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Fascinating True Stories from the Flip Side of History

Podcast #134 – Emperor of the Sahara

 

Shortly after the United States entered World War I, on July 3, 1917, a mysterious craft sailed into the harbor of Oyster Bay, Long Island and cast anchor near the public dock. This 50-foot (15.25 meter) long yawl was odd in that it had two smaller jiggers, yet lacked a mainmast and mainsail. Even stranger was the fact that the boat lacked a crew. Captained by one man, this stranger rowed his canoe to shore and his peculiar actions quickly became the concern of villagers.

He first walked into a tinsmith’s shop and requested that a hole be cut into the iron cockpit of his boat to allow in some ballast. When the tinsmith informed the man that such action would surely cause his boat to sink, the stranger turned around and walked out in disgust.

The next day, this man with a foreign accent attempted to hire a boy to carry his suitcase around, but none could be found. He then went to the local telegraph office to wire a request to New York for a messenger boy to be sent but stormed out in a huff after not being supplied with the type of telegraph form that he desired. He later was able to hire a local boy for 15-cents ($3.00 today).

On July 9th, he lifted anchor and moved his craft to a point not far from President Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill estate.

The people of Oyster Bay began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Their country was in the midst of a world war. A mysterious boat arrives carrying a man of foreign origin who engages in unusual activities around town. He then sails close to the home of a former United States President. They knew exactly what they were dealing with: a German spy.

The local constable was summoned and he began to assemble a group of men to board the craft and arrest the stranger. Not long after they had begun their preparations, the man in question stormed into the local courtroom and demanded the immediate arrest of a significant portion of the Oyster Bay populace. When questioned further, he narrowed his request down to several local boys, claiming that one of the young men had pointed a gun at him. It was later learned that some boys had thrown stones at him as he swam toward shore.

When the suspect’s bag was searched, authorities found that it contained approximately $1,000 (nearly $20,000 today), forty keys, about a dozen oranges, and a French passport. When questioned about all that money, he reportedly stated, “That’s nothing. I am the richest man in America.”

A German spy? Definitely not. A little nuts? Maybe. The richest man in America? Quite possibly.

The man in question was Jacques Lebaudy, who was indeed one of the wealthiest men in the world. And how he ended up in Long Island, New York is among the most peculiar stories in history.

Jacques Lebaudy. Image originally appeared on page 385 of the February 1904 publication of Wide World Magazine.

Henri Jacques Lebaudy was born in Paris on May 13, 1868, the second of four children to Amicie Piou and Jules Lebaudy. The family fortune was made in the refinery of sugar, plus other investments. When his father Jules died on May 30, 1892, Jacques inherited as much as $20 million (over $560 million today).

Jacques Lebaudy could purchase anything that he wished, excluding the one thing that he truly desired: power. He hated rules, taxes, mandatory military service, and the French government as a whole. With power, he was certain that he could avoid all of the restrictions that France had placed upon him and live a life free of governmental intrusions.

What happened next is poorly documented, but it is said that he had a discussion with a man named Jimmy Langerman in 1902 that would forever change the course of Lebaudy’s life. Langerman had no source of income, yet money never seemed to be in short supply. He was a bon vivant who traveled the world. While seated at a Paris cafe, Langerman told Lebaudy of his travels through the Sahara. While the desert may have seemed like an undeveloped, worthless pile of sand to most, Langerman explained that it was a land of promise, loaded with minerals and gems just waiting for someone to take it.

Jacques Lebaudy was hooked. He envisioned the establishment of a small Saharan country, installing himself as its monarch, and reaping the fortune that its riches would offer him. Best of all, with his own country, he could do as he pleased. Lebaudy would be free of those oppressive French rules and regulations.

The one thing missing from Lebaudy’s future kingdom was the land itself. He learned of a 185-mile (300 km) long strip of no-man’s land on the western coast of Africa, between Cape Juby and Cape Bojador. With no recognized power laying claim to it, Lebaudy decided he would take the land for himself.

Lebaudy’s plan was to sail his yacht, the Frasquita, from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands directly east to the location of his planned empire. He had purchased his yacht through a man named Tordo, so Lebaudy asked him to recruit a team of twenty sailors for his planned voyage. One of these sailors, a man named Cambrai, later stated, “When we left, we were far from suspecting the true object of the voyage. M. Tordo, the agent for M. Lebaudy in Havre, informed us that he was in want of men to complete the crew of two yachts he had bought. He offered 6f. to 15f. per day, according to our capacity. The offer was good and we accepted.”

Jacques Lebaudy’s ship Fresquita. Image originally appeared on page 386 of the February 1904 publication of Wide World Magazine.

The sailors arrived in Las Palmas on June 1, 1903. Lebaudy ordered new uniforms for all of the men and put them up in a hotel as preparations for the voyage were finalized. While the exact date of departure was not recorded, Lebaudy, his assistant, and ten of the sailors boarded the Frasquita and set sail for the African coast.

Upon their arrival, Lebaudy searched for a suitable location to make landfall. He opted for a smooth, sandy beach that was flanked by undulating dunes. Upon dropping anchor, Lebaudy revealed to his crew the true nature of their mission. They had come to establish the Saharan Empire, with Lebaudy self-chosen to be this new nation’s leader. It is unknown what the crew thought of Lebaudy as he read his manifesto to them, but from that moment on, he was to be referred to as Jacques I, Emperor of the Sahara. Jacque Lebaudy was history.

The Emperor envisioned this beach and the area behind it to be the future location of his capital city and his palace. He named it Troja. A small boat was lowered from the Frasquita and a group of men went ashore. They quickly determined that the area lacked a source of drinking water, so the decision was made to weigh anchor and find a more suitable location for Troja.

They sailed southward until a promising bay was spotted. On June 7th, sailors were sent ashore and, upon their return, confirmed to Lebaudy that there was an abundant supply of potable water. The Emperor stepped out of his boat, walked inland a short distance, and proceeded to plant his imperial standard down into the sand. For now, the city of Troja would consist of just one building: a large circus tent that the crew had erected.

Lebaudy wished to further explore his new kingdom. Sailor Cambrai stated, “The night of the 10th he slept with us in the tent, and the following day he informed us he was leaving, with five of our comrades, to establish a post a little further on, but that he would come back the next day.” He continued, “He left us a small boat, two guns, two revolvers, 400 cartridges, and two days’ provisions.”

The next day Lebaudy and half of the crew sailed southward before anchoring along another stretch of sandy beach. He declared this to be the location of the largest town in his empire: Polis.

The approximate location of Troja, the capital of Jacque Lebaudy’s Saharan Empire. Image originally appeared on page 386 of the February 1904 publication of Wide World Magazine.

A few days later, the group headed back to Troja. Upon arrival, they discovered the five men who had been left behind were gone. It was clear that their camp had been raided and that the men had been taken away. Not knowing if they were still alive or not, a search party was sent out to locate the missing sailors. It was soon learned that the men had been kidnapped on June 12th, were then transported to the interior, and were being held by their captors for ransom. On June 20th, it was agreed that Lebaudy would pay 200 francs ($1000 US today) for each of the sailors, but when the men were brought back to make the exchange on June 23rd, Lebaudy and his ship were gone.

When the Frasquita arrived back in Las Palmas, Spanish authorities questioned Lebaudy as to where he had sailed from. He replied, “From my own country. From my own country. I come from my own country. I have no information to give you. I recognize no other flag except that of my yacht.” He then proceeded to point to the triangular flag flying from the mainmast of the Frasquita.

Jacques Lebaudy’s private flags. Image originally appeared on page 385 of the February 1904 publication of Wide World Magazine.

Lebaudy wasn’t saying much, but the remaining members of his crew were quite talkative. They told of how the five men had been kidnapped and said that they no longer wished to remain a part of his bizarre plan. They demanded that Lebaudy pay them the wages that they were owed, plus transport back to France. Lebaudy refused, so the men took their complaints to the French council.

When authorities back in France learned that five of their citizens were being held captive, they immediately jumped into action. A request was sent to Moroccan authorities asking that they open a dialog with the captors to negotiate the return of the men. A Paris newspaper sent a reporter in an attempt to purchase their freedom. Lastly, the French cruiser Galilée was dispatched to Cape Juby. The ship dropped anchor on August 24th, not far from where the sailors had last been seen.

An interpreter from the Galilée was sent ashore to negotiate with the captors, but the discussions went nowhere. The ship’s captain was able to get three letters to the prisoners, the last of which was sent with a change of clothing. That final note instructed the men to put on the clothing ASAP, so that they would easily stand out from the others from a distance, and to do their best to separate from their captors.

At 1:30 P. M. on August 31, 1903, the five men pretended to take a nonchalant stroll along the beach. Once they were a good distance away, the Galilée opened fire into the gap between the prisoners and their captors. The sailors made a mad dash into the water and swam toward a small boat that had been lowered down from the ship. The shots continued until the sailors were safe aboard the Galilée.

An article that appeared in the September 6, 1903 issue of the Boston Globe begins, “The French press continues to ask if it shall be ‘menottes ou camisole’ (handcuffs or straitjacket) for Jacques Lebaudy.”

The same story told of an interview that Lebaudy did with Le Journal in Las Palmas, where he stated, “In the first place my men would not have been captured if they had not been cowards. I explained to them that they were engaged for warfare; when menased [sic] they surrendered where I, their emperor, would have died fighting.” He continued, “Employment has its risks; in my mines and in my sugar factories men are injured daily but I pay no damages.”

While Lebaudy’s Saharan empire ceased to exist not long after it began, he refused to give up on his dream. In his mind, the only mistake that he made was not having enough armed men to protect his new nation from marauders. He was determined to go back to Africa with a complete army and claim what he felt was rightfully his.

Facing public anger, lawsuits, and potential criminal charges, Lebaudy was wise enough to not return to France immediately. Instead, he took a steamer to Hamburg, Germany and announced a few days later that he was calling together eleven of his “Ministers of State” in Montreux, Switzerland. Lebaudy also indicated that he would appoint a lieutenant-general to command over a one-hundred-man army that he was forming. On September 21st he appointed a duelist named Larbardescue to be his “Commander in Chief of the Armies of His Majesty Jacques I, Emperor of Sahara.”

By early October, Lebaudy had moved his nation’s operations to a large suite of rooms at the Hotel Savoy in London. While his country only existed on paper, he proceeded to have all of the accoutrements befitting of an emperor made: a dazzling crown, a throne, Imperial flags, banknotes, and postage stamps. Men were appointed as secretaries and ministers of state, while Lebaudy personally chose the beautiful women for his royal court. He selected one woman, Marguerite Augustine Da Loch Delliere, to be his wife. As you will learn shortly, his chosen empress will play a significant part in bringing Lebaudy’s story to a close.

The Emperor of Sahara’s stampage, throne, coinage, and flag. Image originally appeared on page 44 of the February 27, 1904 issue of the Western_Mail.

Back home in France, matters were worsening for Lebaudy. He was threatened with expulsion from the country and was being asked to reimburse the French government for costs incurred while rescuing his five sailors. All of these men filed suit against Lebaudy, but, sadly, one of them died shortly after his return to France from injuries sustained during the abduction. Lebaudy was also informed that he owed France thirteen days of compulsory military service, to which he responded, “I am now a Saharan. You might as well expect the German Emperor to come and serve as a French soldier.”

The New York Times reported on January 19, 1904 that Lebaudy planned to ask President Theodore Roosevelt to nominate former members of his Rough Riders for positions in the Saharan military. Colonel George Gourard, Governor General of Sahara, told the Times, “The invitation to recommend officers will be submitted to President Roosevelt in a few days. Whether the President will consider it proper to accept the invitation or not, the Emperor wishes to pay him this compliment.” Roosevelt never responded.

“His Majesty Jacques I., domiciled in Troja, in the Empire of the Sahara” filed suit against brokers that owed him money. On April 9th, a French court concluded that Lebaudy’s empire only existed in his mind and, therefore, he had no basis for the lawsuit. This loss in court would be followed by another ten days later. This time, he settled out of court with the five kidnapped sailors for 50,000 francs ($250,000 US today).

Four of the five rescued soldiers. Image originally appeared on page 392 of the February 1904 publication of Wide World Magazine.

Despite these financial setbacks, Lebaudy continued on his quest for legitimate recognition of his Saharan empire. He concluded that if he could somehow obtain an official title from an established government, he would be able to use that to his advantage in establishing his own country.

In mid-1904, he entered into negotiations to loan the Sultan of Morocco $2,000,000 (over $56 million today) at 7% interest. In exchange, Lebaudy would be granted the title of “King of the Oasis of Chahkima.” As negotiations dragged, Lebaudy proceeded to insult the Muslim religion and the deal fell apart.

It wasn’t long before he came up with a better idea. Observing that the Prince of Monaco had worldwide recognition while ruling over a tiny country, Lebaudy wished the same for himself. In July 1904, he approached the United States with a proposal to purchase as many of the Philippine islands as they would be willing to sell, provided that he was granted full sovereignty over them. The United States didn’t take the bait.

In August, he purchased an extravagant home in Brussels to be used as the “European Embassy of the Empire of Sahara in Brussels.” Lebaudy sent instructions to his associates in France to sell his Parisian properties.

A few weeks later he found the ideal location for his country: the Adriatic port city of Dulcigno (now Ulcinj) in Montenegro. He arranged a meeting with Prince Nicholas I to negotiate a purchase price, but the Prince was unwilling to sell. Unable to buy the entire city outright, Lebaudy attempted to do so piecemeal, which caused real estate prices to skyrocket. He was forced to abandon his latest scheme.

While passing southward through Durazzo (Durrës, Albania), police arrested Lebaudy as he sought to hire a steamship to take him to the Greek island of Corfu. Noting that he was loaded with money while attempting to leave the country, officials mistook Lebaudy for a bank clerk who had absconded with a large sum of money. In spite of his protests, Lebaudy was held in prison for three days.

In June 1905, Lebaudy’s threatened to kill his wife, which forced her to file a complaint with authorities in Trieste, Austria-Hungary (today in northern Italy). He was summoned to appear in court but managed to slip away. Leaving nearly all of his possessions behind, he fled 450 miles (725 km) northeast by buggy to Gorlice (in southern Poland today), where he was recaptured. Hauled back to Trieste, Lebaudy was able to convince authorities that he was sane.

Meanwhile, things continued to worsen for Lebaudy back home. On July 24, 1905, a Paris court ruled that he must pay a stockbroker $15,000 ($423,000 today) for unpaid fees. The judge did not buy his lawyer’s claim “that it has no legal jurisdiction in this matter. My client’s legal residences are Troja, in the Empire of Sahara, and Brussels, where the European Embassy of Sahara’s Empire is situated.”

In November, he lost $200,000 ($5.6 million today) in 1904 profits from his sugar empire. Through inheritance, two of his cousins became business partners with him. Both refused to refer to Lebaudy by his official Saharan title, so he refused payment. The cousins dragged him into court, but Lebaudy refused to send a lawyer or appear himself because the summons did not address him as “Emperor of the Sahara.” The judge ruled against him.

Image of Jacques Lebaudy that was printed on page 6 of the September 1, 1903 issue of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

For the next twelve months, there would barely be a mention of Jacques Lebaudy in the press. He seemed to have vanished. In January 1907, newspapers around the world began to speculate as to what had happened to him. He resurfaced on July 18, 1907 after he was spotted by a reporter in an unlikely place: at a hotel in New York City. Lebaudy established a postal box there – number 1655 – the only mailing address that he would use for the remainder of his life.

While in New York, Lebaudy led a fairly quiet life. Having become quite litigious, there would be an occasional mention in the papers about a lawsuit that he filed, but his crazy nation-building antics seemed to have become a thing of the past.

On May 26, 1913, he purchased Phoenix Lodge, a fifty-acre run-down estate in Westbury, Long Island to share with his wife Marguerite and their eight-year-old daughter Jacqueline. Nicknamed “The House of Fifty Rooms,” Lebaudy had done little to maintain it.

Two years later, Lebaudy’s actions would once again make headlines. Lebaudy had blocked off an access road to a neighbor’s property and Nassau County Sheriff Stephen Pettit was contacted. He assigned some of his men to guard the road. On August 17, 1915, the deputies heard horses trampling through the woods. The New York Times described what happened next: “From out of the leafy covert of the underbrush appeared a horse bearing a commanding figure whose Palm Beach suit, topped by a green-ribboned Panama hat, was weighted down with medals of all kinds till he looked like a German General. He carried a tin horn in one hand.” That commanding figure was Lebaudy and he stated, “I am the Emperor of the Saharas. Surrender!”

Suddenly four additional men emerged on horseback from the woods. Each soldier wore a dark green uniform with a facing of pink string. It was later learned that the Emperor’s army consisted of four Western Union messenger boys that Lebaudy had requested be sent to him by taxi from New York City.

The deputies contacted Sheriff Pettit. Upon his arrival, Lebaudy and his miniature army were situated on one side of a high rock wall, while the mounted deputies were on the other. Suddenly, Lebaudy took off with the sheriff in hot pursuit. Lebaudy cleared a small ditch, but the sheriff did not. He was thrown into the muddy water, hopped back on his horse and continued his chase of Lebaudy. The sheriff was able to overtake Lebaudy and bring him to a halt. Lebaudy blurted, “I surrender to the United States Government. I am Jacques Lebaudy, Emperor of Sahara, and I give up to you.”

Mrs. Lebaudy described to Sheriff Petit how her husband had become increasingly irrational, which caused both her and daughter Jacqueline to live in constant fear. Lebaudy was committed to a sanitarium but escaped the next morning. Twenty-five deputies unsuccessfully searched the woods for Lebaudy. The next day, during a lawn party being held in the hamlet of Halesite, guests were shocked to see a man on a horse emerge from the woods. It was Lebaudy, who asked, “Have any of you any long-haired cattle in your stables?” Suffolk County Under Sheriff Biggs was a guest at the party, immediately recognized Lebaudy, and contacted Sheriff Petit. The Emperor was returned to the sanitarium. While doctors continued their mental evaluation, Lebaudy’s lawyer arranged for his release after his initial ten-day commitment expired.

Lebaudy solely blamed one person for his troubles: his wife Marguerite. He proceeded to lock his wife and daughter into one of the rooms at Phoenix Lodge and forbid any servant from bringing them food or water. When Lebaudy learned that a servant had assisted the two, he reportedly carried hundreds of buckets of water up the stairs and proceeded to flood the hallways surrounding the room occupied by his wife and daughter.

On the evening of September 2, 1915, Lebaudy mailed a letter to the New York Times which included this notice: “Mr. Jacques Lebaudy of Paris, France, calls the attention of the public to the following facts: A French woman of no social standing has been for some time attempting to pose as being wedded to him.

“She has the audacity to use the name of a respected family and is deceiving in every way possible tradesmen and other people.

“He is taking legal steps to have her enjoined.”

This advertisement placed by Jacques Lebaudy appeared on page 18 of the September 7, 1915 issue of The New York Times.

That same day, Mrs. Lebaudy received a letter from her husband stating that he and four men would be arriving the next day to remove the contents of Phoenix Lodge. A deputy was dispatched to prevent this from happening.

