into settling.” 

That was never to happen. One month later, on August 5th, it was revealed in the press that Etta never came back to West Virginia with Jesse. The total length of time that the two were married before they went their separate ways was two days and seven hours. Jesse blamed it on her refusal to move to West Virginia, but, while he never mentioned it, he clearly refused to live in Indiana. 

“I’ll probably divorce Etta. A lawyer friend told me I can go to Florida and get a divorce in six weeks. I might as well. You can’t keep a home going when your wife is 500 miles away.” 

Jesse obtained a lawyer and filed for divorce. Etta, in turn, filed a cross divorce complaint against him. The divorce was granted on March 22, 1953 and Jesse was ordered to pay Etta $40/month alimony.  That would be approximately $380/month today adjusted for inflation. 

From there, it appears that Jesse Garrett’s life seemed to spiral out of control. His supposed life savings seemed to vanish overnight. “The $28,000 just melted away… A whack here and a whack there.” He explained, “The money went quick. First, I spent what cash I had; then I spent what was set aside for my boys’ education; then I sold some notes I had; and I mortgaged my house. Now they’re foreclosing on me.” The reason his home was being foreclosed upon was that he had borrowed $3,500 from a Charleston loan company and was unable to repay the loan.  

On February 26, 1955, Domestic Relations Judge Herbert Richardson found Jesse to be in contempt of a court order by leaving the state without permission, disposing of personal property, and for refusing to make those mandatory $40/month alimony payments. 

As two process servers emerged from the courthouse, they spotted Jesse standing on a corner. Jesse refused to submit to arrest and snatched the handcuffs right out of the arresting officer’s hands. Next thing you know, a wrestling match broke out between the three men.  Two additional officers raced over from the courthouse and ended the scuffle.  As Jesse was being led off to jail, he blurted out, “Call the newspapers; call the newspapers!” 

It’s amazing what a few years can do.  Instead of boasting about what a great catch he was, he was now pointing out how poor and feeble he had become.  “My sister put me in business at Scott Depot. I get $20 a week and room and board for me and my two boys. That woman has an income of $420 a month. She’s 33 years old and I’m 52 and half blind. They want me to pay her $40 a month. I can’t and I won’t. Not a penny!”  

He added, “I guess I’ll just have to get me a couple of pistols and rob a bank somewhere.”   

Jesse stated, “I’ll stay in this jail until the bars rot off. I’m only making $20 a week and can’t afford to pay her.” 

Five days later, he posted bond and was released. His bondsman, Mark Wisman, must have had second thoughts and dropped his surety. Next thing you know, on Sunday March 13th, Jesse was right back in jail.  He was released the next day on a new surety. 

After that, Jesse vanished.  He was due back in court on March 21, 1955, but was a no show. In a registered letter that Jesse sent to the court from Nashville, he stated, “Please postpone my case for 30 days. There is serious illness here.” The judge wasn’t buying it and ordered Garrett’s arrest. Instead, the court was bombarded with letters and postcards that Jesse penned claiming everything from being framed to kidnapping to outright robbery. On September 25, 1955, Judge Richardson declared his bond forfeited and Jesse’s story was dropped from the headlines. I was unable to locate any further information on how this matter was resolved, so if anybody out there knows, please let me know. 

Birth certificate for Jesse Lee Garrett, Jr.

The next time that Jesse would be in the press again was on September 4, 1974, but it had nothing to do with his marriage to Etta Crosbie. This time, Jesse and his son Jesse, Jr. were arrested as part of a drug sting.  Basically, there were two men in Arizona who smuggled marijuana into the United States in 600-pound (272 kg) lots and once it was shipped to the East Coast, the Garretts and others would distribute it to West Virginia and Virginia. Jesse, Jr. was sentenced to five years in prison with just 270 days served and the remainder a combination of a suspended sentence and probation.  As for his dad, he told Judge K. K. Hall, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ll do whatever the district attorney tells me…”  Jesse, Sr. was sentenced to three years’ probation. 

Henrietta “Etta” Rems Crosbie passed away on January 8, 2008. She was 89-years-old. 

Jesse L. Garrett, Sr. passed away on July 15, 1980 at 81 years of age.  He is buried in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Rockport, Indiana, the same city in which he was hoping to find Ms. Right. The epitaph on his tombstone reads, “We Miss You Dad, Jesse Jim.” 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide. 

Image of Jesse L. Garrett’s tombstone in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Rockport, Indiana. Image from Find-A-Grave.
 

Salem Trade School Interview

About three years ago I recorded the podcast on the Salem Trade School. It’s a fantastic story. If you have never heard about the Salem Trade School before, I strongly encourage you to go back and listen to it. Here is the original episode:

Briefly, in the late 1920’s the Salem Trade School played football against many of the high schools around Salem, Massachusetts. They were awful, losing game-after-game, year-after-year. Then, they surprisingly won one game and it was discovered that the Salem Trade School was completely fictional.

The school really didn’t exist and it was soon learned that the team was basically a money-making scheme that had been put together by a man named Harold Burgess.  

A couple of months after I posted that episode, I received an email from a man named John Murphy, who’s dad had played on the team. John and I have spoken a number of times since the podcast was originally posted and I asked him if I could record our latest conversation and he graciously agreed.

Here is Part 1 of my interview with John Murphy where he discusses the Salem Trade School:

John was also involved in the initial launching of FIRST Robotics, where he worked with famed inventor Dean Kamen (Segway) for two years. In Part 2 of my interview with John, he discusses FIRST and how he became involved with it.

 

Toothless Dog Charged in Biting

This story takes place on September 13, 1930 in a Minneapolis, Minnesota courtroom. There, a man named Morris Epstein was suing Ben Stillman because his police dog had bitten him.  Epstein asked for $75 ($1,100 today) for his pain and suffering.

Stillman objected, not only because he didn’t want to pay the money, but because there was  absolutely no way the dog could have done so much damage. To prove it, Stillman showed the judge the dog’s mouth. He was completely toothless. The judge ruled in favor of Stillman and his unnamed dog.

Champion Dog Foods ad that appeared on page 88 of the Beckert’s Seed Store catalog.
 

Dog Choked by Fishing Line

In a story dated April 5, 1921, a man brought his dog into the Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC to have his pet euthanized.

Lion, who was a large, furry combination of part sheepdog and part Saint Bernard, was suffering badly. He wouldn’t eat, lacked energy, and stood with his head hanging low.

After a brief examination, attendants at the facility discovered that he was being strangled by a piece of fishing line that was wrapped around his throat. It had to have happened while Lion was a small puppy, since his skin had grown around it. The fishing line was cut and the excess skin was burned away.

The dog suddenly regained his pep and offers poured in to give him a new home. It was ultimately decided to keep him in the Animal League facility.

Kellogg's Gro-Pup Dog Food
Ad for Kellogg’s Gro-Pup Dog Food that appeared on page 275 of the May 1945 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.
 

A Punishment That Went Horribly Wrong

The subject of today’s story is a young woman named Linda Marie Ault. Shortly after her graduation from Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona, 17-year-old Linda married Ronald Wayne Loomis on August 8, 1964. The marriage wouldn’t last.