In a September 5, 1915 interview with The Washington Post, Mrs. Lebaudy stated, “Recently I have been without sufficient food for my little daughter. There have been times when it was necessary for me to smuggle food into her room in order to provide her with sufficient nourishment.”

She added, “Since my little girl was born in Geneva, ten years ago, Mr. Lebaudy has at many times been unkind to me. He wanted a son, that the boy might some day be a French soldier. He was greatly disappointed when our child was a girl. It was our only child.”

Which brings us full circle to July 3, 1917. That was the day that Lebaudy pulled his boat into Oyster Bay Harbor, with its residents thinking that he may have been a German spy. After authorities determined his identity, they contacted Mrs. Lebaudy and asked what she wanted them to do with her husband. She replied, “Heavens! I don’t want him. He was here last night and broke up everything in the house.”

There was to be no peace in the Lebaudy household. With each passing day, Lebaudy’s attacks on his wife seemed to worsen. He was determined to destroy her, both mentally and financially. Every time that he returned to the Lodge, he would erupt in anger and destroy anything within sight. On several occasions, he had become so violent that the sheriff needed to be contacted. Fearing that he would harm or kidnap Jacqueline, Mrs. Lebaudy pulled her out of school. Mother and daughter spent years living in constant terror.

On January 11, 1919, Lebaudy arrived at Phoenix Lodge, assisted by a messenger boy named Mark Rosenfeld. Upon entering the home, Lebaudy exploded in rage and began to spread charcoal across the floor, as if he intended to burn the building down. He violently flipped over furniture and proceeded to toss the sofa cushions and other possessions out the windows. Rosenfeld ran out, fearing for his personal safety.

Mrs. Lebaudy, who had been ill in bed upstairs, heard the commotion and came downstairs with a revolver. She proceeded to shoot her husband five times, killing him instantly. He was fifty years old. Daughter Jacqueline immediately called Mrs. Lebaudy’s attorney and told him, “Come over to the house quick. Mamma just shot Papa.”

Coroner Walter R. Jones charged Mrs. Lebaudy with murder and ordered her arrest. Mrs. Lebaudy readily admitted to District Attorney Charles Weeks that she had murdered her husband. “Yes, I shot him. He had been threatening my life for 15 years and I couldn’t stand it any longer.” She was charged with murder and placed in a county jail cell. On January 21st, the Grand Jury cleared her of the charge and she was released.

South African death certificate for Jacques Lebaudy.

A new battle awaited Mrs. Lebaudy. Her husband left no will, which would typically default his entire fortune to his wife. There was one big problem: The couple had married under the laws of the imaginary Saharan empire and were not recognized by any country. In other words, the couple was never legally married and, therefore, Mrs. Lebaudy was not entitled to the bulk of her husband’s estate. Lebaudy’s sister, Maria Thérèse Jeanne Lebaudy de Fels, opted to take advantage of this technicality and filed papers to have Mrs. Lebaudy removed as executor of her husband’s estate.

The petition argued, “Margaret A. Lebaudy is not the widow and Jacqueline Lebaudy is not the daughter of Jacques Lebaudy; the said Margaret Lebaudy is addicted to the use of drugs and has been for years so addicted, and the use of said drugs has so impaired her health and mind that she is unfit to perform the duties of her office or act as administratrix.”

The United States recognized the Lebaudy’s common-law marriage and on December 16, 1922, Mrs. Lebaudy was awarded $2,455,038.19 ($37 million today) and Jacqueline was to receive $4,955,076.38 ($75 million). It was noted that due to a previous agreement, these awards were to be split equally with Lebaudy’s sister in France, who was continuing her fight to discredit Mrs. Lebaudy in Paris. On March 8, 1927, the French courts disagreed with the U. S. ruling, concluding that neither Mrs. Lebaudy’s marriage or the paternity of her daughter had been proven. As a result, titles to all of Lebaudy’s French properties, the bulk of his estate, were awarded to his sister.

Also, in 1922, mother-and-daughter Lebaudy married the father-and-son detective team of Henri and Roger Sudreau. Henri would pass on a few years later, while Jacqueline divorced Roger in 1930.

In 1950, Mrs. Lebaudy passed away in Paris at seventy-seven years of age. Daughter Jacqueline would remarry and emigrate to the United States during World War II. She died at the American Hospital in Paris on December 21, 1974 at the age of sixty-nine.

As for the family’s Phoenix Lodge, it no longer exists. After falling into disrepair, Jacqueline allowed it to be sold for unpaid taxes in 1926. Located on the eastern side of what is now the Eisenhower Park Red Golf Course, the mansion was torn down and replaced by a typical suburban Long Island housing development.

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

Podcast #133 – A Nose for Fishing

 

The Finger Lakes region is among the most spectacular in all of New York State. The area is a series of eleven elongated glacial valley lakes that are all roughly aligned in a north-south direction.

Keuka Lake is the only one of the Finger Lakes that has a Y-like shape to it. Prior to the arrival of railroads and automobiles, steamboats were the fastest way to move across the lake. At the southern end of the lake lies the village of Hammondsport. At the northern end of its eastern branch sits the village of Penn Yan.

The Finger Lakes of New York State. NASA image.

It was there, in Penn Yan, on July 14, 1866, that one of its most celebrated citizens, Harry C. Morse, was born. His father Myron died on August 25, 1872, leaving his wife (Florence) Ione Morse, to raise their only child alone.

Oscar Morse, a well-respected steamboat captain, would routinely take his young nephew Harry out on the water to teach him every aspect of navigating these large ships. Harry’s earliest jobs were as members of the crew, but as he grew older and gained more experience, he became the captain of his own steamboat, the Urbana.

Described in 1889 as “the youngest, best-looking, and best-dressed pilot on the lake,” Harry was soon given the assignment of a lifetime. When the Mary Bell (later rechristened the Penn Yan) was launched in 1892, 26-year-old Harry was selected to be its captain. He was at the wheel when the ship, described as “the finest boat on any inland waters in New York,” encountered a violent storm. Due to her immense weight, the Mary Bell sat very low in the water and waves began to crash over her lower deck. Morse was able to safely steer the ship to port without a single one of its estimated five hundred passengers being harmed. Harry became a bit of a local hero for his efforts, for which poet Booth Lowery, who was aboard the Mary Bell at the time, penned the poem “Harry’s at the Wheel.”

Yet, that is not the event for which Harry would be best remembered.

When the wheeling craze spread across the United States in the 1890s, Harry was reported to have been the first person in Penn Yan to own a bicycle.

Yet, again, that is not what he is best known for.

On February 8, 1901, The Great Falls Tribune announced that Harry had purchased a one-fourth partnership in a Utica, Montana ranch, to which he relocated. The 16,000-acre farm was home to an estimated herd of 15,000 sheep.

After a number of years of raising sheep, however, Harry returned back home to Penn Yan. So, clearly, sheep farming was not his claim to fame.

After a brief stint back on the steamboats, Harry penned the 1914 book To Lovers and Others. But that is not the thing he is best remembered for either.

Harry then turned his focus to the world of entertainment. For a period of five years, he leased and managed the Sampson Theater in Penn Yan, showing mostly silent movies.

In May of 1920, he purchased the former Shearman House on Elm Street for $10,000 ($127,000 today), tore it down, and began construction on a new movie theater. The 720-seat Elmwood Theatre opened May 27, 1921 and was an immediate success. In the late 1920s, Morse installed new technology that enabled him to project talking movies but competition from nearby theaters open on Sundays began to eat into his profits. Blue laws (laws prohibiting certain activities on Sundays) in Penn Yan forbid him from doing the same. Harry approached the Board of Trustees with a petition signed by 2,072 of the 3,152 registered voters in Penn Yan requesting that his theater also be allowed to stay open. On September 27, 1929, he got his wish: “BE IT ORDAINED, that the Elmwood of Penn Yan Incorporated, under the management of H. C. Morse, hereafter be permitted to exhibit motion pictures in the Village of Penn Yan on the first day of the week after 2 o’clock in the afternoon. This ordinance shall take effect immediately.”

Harry Morse would operate the Elmwood Theater until his death on January 15, 1936, after which it would change hands several times before finally closing in 1970. He was survived by his wife Janet and their daughter Rosemary.

There you have it. A lifetime of hard work and a tremendous amount of success. Yet, the one thing that Harry Morse would forever be remembered for has not yet been mentioned. His most memorable event occurred when he was just seven-years-old.

August 27, 1873 was a beautiful day when Harry and his mom went fishing near Keuka Lake’s Brandy Bay. Mrs. Morse set anchor a short distance from shore and cast her line out from one side of the boat. As she patiently waited for a nibble, Harry peered out over the other side and gazed into the crystal-clear water below.

Then, suddenly, Harry jerked his head back into the boat and let out a painful scream. Mrs. Morse turned around to discover that her son’s face was covered in blood. She then glanced down and saw a large fish flopping around on the floor of the boat. A person on shore suggested that Mrs. Morse take an oar and hit the fish with it. She did exactly that and put the fish out of its misery. Mrs. Morse quickly rowed the boat into shore where, with the help of onlookers, she was able to care for Harry’s wounds.

If it weren’t for the fact that there were eyewitnesses to what had happened, no one would have ever believed what had just taken place. While Harry was leaning over the edge of the boat, an 8-pound (3.6 kilogram) trout leaped up out of the water and grabbed ahold of his nose. Panicking, he quickly pulled his head back and upon doing so, the fish let go and fell to the floor of the boat.

Yes, Harry Morse had done the seemingly impossible: He caught a fish with his nose.

Word quickly spread around town and Dr. J. C. (John Coleman) Mills took two photographs to prove to the world that this event really did happen. The first is a stereogram of Harry and his mother with the fish hanging down between them. The second, and far more popular, was the photograph of Harry alone with the fish hanging to his right. Titled “HARRY C. MORSE, the Little Trout Fisher,” hundreds of copies were sold within the first week alone. The story quickly spread to newspapers around the globe and Harry’s story would soon become a legend. He would carry the scars from that bite to his nose for the remainder of his life.

Harry Morse with his mother Ione and the fish that he caught with his nose. Library of Congress image.

On September 4, 1873, the Yates County Chronicle wrote, “Such a thing as this was never heard of before in this quarter of the world, and we are aware needs to be well vouched for to be believed. Of its truth there is not a shadow of a doubt. Although a wonderful fish story, it is not fishy in any dubious sense.”

Harry Morse was a heroic steamboat captain, a sheep rancher, an author, and a successful theater owner, but he would forever be remembered for those few seconds when a fish took hold of his nose.

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

Podcast #132 – In the Blink of an Eye

 

Did you ever stop to think about how your life could change in the blink of eye? Every morning each of us gets up and assumes that each day will turn out just fine, but then something happens that changes the course of our lives forever. It could be the birth of a child, being diagnosed with a dreadful disease, or simply losing your job.

Take, for example, the story of Sigel Castle. He was born in Albia, Iowa on November 27, 1862. At 24 years of age, he married Ida Chedester, after which the newlyweds moved to South Dakota. Between 1888 and 1900, the couple would have six children. In order, they were Roy, William, Rena, Earl, Eva, and Laura, who was born on April 7, 1900. Just two months later, Mrs. Castle would pass away. While neither her exact dates of birth or death are known, she was approximately 32 years of age. This left Sigel to care for their six children, all under the age of twelve.

Five years later, on January 24, 1905, Sigel would marry his late wife’s younger sister Edith Mary Chedester. He was 42 and she was 27 years old at the time of their union. Together the couple would have three additional children: Bertha Irene, Sylvia Mae, and the youngest, Evelyn Helen, who was born on May 21, 1916. At the time of Evelyn’s birth, all but one of Sigel’s six children from his first marriage were adults.

Nebraska marriage certificate between Mary Edith Chedester and Sigel Wylie Castle.

Many years later, Evelyn would write, “Papa was a kind and loving father to me. I remember him most as a quiet man, who sat by the table at night and read by lamplight. He worked hard.”

She had equally kind words to say regarding her mother: “It is hard to write of my Mama, my whole world revolved around her and no one has ever taken her place. She was a small woman, with dark red hair piled high on her head. She wore long skirts down to her ankles. She walked with a limp as she had been hurt when she was young. She had fallen from a horse and hurt her hip it had not healed right. I remember picking sweet wild strawberries with her, of being caught in a hailstorm and running with her as they came down ‘big as hen eggs.’ The memories are endless.”

On June 2, 1925, Sigel Castle would once again face the loss of a loved one. His second youngest daughter from his first marriage, 28-year-old Eva Amanda Castle Harvey, died of cancer. She was survived by her husband Clarence and their four young children.

Gravestone of Eva Amanda Castle Harvey at New Underwood Cemetery in New Underwood, South Dakota. Image is from Find-A-Grave.

I spoke with Perry Reeder, Jr., Evelyn’s son and Sigel’s grandson, and he told me the following:

Perry Reeder: Well, one of his favorite daughters from that older family died of cancer. And it made him so he didn’t want to be around there anymore and he wanted to kind of get a new life. So he sold everything and they moved.

Evelyn, who is no longer with us, wrote about what happened next: “After her death Papa decided to move out to Oregon. He bought a car and since he didn’t know how to drive and (wasn’t about to learn). He asked Otis Angle (my sister Bertha’s boyfriend) to drive us out. We left South Dakota in late July 1925. We stopped first at my brother Earl Castle in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, for a short visit with him and his family. We then went through Wyoming to Yellowstone Park to see Old Faithful. How that model T Ford made it over those high passes is a miracle.”

She continues, “Later, coming down the Columbia River in Oregon we stopped at Multnomah Falls. There was a small store there and Sylvia Mae and I were allowed to buy some cup cakes. This was my first experience with store-bought cup cakes. So I started to take a bite out of mine and Mama said, “Don’t eat the paper Evelyn!

“We went to Portland, Oregon to visit my uncle Emmett Jay Castle and his son Merwyn. Otis Angle stayed in Portland to get work. On August 13, 1925 we started to our new home in Eugene, Oregon.”

It was at this point that 16-year-old Merwyn Castle was recruited to drive the car to their final destination. He was an inexperienced driver who had obtained his license just three weeks earlier.

Perry Reeder: I don’t know in them days if they had to even apply for a license. All they had to do is to be able to drive.

Merwyn was at the wheel as he drove the jalopy southward from Portland. Mrs. Castle sat beside him in the front seat while Sigel and the couple’s three children were in the back. As the sun was setting on Thursday, August 13, 1925, Merwyn came upon a portion of the road just north of Harrisburg that was being paved. This forced him to make a detour across the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the road.

Without looking, Merwyn turned the car up a short grade to cross the tracks. What he didn’t see was that the southbound No. 33 Southern Pacific train was coming up from behind at an estimated 50 mph (80.5 km/h).

Perry Reeder: The detour run parallel to the tracks for a couple of hundred feet or maybe more. Merwyn probably was, was not looking behind him, you know, the train would be coming from behind. And he would be turning to his left and going across the tracks. I’ve been to that crossing and that crossing is a raised, you know, like six or seven feet off of the level ground and it raises up for gravel for the train tracks and they were probably on that and, the way I would see it, and he and he probably never even noticed the train coming from behind him.

The occupants of a car waiting to cross from the opposite side of the track yelled out a warning to Merwyn, but he could not hear them over the deafening sound of the approaching train and its whistle. Engineer Harvey Carpenter was at the throttle when he spotted the car just as it was crossing over the tracks. He didn’t see it until the last second because the car did not have its headlights on. There was little that Harvey could do. He immediately jammed on the locomotive’s emergency brakes while blasting its whistle in a last-second attempt to get the car cleared from the tracks.

The Number 33 Southern Pacific locomotive and tender. Image courtesy of Perry Reeder, Jr. and Sarah MacDonald.

It was too late. The train rammed into the car nearly dead-center. Harvey Carpenter watched in horror as his locomotive pushed the automobile along the tracks for several rail lengths before it was finally pushed off to the left of the train.

As awful as you can imagine that this accident was, it was far worse because the car was open-topped. The scene can only be described as gruesome with body parts scattered along the tracks.

62-year-old Sigel Castle, his 47-year-old wife Edith, and their two daughters, 18-year-old Bertha and 15-year-old Sylvia all lost their lives in the accident. Their bodies were taken to a local undertaker and Uncle Emmett Castle arrived the next morning to arrange for their burial.

Perry Reeder: Yeah, they were all so badly beat up, you know, that they just buried them in one grave that I know.

A quick check on the Find-A-Grave website confirms that the four are buried under one gravestone. It simply reads

CASTLE
BERTHA SYLVIA EDITH SIGEL
AUGUST 14, 1925

Perry Reeder: Well, we’ve been down to the grave. And this is like, you know, 40 years later or even longer, maybe 50 years later, and the track is still in the same place and the graveyard is relatively close. But about five miles from where the accident happened. The graveyard is north of where the accident happened. And the train still goes down through there and when that train comes thundering down through there and you’re standing at the graves… You know how trains are: they make a lot of noise and bump and bang the cars together as they go and you can kind of feel the vibration and if you’re standing there in the evening it kind of was a little bit spooky if it’s a still day. It’s spooky if you know the people who are buried there and the accident happened just a little ways away from there.

Castle gravestone in the Alford Cemetery in Harrisburg, Oregon. The image appears on Find-A-Grave.

At the time of the accident, newspapers were quick to report that the Castles were on their way to the Harrisburg hop yards to help in the harvest before heading off to Eugene where Sigel had accepted a position on a dairy farm, but Perry said that this was not true.

Perry Reeder: We’ve always known that the articles about them being hop-pickers was untrue. That was made up by some reporter. Well, he was a teacher first. Then he did some farming and then he did some logging. You know, part times.

The truth is that Sigel was headed to Eugene to purchase a farm of his own. His descendants believe that Sigel must have had enough money with him to at least make a downpayment. Any money that Sigel may have had on him, which is thought to have been a fairly large sum, disappeared at the time of the wreckage.

So, what happened to the driver of the car, Sigel’s nephew Merwyn Castle? Surprisingly, very little. He was found lying in a daze next to the wrecked car. His only injuries were a few bruises and a cut on his eyebrow.

Perry Reeder: You know he was most likely just flipped right out of the car and he had a bad cut on the eyebrow and that’s about the only injury he had. He walked away from it.

Right after Harvey Carpenter stopped the train, he immediately jumped out to offer any assistance that he could. It’s unclear who made the discovery first, either Harvey Carpenter or the train’s conductor, identified only as Mr. Caffin, but they found an incredible surprise on the cowcatcher; the metal grate on older trains that would push cattle and other objects off of the tracks. There, against all odds, 9-year-old Evelyn Castle was found hanging from the cowcatcher. Badly injured, she had somehow survived the impact with the train.

No one can say with any certainty how she ended up there. Maybe it was due to pure luck, but Evelyn remembered it differently. She had been sitting on her dad’s lap at the moment of impact and as the train was being dragged along, she said that he placed her on the cowcatcher.

Perry Reeder: If you could imagine they were both traveling along side-by-side there for just a second or two and he probably just saw a chance to lay her on it and keep her from the car from; the car was being smashed while he was doing that and then it rolled and flipped.

They say that time slows down during an accident and this may have been no exception. You also need to keep frame of reference in mind: both the car and the train were moving at the same exact speed as basically one unit for several seconds.

Perry Reeder: You can see what he was thinking. He could probably see what was going to happen. And so he just pushed her over there and hoped that she would; all the cars flipping around and things would miss her. But it was his only chance. Because he was probably, I don’t know, but he was probably sitting behind Merwyn. And so he probably just thought, well, here’s her only chance and that was an open-top car so he just lifted her up and pushed her over there.

After Evelyn was removed from the cowcatcher, it was clear that she was in urgent need of medical attention but no physician was available locally. The decision was made to transport both Evelyn and Merwyn to a hospital in Eugene, which lies about twenty miles (32 km) to the south. Both were placed aboard the train – the same train involved in the accident – and Harvey Carpenter opened up the throttle. Upon arrival in Eugene, a waiting ambulance rushed Evelyn to the hospital.

This image of Evelyn Castle was printed in newspapers across the country in 1925. Image courtesy of Perry Reeder, Jr. and Sarah MacDonald.

Years later, Evelyn described her injuries: “I had a broken arm, which they put in a cast from my shoulder to my wrist, some cuts and bruises. I suffered mostly from shock. I was not released from the Hospital until two weeks later. I was unable to walk and had to be in a wheel chair.”

As she recovered, Harvey Carpenter was held blameless for the accident. Unbeknownst to Evelyn at the time, at the end of nearly every run, Harvey Carpenter would go to the hospital and bring her flowers and gifts. But none of those material items could erase his guilt. The thought of Evelyn clinging on to that cowcatcher continued to be a burden on his mind.

Perry Reeder: It bothered Harvey Carpenter because he said when he was driving the train that he would see her constantly. The first time he’d seen her on the front of the train bruised. But, Harvey felt guilty. Even though he was innocent, he felt guilty about it and he was haunted by it.

Upon her release from the hospital, a woman obtained permission from Evelyn’s Uncle Emmett to take her to a local hotel that she owned. The mayor of Harrisburg had presented Evelyn with $10.00 (about $150 today), but when she awoke the next morning, the money was gone. When questioned about it, the proprietor told Evelyn “Someone has to pay for your keep!”

Two days later, Emmett Castle came to get Evelyn and took her back to his Portland home. Since his wife had been previously committed to the Oregon State Mental Hospital, he was unable to care for her. He opted to place Evelyn with another family.

“They took me to church every night. They would put me on a platform and get down on their knees and howl and pray aloud. This frightened me so much, I would cry and beg them not to take me.

“I finally got so bad that they thought I was losing my mind. I had crawled under a stationary table with stationary benches on either side. I wouldn’t come out so they put a blanket in there for me and closed the curtains. They talked in whispers around me. My arm hurt me, the cast was still on it,” Evelyn writes.

Her next memory was that of someone whispering to her, “It is the man who killed your folks!” She described what happened next: “I saw a big, tall man with a look of shocked disbelief on his face. This was the first time to my knowledge that I had ever seen Harvey Carpenter, of course I didn’t know his name at the time.”

It was clear that Evelyn was not adapting well to her new home, so the court stepped in and ordered that she be placed in the care of the Portland Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society. While there, Harvey Carpenter continued to visit with her.

“Harvey Carpenter, who was the engineer on the fateful train and his wife Alta came to visit me at the Orphanage. They got permission to take me out for a visit to their beautiful home. After having me there for a week or two, they decided to legally adopt me.”

Initially, the court ordered that Evelyn be placed in the care of the Carpenters, but her uncle Emmett Castle contested that decision. A jury decided on November 3, 1925 that full custody of Evelyn should be granted to the Carpenters.

Legal challenges continued until January 11, 1926. That’s when Judge Jacob Kanzler ruled in the Carpenters’ favor. He stated, “The court is glad to decree this adoption because the future welfare of the little girl is now provided for.”

Evelyn writes, “Harvey and Alta Carpenter were in their late 40’s. Both of them had been married and divorced before. They had only been married two years before they adopted me. They took me into their home and gave me everything a little girl could want. Harvey Carpenter became the most wonderful Dad a girl ever had. But even with all this it took me months to get well and I didn’t go to school until the next fall, I had missed a year of school.”

Evelyn Castle Carpenter – Image courtesy of Perry Reeder, Jr. and Sarah MacDonald.

She continued, “After I got well, I took piano lessons, dancing lessons, and learned to roller skate with the kids in the neighborhood.

“In the fall of 1927, we moved from Portland to Dallas, Oregon. In this little town I finished growing up.”

I asked Evelyn’s son Perry what Harvey Carpenter was like:

Perry Reeder: He was real popular person. He was a real nice guy. He became a hero after he adopted my mother and my mother loved him because he just would do anything for her and he was well-liked all his life. My younger brother, Harvey was named after Harvey Carpenter. His name is Harvey Carpenter Reeder. So my mother thought a lot about Harvey Carpenter. She idolized him.

It was on June 30, 1943, after forty-five years of continuous service, that 66-year-old Harvey Carpenter would one last time climb into the cab of the Northbound train headed out of Eugene. In retirement, he took on a number of different jobs. At one point he served as the chief of police in West Salem, Oregon. At the age of seventy, he became the keeper of the Oregon Senate’s north door. He was 83-years-old when he passed away in San Francisco on April 5, 1960. He was survived by his wife Alta, his daughter Annette from his first marriage and, of course, Evelyn.

Colorized image of jockey Willie Shoemaker and Harvey Carpenter. Original image courtesy of Perry Reeder, Jr. and Sarah MacDonald.

She writes, “On August 8, 1936, I married Perry Charles Reeder. We have four children. I didn’t know there was a depression until then, but I soon found out. We had quite a struggle raising our family.”

During the Second World War, the couple decided to leave Portland for a more rural way of life. In 1944, they settled in the failed resort town of Bayocean, Oregon. Perry explains:

Perry Reeder: It was like, it was going to be a boardwalk of the West. That’s what they wanted it to be. So they had rich people lived out there, but they all abandoned it and us poor people could, like mom and dad, could rent a nice place for near nothing. And that’s how we lived.

Evelyn would work different jobs to help support her family, which included being Postmaster of the Bayocean post office from 1950 through 1954.

Evelyn Castle Carpenter Reeder standing in the doorway of the Bayocean post office. Image courtesy of Perry Reeder, Jr. and Sarah MacDonald.

Perry Reeder: We were lived under poor conditions by today’s standards. We were a poor family but everybody else in the whole countryside was poor, lived the same standard we did. So, we didn’t know any different. We just existed from payday to payday. And we would all go to the movie on Friday nights. We had quite an upbringing.

Today Bayocean no longer exists, having long been washed into the sea by coastal erosion.

As we spoke, it was clear that Perry looked back on both Bayocean and his childhood with great fondness. In fact, he penned the book Bayocean: Memories Beneath the Sand with his daughter Sarah MacDonald, which you can find on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble website

I asked Perry if his mom had suffered any long-term effects from the accident:

Perry Reeder: No. It would just be mental if she had any. But she didn’t manifest anything. She seemed to have left it behind somehow.

Sadly, Evelyn Helen Castle Carpenter Reeder, the proud mother of four children, passed away on June 11, 1985 at the age of sixty-nine.

Evelyn Castle Carpenter Reeder gravestone. Image appears on Find-A-Grave.

Perry Reeder: When she died, she died of cancer, of pancreatic cancer. And when I was at her bedside and she was calling out to daddy. And I think that she only called her real father daddy. I think she called the Carpenters, I think they he she called them in a more formal mama and papa. But she was seeing daddy when she was dying. Right at the very last hours. In fact, an hour before she died she was yelling daddy. So she was always thinking about that accident. I mean it never left her. So you might say that it did have an effect on her. Well, it obviously did.

It clearly did. And to think that one single event, which had lasted but a few seconds, completely changed the course of her entire life.

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

Podcast #131 – An Inside Job

 

I’ve been to Washington, DC several times over the years and it offers an incredible assortment of great architecture, monuments, and museums, all with free admission. I keep a mental list of places that I would like to visit the next time I am there and one of those is the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Let’s face it: who doesn’t want to be in the place where they print the money? It’s the place where you can theoretically smell the money, although free samples are probably out of the question.

A survey of records by the Bureau revealed that there had been a total $2800 stolen during twelve thefts in the thirty years prior to 1954. That’s nothing when compared to the estimated $3.4 trillion dollars worth of securities that were printed during that same time period.

There are so many checks and counterchecks built into the system that it was once thought that it would be nearly impossible to steal newly printed money in any significant quantity. Only a fool would dare do so and would most certainly be caught before ever exiting the premises.

That line of thinking would all change on January 4, 1954. That’s when Sewell A. Davis, a stockman for the Bureau, was assigned to transfer bricks of currency from a pallet in Vault D-19 to another location. As he lifted two of the bricks, one in each hand, he noticed a discrepancy in one of them.

Davis turned to his coworker Paul Coakley and stated: “One of these bricks feels light.” He handed the brick to Coakley and added, “Does it feel light to you?” As Coakley gave it a heft, he replied, “Yes, it does.” Davis then tore off the brick’s kraft paper wrapping and was shocked by what he saw: a stack of blank, white paper. While the two were alerting supervisors to the fake brick, another employee, Frederick A. Minor, discovered a second one.

Sewell Davis and Paul Coakley  discovered the two dummy packages.
Sewell Davis (left in white T-shirt) and Paul Coakley (right) discovered the two dummy packages. Image appeared on page 30 of the January 18, 1954 issue of Life magazine.

Eight-thousand $20 bills – a total of $160,000 (over $1.5 million adjusted for inflation) – had disappeared from the vault. The Secret Service was immediately alerted and an investigation launched. Believing that it would be impossible to get two bricks that measured 14-inches (35.6 cm) x 6-inches (15.2 cm) x 2-½-inches (6.4 cm) and weighed in at around 8-pounds (3.6 kg) out of the heavily guarded facility, a search was begun internally. Nothing was found.

The only clue that investigators had were the date-stamped seals found on each of the packages. They were confirmed as authentic and were dated December 17, 1953 and December 31, 1953. That means that the money had been stolen recently and suggested that the thief or thieves had intentionally timed it so that the theft took advantage of the three-day New Year’s holiday weekend that year.

Believing that the theft could have only been done by a Bureau employee with direct access to the vault, investigators began to question the staff. Unable to interview everyone before their shift had ended, they planned to continue the questioning the next morning.

Associate Bureau Director Henry J. Holtzclaw holding a real brick and one of the unwrapped dummy bricks.
Associate Bureau Director Henry J. Holtzclaw holding a real brick (left) and one of the unwrapped dummy bricks (right). Image appeared on page 30 of the January 18, 1954 issue of Life magazine.

They never got that far. At 5:00 AM the next morning, Virginia State Police received a call from 45-year-old Irving Grant, who worked as a butler and chauffeur on a 340-acre farm located near Middleburg, Virginia, which is about 40 miles (64 km) west of the Capitol. Grant informed them that they could find the missing money there. Troopers raced to the scene and Grant led them to a metal toolbox which contained forty-four bundles of newly printed $20 bills – a total of $88,000 – and an additional $7,000 in smaller bills, which were believed to have been given as change for bills that were cashed in at various retail establishments.

Grant had an interesting story to tell. He said that his daughter, her husband and another man had driven down from DC the night before in a newly purchased Oldsmobile. They said that they had “pulled a smoothie” and needed to hide the money on the farm until “it cools off a little.” Grant initially refused to cooperate but quickly changed his mind when one of the men pulled out a gun. In exchange for his efforts in concealing the money, they gave him a sock filled with $3,000 in cash.

After the three left, Grant’s conscience got the better of him. He stayed awake all night and decided early that morning to notify the police. He later told the press, “It was hard to do. She was my daughter. But I knew what the right thing was. The truth is right. The truth is right.” He added, “I figure my life isn’t worth that. I know my life is in danger. I don’t need anything. I figure I’m working for an honest man and he gives me what I need.”

The 340-acre farm owned by William A. Phillips where the bulk of the stolen money was found.
The 340-acre farm owned by William A. Phillips where the bulk of the stolen money was found. Image originally appeared on page 30 of the January 18, 1954 issue of Life magazine.

Later that morning, at 10:00 AM, Secret Service agents arrested Grant’s son-in-law, twenty-nine-year-old James Rufus Landis, at his place of employment: the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Landis would seem like an unlikely suspect: he had worked at the Bureau since he was sixteen years old, had received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, and Good Conduct Medal for his service in Europe during World War II, and had been twice wounded and granted a medical discharge. At the time of his arrest, Landis was earning $1.42 an hour ($13.69/hour today) to move newly printed money from the packaging machines to the storage vaults.

Landis initially denied that he had removed any cash from the building. He claimed that a man from New York, a Mr. Shapiro, had conceived of the plan to steal the money. When investigators laid out the evidence before him, Landis admitted to pulling the heist. He then led agents to a storage room on the fifth floor of the building. There they found a paper bag filled with an additional $32,000 that he had hidden under a pallet on the day of the theft.

At 2:00 PM, agents arrested his wife, 26-year-old Mamie Landis, at their Addison Chapel apartment in Capitol Heights, Maryland, which is located just over the Washington-Maryland border. The couple had met when she was eleven years old and married three years later – at the age of fourteen – while James was home on furlough during World War II. At the time of the couple’s arrest, the pair had been married for twelve years and were the parents to two young boys.

Under questioning, Mrs. Landis denied any knowledge of the theft of the money. “If he did this thing he did it for the kids and me.” She added, “Times have been hard. He worried about not being able to give us the things he wanted us to have—the things everybody else had.

“He wanted the kids to be doctors or lawyers or something like that…Like every father does. I will do everything I can to help him. He has always been a wonderful husband.” She continued, “He always handled the money. He just left enough here for me to buy small things, like bread. I know there was never much left out of his check after the bills were paid. Once in a while he would come home with some extra money. He said he got lucky gambling. I always figured that if there was anything he wanted me to know he would tell me…I’m not a prying wife.”

Her husband James told the press, “I really messed things up. I got my wife involved.” For the crime, both faced up to ten years imprisonment and a possible $10,000 fine. A judge set bail for James at $50,000 and his wife’s at $10,000. (About $480,000, in total, today.)

James Landis and his wife Mamie.
James Landis and his wife Mamie at the time of their arrest. Image originally appeared on page 30 of the January 18, 1954 issue of Life magazine.

There was still one man still unaccounted for: the person who accompanied the couple out to farm the previous evening. He was identified as twenty-seven-year-old William Giles, a government flagpole painter who had told his wife that he had made the money gambling. They arrested him in his apartment, which was in the same building that the Landeses lived. He readily admitted to his involvement. “I did it for the future of my family. I can’t give them all the things I want to give them.”

The next day, January 6th, two additional suspects were arrested. They were two of James Landis’s cousins: 27-year-old Charles Howard Nelson and 24-year-old Edith Irene Chase. Police were also on the hunt for 29-year-old Roger Paterson, who had been flashing bills at a card game on New Year’s Eve. A witness told detectives that Patterson had “a stack of bills about 6-inches high” under the back seat of his car. Their search ended when Patterson came stumbling into the 12th Precinct station on January 9th and said, “Somebody is looking for me and I’m giving myself up.” He was too intoxicated to be questioned at the time, but later told detectives that he knew of Landis’s plan to rob the Bureau thirty days before it occurred.

So how did he pull it off?

First, Landis paid careful attention to every detail involved in the packaging and storage of the money. As the money was stacked into the packaging machines, a wooden block would be placed at either end to prevent damage. Then the stack of money would be compressed and wire bands would be wrapped around to secure the bundle. Finally, the brick would be wrapped in kraft paper, and then labeled and dated before being stacked onto a pallet. What really caught Landis’ attention in this whole process was how lax workers and inspectors were when it came to disposing of unbroken wire bands, extra wooden end blocks, and the kraft paper that had the Treasury seals on them. He began to collect these and took them home in his pockets.

James and Mamie Landis at the time of their arrest.
James and Mamie Landis at the time of their arrest. Image originally appeared on page 1 of the January 6, 1954 issue of the Owensboro Messenger.

It was while his wife was busy taking care of the children each evening that Landis would attempt to duplicate the bricks of money. It took him close to three months, but he was able to come up with a dummy brick that would pass for the real thing. The only thing he lacked was a machine capable of pressing the paper tightly together, which is the reason why his dummies were lighter than the real thing: he simply couldn’t squeeze the same number of sheets of paper into his stacks.

Surprisingly, this detail was of little concern to him because he knew that if he could successfully replace a couple of the bricks on a pallet, it could be months before the theft would be discovered. That’s because the pallets were typically stored in a Bureau vault for a couple of months before being shipped off to any of the twelve Federal Reserve banks around the country. Once there, the money could sit untouched for several more months before being distributed to banks. By then, it would be very difficult to determine by who or where in the distribution system the bricks had been stolen.

It was shortly before 7:30 AM on December 31st that Landis entered the Bureau with two of his fake bricks wrapped in a package. It was standard practice not to search anyone with packages coming into the facility, but those who did were supposed to check them at a receiving desk. A guard directed Landis to the desk, but as soon as Landis felt that the guard’s attention had been diverted, he quickly changed course and headed down the hall with the package in hand. Landis then took an elevator to the third floor and hid the dummy bricks under a burlap bag which lined a trashcan in locker room number 327.

From there, Landis headed to his normal locker room, D-101, on the first floor to change into his work clothes. At 7:30 AM, he reported for duty at his scheduled time. His job was to place an enormous stack of bills on to a platform so that they could be sent through the wrapping machine. He knew from previous experience that it would be twenty minutes before he would need to refill the platform. That was twenty minutes to pull off the next step in his plan.

James and Mamie Landis at the time of their arrest.
James and Mamie Landis at the time of their arrest. Image originally appeared on page 24 of the January 21, 1954 issue of Jet magazine.

At 7:50, he walked over to one of the pallets and removed two of the bricks. He immediately walked over to a roll of kraft paper and tore off enough to conceal the two bricks of currency. His destination was a prechosen storage room on the fifth floor of the D-Wing. The only way for him to get there from his current first-floor location in the A-Wing was to use the passageway that connected all of the wings in the basement of the facilty. Upon arrival in the storage room, he quickly removed the paper packaging from each of the bricks, being careful not to damage the two ends that carried the official Treasury labels and date stamps. He folded them and placed the labels in his pocket. After breaking the metal bands with a pair of pliers, he placed the bulk of the money into a paper bag. The $32,000 that didn’t fit into the first bag was placed into a second. Both were hidden under one of the pallets in the storage room.

Landis promptly returned to his assigned duty without anyone suspecting anything out of the ordinary.

At 10:40 AM, it was time for a scheduled rest break. Landis rushed to the locker room where he had hidden those two dummy packages under the burlap bag. He then pulled out the packaging labels that he had stuffed in his pocket, soaked them under hot water in the sink and removed the Treasury labels from the paper. To dry them, he placed the labels between the fins of a radiator. Once dry, he pulled the two dummy packages out of the garbage can and affixed the labels to the brick ends using glue that he had concealed in his pocket. They now looked exactly like the real thing. As the end of his break approached, he walked back toward his station, placed the dummy bricks on to the pallet, and continued with his normal work until the end of the day.