Wedding photograph of Linda Marie Ault Loomis that appeared in the August 8, 1964 publication of the Arizona Daily Star on page 10.

In 1966, Linda moved back in with her parents, Dorothy and Joseph Ault, who had by this time had relocated to 4720 E. Beverly in Phoenix. It’s always difficult to know what really goes on behind closed doors, but various newspaper accounts piece together an image in which the Ault household became a generational battle between traditional, conservative parents and a liberal daughter who reached adulthood during the 1960’s sexual revolution.

Mrs. Ault blamed the failure of her daughter’s marriage mainly on the fact that Linda had been intimate with at least a half dozen men during that time period. Her promiscuity continued after moving back home and what Mrs. Ault referred to as “traditional” methods were used to avoid any chance of pregnancy. This included having Linda constantly walk upright for about a week. Another time she had to ride horseback for approximately one month.

Linda enrolled as a student at Arizona State University, but the Aults were having a very difficult time getting her to study. Instead, Linda increasingly worked on making herself more enticing to the opposite sex. At one point she was awarded a scholarship, but instead requested that she be allowed to use the money to purchase contact lenses so that she could ditch her cat’s eye style glasses.

During the spring of 1967, Linda called the police to report a domestic disturbance at the Ault house. Sheriff Deputy Jack Barnaby responded and witnessed “one of the most violent family fights I have ever seen.” He added that Mrs. Ault was “extremely belligerent and that she had threatened to commit suicide.”  After this incident Mrs. Ault underwent psychiatric treatment and was considered to be just fine.

Some ten months later, on the evening of Friday February 2, 1968, Linda left the house to go to a dance. When she didn’t return home that night, her parents became concerned and made a telephone call to one her friends who informed them that Linda had left the dance with a man. The Aults became frantic and spent the remainder of the night driving through the Tempe-Phoenix area searching for her car but were unsuccessful.

Linda walked back into the house at 9:30 the next morning with a big smile on her face. When asked to explain where she had been, Linda stated that she had spent an intimate night at the apartment of a Williams Air Force Base Lieutenant named Joseph Cunningham.

Linda argued that she was 21-years-old and that she could do as she pleased. This made her parents even more furious and they forced Linda to telephone Lieutenant Cunningham and tell him that he had to marry her. The plan was very simple: The two would head off to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage and should Linda eventually be found not to be expecting a child, the marriage could be annulled.

Lieutenant Cunningham agreed to come to the house to talk things over, but if he had any thought about talking himself out of the impending nuptials, he was mistaken. Mr. Ault decided that he needed some sort of forceful persuasion to make sure that the two really married. Shortly after the telephone conversation ended, he drove to a pawn shop and purchased a 22-caliber revolver. He stated, “The main reason I got the gun was to get the man to marry Linda.” He added, “If we could show him the gun he’ll take her to Las Vegas and marry her.”

That was never to happen. While Mr. Ault was out shopping for the weapon, Lieutenant Cunningham called back and told Mrs. Ault that he wouldn’t be coming to their house to discuss what happened because he was already married.

So much for the shotgun wedding idea…

For the next day-or-so the Aults continued to press their daughter to express remorse for what she had done, but Linda was not giving in. One of the first things that her parents did was to take her over to her college and force Linda to withdraw from her classes. This was followed by walking around the neighborhood and forcing her to remain standing on her feet all day Saturday in an effort to abort a possible pregnancy.

At one point Linda started “to run and wouldn’t listen to me,” so Mrs. Ault picked up a branch from a Mesquite tree and whacked her on the back of her head twice. Linda then ran to a nearby gas station at 4300 East Baseline and called the police for help. Responding officer K.A. Roberts later testified that he had observed a blood trail that started at the back of Linda’s head, ran down her neck, and then separated into a V-shaped pattern between her shoulders. Linda refused to sign a complaint against her mother and returned back home.

1960 photograph of the 8th Grade Class at Flowing Wells High School. Linda Marie Ault is in the back row, fourth in from the far right.

Later that evening, Mr. Ault discovered Linda with a dull butcher knife pointed toward her stomach claiming that she didn’t have the strength to kill herself. Dad commented, “Oh, you’re grandstanding again.” He grabbed the knife and hid it away to prevent any further harm. He also hid his newly purchased gun under his mattress, just in case she decided to try to use it to grab their attention with it once again.

By Sunday morning, Linda still had not expressed any remorse for her actions, so the parents decided that they had to teach her a valuable lesson. One that would be memorable. One that she would forever regret. One that would cause her to truly reflect on what she had done.

Their solution: Linda would have to kill her beloved dog Beauty, a black and white mongrel that she had owned for about two years. Mrs. Ault stated, “I told Linda that after all she put so many people through, and her not suffer, that maybe she would suffer over an animal.”

Shortly before 11 A.M., Linda walked with Beauty one last time to a spot about 500 feet (150 meters) on the desert floor behind their home. As Linda and Mrs. Ault took turns digging a grave to bury Beauty in, Mr. Ault fired the gun into a cactus to be certain that it operated properly.  He then loaded the revolver with 7 rounds and left the hammer on an empty chamber. “I told her to just pull the hammer back and trigger.”

At this point Mr. Ault walked about 50-feet (15 meters) to tie the couple’s other dog to a bush. Mrs. Ault then knelt down next to the grave that they had dug and held Beauty by her leash. She was looking down toward the dog but through the corner of her eye could see the barrel of the gun coming toward the dog. She said, “You have to put it right against her head.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Mrs. Ault could see Linda withdrawing the gun away from Beauty’s head and sensed that her daughter was hesitating on pulling the trigger.

And the… BOOM!

Mrs. Ault suddenly screamed, “My God, my God! She shot herself!”

Instead of shooting her dog, Linda had turned the gun toward her right temple and pulled the trigger.

“She’s shot herself! Baby, baby, help me!”

Mister Ault ran toward his daughter and carried her back to the house. Mrs. Ault dialed the operator in a frantic attempt to get an ambulance or the police, but time was ticking away fast.

Sheriff’s deputy Jack Barnaby arrived on the scene a short time later and cautiously entered the house with his gun ready. He had been the officer who had responded to that violent fight at the Ault home some ten months earlier, so he didn’t know what to expect. He found that no one was home.

That was because the Aults had made the decision to drive Linda directly to the Tempe Community Hospital themselves. Her condition was so grave that she was transferred her to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

Sadly, she did not survive. Linda died the next morning on February 5, 1968. She was 21-years-old.

Mrs. Ault was quoted as saying, “I thought she was just stalling.” She continued, “I killed her, I killed her. It’s just like I killed her myself.”

This photograph of Linda Marie Ault appeared in newspapers across the country shortly after the news of her tragic death broke. From page 1 of the February 8, 1968 issue of the Fort Lauderdale News.

While the couple lived just outside the Phoenix city limits, the shooting took place within its boundaries. As a result, the couple was questioned by Phoenix police and were fully cooperative. Mr. Ault stated, “I handed her the gun. I didn’t think she would do anything like that.”

The press quickly picked up on the story about about the college sophomore who opted to take her life over that of her innocent dog. Suddenly, Mr. and Mrs. Ault were thrust into the national spotlight. When questioned by reporters, Mr. Ault replied, “We told the police and the Sheriff’s office everything. You can get it all from them.”

Two days later the Aults were testifying at a coroner’s inquest. The couple was questioned by Chief Deputy County Attorney Moise Berger, who asked Mrs. Ault, “Did you or did you not know that she was four days past her menstrual period and there was no possibility she was pregnant?”  Mrs. Ault replied that she was aware of that fact.

When asked why Linda agreed to calling and asking Lieutenant Cunningham to marry her, Mrs. Ault stated, “She finally understood there was more involved than just him and her in an act like that. You have responsibilities.”

Just before he left the witness stand, Mr. Ault asked to make a statement: “I don’t believe my daughter meant to kill herself. I don’t think she thought her father would load the gun, that he would let her shoot the dog.”

The hearing lasted approximately two hours and the jury of five men and one woman ruled that Linda had chosen to take her own life. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Joseph and Dorothy Ault waiting for the coroner’s inquest to begin. Page 1 image from the Arizona Republic on February 8, 1968.

One would think that would have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Attorney Berger said that there were still some unanswered questions and that the investigation would continue.

And that’s exactly what they did. At 5 P.M. on February 9th – 4 days after their daughter’s death – three sheriff’s deputies arrested the Aults at their home. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter and were held on $20,000 bond. Adjusted for inflation, that is approximately $143,000 each today. The couple both plead innocent to the charges, but should they ultimately be convicted, they were facing a sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison.

The rationale for the charges were that the couple were well aware that their daughter had attempted to take her own life with the kitchen knife the night before the shooting. By handing Linda a loaded gun the next day, the couple had broken Arizona law by knowingly assisting another person to commit suicide. Attorney Berger stated, “basically the facts show they were aware of their daughter’s emotional state and did give her a loaded gun. This does show a failure to exercise due caution under the circumstances.”

The Aults’ lawyer argued that their bond was excessively high. Mr. Ault had been a 20-year employee of the El Paso Natural Gas Company and both husband and wife had strong roots in the community. Neither could be considered flight risks, so bond was reduced to $2,500 each and they were released pending trial.

As if things weren’t bad enough for the Aults, on February 27th their 21-year-old son Howard Eugene, a Vietnam veteran, was sentenced to a term of one year to one year and a day in prison for forging a check on October 7, 1967. Surprisingly, the judge admitted that Howard’s chances for probation were weakened by the legal mess that his parents were in.

Just as the Aults’ trial was to begin on May 21st, Superior Court Judge William A. Holohan ruled that all of the testimony that the couple had given during that initial coroner’s inquest could not be introduced as evidence at their manslaughter trial. The rationale for this ruling was that the Aults had been advised by Justice of the Peace Stanley Kimball over the telephone that it wasn’t necessary for the couple to have an attorney at the inquest. Yet, they clearly should have had one.

After one-and-a-half days of testimony before a jury of five women and seven men, the prosecution rested its case. The defense then argued that the county had failed to prove that the couple was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and the judge agreed. He dismissed the jury and directed a verdict of acquittal.

While the Aults may have been cleared of any charges in a court of law, I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for them to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives. It’s an incredible burden to carry and not one that I would wish upon anyone.

I’ll conclude with a message of appreciation that appeared on page 44 of the February 15, 1968 publication of the Arizona Republic: “We wish to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the acts of kindness, messages of sympathy and the beautiful floral offerings received from our many friends in our time of sorrow in the loss of our beloved daughter and sister, Linda Marie Ault.  The Ault family”

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Rock Group Heart Should Have a Heart Attack

On April 6, 1976, the Ottawa Journal published an article penned by Ian Haysom on the rock group Heart, who have sold more than 35 million records to date, that was titled “Call them Vancouver superflops.” He just tore into just how bad he thought that Heart was.

The story begins, “Take Heart. As far away as possible. And, for Ottawa’s and Canada’s sake, don’t let them encroach upon our sensibilities again. Plug their ventricles, twist their arteries, allow them to expire quickly.”

He described their performance at the National Art Centre the previous evening as “It was painful, ugly, excruciating, and artistically disgusting.” He continued, “Suffice to say that almost everything they try they do badly. They can’t sing, they can’t play their instruments and they can’t entertain.”

The only person in the band that he had anything positive to say about was lead singer Ann Wilson, who many today consider to be one of the best female rock vocalists ever.  “Only Ann Wilson, a female parody of Mick Jagger with as much talent over-all as he possesses in his lower lip, approaches that thing called ability. She plays the flute passably well and struts sexily about the stage, which at least takes attention away from the music, such as it is.”

He concludes his brutal attack on the band with, “So have a heart, Heart, and have a heart attack for music’s sake.”

Ouch.

 

The Carpenters are the Disney Version of Music

Elton John was the best-selling musical act of the 70’s, but few people realize that the best-selling American band was the brother-sister act of the Carpenters. James D. Dilts offered up a review of a Carpenters concert in the August 3, 1972 issue of the Baltimore Sun and immediately observed how different it was from any other concert he had attended.  “I knew something was wrong as soon as I got to the gate. No suburban attack squads in tattered clothes roaming the fence, feinting at the entrance only to go over or under further down. No rocks. No epithets.”

President Richard Nixon with Karen and Richard Carpenter in the White House on August 1, 1972.
President Richard Nixon with Karen and Richard Carpenter in the White House on August 1, 1972. (National Archive image – from Wikimedia Commons.)

Even more unusual was how easy it was for him to get backstage. Roadies and managers do everything possible to keep fans from gaining access. Yet, it was very different this time. The group’s manager walked out to greet him and let Dilts in without any debate. Once the Carpenters hit the stage, it was more of the same. Some of the audience members were dressed in nice clothing, stayed in there seats, and there was no sign of drugs or alcohol.

Personally, the Carpenters have always been one of my guilty pleasures.  I know that their syrupy music makes some people want to puke, but in my mind no one can sing a depressing song better than Karen Carpenter.  Dilts offered up his opinion, “The Carpenters music bears the same relationship to American popular music, roughly, as Disneyland bears to American society. All the impurities, the vitality, the diversity, have been strained out and the bland remainder repackaged into a sort of Mickey Mouse version of the real thing.”

He concludes the article by stating, “I went straight home and put on the Rolling Stones to clear my mind.”

 

Carole King Can Barely Sing

A November 4, 1970 review of the album titled “Writer: Carole King” just tore into her singing ability.  

“It is notable that the title of this album is not ‘Singer: Carole King.’  Carole King may be an excellent writer, but as a singer, she is barely competent.  Her vocal range is very limited, she can’t sing any high notes, and at times her voice sounds flat and bored.”

Cover art for the album Writer:Carole King.
Cover art for the album Writer:Carole King.

The article continues, “The tunes and the instrumentation help make up for the fact that Carole King can barely sing, making this album enjoyable if somewhat vacuous.”