When the workday ended at 3:10 PM, Landis went to the locker room to change into his street clothes and then took a detour to that fifth-floor storage room to grab his fortune. Realizing that he would be unable to get two bags filled with money past the guards, he left the smaller one behind, the one that he would later lead investigators to after being caught.

Getting the money through security was easier than anyone could have imagined. Since it was the holiday season and many of the workers had been exchanging gifts, security was somewhat more relaxed than usual. And, since it was common for workers to take laundry home to wash, he placed a pair of trousers in the bag to conceal his stolen loot. below As he passed through security, Landis pulled one leg of the trousers out of the bag to show that it contained dirty clothing and the guard just let him pass through.

And with that final move, James Rufus Landis had just stolen $128,000 from the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Irving Danner and Isaac Jacobson of the National Produce Co. in Washington, DC examine one of the stolen $20 bills.
Irving Danner (left), manager, and President Isaac Jacobson of the National Produce Co. in Washington, DC examine one of the stolen $20 bills that had been spent there. Image appeared on page 13 of the January 5, 1954 issue of the Pittsburgh Press.

While he had done it all himself, he knew that he had, at best, six months before the Bureau realized the money was gone. And since the bills all had consecutive serial numbers, they would be easy to trace. Landis concluded that he needed to get rid of the money quickly. His plan was straightforward: make a small purchase with one of the stolen $20 bills and then the change would be in legitimate money. This is simpler said than done because a $20 bill had a lot of buying power in 1954 – nearly $200 today. Not many stores could give change from that and if the same person kept walking in day-after-day to do so, someone was certain to become suspicious.

His solution was to have others assist him in spending the money. That’s where the others who were arrested, excluding his wife, come in. They all would drive around the region, stopping in every liquor store that they passed and purchasing a bottle of spirits. All the change from these purchases was turned over to Landis, who planned to split the profits later on. For the next few days, they were living the high life. In addition to purchasing three automobiles, Landis’ cousin Charles Nelson was observed lighting a cigar with a burning $20 bill.

Everything was great until the holiday weekend ended and everyone, including Landis, returned to work on Monday, January 4th. That was the day that the money was discovered missing. It was later that day that Landis made the decision to drive out to his father-in-law’s place with his neighbor William Giles to hide the money. They probably never imagined that Irving Grant would have a guilty conscience and turn in his own daughter for the crime.

The missing money was found in the metal toolbox and the sock. The bag in the foreground contains the loot found still hidden in the Bureau building.
The missing money was found in the metal toolbox (rear) and the sock. The bag in the foreground contains the loot found still hidden in the Bureau building. Image originally appeared on page 30 of the January 18, 1954 issue of Life magazine.

On February 15th, a grand jury charged James Landis with theft of the money. His four accomplices received a lesser charge of “feloniously and unlawfully” receiving and passing the stolen money. All charges against Mrs. Landis were dropped.

While awaiting trial, Landis, Charles Nelson, and two other men were caught passing even more of the stolen money. This resulted in both Landis and Nelson would receiving stiffer sentences than it was initially thought that they would receive.

On May 28, 1954, Landis was sentenced to three to nine years in prison and fined $10,000. Federal Judge David A. Pine said that he took into consideration the fact that Landis had been cooperative with the Secret Service. He added that if Landis was able to produce the money that was still missing – an estimated $15,680 – he would consider dropping the fine.

As for the others, Charles Nelson was sentenced to 2 to 8 years in prison with a $3,000 fine, Roger Patterson got 20 months to 5 years and Edith Chase received a suspended sentence of 1 to 3 years.

There would be a larger theft at the Bureau in 1989 by Robert P. Schmitt, who was in charge of the Threaded Currency Paper project. He took advantage of his position and was able to smuggle out $1.6 million in $100 bills that he had concealed in a zippered compartment in his briefcase. That may be more money, but it doesn’t come close to the creativity and ingenuity that Landis used to pull off his daring theft in 1954.

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

Podcast #130 – A Christmas Eve Kidnapping

 

When the citizens of Centerville, Indiana, a small town located approximately 60 miles (97 km) east of Indianapolis, awoke on Friday, December 24, 1937, they assumed that it would be a fairly typical Christmas Eve. A light rain fell from the sky as the work week was brought to a close and children eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa and the gifts that he would bring.

One of those children was John Bryan, Jr., who had just turned 4 two-weeks earlier on December 13th. His mother, Ova, desired to give her only child the perfect Christmas and needed to run a few errands to complete the planned celebration. This included stopping at the local bank where her husband worked as a cashier. As Mrs. Bryan had done numerous times before, she left young Johnny in the care of their babysitter, 17-year-old high school student Norma Schroy.

John Bryan, who was kidnapped on Christmas Eve of 1937
John Bryan, who was kidnapped on Christmas Eve of 1937. Image appeared on page 1 of the December 24, 1937 issue of the Palladium Item.

Not long after Mrs. Bryan had left for the bank, two men pulled up in a car to the Bryan home around 2:30 P. M. and, upon entering, forced Norma to call Mrs. Bryan. Norma told her that she had taken ill and that Mrs. Bryan needed to come home quickly. Sensing that something was urgently wrong, Mrs. Bryan headed back home immediately.

As Mrs. Bryan made her way home, one of the two men told Johnny that they needed to go for a ride to pick out a Christmas tree. Johnny was too young to be scared, but Norma strongly protested the removal of the child. All three got into the car and drove away.

When Mrs. Bryan finally arrived at the house, the other man informed her that her son had been kidnapped. The only way that she could assure young Johnny’s safe return was for her to call the bank and tell her husband that he had to pay $3,800 (approximately $67,000 today) immediately. This was money that Mrs. Bryan knew that the young couple did not have, so she called the bank and made the wise decision to talk to the president of the bank, Mark Stevens, first. Stevens informed Mr. Bryan who, along with several other men, got in their cars and raced off to his home.

Enter the story Julian Dunbar, a local grocer. He was one of those people who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the kidnapper who stayed behind anxiously awaited the arrival of the ransom money, the grocer stopped at the home to make a delivery and was mistaken by the kidnapper for Mr. Bryan.

e Bryan home on the day of the kidnapping
The Bryan home on the day of the kidnapping. Image appeared on page 1 of the December 24, 1937 issue of the Palladium Item.

Just as the real Mr. Bryan and the other men pulled within one-hundred yards (approximately 90 m) of the home, the kidnapper could be seen forcing the grocer Dunbar and Mrs. Bryan into the front seat of the Bryan family car, which had been parked along the curb. With the bandit standing on the exterior running board of the car, he forced Dunbar behind the steering wheel and demanded that he floor it and get them out of there. Suddenly, bullets began to fly. Mr. Bryan and another man opened fire on the bandit, who returned fire before ducking into the back seat of the car. As the two hostages and their captor sped away, two cars followed in pursuit. Local mechanic “Buzz” Lamberson and Mr. Bryan were in one vehicle and Marshall Charles Daugherty was in the other. At times the cars reached speeds in excess of 90 mph (145 km/h).

Upon reaching Cambridge City, which lies about 10 miles (approximately 16 km) west of Centerville, their captor forced Dunbar to turn into a side street. Through the vehicle’s rear window, the car containing Mr. Bryan and Buzz Lamberson could be seen speeding right on by along the National Road. After giving them the slip, the bandit forced his prisoner to drive to New Lisbon, which lies about seven miles (11 km) to the northwest of Cambridge City. He ordered Dunbar to stop the car while he reloaded his gun. The kidnapper, still believing that the grocer was Mr. Bryan stated that since the “job had been bungled,” his only option was to kill his two hostages before turning the gun upon himself. Dunbar desperately tried to talk him out of it. In part, Dunbar stated, “I am just a citizen who walked into this thing. I am not this woman’s husband.” After a bit of hesitation, he ordered them out of the car and the two ran off as fast as they could. About a half-hour after the gunfight had broken out, Mrs. Bryan called her husband to let him know that she was okay.

Dunbar described his captor as being about 5’ 8” (173 cm) tall, 150 pounds (60 kg) in weight, was swarthy in complexion, and was left-handed. Most distinctively, he had a scar than ran from his left cheekbone down to the tip of his chin.

Mrs. Bryan and the grocer were now safe, but her son and his babysitter were still missing. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. Mrs. Bryan was placed under the care of a physician and ordered to bed.

Around 5:30 that evening, Norma and the boy showed up unharmed on the doorstep of a farmhouse in Greens Forks, approximately 9 miles (14.5 km) northeast of the crime scene. Wilber Thomas and his wife knew nothing of the kidnapping, but after learning the details, he drove the two back to the Bryan home.

Norma told authorities that their kidnapper had panicked after his partner failed to show up at the previously designated meetup point. Assuming that the other bandit had been arrested, he made the decision to release his prisoners prior to speeding off. Miss Schroy stated, “After we were let out of the car, I walked with Johnny, sometimes carrying him, almost a mile to get help. I don’t think that the kidnapper intended to take me but I got in with Johnny anyhow.”

She described her captor as having red hair, thick lips, and bloodshot eyes. He had talked freely with Norma during the entire ride and offered up some of his clothing to protect both Johnny and her from the cold. She also added that the car was a green 1929 or 1930 Ford Model A coach that had red wire wheels and two bare wires hanging from the arm used to raise and lower the windshield. Norma added, “The license number was Ohio TH 423 or 432, I am not sure which.” Unfortunately, a search of all registered vehicles showed that there was no vehicle registered with those plate numbers.

Norma Schroy
This image of Norma Schroy appeared on page 1 of the December 24, 1937 issue of the Palladium Item.

At 10:30 on Christmas morning, the sheriff’s department received a call from a nearby farmer who said that he had found an abandoned car sitting in one of his fields. It was the Bryans’ automobile. Investigators dusted for fingerprints, but since the victims had previously stated that the bandits wore gloves, not useful prints were found. Yet, there were four bullet holes in the car. One of the bullets had narrowly missed grocer Julian Dunbar’s head while another struck a piece of metal in the front of the car and fell into Mrs. Bryan’s lap.

Police had Norma and Dunbar look through hundreds of crime photos, but none were a match. Prosecutor John Britten made it clear that when these two thugs were caught they would be facing either life imprisonment or the death penalty for their actions.

Eleven days after the kidnapping, on January 4, 1938, three state policemen were driving from their Rushville barracks toward Muncie when they passed a car. One of the officers said, “Say, look at those wheels.” To which one of the other men replied, “That certainly looks like the kidnap car. Let’s look a little closer.”

They pulled the car over and noticed that the car had a fresh coat of black paint covering its original green color. The vehicle’s driver, thirty-year-old William Chester “Red” Marcum of Newcastle, denied any involvement in the crime, but was clearly nervous. The officers decided to take him in for further questioning. As they pulled up to the curbside in Centerville, Norma Schroy was asked to come out and take a look at the prisoner. “That’s him,” she exclaimed.

Confronted with Miss Schroy’s positive identification, Marcum admitted to his role in the abduction. He also named fifty-two-year-old Harry C. Walter, a father of five children, as his accomplice. Police drove to Walter’s home in Muncie and arrested him there.

The two men were then taken to Indianapolis for formal booking. While posing for their mugshots, Walter turned to Marcum and said, “Give ‘em that big smile of yours, Bill.” To which Marcum replied, “I don’t feel much like smiling.”

Both men were unemployed and came up with the kidnapping scheme to raise some much-needed cash “to live on.” Centerville was chosen because it was considered to be a “prosperous farm town.” The Bryans were specifically targeted because the father was the cashier of a bank.

Image of the accused kidnappers. Harry C. Walter is seated on the left, William Chester Marcum to his right.
Image of the accused kidnappers. Harry C. Walter is seated on the left, William Chester Marcum to his right. In the back row (left to right) is Lieutenant Ray Hinkle, Ernest Richardson, William Pickering, and Fred Fosler, all of the Indiana State Police. If was Officers Richardson, Pickering and Fosler who arrested the two men. Image from the January 5, 1938 issue of the Indianapolis News on page 4.

In his confession, Harry Walter stated, “This was not considered as purely a kidnapping case because we knew Mr. and Mrs. Bryan were not financially able to pay any ransom, using the boy as a weapon we intended forcing Bryan through his wife to make the payment to us at a specified place, we asked for $3,800 cash of the bank’s money.”

He added, “I ordered Mrs. Bryan and Dunbar in the car and started a wild chase. Someone behind a tree shot at me and I shot four times at a truck. Then we began driving with Dunbar at the wheel. We drove through the country and I think into Cambridge City. Someone kept trailing us, but did not get close, anyway I was out of ammunition, just had one shell left, which I intended using on myself. Then I let them get out in the country and abandoned the car. I walked the railroad tracks into New Castle where I stayed at the home of ‘Red’ Marcum all night. The next morning ‘Red’ Marcum took me home to Muncie, the morning of December 25, 1937.”

When questioned by police, Marcum was far more detailed in his explanation as to how the whole thing went down.

Q – Now just start in and tell what happened.
A – I don’t know when it happened, about 2:30 P. M., I guess.
Q – What day was it?
A – About Dec. 24, 1937.
Q – Who was with you?
A – Harry Walter.
Q – Did you go to the house together?
A – Yes.

This type of mundane questioning went on for a while, so here are a few of the highlights:

Q – What kind of car?
A – A green model A Ford coach.
Q – Is that your car?
A – Yes.
Q – What kind of license plate did you have on the car?
A – Ohio, 1937, license number 423 TH.

Keep in mind that Norma had told police that the plates were either Ohio TH 423 or 432, so she simply had the numbers and letters switched. It was learned that these plates had been stolen off of a car in New Castle and Marcum removed them before he returned home the day of the crime.

The questioning continued:

Q – When did you case it?
A – About a week and a half before. We had been there about three times.

In fact, several days prior to the crime the kidnappers had stopped a young boy on his way to school and asked him, “Where does the banker live?” He replied, “Over there” and pointed to the Bryan home.

Marcum told the authorities, “Walter had been there the day before, and knocked on the door and said he was taking a church census and the girl had been alone in the house.”

After snatching the Bryan boy and Norma, Marcum drove about four miles (6.4 km) to a side road to await the arrival of Walter with the ransom. He was totally unaware of the kidnapping of Mrs. Bryan and Dunbar, the shootout and chase that followed, and the eventual release of the two. After about two hours of waiting, he concluded that Walter must have been arrested.

Q – What did you do then?
A – I drove about three or four miles north and let the nurse and kid out.
Q – What did you tell them?
A – I told the nurse there was a paved road about a mile up the road and that she could get a ride.

After the two signed their confessions, they were transported to Richmond around 2:30 A.M. Along the way, Deputy Sheriff Ora Wilson asked Walter what his family thought about the case and he replied, “I’d rather not talk about my family – I’ll never see them again anyway.” During booking at the jail, all of their personal belongings were taken. Marcum had 50-cents on him and Walter $1.39. It was at that moment that Walter stated, “That will buy all of the tobacco I’ll ever need.” Fearing that he was contemplating suicide, police took his belt, suspenders, and shoelaces away prior to locking Walter in his second-floor cell.

Later that morning, Sheriff Arthur Quigley asked turnkey Paul Andrews to bring the kidnappers to Prosecutor John Britten’s office for further questioning. Just as the pair emerged from their cells, Walter charged toward the balcony railing, screamed, “To hell with the sheriff” and threw himself to the cement floor some fifteen feet (4.6 meters) below. As Walter lay bloody and unconscious on the floor below, Marcum stated, “I never thought he’d do that. I’ve known him for a long time – he was a good worker, too. I suppose he done it for his family – thought that might help them – but it won’t do them no good.” With his wife and one of his daughters at his bedside at Reid Memorial Hospital, 52-year-old Harry C. Walter passed away four hours later. He was buried in the Mooreland Cemetary in Mooreland, Indiana.

William Chester Marcum
William Chester Marcum. Image appeared on page 5 of the January 8, 1938 publication of the Palladium Item.

This left Marcum to face the kidnapping charges alone. He declined a jury trial and appeared before Judge G. H. Hoelscher on January 8th, four days after his arrest. The Judge stated, “Number 13062 – State of Indiana versus Harry Walter and William Chester Marcum – kidnapping for ransom.” Prosecutor Britten then said, “This is a charge of kidnapping for ransom – I will read it to you.” After reading the lengthy charged, Marcum was asked to enter his plea. He replied, “Guilty.” After some further questioning, the judge handed down his sentence. “William Marcum, I now sentence you to the Indiana State prison for the remainder of your natural life.”

Prior to the trial, Marcum had stated “I’m glad to have it over. Maybe in twenty years I’ll be back home and start over again.” He wouldn’t have to wait that long. On May 26, 1949, Indiana Governor Henry F. Schricker commuted Marcum’s sentence from simply life imprisonment to “from time served to life.” The rationale for the change was that Marcum had never harmed anyone. He was released a short time later and placed on parole until 1956.

Sadly, none of the principals of this story are still with us. Willaim Chester Marcum passed away at the age of 67 in April of 1970. Little Johnny Bryan became a Centerville attorney and, just coincidentally, had his law office in the same building that once housed the bank that his father worked in. He passed away on September 11, 1998. He was 64-years of age.

As for Norma Schroy, the babysitter, she would marry Howard E. Bailey and together they raised a son. When interviewed about the kidnapping in 1967, Norma commented that she thought that she had seen her kidnapper on a city bus in Richmond after he had been paroled. “I looked at him and he looked at me but neither one said a word. I don’t know if he knew me or not, but I knew him.” When she passed away on November 3, 2016, at the age of 97, she was a great-great-grandmother.

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

Podcast #129 – Soul Searching

 

There are some people who go through life virtually unnoticed. They are born onto this Earth, live a quiet and unassuming life, and then, in the end, seem to vanish as if they had never existed.

One such man was James Kidd, who was born to Ellen and William Kidd in Ogdensburg, NY on August 18, 1878. There is very little known about James Kidd and, what is known, was not pieced together until after he passed.

The 1940 U.S. census shows that he had a fourth-grade education, worked as a pump man in the copper mining industry and earned $1,754 ($31,800 today) that year. Yet, he lived the life of a pauper. Jim slept on park benches, went hungry at times, and traveled across the country by sneaking aboard freight trains. He would chew the same piece of gum over and over again, storing it in a small tin aspirin box that he carried in his pocket.

In 1967, miner Mike Pesely recalled, “I knew him when I was a high school boy. I used to walk past the shack on my way to the swimming hole. I always called him ‘Captain Kidd.’ I liked him. You know how kids are always hungry? Well, he would give me peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I think that’s what he ate mostly, too. He did for himself, always; he called himself ‘an old bachelor.’ He read a lot. He was quiet, was sort of jolly, and he liked to talk to kids. He never wore a necktie, always had his shirt buttoned up at the throat. And I remember his hat. Most people put a crease in their hats, but he didn’t. He just wore it standing straight up.”

Photograph of James Kidd recovered from his safe deposit box.
Photograph of James Kidd recovered from his safe deposit box. Image from the March 3, 1967 issue of Life Magazine.

Few ever saw Jim without that old grey Fedora upon his head. On the rare occasion when he did remove it, a balding scalp surrounded by graying hair was revealed. He never married, had no known relatives or close friends, and kept to himself. Jim never obtained a driver’s license and had no military record. It was said that he loved to gamble, but entered each game knowing exactly how much he was prepared to lose.

Beginning in September 1920, James Kidd was employed by the Miami Copper Company in Arizona. His job was to keep the wastewater pumps running smoothly. In November 1941, a rubber belt flew off one of the pumps and Kidd struggled to shut off a critical valve so that the entire building wouldn’t become flooded. He was able to get the stubborn valve closed but, in doing so, the wrench slipped and he was thrust toward the pump. He was stopped from near-certain death by an 8-inch (20 cm) diameter pipe which caused significant bruising to his chest.

Some days later, Kidd was back on the job when he suddenly fell and lost consciousness. It was later, during a workmen’s compensation hearing, that the only record of his actual words was made: “I could feel it then—I had no strength or mental condition. I don’t know which.” He continued, “It seemed impossible to try to do something for myself. I don’t remember where my hands were, but there is a four-inch water line that sticks above the ground, and my shoes are longer than my toes and may have doubled against me. I never looked to see but I do know I was in that position and couldn’t do anything for myself. I had no control over my legs, I couldn’t do a thing. When I became more conscious I realized if I could get on my side, it might do me good. I don’t know how I got there, or which side, I forget, and then after a certain time, which I don’t know for sure, I regained more consciousness and in time, I can’t remember the time, I felt able to get up again.”

Since doctors had diagnosed Jim as having suffered a heart attack, coupled with the fact that he had never filed a report after being whacked in the chest by that pipe, his claim was rejected. The company offered him a job as a watchman but opted, instead, to retire and move to Phoenix. It was there that Jim was able to rent a small apartment at 335 North 9th Avenue for $4.00 per week (about $43/week today). Claiming that he lacked the funds to pay the rent, his landlord allowed him to do small jobs to help offset the cost.

Draft registration card for James Kidd.
Draft registration card for James Kidd.

It was on the evening of November 8, 1949, that Jim borrowed a pickaxe from an acquaintance and indicated that he would be headed toward a couple of claims that he had made in the Globe-Miami area, which lies some 80-miles (130 km) east of Phoenix. At 6:00 the next morning, a car pulled up outside, Jim locked the door to his room, got into the car, and drove off. James Kidd was never to be seen again. To this day, no one knows who picked him up or where he was dropped off.

Clearly, having always been a bit of a loner, it should come as no surprise that no one noticed for quite some time that Kidd had never returned. It wouldn’t be until December 29th that his landlord would inform Phoenix police that he was missing. A search of his apartment by officers revealed nothing unusual. Everything seemed as it should have been, as if he had intended to return within a short period of time.

The search did uncover one interesting fact: James Kidd was not as poor as he had let others believe. A checkbook showed that he had over $3,800 (over $40,000 adjusted for inflation) sitting in an account at the Valley National Bank. In addition, he had received a dividend check for $382.50 a few weeks prior to his disappearance. A man named Pete Oviedo later recalled that Jim had told him, “I never would make any money working; it would have to be through stocks or prospecting.” Apparently, James Kidd was true to his word and dabbled a bit in both.

With no known relatives, there was no pressure to locate his body or disperse of his estate, so the investigation into his death was brought to a close in 1954. James Kidd was officially declared dead.

That would seem to be the end of the story, but everything changed in 1956 when Arizona passed the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act, which required that all property that has been unclaimed for seven years needed to be turned over to the state of Arizona within ninety days.

Suddenly, a deluge of unclaimed estates landed on the desk of Geraldine C. Swift, Arizona’s Estate Tax Commissioner at the time. That included the estate of James Kidd.

Initially, Mrs. Swift’s office did little other than document Kidd’s estate. The situation changed in 1957 when a safe deposit box that had been rented by him showed up in her office. The box contained things like a few faded photographs, a transcript from his workmen’s comp hearing, and three stock sell orders. Most importantly, there was a bulky envelope on which the words “Buying slips from E. F. Hutton Company, Keep” was written. It suddenly became clear that James Kidd had thousands of shares of stock, some of which were still issuing dividends. In other words, James Kidd was far from a poor retired pumpman – he was very well off.

Surely James Kidd had to have had some relatives, no matter how far distant, and Mrs. Swift set out to locate them. She ran inquiries with the post office, the Social Security Administration, the U. S. Census Bureau, and even hired a private investigation firm to assist in the search. No heir was ever located.

Meanwhile, his estate continued to grow. Mrs. Swift later stated, “In February 1963, the state examiners were in my office making their yearly check and they said, ‘You’ve had this estate for 5 years, why don’t you dispose of it?’” She added, “Well, that seemed sensible to me. But I’d thought I go through everything in the deposit box one more time.”

On the day that Mrs. Swift’s team opted to enter the vault of the First National Bank at 1st Street and Washington Avenues in Phoenix, work crews had turned the power off to the building. Armed with flashlights, they began to inventory everything in Kidd’s box. It occurred to her that no one had ever bothered to look through all of those buying slips in that bulky envelope. As she began to look through the slips, a small piece of paper fell out of the stack. It was a piece of lined notebook paper, marked page 498, that had been torn from a ledger. She stated, “And then, tucked away in an envelope with rolled-up brokers’ receipts I found it—that will. I had mixed emotions. For a minute I could have eaten it.”

That’s right, she had found what may have been James Kidd’s will. It read: “this is my first and only will and is dated the second of January, 1946. I have no heirs and have not been married in my life and after all my funeral expenses have been paid and #100. one hundred dollars to some preacher of the gospel to say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with E. F. Hutton Co Phoenix some in safety deposit box, and have this balance money to go in a research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death I think in time there can be a Photograph of soul leaving the human at death, James Kidd.”

Reflecting on this discovery several years later, Mrs. Swift commented, “My first reaction was I just couldn’t believe it was real, it must be a joke. And then I thought I’d better look at it again. I looked, and I thought, well, it’s dated, January 2, 1946, and it was signed in his handwriting. We had a signature card for his bank account at the Valley National Bank; it was actually in his safe deposit box. I knew his signature so well. It was exactly the same on both documents. I recognized his handwriting, and after reading it three times, and holding this tiny little thing in my hand, I thought: Now here it is. What am I going to do with it? But of course, I knew. I knew, naturally that I was going to keep it. You know, if it had been a normal will, and to think it had been in there all this time… But to read this in this dark room by flashlight! I mean, everything the way it was, it was a very eerie feeling. I just sat there and thought that I just had to be dreaming.

“It was quite a feeling, really. It rocked me—it rocked me. To think it had been in my possession all these years. Then, of course, I was very happy to think that here’s a man who writes a will and I’m so happy that I found it. And I’ll see that his wish is carried out. You know, you have the funny feeling in the beginning, the very eerie feeling… but then you have your true feeling: Well, I’m the administrator of this law, and naturally I want to put it into the proper hands.”

Mrs. Swift turned to the Attorney General’s office for help in trying to figure out how to best execute the highly unusual will. While some of the staff were of the opinion that the will was invalid and should either be ignored or destroyed, while Mrs. Swift insisted that the document should be executed just as James Kidd wished.

Unable to agree on how to proceed, a petition was made to the Arizona Superior Court to rule on the validity of the will. Judge Robert L. Myers was appointed to handle the case. Initially, the question he needed to rule on was straightforward: Was this a valid will and, if so, how should the money, now valued at $174,065.69 (over $1.4 million today), be distributed?

It wasn’t long before the press picked up on the story of a missing man who had left a fortune to be used in the search for the human soul. The Phoenix Gazette was the first to report on the story and soon it had hit newspapers all over the world.

Initially, there were just two challenges to the will: On March 5, 1964, the University of Life Church in Phoenix filed a petition with the court claiming that they, as a religious organization, were best suited to do the scientific soul searching. This was followed by a group that claimed to relatives of James Kidd who sought to have the will invalidated, in which case the funds would be distributed to them.

But it wasn’t long before others would challenge the will, including the Barrow Neurological Institute, the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and the Psychical Research Foundation out of Durham, North Carolina.

“I know of no precedence for the case nationally,” Judge Myers told the press. “Mr. Kidd assumes in his will that man does have a soul. This Court is concerned only with the legal problems of the will, whether anyone can prove the soul scientifically to the Court, or will research the existence of the soul.”

As the case dragged on, Myers ruled that Kidd’s will was legit and set formal hearings for March 6, 1967. The court was suddenly buried in a deluge of mail from all over the world. Unable to answer each letter individually, a form letter was prepared that advised each claimant that they had the right to counsel and, after paying a $15 ($115 today) filing fee, would be able to present their case at the hearings.

Judge Robert L. Myers seating behind a stack of letters received from claimants all around the world.
Judge Robert L. Myers seating behind a stack of letters received from claimants all around the world. Image from the March 3, 1967 issue of Life Magazine.

While there were legitimate claimants, the most unusual ones are far more interesting. Here is a small sampling of some of the correspondence that the court received:

“I believe I am the only logical existing person to fulfill the requirements asked for by Mr. Kidd,” wrote a man from Detroit. “I only need about $36,000 to $50,000 of the money to develop an extra sensatory [sic] perception machine through which Mr. Kidd’s soul may send a message to earth.”

A woman from Long Beach, California wrote, “I have been testing and refining my formula of axiomatic acid-proof revelation against all comers for the last 25 years. But whether I am interested in Mr. Kidd’s prize will depend largely upon the rules of judging.”

This idea that this was some sort of contest appeared to be a common thread in the letters:

“Dear Sir, I wrote you yesterday seeking information as to where I could send in my answer to the Kidd Mystery Contest, and I FORGOT to put a stamp on the return envelope. Here it is again, and thanks.”

“Your Honor: I would like to try for the great prize offered for the person that can prove that life is eternal, etc.”

“The human being has two souls, a white soul and a black soul, a negative and a positive one,” wrote a man from Brazil. “Which one do you want me to prove the existence of?”

One woman was quite blunt: “I wouldn’t be human if I did not wish for some of Mr. Kidd’s loot to buy me a new set of teeth.”

As the case began to take on a bit of a circus atmosphere, Judge Myers did what he needed to do. He stayed focused on his role. “It is the job of a probate judge to carry out the wishes of a testator, insofar as he can.” He added, “If anyone can fulfill James Kidd’s stipulations, my job is to see that it is done.”

After several delays, Judge Myers opened the hearing on June 6, 1967 with the following statement: “Probate Cause Number 58416 in the matter of the estate of James Kidd. This is the time set for the hearing on the petition of Claimant Number Nine, the American Society for Psychical Research.” His honor had set aside eighteen days for all to present their claims. When a lawyer for the Society informed the judge that he anticipated that their presentation would take two days, it was clear that it was going to take far more time than the judge had anticipated.

John G. Fuller, in his 1969 book “The Great Soul Trial, offers nearly 200-pages of blow-by-blow testimony by some of the bigger players in the case. Yet, once again, it’s the quirkier ones that grabbed headlines in the newspapers. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Mrs. Jean Bright, a mother of five from Encino, claimed that she was in contact with the soul of San Fernando dentist Dr. Earl S. Marshall, who had passed away on April 25, 1965. Six weeks later, she made her first contact with him during a muscular spasm. To prove that she was in contact with him while giving her testimony, she wore earplugs and placed a portable noisy hairdryer over her head so that she would be unable to hear the questions being asked. And, so that she wouldn’t be able to read lips, the questioner stood behind her. By nodding or shaking her head she was able to answer 15 of the 18 questions correctly.

Mrs. Jean Bright testified in court with a noisy hairdryer over her head.
Mrs. Jean Bright testified in court with a noisy hairdryer over her head. Rosemary Phillips is behind her asking the questions. Image appeared on page 1 of the San Fernando Valley section of the August 10, 1967 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

57-year-old Nora Higgins of Branscomb, California told the court that she had seen the spirit of James Kidd about a week prior to the hearing. She described how it happened: “I had just finished my housework and had walked into my bedroom when I saw a man standing there. I said, ‘Good morning, who are you?’” He just stood there and smiled back at her. She continued, “I was suddenly impressed that this was James Kidd. But in about half a minute he disappeared into a white fluorescent light and went up through the ceiling.” During her testimony, Mrs. Higgins stated that Kidd was in the courtroom “pacing up and down with his hands behind his back, shaking his head at the proceedings.” She also claimed that most of the time he was seated at a table directly in front of Judge Myers, although she was the only person who could see him.

Chicago resident Fred B. Nordstrom sought advice from those that knew the most about the heavens: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Houston, Texas. They politely wrote back, “We regret commitments to the Apollo project do not leave sufficient time to give the necessary depth evaluation. We must leave pedagogical research to others.”

In the end, 133 soul searchers from all walks of life offered up an estimated 800,000 words of testimony. The hearing took thirteen weeks and cost the residents of Maricopa County an estimated $10,000 (over $75,000 today).

On October 20, 1967, Judge Myers handed down his decision. “Considering the language of the last will and testament of the deceased as a whole, it was the intention and desire of the deceased that the residue and remainder of his estate be used for the purpose of research which may lead to some scientific proof of a soul of the individual human which leaves the body at death…. It is incumbent on the Court to ensure that the residue and remainder of the estate of the deceased be used in such a manner as to benefit mankind as a whole to the greatest degree possible.”

He continued, “This can be best accomplished by the distribution of the said funds for the purpose of research which may lead to some scientific proof of a soul of the individual human which leaves the body at death…. Such research can be best done in the combined field of medical science, psychiatry, and psychology, and can best be performed and carried on by the Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona.”

With 132 disappointed petitioners, it was clear that the decision would be appealed. While the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Myers’ decision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on January 19, 1971 that the Barrow Neurological Institute should not get the funds. Instead, they sent the case back to Judge Myers and directed him to choose from one of four claimants. Finally, on July 17, 1971, Myers awarded Kidd’s estate to the American Society for Psychical Research in New York City. In the 21 years, 8 months, and 8 days since James Kidd had disappeared, his estate had grown in value to $297,000 ($1.86 million today).

So, how was it spent?

Lawyers claimed about one-third of the estate in fees and the society turned over an additional $65,000 to a researcher in North Carolina who never discovered anything worth publishing. As for the society itself, they spent the majority of the money on a study of deathbed experiences in both the United States and India. Approximately 1,000 phone calls were made and nearly 5,000 questionnaires were mailed to doctors and nurses in both countries. In papers filed with Judge Myers in June 1975, they reported that they had been unable to prove the existence of the human soul.

Laura Knipe, an executive with the Society, told the New York Daily News on September 8, 1985: “We’re still working on an answer.” She added, “One day we’ll know. One way or the other.”

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

Podcast 128: The Prick of Death

 

The Howrah railway station sits just across the Hoogly river from Calcutta and is considered to be the busiest station in India. It was here, on November 26, 1933, that Amarendra Chandra Pande arrived as he began his journey from Calcutta to his family home in Pakur. He was accompanied by several female relatives, most important of which was his aunt, a rich widow named Rani Surjabati. Also, there to see Amar off was his half-brother Benoyendra, which was an unusual act of kindness for him. Benoy was eleven years older than Amar and the two had little in common. While the older Benoy was a free-spending playboy and kind of the black sheep of the family, Amar was the one who was loved and respected by all.

Just as Amar’s party moved through the booking area of the station, a man walking in the opposite direction suddenly brushed up against him. Detecting a sharp sting in his right arm, Amar blurted, “Someone has pricked me.” His aunt would later testify that “A short, black man with an oval face brushed up against him.”

Amar rolled up his sleeve to examine the wound. While the puncture was small, a colorless liquid was oozing out. Nearly all of those in his entourage expressed concern. It was suggested that he should cancel his planned trip and immediately seek medical attention. His brother Benoy was the only one who didn’t seem concerned at all. He made light of the injury as he grabbed Amar’s arm and began to massage the puncture site.

Over the course of the entire train ride to Pakur, his relatives continued to push Amar to change his mind and see a doctor. A few days later he finally agreed and took a train back to Calcutta to do just that. Upon examination, the doctor noted that the pricked spot appeared to be “something like the mark of a hypodermic needle.” A blood sample was taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

Howrah Railway Station circa 1945
The scene of the crime. Howrah Railway Station circa 1945. Image from Wikimedia.

Amar quickly took a turn for the worse. He developed a high fever and his tongue blackened as his face, groin, and armpits began to swell. Amarandra would not recover and passed away on December 4, 1933. The task of cremating Amar’s body fell upon his irresponsible brother Benoy and, having had little respect for his younger brother, he opted to bribe an official to have the body disposed of quickly. As a result, an autopsy was never performed.

Several days later the results of that blood sample were finally reported. Amar had died from bubonic plague and it was thought that he had been infected when that unidentified man pricked him in the arm at Howrah station. His death was now believed to be a murder.

The Black Death had all been thought eradicated in 1933. The last person thought infected in the region had passed away several years prior. And, if Amar was, in fact, injected with the plague, one had to question where one could obtain such a deadly bacterium.

It turns out that there was only one place: Since 1896, all research related to the plague in India was strictly controlled by the Haffkine Institute in Bombay (Mumbai today). Under absolutely no circumstance would the Institute supply plague cultures to private companies or individuals.

As investigators scoured through the Institute’s records, one name stood out among the rest. His name was Dr. Taranath Bhattacharjee and he had tried on multiple occasions to obtain a viable culture of the plague to test a theory that he had. Further digging uncovered the fact that Taranath’s closest friend was none other than Benoyendra Pande, Amar’s half-brother.

Suddenly, all of the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together…

Benoy was twenty-seven and Amar sixteen years of age when their wealthy father died in 1929. The estate was split somewhat equally between the two brothers and included a significant annual income from the rental of real estate. Benoy was a known partier who generously shared his lifestyle with his close friends, of which Taranath, the doctor, was a recipient. Of course, to call any of them close friends was a bit of an exaggeration. They were more like parasites who always lived in fear that their source of easy money was about to be cut off.

When Amar turned eighteen in 1931, he began to take steps to regain control of his portion of his estate, which had been handled by the irresponsible Benoy until then. Benoy fought him at every step along the way. At some point, Benoy had become so determined to gain possession of his brother’s money that his close friends began to suggest ways to bump off Amar. It was suggested that Amar be pushed in front of a moving train or that Benoy hire some thug to strangle Amar, but it would be Taranath who offered up what he felt would be the perfect crime. To avoid arousing suspicion, Taranath stated that Amar needed to die of natural causes. The plague was the perfect choice.

The doctor knew of about a dozen laboratories in India where the bacilli were being cultured. He wrote to each one stating his qualifications, sometimes greatly exaggerated them, and explaining the testing that he wished to do. While a few were willing to allow him to do his tests at their facilities, none were willing to allow the cultures or the infected rats out of the laboratory.

Having been unable to obtain a plague culture, it was alleged that Taranath set his sights on the next best thing: tetanus. Since it was unlikely to cause an epidemic, he concluded that it would be less closely guarded and far easier to obtain.

Their plan was simple: Benoy obtained a pair of glasses and proceeded to smear the tetanus germs across its nosepiece. While on a family vacation in the fall of 1932, he asked Amar to go for a short walk. The conversation turned to that of eyeglasses and Amar agreed to try them on. Just at the eyeglasses were settling into place, Benoy jammed them down on Amar’s nose and pierced the skin.