It concludes that the songs may appear on other artists’ albums in the future, “But this is probably the first and only album Carole King will ever make.”

You probably know the story about her next album titled Tapestry: It was the number 1 best selling album for fifteen consecutive weeks, had the second longest run of any album on the Billboard 200 chart after Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and to date has sold over 25 million copies.

 

No Locks at Denny’s

In December of 1988, the restaurant chain Denny’s decided to close all of its 1,221 stores for the Christmas holiday.  

This was not an easy decision for the company to make.  The chain was well-known for being open 24-hours-a-day, 365-days a year, so closing on Christmas day was predicted to cost the chain $5 million in sales.

They were faced with an even bigger problem: Since the chain never shut its doors, many of their restaurants were either built without locks on the doors or no one could find the keys to the locks that did exist.  The company had to install door locks in more than 700 of its restaurants just so that they close for that one day.

My wife and I stopped at our local Denny’s a few weeks ago and the first thing I did was check the door.  There was a lock there.

Picture taken at the Denny's restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie, NY on November 30, 2018 confirming that there is a lock installed on the front door.
Picture taken at the Denny’s restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie, NY on November 30, 2018 confirming that there is a lock installed on the front door.
 

Empty Christmas Envelopes

The post office in Spokane, Washington had an interesting problem.  On December 18, 1955, someone dropped off fifty envelopes to be mailed. All were properly addressed and stamped, but lacked one important piece: All of the envelopes were completely empty.

Apparently the mailer had forgotten to insert the Christmas cards or whatever they had intended to include.  There was no return address on any of the envelopes to help identify the sender and while you are about 63-years too late, should you know what should have gone into those envelopes, please be sure to contact the Spokane post office.

Christmas card given by garbage men from 1954.
Christmas card given by garbage men from 1954. (State Library of Queensland)
 

Santa Breaks Girl’s Heart

When the news broke in early December of 1928 that 7-year-old Tillie Oakley of Paris, Kentucky was seriously ill, readers across the country responded with disbelief.

It seemed as if an older girl at school told Tillie that Santa wasn’t real. Can you imagine that? Doubting Santa’s existence?  Everyone knows that he is real.

Needless to say, Tille ran home crying to her mother, but nothing she could say could convince Tillie that the older girl was wrong.

Tilly stopped eating. With each passing day she became weaker and weaker. She was proof-positive that one really could suffer from a broken heart.  The local doctor was brought in to treat her, but nothing in his black bag could heal her. Nor could her parents, her minister, friends, or neighbors do anything to cure Tillie of what ailed her.

People from all over the country sent scores of telegrams and letters assuring the young girl that there really was a Santa Claus.  More than a dozen packages, some with a return address that simply read “From Santa Claus” were received.

But there was one big problem.  An investigation by the Associated Press determined that there was no Tille Oakley living in or near Paris, Kentucky.  The story was a complete fabrication. So, while there may be a Santa Claus, there certainly certainly was no Tillie Oakley.

Santa visiting children at Grace Brothers department store in Sydney, Australia in November 1946
Santa visiting children at Grace Brothers department store in Sydney, Australia in November 1946. (State Library at New South Wales)
 

Christmas Time in Santa Heim

Years ago while I was a freshman at the University at Buffalo, a few of my friends had a wee bit too much to drink one night and decided to go in search of a Christmas tree for our dorm suite. I awoke the next morning to find what could only be described as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Branches were few and far between, while their tree decorating was exactly what you would expect from a bunch of drunk teenage males. They used toilet paper as a substitute for garland, Playboy pictures hung from the branches, and empty beer cans were used as ornaments. I couldn’t help but laugh every time that I walked by it.

Today my wife and I own enough ornaments to decorate half-a-dozen Christmas trees, yet we only have one. My guess is that we are not alone in that respect, yet historically it was not always that way.

Prior to the late 1800’s, most Christmas trees in the United States were decorated with fruits, nuts, and paper ornaments. The introduction of glass ornaments to tree decorating can be traced back to the early 1800’s when glassblowers in Lauscha, Germany developed reflective panoramic balls intended for window and garden display. By the mid-1800’s, they had created smaller versions designed for use on Christmas trees. These early “kugels” were typically made in the shape of grapes, acorns, and mushrooms and were silvered on the inside with lead or zinc.  These evolved into the shiny, thin glass ornaments that we are so familiar with today.

Yet, these new glass ornaments were slow to catch on. In 1880, a man named Frank Winfield Woolworth – better known to the world as F.W. Woolworth – approached a Philadelphia importer in search of cheap Christmas toys for his newly started business. Instead, the importer showed Woolworth a bunch of colored glass Christmas ornaments that were unlike anything he had ever seen before.  Woolworth told the importer that he wasn’t interested because he was certain that they wouldn’t sell. Not only would no one know what they were, but he was concerned about breakage while being shipped to his store.

The importer made Woolworth a deal that he couldn’t refuse. Not only could Woolworth mark these up high enough to make a handsome profit, he guaranteed that if Woolworth didn’t sell $25 worth, he could get a full refund.  What did he have to lose? Woolworth agreed.

Two days after first placing these ornaments on display in his store, Woolworth had sold his initial inventory out. For the following Christmas, Woolworth ordered a large number of the glass ornaments, but, once again, he sold out. Once Woolworth’s business had grown large enough, he was able to knock out the middleman and import the ornaments directly from Germany. It’s hard to believe that Woolworth’s incredible fortune was largely due to that initial success with glass Christmas ornaments.

Customers shopping at a Woolworth's store in Washington, DC for Christmas gifts in December, 1941.
Customers shopping at a Woolworth’s store in Washington, DC for Christmas gifts in December, 1941. (Image from the Library of Congress.)

Prior to 1939, an estimated 50- to 80-million ornaments were imported annually to the United States.  The bulk of these were made in Germany and a large percentage of them were sold by Woolworths and similar stores. Then the Second World War broke out and the supply of German Christmas ornaments came to an abrupt halt. It was the perfect opportunity for a new American industry.

Perhaps the man who most benefited from this need for domestically manufactured Christmas ornaments Harry Harrison Heim. Born in Baltimore on March 14, 1883, he made his way west prior to World War I to work as a display manager for the Marston department store in San Diego. The Great Depression forced the closure of a dress shop that he operated there and, in 1932, he relocated back to Baltimore so that a family member could receive medical treatment at Johns Hopkins.  

World War I draft registration card for Harry Harrison Heim showing that he woked for the Marston department store in San Diego, California.
World War I draft registration card for Harry Harrison Heim showing that he woked for the Marston department store in San Diego, California.

Harry, along with his son Harry, Jr., scraped by doing whatever kind of store and nightclub decorating work they could find. Times were certainly tough.  Then, while working on a Christmas decorating job, he made the serendipitous observation that would forever change his life. It was a simple Christmas decoration that had been made from three brightly colored cellophane straws.  He went home and used that inspiration to create a Japanese-themed Christmas ornament, which proved to be a tremendous success. Then sales came to an abrupt halt in 1938 with the rise of anti-Japanese sentiment.

His company, Santa Novelties, Inc., was on the verge of going under, so Heim looked elsewhere to supplement his sales. He began to focus on the manufacture of hand-blown glass balls. Initial attempts to create the glass ornaments were not successful – in fact, Harry, Jr. was nearly blinded in one factory accident – but soon they were able to get it right.

World War II draft card for Harry Heim.
World War II draft card for Harry Heim. Note that he lists his place of employment as Santa Novelties, Inc at 3900 Lombard Street in Baltimore.

Heim lated stated, “I knew nothing about it. I hired a glass blower and he didn’t know anything either. But we worked at it, and in six months offered our first balls. They were rotten.” He continued, “But we got encouragement because we were on the right track and finally hit the secret.”

He claimed to have been down to his last $50 when a company that was a bit down on its luck when its supply of German-made Christmas decorations dried up came a-knockin’.  F.W. Woolworth placed a very large order for his newly designed Christmas balls and saved Santa Novelties from bankruptcy. The company grew exponentially from that point on.  

Ornaments at the Santa Novelties plant are silvered by squirting a strong solution of silver nitrate inside.
Ornaments at the Santa Novelties plant are silvered by squirting a strong solution of silver nitrate inside. Image from the December 1949 issue of Popular Science.

By 1944, his company was producing 12-million Christmas tree balls each year with 90% of its output going to Woolworth’s.  Heim was suddenly rolling in the dough, but was experiencing growing pains. Basically, his business had outgrown the antiquated factory that he operated in a former brewery at 3900 East Lombard Street in Baltimore. He was in need of a larger facility.

That’s when fate stepped in.

About twenty miles northeast of Washington, D.C., lies the small town of Savage, Maryland. For nearly 200 years, this quaint village was home to the Savage Manufacturing Company.  They produced cotton duck, which is basically a heavy-duty canvas. Nearly all of what the company produced was sold to other manufacturers to turn into a finished product, whether that be as sailcloth for ships, coverings for fire hoses, or canvas for conveyor belts. World War II had been an incredibly prosperous time for the company, but they were unable to operate at a profit once the war had ended. On September 5, 1947, it was announced that the Savage Manufacturing Company was to permanently shut down.

Image of the Savage Manufacturing plant.
Image of the Savage Manufacturing plant that appeared on page 29 of the Baltimore Evening Sun on December 22, 1947.

This was devastating news for the residents of Savage. Not only did more than 350 of its employees live in Savage, but the company literally owned the town. Half of the homes in the town were owned and operated by the mill.  The company provided the electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection, police and fire protection, and operated both the town’s grocery and dry goods store. Savage was the ultimate company town. Without the company, one wondered what would happen to the town.

This is where Harry Heim entered the picture. He was in need of a larger manufacturing facility and here was the perfect business opportunity. In December 1947, Heim purchased the entire town – that included nearly 500 acres of land, the old cotton duck mill, 175 homes ranging in age of between 15 and 150-years old, and everything else that came along with it. The purchase price was a cool $450,000 (approximately $4.6-million today).

Heim made immediate plans to rehabilitate the town. Not only did this include moving his ever-growing business into the old mill, but he planned to transform Savage to make it look like a quintessential 19th-century town. About sixty of the homes were sold to their occupants at below market prices, while the remainder were to be fitted with modern kitchens and bathrooms, which many still lacked.

Yet, Heim had even grander plans for Savage. With a bit of Walt Disney imagination, he planned to turn the entire town into a permanent Christmas town.  It would be the biggest and best Christmas-themed destination in the entire United States.

“In this tract I’ll build a big Christmas Castle right in the center, cutting down only what trees are necessary.” He added, “I’ll erect scenes depicting nursery rhymes with life-size figures. All around the trees will be trimmed and lighted.”

He had one year to make this all happen. “I’ll cut roads in and out so the people can drive right through and maybe they’ll even be a miniature railroad to carry the children. For about six weeks every year it will be Christmas there.” He continued, “Many of the quaint houses will be freshened up and furnished with Christmas decorations and gardens.”

A few of the homes owned by the Savage mill in 1947.
A few of the homes owned by the Savage mill in 1947. (Baltimore Evening Sun, December 22, 1947, page 29.)

Six months later all of the old machinery from the mill was gone. Harry, Jr. was in charge of setting up the new manufacturing facility as the firm’s tractor trailers hauled in equipment day-after-day. Three buses drove workers back and forth to Baltimore as construction workers rehabilitated the town. Tourists began to trickle through Savage just to see what was happening. There was a sense of resurgence in the air as this old mill town was brought back to life.

Of course, Savage is not a very good name for a Christmas town, so Harry Heim had a better idea. You’re probably thinking something like Santaland or Christmas Village or something along those lines. Nope.  He renamed it after himself: Santa Heim. Harry explained that it made perfect sense, since Heim means home in German. This would be Santa’s home away from home. For two weeks out of every year, Santa would spend his time away from the North Pole in Santa Heim.  Santa Heim, Maryland. No that’s not good enough. He changed it to Santa Heim, Merryland.

And then the big day came: Santa Heim officially opened to the public on Saturday, December 11, 1948. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people were in attendance when Maryland Governor William Preston Lane officially dedicated the town to Christmas.

It was quite the site to see. An estimated 28,000 colored lights twinkled along the streets as speakers all around town played Christmas carols. All of the homes were decorated for Christmas, while a 20-foot (6-meter) tall illuminated star shined from atop the Christmas Heim ornament factory.

Santa arrived by helicopter and then boarded his sleigh that was pulled by live reindeer. Three trains coined the “Santa Heim Special” brought visitors in from Baltimore and Washington, DC. A replica of the Tom Thumb, the first commercial American locomotive ever, pulled thousands of children around the town on a miniature train. A circus tent was fill with life-size animated animals, while reindeer pens were set up near the town’s Baldwin Memorial Hall.  Inside that building one could find the obligatory gift shop.

Image of the Santa Heim Special. Note the billboard for Santa Heim on the right.
Image of the Santa Heim Special. Note the billboard for Santa Heim on the right. Image appeared in the December 20, 1948 issue of the Wilmington Daily News-Journal on page 8.

The 100-year-old post office was decked out in a fresh coat of red-and-white paint. Outside stood 10-foot (3-meter) tall candy canes. Thousands of letters poured in for Santa Claus from all over the country.  Here is a sampling of what the children had to say:

A girl named Judy wrote: “Dear Santa: I think you are a nice man. Will you please come and see me soon and bring me a bride doll with a husband, and anything else you can spare? Thank you.”

A really odd one came from a boy named Joe who wanted “a two-wheeler –  also a bale of hay.”

Santa with children in front of the Santa Heim Express locomotive.
Santa with children in front of the Santa Heim Express locomotive. Image appeared in the December 12, 1948 publication of the Baltimore Sun on page 32.

Then there was a boy from Texas who requested a “pair of pants and a washing machine –  and maybe an electric iron.” I think mom may have been looking over his shoulder as he penned that letter.

Another boy wrote, “My dad is sick and my mother can’t leave to get my ‘presidents [sic].’  All I will get is from the school and the Scouts  and the neibors [sic]. Wish I could get more, but know you are busy.”