The next day, Amar was taken to a local doctor and diagnosed with tetanus. His aunt wired Benoy and requested that he bring the family physician. Yet, when Benoy arrived, he had brought Taranath instead. Taranath insisted that the administration of the tetanus antitoxin be stopped and injections of morphine be used instead. The local doctor held his ground and refused to give in.

Frustrated, Benoy soon showed up with another doctor, Dr. Dhar, who injected Amar with a serum that he had obtained in Calcutta. He would soon develop an abscess at this site of this injection. Later, Benoy arrived with both Dr. Dhar and Taranath in tow to administer additional selected medicines. By this time, Amar’s aunt and sisters had grown suspicious of Benoy’s actions and would not allow his personal doctors to treat Amar. Amar would slowly regain his health over the next few months, but in the end, it is said that he was left with a permanently damaged heart.

With the tetanus infection having failed, Benoy and Taranath returned to their original plan. They would once again attempt to obtain a plague culture.

On April 30, 1933, Benoy traveled to Bombay to meet with a doctor at the Haffkine Institute. He said that he had been sent in advance to find out whether the institute would allow a fellow doctor, as if he were one, to use their facilities to test a curative drug for the plague. He was informed that approval of the Institute’s director would be required.

In May, Taranth finally found a doctor who was willing to work with him, but under no circumstance was Taranth allowed to handle the plague culture. When his experiment failed, the doctor that he had been working under refused to secure a second culture for testing.

On July 1st, Benoy was once again in Bombay waving wads of cash in an effort to convince two veterinarians to obtain a plague culture from the Haffkine Institute. They also refused.

Shortly after this rejection, Benoy found a doctor at the Arthur Road (now Kasturba) Hospital who took interest in Taranath’s research. He assigned an assistant to work with Taranath and a live plague culture was obtained from the Haffkine Institute. Benoy and Taranath purchased some white rats from a bird dealer and the supposed testing began, although the assistant later testified that he never observed any type of medicine ever being applied. On July 12th, Taranath told the assistant that he had urgent work that he needed to attend to back in Calcutta and needed to leave right away. He would not return. That night, both Taranath and Benoy skipped town.

It was around this time that Benoy attempted to obtain a life insurance policy worth 51,000 rupees on his brother with the stipulation that the policy not be contested after Amar’s death. He was denied coverage.

With the plague culture now in their possession, Benoy needed to lure Amar back to Calcutta. He tried to persuade his aunt to send a telegram, but she outright refused. So, he sent a bogus message using her name instead. Amar arrived in Calcutta on November 19, 1933.

While he was there, Amar went to the theater with five female relatives. Benoy was spotted hovering around the premises with a man whose description was nearly identical to that of the man who fatally pricked Amar. It was thought that the man had been hired by Benoy to administer that shot-in-the-arm that evening but it was not done because Amar was too closely surrounded by his relatives when they emerged from the theater. Instead, Benoy and that unknown assailant would complete their dastardly deed a few days later at the railroad station.

It took investigators about ten weeks to piece this entire sequence of events together. Benoy was arrested on February 16, 1934, followed by Taranath two days later. Also charged with the murder were Dr. Dhar, who had administered that fake dose of tetanus antiserum and Dr. Sivapada Bhattacharjee, who wrote out the death certificate claiming that Amar had died from sepsis pneumonia.

During the trial, eighty-five witnesses were called to testify and more than three-hundred exhibits were introduced. The prosecutor stated that the case was “unparalleled in the annals of crime of India in its enormity and well-planned scientific design.”

It took the jury just four hours to unanimously find Benoy and Taranath guilty of murder and recommended mercy, while the other two doctors were acquitted of the charges. The judge stated, “This is the coldest-blooded crime I have ever come across” and, on February 16, 1935 – one year to the day after Benoy’s arrest – the two men were sentenced to death.

An appeal was immediately filed. On January 9, 1936, the lower court’s decision was affirmed, but the decision was made to set aside the death sentences. Instead, Benoy and Taranath were sentenced to transportation for life to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.

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

Podcast 127: The Case of the Doctor-Doctor Kidnapping

 

During the early morning hours of July 12, 1933, a Northern Pacific passenger train that was headed for Duluth, Minnesota sideswiped a car that had been on the track approximately 4-miles (6.4 km) north of St. Paul. The train was brought to an immediate halt and the train crew ran over to offer assistance.

The sedan itself suffered minimal damage: As the train pushed the car into a ditch, its front fender and headlight were smashed in.

Image of the car in which Dr. Engberg was found.
Image of the car in which Dr. Engberg was found. From the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune (page 6).

The driver, on the other hand, was in far worse condition. Later identified as 45-year-old Dr. (Edward John) E. J. Engberg, the Secretary of the State Board of Medical Examiners, he was unconscious and bleeding from his mouth. A rusty .32 caliber revolver with its handle taped was found lying on the floor of the car between his feet. Two shots had been fired through the window and side of the sedan. In the back seat, police found a pair of surgeon’s rubber gloves, an ether mask, and a bloody towel. Extra bullets and a black mask were found in the pockets of his coat.

Dr.  E. J. Engberg
Image of Dr. E. J. Engberg that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

The car that Dr. Engberg was found was owned by 34-year-old Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg, a local chiropractor. Police found the chiropractor lying unconscious in a ditch about 0.25 miles (0.4 km) away with a bullet wound in his ear.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is that the two men had never met each other before. Yet, their lives would cross paths in such an unusual way that the story would be told on the front pages of newspapers across the country.

After regaining consciousness, Engberg – the doctor – told police that he had received a call at his home the previous Friday night to come to the aid of a patient. This was not unusual at a time when doctors still made housecalls, but the doctor later came home and told his wife that he had been unable to locate the patient. A call received the next day said that another doctor had treated the patient, but that Engberg’s services would still be needed in the future.

Map of the crime.
This map showing the location of the crime is from the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune (page 6).

The doctor received another call at 8:30 P. M. on Tuesday, July 11th, the evening before he was knocked unconscious by the train. He drove in his automobile to the specified location where “The man leaped into my car. He stuck a gun against my side and warned me that I would not be harmed if I did as he directed. We drove a while and then met a car with other men.” Dr. Engberg told the police, “I asked what they wanted me to do and was told I was expected to perform a surgical operation on a man being held captive. Of course, I refused. I did not even see the man they wanted to be the victim of that mutilation.”

After his refusal, what was believed to have been an ether-soaked towel was wrapped around Dr. Engberg’s head and he lost consciousness. Physicians who later treated Dr. Engberg at the hospital stated that he had been forcibly injected by a hypodermic needle.

Of course, the intended target of the surgical mutilation chiropractor Dr. Hedberg. He told a similar story of being lured from his home by a telephone call seeking medical help. After arriving at the specified location, he was seized by three men. One wrapped a towel around his head as two others pressed their guns against him. Just as with Dr. Engberg, chiropractor Hedberg was injected with anesthesia and fell unconscious.

Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg
Image of Dr. (Walter Henry) W. H. Hedberg that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

When the effects of the anesthesia began to wear off, the chiropractor reached up, turned off the car’s ignition, and tossed the keys outside of the automobile. This did not go over well with his captors and he ended up in a fight with one of them. As the tussle continued, chiropractor Hedberg reached for the door latch and the two fell out on to the road where he was briefly knocked unconscious. As he came to, he again struggled with his captors, at which point they fired two shots, one striking him in the earlobe. Believing that Hedberg’s wound had been fatal, they left his body lying in a ditch and drove off. Their next stop was to place Dr. Engberg in the car, set him up so that it looked like he had committed the attack on the chiropractor, and they then left him in the car awaiting the collision with the train.

As police continued their investigation, they learned that chiropractor Hedberg had been visited in his office on July 5th by a woman who identified herself as Miss Irene Plazo. She requested that he perform an illegal operation and offered Hedberg $15 (nearly $300 today). She commented, “and there’s a lot more where this came from.” Hedberg soon learned that Miss Plazo had given him both a fictitious name and address and he refused to take part in whatever she had planned.

Mrs. Hedberg told police that, in addition to Miss Plazo showing up at her husband’s office, he had been receiving threatening phone calls and began to fear for his life. Just in case something should happen, he opted to take out a $30,000 (approximately $590,000 today) life insurance policy. Mrs. Hedberg commented, “I knew Dr. Hedberg was worried about something. There’s something crooked. I knew it would happen.”

Dr. Hedberg's home at 1714 Princeton Avenue in St. Paul
Image of Dr. Hedberg’s home at 1714 Princeton Avenue in St. Paul that appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune

The St. Paul police thought that this whole series of events could be the work of one of the chiropractor’s disgruntled patients. They began to scour his patient records to see if they could find any clues as to who may have engineered this bizarre plot.

Fast forward a little more than five weeks to Saturday, August 19, 1933. Chiropractor Hedberg called to his wife stating that he would be home in a half-hour but never arrived. A brakeman in the yards of the Chicago Great Western Railway spotted him early Sunday morning wandering between boxcars and warned Hedberg to stay off the tracks.

Early Monday morning, the police received an anonymous call that there was an injured man lying on the ground in the railroad yards. When they arrived, they discovered Hedberg in a semi-conscious state with five needle marks in his right arm. He had been injected with the barbiturate sodium amytal, the same drug believed to have been used on Dr. Engberg in that earlier attack.

While chiropractor Hedberg was in the hospital recovering, police announced that they had identified him as the sole assailant who had drugged Dr. Engberg. Officials initially considered a sanity hearing, but ultimately decided to file charges of kidnapping and intent to kill against the chiropractor.

The big question is why would chiropractor Hedberg want to kill Dr. Engberg? The two had clearly never met before. It turns out that Hedberg had been ordered by an attorney representing the State Board of Medical Examiners to remove a sign that read “physician” from a window in his chiropractic office. Hedberg became enraged and refused to remove the sign. Instead, he painted the word “chiropractor” above it in small letters above the word physician. Since Dr. Engberg was the secretary for the medical examiners’ board, Hedberg held him personally responsible.

Location of the original crime.
Location of the original crime. The dashed arrow points to the location where Dr. Engberg was found after the train hit the car. Image appeared on page 6 of the July 13, 1933 publication of the Minneapolis Tribune.

Hedberg pleaded not guilty to the charges and the trial was scheduled for October 24, 1933. When Dr. Engberg was asked if Hedberg was the man who had attacked him, he replied, “Not a shadow of a doubt.” The chiropractor took the stand and stuck to his story of being attacked by several men. His wife told the court of the mysterious phone calls and that her husband had told her at one point that “lots of funny things have happened lately.”

As testimony neared its conclusion, one of the jurors was declared insane and dismissed. The decision was made to continue with just eleven jurors. On November 8th, two weeks after the trial had begun, the jury needed just three hours to issue their verdict: Hedberg was acquitted and sent home a free man.

Did he do it? I guess we will never know. The evidence seemed highly stacked against Hedberg, yet a jury of his peers concluded that he was innocent of the charges. In addition to having served as president of the Minnesota Chiropractic Association, he served twenty years on the board of directors for the Logan College of Chiropractic. He passed away on August 29, 1968 at 79 years of age.

As for Dr. Engberg, he would spend 31 years as the superintendent of the Faribault State School and Hospital before retiring in 1968. He was 83-years-old when he died on July 18, 1971.

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

Podcast 126: The Transatlantic Taxi Ride

 

When my wife and I arrived in Paris last summer, we needed transportation to the Airbnb that we had rented just outside the city. Not knowing how to get there by train yet, our only options were a cab or Uber. It was about a 40-minute ride from the airport, so we weren’t shocked by the high fare to get us there. Surprisingly, the cab was slightly lower in cost than the Uber.

But what if one wanted to go a much farther distance? A taxi wouldn’t make much sense. A train or airplane would be far cheaper and take significantly less time. The story I have for you today is a situation just like that.

So, let’s hop in our Delorean and take a trip back in time to April 21, 1966. Our destination is the dispatch center for the Black and White Cab Co. in Toledo, Ohio. An unnamed woman calls in and requests a taxi to take her from Toledo all the way out to San Francisco, California.

Since I know that a lot of my listeners don’t reside within the United States, I will tell you this: That is a very long distance. Depending on the path that you take to get there, it is roughly a distance of 2,400 miles or 3,860 kilometers. The cab company did their own estimate and came up with 2,428 miles.

The cab company clearly had both the drivers and cars needed to make such a trip, but who in their right mind would want to pay for a taxi to travel such a long distance? They figured $0.50 per mile and quoted her a flat-fee price of $1250. That would be about $9,800 today, adjusted for inflation.

In comparison, it was reported that a first-class airplane ticket would cost $141.12 and a 2-day train ride on a sleeper car would run $130.49. $130 to $140 vs $1250 is a huge difference.

Even though the quoted price was outrageous, the woman was insistent on having a taxicab take her to the West Coast. In addition, she had one other request: she wanted the cab to be driven by 43-year-old Paul Mertz because he had driven her to Detroit and Chicago over the previous week. Mertz had gained her trust and was shocked by her request to have him drive her to San Francisco. He stated, “I couldn’t believe my ears.”

In what would be Black and White Cab’s longest trip ever, they required the woman to pay for all other incidental costs, including meals and lodging. And to avoid fatigue, fellow Toledo driver 39-year-old Chester Reneau would accompany Mertz so that the two could take turns driving.

Taxi drivers Paul Mertz (left) and Chet Reneau (right).
Taxi drivers Paul Mertz (left) and Chet Reneau (right). Image appears in the April 25, 1966 issue of the San Francisco Examiner on page 7.

The terms were agreed to and the woman proceeded to write a check for $850 as a down payment. The remainder would be due upon their arrival in California.

Melvin Farrell, dispatcher for the cab company, told the press, “The person just wanted to rent a cab to go, she had the money and so she went.”

At 9:30 PM on that same day – April 21, 1966 – the three of them took off in the taxicab. Their first stop was about four-hours later at the woman’s home in Munster, Indiana. It was there that she picked up her luggage – enough to fill the entire trunk – and her pet Chihuahua, Tiny Mouse. He would ride with her in the backseat for the entire trip.

The woman expressed a fear of heights, so the drivers opted to drive along Route 66 through the Southwest, avoiding the more direct route through the Rocky Mountains.

As a whole, it was a fairly uneventful trip. For most of the ride, the woman slept in the backseat as the two drivers continued to push westward. The three sang songs together – mostly church hymns – and the driver in the passenger seat was asked to read aloud passages from the Bible.

Three motel stops were made: in Joplin, Missouri, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Needles, California so that their passenger could get some rest, but she would only sleep briefly and then ask to get back on the road. Another brief stop was made in Vega, Texas so that a doctor could treat the mystery woman for a minor illness.

By this time, the wire services had spread the story to newspapers nationwide. Just who was this unidentified woman? Where in San Francisco was she headed? Why did she choose such a slow, expensive method to cross the country? While readers pondered over this bizarre mystery, the cab continued along its journey to California.

One of those readers was a real estate agent named George Kehriotis, who resided at 636 35th Street in Richmond, California. Richmond is about 13 miles (21 km) northeast of San Francisco as the crow flies. Imagine his surprise as the Black and White taxicab that he had been reading about in the newspaper stopped right in front of his door at 6:55 AM on Monday, April 25, 1966. While the press reported that the entire trip had taken 80 hours, my calculations come up with a little under 85 hours or 3 days and 13 hours.

Kehriotis immediately recognized the woman, but would not reveal anything specific about her to the press. All he would say was that she was in her mid-50’s, the spouse of his wife’s uncle, had visited the Kehriotis home two years prior, and was involved in a legal battle with her husband’s family. Kehriotis stated, “She is exhausted and sleeping. She’s a very charming woman.”

Driver Mertz commented, “The trip in the cab with Ohio plates created considerable excitement, especially in the small towns. People looked at us as if we were nuts.” He continued, “and cops and highway patrolmen kept stopping us, asking to see our papers. When they found them in order, they said, ‘OK, you can go and good luck.’”

And with that, the remainder of the fare was paid and the two drivers began their long trek back to Toledo. Respecting their passenger’s privacy, they continued to remain silent as to her identity.

By the end of the day of her arrival, the San Francisco Examiner revealed that one of the drivers had registered their passenger at one of the motels along the way as “Mrs. Mary Matz, of Hammond, Indiana.” With her identity now revealed, 48-year-old Mrs. Matz agreed to an interview with the press. She was the fourth wife of 85-year-old Henry W. Matz, a retired Chicago funeral home director who was in poor health.

Photograph of Mrs. Mary Matz and her dog Tiny Mouse
Photograph of Mrs. Mary Matz and her dog Tiny Mouse shortly after her arrival in California. Image appeared on page 6 of the April 27, 1966 issue of the Austin American.

According to Henry’s son Clarence, the couple had separated five or six weeks prior. The elder Matz had recently been hospitalized, but had since been released and was staying with his son in Chicago.

After Mrs. Matz had a huge falling out with her husband’s family, she headed out west to the Kehriotis home because they were “the only relatives who’ve been nice to me.”

When questioned as to why she didn’t travel via a train or airplane, she said that it was for “health” reasons. Mrs. Matz explained that she feared becoming ill along the route. A taxi could stop at any point along the way, while a plane or train could not.

As to when she would be returning home, she couldn’t answer that question. Mrs. Matz indicated that would depend on when her doctor gave her the okay.

After a few days in the spotlight, Mrs. Matz would disappear from the headlines. According to her husband’s death certificate, she was still married to him when he passed away on June 16, 1969, but I was unable to find out what happened to Mary Matz afterward. If anyone knows, please let me know.

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

Podcast 125: The Snoring War

 

As I started to research today’s story, I began to reflect on my life before I owned a home. For more than twenty years I had lived in various apartments. One of my rules for choosing an apartment was that it had to be on the top floor. My rationale for this was noise. The constant thumping of people walking around above my head made it very difficult for me to get any sleep.

Of course, living above others doesn’t always work out. Once I lived above a heavy smoker and the smell would seep through the floor and stink up my apartment. Perhaps the oddest problem, however, occurred in the mid-1990’s with a couple that lived directly under me. Let’s just say that the female half of that relationship was a screamer and leave it at that. After about two months of listening to them, the problem was resolved when the two were evicted for non-payment of their rent.

Well, today’s story is also about apartment living, but it didn’t involve me in the slightest. First, a little background. Way back in 1869, William A. Engelman, who had earned his wealth by selling horses to the Union Army during the Civil War, purchased several hundred acres of beachfront property in Gravesend, Brooklyn. He named it Brighton Beach, supposedly after the resort town in England. In 1871, he built the Ocean Hotel and in 1878 completed Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion and Ocean Pier, which attracted thousands of affluent people seeking to escape the crowded city. One could get to Brighton Beach by several rail lines or via the then newly completed Ocean Parkway, which had no homes along it at the time and allowed families to take a leisurely, scenic path to the oceanfront.

One of the guests who greatly enjoyed his stay at the Ocean Hotel was robber baron Auston Corbin, who had consolidated all of the rail lines in the area into the Long Island Rail Road, and he decided to purchase his own chunk of beachfront and build his own grand resort. He named it the Manhattan Beach Hotel and, being an anti-semite, he forbid Jews from staying there.