A girl named Aletha was a bit demanding when she told Santa to drop his bag of toys “this minute” and come running to help her do her homework. “I don’t want anything else.”

Lastly, a girl wrote, “This is the last letter you will resive [sic] from me if you do not leave me a doll carpet sweeper. This is final. I love you and why don’t you love me?”  With that kind of attitude I am hoping that no one ever got her that doll carpet sweeper.

Overall, the opening of Christmas Heim was a phenomenal success. Even before Santa Heim closed for the season, Harry Heim was making plans for the following year. He envisioned the construction of what he called a ‘Crazy Town’, complete with the crooked roofs that you see illustrated in nursery rhymes.

After that first season, things did not go smoothly for Santa Heim. In April, Harry Heim was indicted for tax evasion. Basically, while filing its 1947 taxes, Heim’s company Santa Novelties requested a refund on taxes paid in 1946. The problem was that no taxes were ever paid.  Even worse, while the State of Maryland was investigating, they determined that Heim himself had paid no taxes on his 1947 income of $31,200. In the end, the judge fined Heim $100 after he paid the back taxes with interest. It was concluded that Santa Novelties had grown so fast – from $61,000 in sales in 1943 to $1,659,000 in 1948 – that the payment of taxes had been overlooked in all of the confusion.

Next, when Santa Heim reopened for the 1949 season, thousands of people showed up on that first Sunday to find the place closed by authorities. Santa Heim was found to be in violation of the county’s 1723 Blue Law preventing shows on Sundays. Oddly, the law had been modified at one point to allow movie theaters to operate on Sunday, but most other forms of entertainment were not permitted.

Shutting Santa down is not a good thing to do and the public clearly was not happy. Here are two letters to the editor that appeared in the Baltimore Evening Sun:

The first was penned by James Woods of Baltimore – “ I just read the article ‘Santa’s Blue Laws Thwart Santa.’  Things certainly are in a fine mess. I guess you’re supposed to be ignorant enough to think the movies, bars, sports centers and the Colts and Orioles are necessary work.  Isn’t it just a little more important, especially at this time of the year, that our children have a place like Santa Heim in which to enjoy themselves? I think it’s time for us to see what the political angle is on the Maryland blue laws. The blue laws should be enforced in full or written off the books.”

Next up is a letter written by Gladys Stewart of Glen Burnie –  “These children believe in an old tradition – Santa Claus. They are eager in their youth to learn about this old gentleman with the white whiskers, red nose and jolly face. We can’t deny them their belief. Couldn’t we overlook this law –  just for the Christmas season?”

This Sunday operation ban didn’t last long. On December 8, 1949, the State attorney for Howard county,  Daniel M. Murray, Jr., ruled that Santa Heim could reopen on Sundays as long as all the proceeds were donated to charity. Assuming that most of Santa Heim’s business was done on weekends, this had to have made a huge dent in its overall profitability.

One-year later, December 8, 1950, proved to be another big setback for Santa Heim. The fire marshal shut down its Christmas Carnival – the one with all of the animals and animatronics – after it was determined that one of the tents was a fire hazard. 70% of the material that the tent was made of was considered to be highly flammable, while dangerous wiring was exposed throughout the exhibit.  They quickly resolved this by covering the walls with a fireproof lining and removing the dangerous wiring and the tent was allowed to reopen two days later.

Advertisement for Santa Heim from 1950.
Advertisement for Santa Heim that appeared on page 46 of the Baltimore Evening Sun on December 1, 1950.

Santa Heim limped through that third season, but it was never to reopen.  Harry Heim had overextended himself and the checks began to bounce. The war was over and the retailers went elsewhere to get cheaper stock for their stores. Soon Harry’s pockets were empty and both Santa Heim and his Santa Novelties business were gone.

The factory closed on March 27, 1951. Everything in the town was sold off including all of the homes, the machinery used to make the ornaments, and the manufacturing plant itself. Today the factory is the home to the historic Savage Mill complex of shops and eateries.

The loss of Santa Heim and his business must have come as quite a blow to the man who had the honor of decorating the Christmas tree on the White House lawn in 1949.  Harry Heim passed away on February 1, 1953 at the age of 69. The papers said that he died of a heart attack, but one can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t from a broken heart.  He had tried so hard to bring the joy of Christmas to so many children.

Useless? Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

The Adventure of a Lifetime

In 1957, three awning salesmen sat in a bar on the north side of Chicago and the subject of diamonds entered the conversation. Joseph Murano, 39 years of age, and Leslie Cohen, aged 42, listened attentively as the newly hired 39-year-old Joseph Schmitz described his 20-plus years of adventure on the high seas. He captivated his audience of two with endless stories of jungle exploration, covert meetings, and harrowing escapes.

Schmitz said that he was planning to purchase a small schooner and sail for Africa to join in on the illegal trade of diamonds. He felt that a smaller boat would allow him to slip into port under the cover of darkness, obtain the diamonds from Arab and Portuguese dealers, then ferry them north – possibly to Cairo or Casablanca – and sell them at a significant profit. He said, “If a man has the guts, he can make a fortune.” Even better would be if he could hook up with geologists that he was acquainted with, then he could knock out the middleman and become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Image of Joseph Schmitz
Image of Joseph Schmitz that appeared on page 98 of the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine.

If this all sounds like a bunch of bull poop, it’s not. A couple of minor white lies were told, but most of what he said was true. Schmitz really had traveled the seas for a couple of decades, had a master mariner’s license, and had escaped from bad situations multiple times.

Needless to say, Murano and Cohen were hooked. Neither had ever sailed in anything more than a rowboat, but the thought of an overseas adventure and being part of the lucrative, even if illegal, diamond trade was far more appealing than their dead-end aluminum awning sales jobs. They wanted in.

Months later, after their adventure had ended, Cohen said, “We suddenly realized that we had been restless for some time and were ready for a little travel and change of scene.”

When the two questioned Schmitz as to when he planned to depart, he replied, “Not until next year. It will take me that long to save the money to buy my schooner.”

To which Cohen replied, “Next year! Let’s go now! We’ll put on with you as partners.”

Schmitz agreed. “It’s a deal. We’ll sail for Africa in August.”

None of these guys had much in the way of savings, so Cohen and Murano sold their most valuable assets to finance the trip: their cars. They then made a visit to their local sporting goods store to purchase everything that they thought would be needed for a trip like this, including the obligatory yachting caps and elephant guns.

Elephant guns?

“It seemed logical to me, Cohen stated. Every movie I’ve seen of Africa, there’s lions and tigers running around loose.”

In early August they packed up everything and headed for the Long Island Sound that lies between New York and Connecticut. Upon arrival, Schmitz telephoned a New York advertising executive named Clayton Jaeger and set up a time to meet and discuss the sale of his 52-foot (15.8 meter) long boat named the Serene. The next day the three men went to meet up with Jaeger. Both Cohen and Murano were surprised by how small the boat appeared to be.

What it was lacking in size was made up for in niceties. In addition to having a full set of sails, each man could take comfort in the so-called “Saloon” below deck. There was also a captain’s cabin, a galley kitchen, the obligatory bathroom, and, should one find themselves adrift, a gas-powered engine.