Not to be outdone, William Engelman built the even larger Brighton Beach Hotel in 1878. He soon added the Brighton Beach Racetrack, followed by the Brighton Theater and the Brighton Music Hall. Unfortunately, the hotel was built too close to the ocean and the constant battering of the waves threatened to undermine the very foundation of the hotel. In what would prove to be one of the major engineering feats of its day, the entire hotel, estimated to weigh in excess of 8-million pounds, was placed on to 112 rail cars and pulled along 24 sets of railroad tracks by two-sets of three locomotives and moved 600-feet (approximately 180 meters) inland.

Colorized image of the Brighton Beach Hotel from 1903.
Colorized image of the Brighton Beach Hotel from 1903. (Original black and white image is from the Library of Congress.)

The incredible success of these hotels was not too last. There was no single factor that killed off their popularity. It was partly due to the carnival-like atmosphere of nearby Coney Island spilling over into Brighton Beach, the construction of lower-priced hotels, a 1908 law that forbid betting at racetracks, the Great Depression, the suburbanization of Brooklyn and a host of other reasons.

Those grand Victorian hotels are long gone and the only remianing evidence of this once spectacular vacation area is the boardwalk itself.

Image of Brighton Beach taken between 1915 and 1920.
Image of Brighton Beach taken between 1915 and 1920 that has been colorized. (Original black and white image from the Library of Congress.)

In 1955, the late Brooklyn developer Alexander Muss took a long-term lease on 21-acres of property that faced the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. His grand plan was to construct high-rise housing on much of this land, but a 1961 rezoning law limited them to building just two tall buildings.

Called the Seacoast Towers, the first 16-story building was completed in 1961, followed by a second twenty-story tower in 1962. The complex, which sat directly on the location of the former Brighton Beach Hotel, contained a total of 590 apartments.

An ad in the January 3, 1961 publication of The New York Times describes Seacoast Towers as follows:

“Correction. It is not true that our 4-room (one-bedroom) apartments rent at $250. This misconception is understandable considering the outstanding features of our 16-story luxury apartments… the only apartments in Brooklyn directly on the ocean… just 37 steps from boardwalk, beach and ocean… magnificent lobby designed by Maurice Lapidus… striking canopied entrance… doorman service… men’s and women’s private beach locker rooms… Private 14-foot terraces for every apartment… and more. The truth is that our 4-room apartments rent for only $160. Why not come up today and see for yourself. Mail chute – Oak parquet floors – pre-war room sizes – 12 cu. ft. GE refrigerator-freezer – gallery-foyer – separate dining room – oversized kitchen with brunch tables. Seacoast Towers. Brighton 14th Street at the Boardwalk-Brooklyn.”

Sounds spectacular, doesn’t it? A one-bedoom, spacious apartment that overlooks the ocean for just $160 per month, which would be approximately $1350.00/month today.

Perhaps the details that are most important to the story that you are about to hear appeared on May 10, 1959 on the front page of the real estate section of The New York Times. It reads, “Airspace within the walls was designed to make the building virtually soundproof. Vermiculite ceilings also help to reduce sound transmission between floors.”

Soundproof is not exactly the first word that one thinks of when you start to hear the details of an argument that occurred between two of the residents of Seacoast Towers. It’s the story of two guys named Sam. The first is 55-year-old Sam Scheir, who lived with his wife and daughter in apartment 16-V at 35 Seacoast Terrace – the taller of the two apartment buildings. Scheir was the maître d’ at the Hotel Diplomat in Manhattan and typically arrived home around 2 AM each morning. Exhausted, he would typically fall into a deep sleep and snore loudly. To keep confusion between the two Sams to a minimum, I will refer to Scheir as Snoring Sam for the remainder of the story.

Next up we have Sam #2: 46-year-old Samuel Gutwirth, who was a publicist and had to wake up early each morning to make his business rounds. When the Gutwirths rented their apartment in the supposedly soundproof building, they got the surprise of their lifetime when they discovered that a thin wall separated their apartment from the next. He claimed to be able to hear mild whispers from the adjoining apartments. Worse yet, the Gutwirth’s bed was positioned on the other side of the wall from where Snoring Sam’s bed was located. And just like clockwork, every morning around 2:30, the Gutwirths were awoken by the loud sounds being generated from Snoring Sam’s slumber. Sam Gutwirth had no choice but to bang against the wall to wake Snoring Sam up. So, I will refer to Sam #2 as Banging Sam.

Banging Sam Gutwirth removing his earplugs.
Banging Sam Gutwirth removing his earplugs. Image appeared on page 32 of the February 14, 1964 publication of the New York Daily News.

This snoring-and-banging, back-and-forth ritual continued until January 20, 1964. That’s when Snoring Sam dragged Banging Sam into Brooklyn Criminal Court charging him with making unnecessary noise. He claimed that Banging Sam had been knocking on his bedroom wall five or six times each night for the previous six months.

Banging Sam was forced to hire a lawyer to represent him, a man named Joseph Mandell. He told Judge Matthew Fagan, “Mr. Scheir is a snorer of gigantic proportions and gives off an animalistic roar with the quality of a lion’s roar that vibrates the rooms. The very anticipation of their beginning at about 2:30 AM every day has shaken my client and his wife, deprived them of sleep, injured their health, and, in fact, constitute an assault upon their persons.”

The judge questioned Snoring Sam as to whether he did really snore, to which he replied, “I don’t know. I’m asleep.” He added, “How would you like it if every time you settled down for a good snooze, some idiot started pounding?”

In his defense, Banging Sam told the judge that he and his wife Ida, “simply can’t put up with it. I banged on the wall to try and shut him up.”

Snoring Sam finally conceded that he was, in fact, a snorer and had been doing so for many years. However, he felt that snoring was a natural act and one that simply cannot be avoided or controlled, while Banging Sam’s actions were a deliberate and calculated attempt to unnerve Mr. and Mrs. Snoring Sam. He told the court, “He is undermining my health and the health of my family.” He added, “It is his intention to force us out of our apartment.”

It’s not that Banging Sam didn’t try to talk over the problem with Snoring Sam. He suggested that he consult a doctor about his problem, possibly wear a snore-warning device, switch bedrooms with his daughter, or simply move his bed to the opposite side of the room. Snoring Sam refused to do any of these things.

What a mess. If you were Judge Fagan, how would you rule in this unusual case? Well, he did the next best thing: he pushed a decision off into the future and told the two to return back to court on February 13th. He suggested that Banging Sam file a cross-complaint, which he did do, and when they return to court, he asked them to bring their wives. The judge wanted to hear their sides of the story. He also asked that the two consult their landlord, Seacoast Homes, Inc., to see if they could do something to help solve this problem.

It wasn’t long before this absurd story was picked up by the wire services and told in newspapers all across the country. The very next day after the court hearing, the New York Daily News ran a lengthy story featuring comments from both sides of this snoring war.

Banging Sam told reporter Michael Mok, “Let me put it this way. He can’t help his snoring but at least he could move his bed. It’s cheek by jowl with mine and when I said to him that maybe he might move it, he said the best thing I could do would be to get earplugs.” He added, “My problem is that my wife simply can’t put up with it. Now what are we to do? I banged on the wall to try and shut him up, but that only woke him from a deep sleep.”

In response, Snoring Sam stated, “I mean, how on earth would you like it if every time you settle down for a snooze, some idiot started pounding rump-titty-rump-titty-rump-rump-rump – or shave-and-a-hair-cut-two-bits?”

A photograph accompanying the article showed Banging Sam and his wife Ida in bed with a giant reel-to-reel tape recorder and a Type 1551-A sound level meter – which the article claimed cost $460 (about $3,800 today) on the open market – sitting on the nightstand. They claimed to have hired a man to operate this equipment and measure how loud the snoring was, but while waiting for Snoring Sam to arrive home, the operator fell asleep and awoke Banging Sam with his own loud snores.

Sam and Ida Gutwirth in their Seacoast Tower apartment with a sound level meter and tape recorder by their bed.
Sam and Ida Gutwirth in their Seacoast Tower apartment with a sound level meter and tape recorder by their bed. Image appeared on page 4 of the New York Daily News on January 21, 1964.

The Daily News reporter borrowed the equipment to try it out at various other locales. He determined that Snoring Sam was producing sounds that were equivalent to those produced by a hungry, growling labrador retriever and a midget tap dancing. He also determined that Snoring Sam was only slightly quieter than a news copy boy cracking Brazil nuts open. No, I am not making this up…

When the court date of February 13, 1964 finally arrived, Judge Fagan was not present. He must have decided to run as far away from this case as possible to avoid having to make a decision. Instead, Judge Arthur Dunaif presided over the proceedings. Snoring Sam was there with his newly hired lawyer, Irving J. Linder, but Banging Sam was a no-show.

Snoring Sam told the court that he wished to withdraw his complaint against Banging Sam and the judge agreed. The whole thing was thrown out.

So, why this sudden change of heart?

Upon exiting the courtroom, Snoring Sam Scheir told newsmen that everything was resolved because someone had built a thick sound barrier between the two apartments. The odd thing is that no one would take credit for building this new wall. Snoring Sam denied having anything to do with it. Banging Sam Gutwirth said that he certainly didn’t do it. And both the management at Seacoast Homes and the builders, Alexander Muss & Sons, also denied having had built it.

Today, Seacoast Towers is a luxury co-op building. I did a quick check on Zillow and current selling prices range between $381,200 for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath to a high of $729,000 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit.

Yet, the only review on Yelp awarded 35 Seacoast Terrace a one-star rating and states, “Very thin walls, stupid neighbor watching TV all day! Cigarette smell in the corridor! Old building.” I guess that they never did soundproof the remaining walls in the building and is the reason why, when my wife and I bought our house, I insisted that there be some space between us and our neighbors.

On that note, I hope that everyone gets some nice, quiet slumber time tonight. Sweet dreams…

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

Podcast 124: Flying Blind

 

On March 22, 1952, 25-year-old Lt. (jg) Howard Thayer was flying as part of a bombing mission to destroy enemy rail and truck lines near the strategically important harbor of Wonsan, North Korea. Then, suddenly, he heard a scream come over his radio, “I’m blind! For God’s sake, help me; I’m blind!”

Thayer immediately looked all around for a plane that was trailing smoke, but saw none. Above him he spotted a Douglas AD Skyraider that appeared to be headed nearly straight upward toward the clouds. It was a dark, overcast day and Thayer knew that if this plane was being piloted by the man who made that plea, he would surely lose sight of the aircraft once it entered the clouds. Thayer needed to act quickly.

“Plane in trouble, rock your wings. Plane in trouble, rock your wings.”

Initially there was no response, but then he observed a repeated back-and-forth rocking motion. Yet, the plane continued its upward climb and was just seconds from disappearing into the cloud canopy.

“Put your nose down – put your nose down.” Thayer continued, “Push over. I’m coming up.”

The Skyraider was still climbing as Thayer pushed full throttle to catch up with the plane. As he approached the aircraft, he realized that this out-of-control bomber was not being flown by just any anonymous pilot. Instead, he was 22-year-old Ensign Kenneth A. Schechter, who just happened to be Howie Thayer’s roommate on the USS Valley Forge, the aircraft carrier from which both had launched. The two had trained together at the Alameda Naval Air Force base and had since become the closest of friends.

“This is Thayer – this is Thayer! Put your nose down quick! Get it over!”

As Thayer pulled in close to the plane, he could see that Schechter was gravely wounded. An enemy anti-aircraft shell had exploded near his head and shattered the cockpit canopy. Ken was barely conscious and was struggling to talk over his radio as the air whipped past him and the loud engine roar drowned out all other sound. Kind of like driving a car at 200 mph (322 km/h) with the top down, but in far, far worse condition.

Yet, somehow Ken was finally starting to make sense of what his friend Thayer was telling him to do.

“You’re doing all right now. Pull back a little; we can level off now.”

Schechter pushed his stick forward and relying solely on his sense of how gravity pulling on his body, he was able to level his plane out.

As Howie Thayer pulled within 100-feet (approximately 30-meters) of Schechter, he could now see how badly injured his face was. Fragments from the blast had caught under Ken’s eye and ripped the skin all the way across to his right cheek. He was bleeding profusely and had lost total vision. Ken Schechter was flying blind.

Thayer thought to himself, “My God, My God! How is he alive?”

Schechter was struggling to figure out what had happened and decided that if he could get some fresh air, maybe he could think more clearly. He reached for the canopy release lever and pulled on it. Nothing happened. He tried again and still nothing. That was when he finally realized that the canopy had been totally blown away. His next move was to reach for his canteen. After removing the top, Ken poured water over his face. This cleared the blood away from his eyes just long enough so that he could see the instrument panel in front of him. And, then, in an instant his vision was gone.

Schechter blurted over the radio, “Get me down Howie. Get me down, Howie.”

Thayer replied, “Roger.” He then spotted a partial bombload under Schechter’s wings. “Drop your ordnance.” Howie understood the request and he released the bombs.

Their next move was to circle back and head over the bomb-line into safe territory. Their initial destination was an island known as Yo-Do, located in Wonsan harbor, which was often used as a station during helicopter rescue missions. Thayer quickly realized that Schechter was so severely injured that there was no way they would make the distance to Yo-Do.

Thayer constantly scanned the shoreline for American ships, knowing that once he sighted them, he could be certain that they were back in friendly territory. He radioed, “We’re approaching Wonsan now. Get ready to bail out.”

Schechter refused to do so. He knew that, even under the best of conditions, jumping into the choppy waters was a risky move. In fact, during his second mission in Korea, he had flown near pilot Lt. Cmdr. Tom Pugh, whose plane had been hit. Pugh landed on the water and signaled to Schechter that he was safe before flying off, but two hours later Pugh was dead. Pugh’s life jacket had failed, his immersion suit had leaked, he never made it to his liferaft, and the helicopter sent to pick him up had failed. Ken Schechter was in far worse shape and knew that he had no chance of surviving in the icy water below. He radioed back to Thayer, “Negative. Negative. Not gonna bail out. Get me down.”

The decision was made to head for an American airbase nicknamed Geronimo that was about 30 miles (48 km) south of the enemy line.

“We’re at the battle line now, Ken. Will head you for Geronimo. Hold on, boy!” Thayer then questioned, “Can you make it, Ken?” To which he replied, “Get me down, you miserable ape, or you’ll have to inventory my gear,” referring to the fact that each had designated the other to handle their affairs should one of them be killed in action.

As Thayer directed Ken to turn his plane right, he could see Schechter’s head fall forward and then as he attempted to straighten it upward, his head flopped over to the left. It was clear that there was no way that he was going to make it Geronimo. Thayer began to search for a place for Schechter to put his plane down, whether that be a rice paddy, a beach, or a flat field.

He spotted a clear spot ahead and as Thayer got closer, he realized that it was an abandoned airstrip that had been nicknamed the Jersey Bounce. While there were no aircraft there, Thayer observed that a few small buildings still remained. Hopefully that also meant that a few men remained behind to care for the facility and that they would be able to get Schechter immediately to a military hospital, should he survive the landing. With a short runway less than 2,000 feet (610 meters) in length and with Schechter severely injured, the odds were clearly stacked against him.

“We’re approaching Jersey Bounce, Ken. Will make a two-seven-zero turn and set you down.”

Schechter replied, “Roger. Let’s go.”

As they approached the runway, Thayer began to calmly provide his friend with exacting instructions. “Left wing down slowly, nose over easy. Little more.” He continued, “Gear down.”

Schechter abruptly replied, “To hell with that!” He had remembered that in an emergency landing such as this, it was far safer to land on the plane’s belly. To use the landing gear could risk ripping off one of the wings or possibly flipping the plane over.

Thayer understood. “Roger. Gear up.” He continued, “We’re headed straight. Hundred yards to runway. You’re 50 feet off the ground. Pull back a little. Easy. Easy. That’s good. You’re level. You’re OK. You’re 30 feet off the ground. You’re OK. Twenty feet. Kill it a little. You’re setting down. OK. OK. OK. Cut.”

As Schechter tensed up while awaiting contact with the ground, the plane landed on its belly and slid along the gravel runway. About forty-five minutes after being hit, his plane came to a stop about halfway down the runway. Thayer radioed, “You’re on the ground,” and then began to circle round and round to make sure that his friend was okay. As Schechter clumsily pulled himself out of his cockpit, Thayer could see a car race down the runway toward the plane. Two men helped Ken into the vehicle and sped off toward one of the buildings near the end of the runway.

Howie Thayer’s job was done and he headed back to the Valley Forge and landed about twenty minutes later. As soon as he climbed out of his cockpit, Thayer was puzzled to have a number of senior pilots and officers come right out to meet him. He quickly learned that nearly everyone aboard the carrier had been listening nervously to the voice transmissions between the two pilots as the whole rescue unfolded. In addition, a transcription machine had recorded everything, providing for a permanent record of exactly what the two had said.

As for Ken Schechter, he was immediately transported by helicopter from Jersey Bounce to Geronimo. Doctors removed some of the larger pieces of shrapnel, but determined that he was in need of a skilled eye surgeon and had him flown to naval hospital ship Consolation, which was anchored in the Pusan harbor in South Korea at the time. From there, it was on to hospitals in Japan, Oakland, and San Diego. In all, he would spend six months in various military hospitals. While he recovered vision in his left eye, he never regained sight in his right, which meant a permanent end to his military career as a pilot.

Two years later, their story became the basis for the Hollywood movie “Men of the Fighting Lady.” Thayer was portrayed by Van Johnson and Dewey Martin played the part of Schechter. As one would expect, the film to great license with the story, which included Schechter’s plane landing back on the carrier in a giant flaming wreck.

Interestingly, the plane that Shechter had crash landed had its propeller replaced, flown back to the Valley Forge for repairs, and was then placed back in service.

Howie Thayer would once again perform a similar rescue on June 27, 1953. This time a plane piloted by Lieutenant John J. Chambers was hit, not only wounding him in the arms and legs, but damaging his radio and flight instruments. Thayer had to use hand signals to guide Chambers to a safe landing on an airstrip some 40-miles (65 km) away.

Sadly, in January of 1961, while on a night mission, Thayer was guiding a fellow pilot whose plane had experienced an electrical system failure. While on landing approach, both pilots crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Their remains were never to be recovered. For all of his heroic actions, Howard Thayer was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2009.

On June 28, 1995, Ken Schechter was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Howie Thayer’s three adult children were present as he received the award aboard the aircraft carrier Constellation in San Diego. During his acceptance speech, Ken stated to them, “I hope you will see this ceremony as your ceremony, because that’s certainly the way I feel about it.”

Kenneth Allen Schechter was born in Harlem, NY on January 31, 1930, the son of European immigrants. After graduating from Stanford and the Harvard Business School, he spent most of his career as an insurance agent. He died of complications due to prostate cancer on December 11, 2013 at the age of 83.

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

The First Jewish Couple Married on National TV

 

Useless Information Podcast Script
Original Podcast Air Date: April 23, 2019 (Part 1) and May 5, 2019 (Part 2)

Today I have a very special podcast for you. It is an interview that I did the other day with cartoonist Leigh Rubin. His syndicated Rubes cartoon is published in hundreds of newspapers daily. Now, right at this very moment that I am recording this, Leigh is at RIT. That’s the Rochester Institute of Technology where he has been honored with the title of being their cartoonist in residence.