Image of Joseph Murano
Image of Joseph Murano which appeared on page 98 of the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine.

As Murano and Cohen began to fully take in the pros and cons of what they were in for, Schmitz went below deck with Jaeger to discuss the terms of the sale. Once back on shore, Schmitz told the other two that a purchase price had been agreed upon and that they would be departing shortly. They spent the next few days gathering up the nautical equipment and food required for the long voyage. While they did purchase some perishables like eggs, potatoes, and tomatoes, Schmitz advised that they stock up on foods that wouldn’t spoil easily. That included cans of beans, sauerkraut, sardines, cheese, peanut butter, dried prunes, and soda crackers. He assured them that once they reached the African coast, they would be dining upon fresh meats and fruits.

Early on the morning of August 14, 1957, the three finally set out from City Island in the Bronx on what was certain to be the adventure of a lifetime.

While Schmitz had earlier implied that sailing a ship of this size was a fairly easy thing to do, Cohen and Murano quickly realized that it was anything but. They were totally unprepared for what was about to come. While still in calm waters, Schmitz attempted to give his two assistants a lesson in handling the lines. It was mass confusion. As Schmitz was blurting out commands that they could barely understand, the two novices were getting tangled up in the unfolding sails and ropes, smashing into the masts, and just plain getting beaten and bruised up by the whole experience.

“To turn one of these schooners around,” Murano later stated, “is a big operation – everybody jerking on the ropes and the captain making with the yacht lingo and all the time a big boom flying around that is liable to whack your head right off.”

Once the drill was over, the two went below deck to grab a beer. They didn’t have long to relax. Seemingly out of nowhere the floor of the saloon rose up and then crashed back down, sending Murano and Cohen flat down on to the carpeted floor.

The storm that they had sailed into seemed to increase in intensity with each passing hour. At one point Schmitz tied himself to the captain’s wheel and ordered his two inexperienced partners below deck until the storm had passed.

In the meantime, each would take turns crawling out on deck to spoon-feed Schmitz from a can of beans. At one point the schooner rolled so sharply that its mast nearly touched the water. Even worse, the cabin started to fill with water. Schmitz told the two men that they needed to start the engine up and pump the water out. But it wouldn’t turn over. It was later determined that the fuel lines had broken and much of the gasoline had leaked into the ship’s bilge. They proceeded to pump by hand, not realizing that they had pumped hundreds of gallons of fuel out of the boat.

When the storm finally passed three days later, the yacht was spotted by a Navy transport ship. It headed over to see if the three were in need of any help, but Schmitz assured them that everything was just fine. Cohen and Murano stood there stunned as they watched him turn down an offer of much needed assistance. Schmitz assured the two that he had been through far worse and that everything would be fine.

This image of Joseph Schmitz/Emanuel K. Bredel appeared on page 6 of the July 3, 1958 issue of the New York Daily News.

But he was wrong. The sails of the ship were in tatters and were getting worse with each passing day. Patches only go so far. Even worse, Schmitz calculated that the storm had blown the Serene way off course and they were near Bermuda. Murano and Cohen felt that anchoring there was the most logical thing to do, yet Schmitz vehemently argued against that idea. Not only did he lack the maps needed to navigate their waters safely, he felt that they could make better use of their time heading straight for the African coast. He also had the big advantage in the fact that he was the only one who knew how to sail the boat.

As they continued on their journey, another life-threatening situation appeared. They had sailed into dead, calm water. Sails need the wind to move and they were going nowhere. Under normal circumstances they would have started up the gas engine, but all of its fuel had been pumped overboard. As a result, day after day the Serene just sat there.

Cohen stated, “You’d go up on deck and see the same bean can bobbing right along with you in the same spot it had been when you tossed it overboard two days ago. I for one found this very dmoralizing.”

Image of Leslie Cohen
Image of Leslie Cohen that appeared in the March 2, 1959 issue of Life magazine on page 98.

While they didn’t challenge Schmitz on his navigational skills, the two began to suspect that they were simply sailing round and round in a circle. Murano stated “All we knew was we were supposed to be sailing due east and the sun was coming up in a different place every morning. That was fishy.”

Even worse, they were running out of food and drinking water. Murano had shed 50 pounds and Cohen dropped 30 (approximately 23 and 14 kg, respectively), making them far too weak to continually operate the hand pumps to empty the water out of the bilge.

Everything changed one morning. Schmitz pointed to his mariner’s license that he had tacked up on the wall. Everything looked legitimate on the document except for one small detail: it wasn’t Schmitz’s name on the license. Instead, it was for someone named Emanuel K. Bredel. Captain Schmitz was no more. The two underlings were to refer to him as Captain Bredel from that moment on. Not only did Schmitz have a new name, but so did the boat. The Serene was rechristened the V. Marcel.

The newly coined Captain Bredel estimated that they would reach the island of Madeira off the western coast of Africa within a day. This was great news for the starving crew, but they still had one more big problem to deal with.

They had sailed right into the path of Hurricane Carrie, which was the strongest tropical cyclone of the 1957 hurricane season. On September 21st of that year, Carrie was powerful enough to destroy the German barque Pamir. It went down in the Azores, just a few hundred miles away from the Serene’s location, killing 80 of its 86 men aboard. A small boat like the V. Marcel barely stood a chance.

Cohen knew that death was near and began to pen “The Last Days on Earth of Leslie Cohen.” Here are some excerpts from that document:

  • “Another day, another hurricane. This is the worst mistake two men ever made.”
  • “Bad storm again! God has never heard three bums pray as loud as we did last night!”
  • “Constantly wet. Working 18 hours a day. If I ever come out of this alive, I’ll never set foot on a boat again.”
  • “Rolling from side to side. Winds 70-90 miles per hour. Going nowhere. Murano says let the damn ship sink and get it over with. Bredel says no, he will make it or go down with the ship.”
  • “Bredel says we may skip Casablanca and go directly the Egypt. Not me, I’m dead.”

Yet, the V. Marcel somehow weathered the storm. On October 2nd, Murano was down in his bunk in one of those still half-asleep dazes when his brain latched on to an argument up on deck between Cohen and Bredel. “I tell you they’re right here,” Bredel shouted. “My calculations show we ought to see them any minute.”

This time Bredel was correct. The Canary Islands were spotted out in the distance. The storm had blown the V. Marcel approximately 300 miles (480 km) south of Madeira. Cohen and Murano’s 50-day nightmare seemed to be finally over.

But it wasn’t.

Bredel was in a fantastic mood and began planning for the completion of their voyage. Murano later commented, “Five minutes after we dropped anchor, he was over on somebody else’s boat yapping about yachts as if he’d just come back from a Sunday afternoon spin around the bay.”

Map showing the general path of the Serene as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.
Map showing the general path of the Serene as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.  Image appeared on page 3 of the November 3, 1957 publication of the New York Daily News.

Cohen and Murano had no desire to travel any farther with Bredel, but they lacked the resources needed to go their own way. They really had no choice but to get the ship back in working order. That included repairing the shredded sails, fixing the broken engine, and waterproofing the rigging using fat obtained from a local slaughterhouse.

Growing ever frustrated with Bredel, the two finally decided that they had had enough and quit. Being stranded in the Canaries in 1957 wasn’t the ideal situation, but it turns out that they weren’t alone. Two American men were sailing from Copenhagen to California, but thieves in Casablanca had robbed them blind. They agreed to provide Murano and Cohen with passage to the West Indies in exchange for stocking the boat with the necessary provisions. The two sold just about every possession that they had and soon set sail.

Their awful experience of sailing across the ocean with Bredel was now just a memory. At least that is what they thought. Their forty-four day trip to the West Indies was anything but pleasant, but when they finally arrived in Barbados, Cohen and Murano were greeted with the shock of a lifetime. While still in the Canaries, Murano had written to relatives back in Chicago requesting that they send money. The replies that he received were not what he had wanted to hear. Instead of sending money, he learned that all three of them were wanted by the FBI for the theft of the Serene.

It turns out that the Serene had never been for sale in the first place. When Bredel – his name truly was Emanuel K. Bredel – met with the boat’s owner, 35-year-old Clayton T.M. Jaeger, it was only to lease the boat. In exchange for a $571 fee, the two agreed upon a 10-day excursion, which was later extended to 17 days, that was to be strictly confined within the Long Island Sound.  Jaeger made it perfectly clear to Bredel that under no circumstances was he to sail the boat out into the open ocean. Its sails were simply not up to the task.

When the boat didn’t arrive back after its charter expired, Jaeger became concerned and contacted the Coast Guard. It wasn’t long before airplanes and cutters were searching every inlet along the Atlantic coast looking for the Serene. When they failed to spot her, thoughts of more sinister plans came to light. Could they have stolen the boat to smuggle drugs? Were they using it for gun running? How about Russian espionage? That’s when the FBI was called in to investigate.

When the boat was initially rented, Schmitz/Bredel gave his address as 3435 N. Bell Avenue in Chicago, but upon investigation it was learned that this was a former address of Bredel’s cousin Robert Schmitz and his family.

Emanuel K. Bredel posing for the cameras after his arrest.
Emanuel K. Bredel posing for the cameras after his arrest. Image appeared on page 6 of the New York Daily News on July 3, 1958.

Cohen and Murano used the last of their money to fly back to the States. Originally informed that they faced a maximum penalty of $10,000 ($88,000 adjusted for inflation) and 10 years in prison, the two must have been greatly relieved to find out that no charges were to be pressed against them. The FBI was only interested in locating Bredel, who just happened to be on probation from a twenty-year suspended sentence for forging checks.

Locating Bredel proved difficult because he had already left port. This time he took on an English teacher as his mate and was sighted in various locations throughout the Canary Islands. Authorities finally caught up with him on November 27th and, pending clarification of the true ownership of the Serene, the boat was confined to the naval yards in Las Palmas and placed under constant guard. Two Spanish crewmen and two Swedish women who were aboard at the time were released after it was determined that they had no involvement whatsoever in the theft of the boat.

Bredel was ordered to stay aboard the boat, but on Tuesday January 28, 1958 he gave them the slip by swimming underwater past the Spanish guards. He left everything behind including his personal belongings and the Serene itself.  A Spanish electrician named Severiano Goday Rodriguez, who in exchange for a promise of obtaining a job in New York, helped Bredel to stow away aboard a fishing boat which was headed about 300-miles (480 km) northward to the island of Madeira.

Upon arrival in Madeira, Spanish authorities turned Bredel away and he was forced to sail back to the Gran Canary island. He was arrested on February 23rd while socializing in a Las Palmas waterfront cafe. Spanish police were taking no chances this time: they locked him up in a real jail cell.

Once extradition proceedings were completed, U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney and Assistant U.S. Attorney Herbert F. Roth traveled to the Canary Islands to bring the suspect back. After taking Bredel into their custody, the three boarded the SS Independence on June 26th and arrived back in the United States on July 2nd.

Emanuel K. Bredel (left) with U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney.
Emanuel K. Bredel (left) with U.S. Marshal Thomas J. Lunney shortly after their arrival back in the United States aboard the Independence. Image appeared on page 3 of the July 3, 1958 issue of the Marion Star.

As the press dug into this bizarre story, it was learned that Bredel was a married man who had a wife named Mavis and two daughters in Johannesburg, South Africa. He told reporters that he had not heard from Mrs. Bredel since this whole diamond-hunting escapade began to unfold. He said, “She has no sense of humor, I suppose.”

His former boss at Trans-Lite, Milton Rifkin, stated: “It sounded like a television comedy to me. We discharged Cohen and Murano early last summer, and Schmidt left later. He sure had a winning personality.” He continued, “Next thing we knew, federal agents were here asking about the men, and we heard about the stolen yacht. Newspapers called us from all over the world. I don’t know what got into those fellows.”

Four charges were filed against Bredel: theft of the Serene, theft of Clayton Jaeger’s personal property, transporting stolen goods, and altering a Coast Guard certificate. He was held on $20,000 (about $172,000 today) bond and was facing a prison term of 30 years and/or a $30,000 fine. Being totally broke at this point, a Legal Aid Society attorney was assigned to defend him.

At all times, Bredel was the model prisoner. He made no attempts to escape, was polite, cooperative, and impressed just about everyone, particularly the judge assigned to his case.

Passenger list from July 2, 1958 for the U.S. Steamship Independence.  Emanuel K. Bredel is third down from the top.
Passenger list from July 2, 1958 for the U.S. Steamship Independence.  Emanuel K. Bredel is third down from the top.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges. On October 1st, a jury of two women and ten men deliberated for two hours before returning a guilty verdict.

When sentencing took place on November 5, 1958, Federal Judge Archie O. Dawson stated, “I told the jury that this case was similar to the one involving Capt. Kidd, who was tried here 150 years ago and, I think, was hanged on Governors Island for his crime.” He added, “I think he is a very brave man. If he had fought in the Navy, he might have got a medal.” Dawson sentenced Bredel to one year and one-day at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. “However, a fine is out of the question as this man is broke.”

As for the Serene itself, the boat never returned to the United States. The insurance company concluded that it would be too costly to do so and opted to sell it to a Texan visiting the Canary Islands. They paid its former owner Jaeger $12,000 (about $103,000 today) for his loss.

It probably shouldn’t come as much of surprise that Captain Bredel would make the national news one more time. This time it was not for stealing boats, but for stealing cars instead. On December 15, 1960, he was arrested for the theft of a Cadillac from a dealer in Westminster, Maryland and transporting the vehicle to New York.

Two months later, Bredel and two other men were indicted for operating a lucrative car theft ring. Their modus operandi was to steal late model Cadillacs, transport them to New York, and then sell the automobiles to unsuspecting used car dealers. All three were found guilty. One of his co-conspirators was given a four year sentence, the other two and one-half years. The judge recommended that both serve no more than six months in prison with the remainder of their sentences being suspended.

Bredel, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

He never did find those diamonds…

Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.