Well, Leigh contacted me about a month ago with a great story about his parents, who just happened to be the first Jewish couple to ever be married on television. The show was Bride and Groom and every couple that was married on the show was sent home with a 16mm Kinescope print of their wedding. Well, the Rubens still had the film and they had it transferred to DVD and I was able to rip the audio from the recording. And while some of it is not perfect, in fact some of it was not usable at all, you’ll be able to attend the October 25, 1951 wedding of Natalie and Stanley Rubin.

Rubes cartoon by Leigh Rubin. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin –
https://www.rubescartoons.com)

Steve Silverman: So, Leigh, your dad was Stanley Howard Ruben. What did he do for a living?

Leigh Rubin: My dad was an advertising executive. He was one of those New York City madmen. I mean, for real back in the ‘50s and was actually the president of the Advertising Club of Men and Women of New York and would, you know, get kids in high school into advertising and they would have guests come and speak. Hugh Hefner was one of their guests shilling his new magazine and the guy that started Diners Club and have these different people come to pitch their ideas.

Steve Silverman: So, how did you guys end up in California?

Leigh Rubin: My older brother Paul. He had some health issues and the doctor said better to go towards a drier climate and so they, you know, loaded up the car and moved outside Beverly, but it was more like Buena Park. They moved out to California and… Actually, but my dad came out several months before because my mom had to sell the house. We lived on Long Island in Huntington and so he went through a variety of kind of odd jobs. You know, the candy counter, which was a terrible thing for him since he loved candy, at some at some place and I think another place called Green Dollar Nursery. Another of a kind of a big chain or big store – kind of like Kmart – back in the day, called the Big A where you’d walk into this big giant A. This is all in Southern California.

Steve Silverman: And this was in advertising he was doing?

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, yeah. He and he got into advertising. In around 1965 or 6, he got a job through a mutual friend of his at Max Factor, the cosmetics company, and he stayed there for probably a good, I think, 8 to 10 years before they sold out to Revlon and then he started his own printing company.

Steve Silverman: Did he do the printing until he retired?

Leigh Rubin: He did stay there. We moved actually from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley and he started his own printing company and it was a family business. So, my mom, sister, brother and I all worked there and I worked there for 21 years and my brother kind of came and went and then he did come back for a while and my sister went off to do her thing. But yeah, he did retire in the 90s after selling that. Actually, I retired in the 90s after it was of the act of God, the big Northridge earthquake kind of put an end to the freeways so I couldn’t get to work anymore. Which was fine because I was phasing out of that out anyway.

Steve Silverman: So, like me, your Jewish.

Leigh Rubin: Right.

Steve Silverman: Were your parents religious?

Leigh Rubin: My father became a little more practicing during like the high holy days. You know, we did Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Hanukah were the big three. And Hanukah isn’t technically not even supposed to be all that important, but you know, that’s where all the fun gifts are and you get the play with the dreidel and eat potato pancakes. And my mom was raised much more religiously. She and her family emigrated from Eastern Europe. You know with that I am met my great-grandmother and I was quite young but, you know, from Lithuania, Russia area and emigrated. You know, it was the typical Fiddler on the Roof story. Very similar to that.

Steve Silverman: Yeah. We had spoken a few weeks ago it was amazing how, you know, our histories are so similar. And it is very typical of what the Jewish people did. You know, they were basically forced out of your Russia and Europe and most of them ended up, somehow, in United States.

Leigh Rubin: It’s funny, my grandma, Grandma Rose. She was… She passed away when I was probably 7 or 8, but she spoke with the typical hello dahling, you know that kind of an accent and smoked and drank Schnapps and apparently was the quite the funny person and, apparently, my mom had told me this, that she had one of those amazing memories where she could, I guess, around in the garment district of New York, she could, she would see these nice designer clothes and just duplicate them mentally and then go copy that. So the story, the family legend is people knew she was coming around they would like take the stuff out of the window. So that she wouldn’t be able to copy it.

Steve Silverman: You know what’s interesting is that my grandfather, he just passed away a few years ago. He was 108 years old.

Leigh Rubin: Wow.

Steve Silverman: And, what’s really surprising, is I didn’t know, I mean it never really occurred to me because my great-grandmother died when I was very young, that she never spoke English. They spoke Yiddish and I never knew until my grandfather was probably over 100 years old that he spoke Yiddish. I had never heard him speak a word of it ever.

Leigh Rubin: Wow.

Steve Silverman: He was totally assimilated into the US. You know, he wore American flag on his shirt or lapel or whatever at all times and was just so proud to be an American. I never knew that he spoke Yiddish.

Leigh Rubin: Wow. And did you ever ask him about it afterwards? I mean, did he did you ever speak Yiddish to?

Steve Silverman: Never. I mean I think of both of us are pretty typical of a lot of Jews in this country that we are very assimilated into society. It is just odd. Yesterday at work someone wish me a Happy Passover and I said, “When’s Passover?” and she goes “Oh, it’s tomorrow,” and as was like “Oh, okay.” A lot of times my wife will have to tell me when Hanukkah is. I’m not really, I don’t really keep track of that stuff. It’s just not a part of my life.

Leigh Rubin: My brother tends to keep a little, well he’s not super religious about it and I knew it was Passover because I dug up a very old Passover cartoon of how to do gefilte fish and I posted on Facebook today. And apparently it’s going over quite well, So, it’s pretty, pretty funny cartoon I did 31 years ago.

Gefilte fish cartoon that Leigh Rubin mentioned during our discussion. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin –
https://www.rubescartoons.com

Steve Silverman: I have to check that one out. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know what gefilte fish is. To me it’s just looks like white turds. That’s a whole other story.

Leigh Rubin: No, I’ve heard it described the same way lately. Yeah. It’s not bad. Some people find it distasteful. I just have pleasant memories of Passover with my family.

Steve Silverman: My parents, when I was a little kid they celebrated but they moved out of New York City when I was like seven or eight years old and after that I think maybe did it once or twice after and that was about it. I think without the family around there really wasn’t much need to do it. You know.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: So, let’s talk about your parents on the show.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: So, your parents were on the show Bride and Groom and it originally started as a radio show. It started on November 26, 1945 and ran on radio through September 15, 1950. And what I found out is that about a thousand couples were married on that radio show. That’s kind of incredible.

Leigh Rubin: That is.

Steve Silverman: It’s like early reality TV but on radio.

Leigh Rubin: Including Dick Van Dyke was one of those married on radio.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I found that out. I was quite surprised by that. Well the show then switched to TV during the 1950-51 season with and it was on CBS and then eventually moved to NBC. Looking back, I know that there were a lot of shows like this, but the show was only 15 minutes long, where today you would never find a show less than a half-hour.

Leigh Rubin: That was 15 minutes including commercials.

Steve Silverman: Yeah. I counted up the show that your parents were on 2 minutes and 41 seconds of it. That’s almost 3 minutes of the 15 minutes was just for the advertisement for the napkin sponsor.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Hudson Rainbow Napkins. Which I find hilarious and are looking at these beautiful napkins in these colors, yet it’s in black-and-white.

Steve Silverman: Right. And I like to they put like a green fern to imply that it was green. So, it’s pretty funny they couldn’t show the colors so they put something down on the napkins to indicate what the color would be.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. It’s great. This was wonderful.

Click on the YouTube video above to see the complete Bride and Groom episode of Stanley and Natalie Rubin’s wedding.

Steve Silverman: So normally I have a separate Retrosponsor, but since it was already built into the show here is an ad for Hudson paper napkins.

John Nelson (Bride and Groom Host): Right now I’d like to remind you, however, that if your Halloween is only a few days away and so if you’re planning a Halloween party for yourself or for the kids, why not make your table center a flower piece jack-o’-lantern and serve Halloween rounds: black-and-white sandwiches made with cream cheese and olives, devil’s food cupcakes decorated with gumdrops and, of course, Hudson Rainbow Napkins to make your table a riot of color. You get three gay colors in every box: daffodil yellow, party pink is as fresh and lovely as a rose, and misty green as delicate as any table group. You’ll be amazed at the gaiety and charm these soft, colorful napkins make on your party table. So anytime you want add a colorful note to your table, get economical Hudson Rainbow Napkins in the pink and blue box. They’re at your grocer’s today. Hudson Rainbow Napkins.

Steve Silverman: The interesting thing is that at that point everyone was still using cloth napkins. It was very hard to convince people to use paper napkins and that’s why Hudson took these ads to get people to use their product. I’m not sure if they’re still made or not. I could really find anything around. I think the paper company is still around, but I’m not sure they make napkins anymore.

Leigh Rubin: Right.

Steve Silverman: So, do you know why your parents wrote into the show? Do you have any idea?

Leigh Rubin: You know, I was speaking with my brother about this and I think he said it was at the suggestion of my grandfather. You know, my dad’s side, and he suggested writing in and, if this is accurate, he may have helped them write or craft the letter that got them to get. He was a very good writer. I think he graduated from City College of New York. You know magna cum laude and, whatever. He was a smart guy and he suggested that maybe he saw something, a notice in the paper. They must add a TV.

Steve Silverman: Yeah that’s true. Although my grandfather at that time, the one passed away recently, he did have a TV store for a while. You know, people would stand out on the street and watch the TV’s. They’d all gather around the TVs that were in the window of the store and watch it from there because most people didn’t have TVs in their homes. They were very, very expensive.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Yeah. In fact, my grandparents lived in Hicksville, New York, and they had one of those, I think was one of those Levittown type homes and the TV was built into the wall. Because I remembered seeing that. It was kind of neat when I was a little kid.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. So, your mother wrote into the show and do you know what was their rationale for doing? Were they looking for fame, the gifts, or just kind of for fun?

Leigh Rubin: I think it was just for fun. I mean they were pretty cool like that. I mean just as an aside, you know a little bit, kind of a fun adventure and TV was a new thing and my dad was into advertising. And, just as a little bit later, one day in the 50s, after they were married, they both got fired the same day or lost their jobs the same day, I don’t recall and you know what they did? They just went on a road trip and drove to Denver. This is before the early days of the highway system. I think it’s pretty fun. That’s kind of adventurous for back in the day.

Steve Silverman: That’s pretty amazing. I’d be freaking out. You know, what are we going to do for money? You know…

Leigh Rubin: They just figure it out. They didn’t have a ton of money, either. I mean I know that.

Steve Silverman: I know that she mom writes into the show, and I assume that initially there chosen for the show but then they receive a call from the producer and what did the producer say?

Leigh Rubin: Apparently they got a call from the producer of the show and there was some issue about them being Jewish and married on television and my mother had called her rabbi at the time and somehow they worked this out so was, so it became this historical moment in American television where they became the first Jewish couple ever to be married on national television.

Steve Silverman: So I want to play a clip of them getting married on TV. It runs about 3-1/2 minutes or so, which is probably one of the shortest marriage ceremonies ever. And let’s take a listen:

Rabbi: Stanley H. Ruben. Do you of your own free will and consent take Natalie R. Leipmann to be your wife? And do you promise to love, honor, cherish her throughout life? If so, answer yes.

Stan Ruben: Yes.

Rabbi: Natalie R. Leipmann. Do you of your own free will and consent take Stanley H. Ruben to be your husband and do you promise to love, honor, and cherish him through life? If so, answer yes.

Natalie Leipmann: Yes.

Rabbi: Stanley, you will place this ring upon her finger and repeat the words after me. Harei at mekudeshet li

Stan Ruben: Harei at mekudeshet li

Rabbi: b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.

Stan Ruben: b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael.

Rabbi: Which means, that by means of that symbolic ring, is she consecrated unto you as your lawfully wedding wife according to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel. And you will place this ring upon his finger and repeat the words after me. Behold

Natalie Leipmann: Behold

Rabbi: By this ring

Natalie Leipmann: By this ring

Rabbi: Art thou consecrated unto me

Natalie Leipmann: Art thou consecrated unto me

Rabbi: As my lawfully wedded husband

Natalie Leipmann: As my lawfully wedded husband

Rabbi: According to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel.

Natalie Leipmann: According to the law of Moses and the custom in Israel.

Rabbi: And now that you have spoken the words and performed the rights which unite your lives, I do hereby in conformity with the faith of Israel and the laws of our state declare your marriage to be valid and binding. And I pronounce you Stanley H. Ruben and you Natalie R. Leipmann, to be husband and wife before God and man and may our heavenly father deny unto you and shelter you in all your ways. [Hebrew prayer] May God bless you and may he keep you. May God call the light of his countenance to shine upon you. May he be gracious unto you. May god lift up the light of his favor upon you and may he grant you peace.

Stan and Natalie Rubin on their wedding day on the set of Bride and Groom on their wedding day.
Stan and Natalie Rubin on their wedding day on the set of Bride and Groom on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: My wife said that your parents were both very attractive. They were perfect for TV, but she also noticed, and I actually noticed this also, that your father was the less religious person and your father recited his lines in Hebrew and your mom, who was very religious or brought up to be religious, she saying her lines in English. I thought that was kind of unusual.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, and it was funny because when my mom did go to temple it was like men on one side and women on the other side. My dad hadn’t, so my dad… Really that’s the only time I can recall him ever seeing him speak Hebrew. So, there you go. It’s kinda funny how that how that worked out.

Steve Silverman: Like when I was bar mitzvahed, everything was in Hebrew, but I had no idea what I was saying and looking back, I wish I did.

Leigh Rubin: I feel exactly the same way.

Steve Silverman: Did they really marry on the show or was this just a reenactment?

Leigh Rubin: No, this was their real marriage. That was it. Right on the show. You watched it and you were there, sort of, you know, 60-odd years later.

Steve Silverman: What was interesting, I thought, was that the radio show was done in California, but this was actually filmed in New York. Am I correct?

Leigh Rubin: That was CBS Studios in New York. Yeah, yeah it is. And thank your wife because they really were a gorgeous couple.

Steve Silverman: It’s odd. I look at pictures of my parents when they were young. I am like wow!, they are pretty good looking. But you know, I only really remember them as being much older and you know time has its now takes its effect on you. It takes its toll on people, you know. On the show, your mother mentioned that she was ill and was in the hospital when your parents met. Do you know what she was ill with?

Leigh Rubin: Wow, I sure don’t. I do not know. I would probably have to ask my brother. I don’t even know if he knows.

Steve Silverman: So let’s listen to a clip where they describe how they met and discuss Natalie’s stay in the hospital.

John Nelson: Tell me just how did this romance begin, Natalie?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, my cousin was overseas with the Signal Corp in Europe during the last war. He sent a snapshot home of himself and his buddy. I remarked in my letter to him about his buddy and several weeks later I received a letter from this boy Stan Rubin who lived in the neighborhood. We corresponded for over a year and he came home.

John Nelson: Stan, I imagine that you were pretty anxious to meet this very pretty Natalie.

Stan Rubin: Yes, I was. When I got home, I did call her up and found she had a steady beau, so she didn’t offer me much encouragement. I finally did get to see her when some friend told me she was ill in hospital.

John Nelson: Oh, my.

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he came to see me and brought me a box of candy and a bouquet of red roses.

John Nelson: Very thoughtful, Stan. Did that create the impression you wanted?

Stan Rubin: Well, I’m afraid not John. She was too ill to eat the candy so I ate it and the flowers gave her rose fever.

Steve Silverman: So, your mom mentioned on the show that she had a cousin who was in World War II overseas and she received a picture from him and there was another guy in the picture who happen to be your dad. Am I understanding that correctly? That’s how they met?

Leigh Rubin: I believe that is correct. I think it was her cousin. I don’t recall his name, but so family legend has it.

Steve Silverman: But she does mention on the show that she had another beau with at time. Do you know if it was a serious relationship or just kind of a boyfriend kind of thing?

Leigh Rubin: Well, I know that before my dad she was, she did date a guy that was in the trucking industry and had, I guess was fairly well off but she just didn’t love the guy so she married for love and not money.

Steve Silverman: That’s good to know. So let’s listen to one more clip from Bride and Groom where they discussed their first date.

John Nelson: Stan, what did you think when you finally saw Natalie in person?

Stan Rubin: I was surprised to see that she had grown up to be such a lovely girl.

John Nelson: And, Natalie how did you feel about Stan?

Natalie Leipmann: Well he was exactly what I expected from his letters. He came to see me all the time that I was ill. When I was better, he took me out on our first date.

John Nelson: And what did you do on his first date?

Natalie Leipmann: We went dancing and I remarked that he was a wonderful dancer. He said that this was due to the fact that he had gone to dancing school when he was a little boy. We compared notes and we found out that we both went to the same dancing school.

John Nelson: You mean you and Stan were friends as children and you had forgotten about him?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, I knew him, but he didn’t know me. He was eleven and he was a big man and I was a little girl, only six at the time. He moved out of the neighborhood and out of my life by four and I was heartbroken.

John Nelson: Oh, my. Would you say that your first date was a success?

Natalie Leipmann: Oh, definitely. I liked him right away.

John Nelson: Did you think he was pretty romantic?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he didn’t rush me. He was very wonderful and…

John Nelson: What did he do the first evening he said good night?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, he shook hands the first evening, but he kissed me on our second date.

John Nelson: Stan, when did you realize that you are beginning to fall in love with Natalie?

Stan Rubin: I guess it was just after that first date, John. We knew that someday I believe that we would be married.

John Nelson: Natalie do you remember, speaking of being married, what Stan said when he proposed?

Natalie Leipmann: Well, Stan’s a man of action but few words. He didn’t actually propose. He asked my mother if he could marry me. She consented. They chose an engagement ring and, together with his parents, they planned a surprise engagement party, which was exactly what I wanted.

John Nelson: A surprise on you.

Natalie and Stan Rubin on their wedding day. (Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: On the show your mom said the of father proposed by asking your grandmother and then arranging a surprise with your dad’s parents, but she doesn’t mention your maternal grandfather. Was he still alive at the time or had he passed on?

Leigh Rubin: He had passed on in 1950.

Steve Silverman: Okay, so he was recently deceased at that point then.

Leigh Rubin: He was, right. Yes. I have heard nothing but great things about him. I have some fantastic from him. He served in World War I and then he worked for customs in New York City for quite a few years. I was I never had a chance to meet him. I did meet my maternal grandmother and both my grandparents on my dad side.

John Nelson: Phil, what’s the name of the love song that’s Natalie and Stan have asked you to sing?

Phil Hanna: John, they’ve asked for new song. One that is most appropriate for this occasion, The Promise of Our Wedding Day.
John Nelson: Now as our bride and groom leave for the ceremony Phil Hanna sings their love song. [Song is played in the audio.]

Steve Silverman: So, the song they chose was The Promise of Our Wedding Day. Not exactly a classic, if you ask me. I don’t ever heard it before or since. Did they really choose that song or was a basically chosen for them?

Leigh Rubin: You know, this is one of those things I have no idea. I’d never heard that song either, before. I have no clue where that came from. Maybe this was a standard thing on Bride and Groom. You know, we know the guy that wrote it. Let’s give him, let’s throw some royalties his way. I have no idea.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, that was kind my impression that every episode they had a new song and they are trying to promote one. Maybe their hope was that one of them would become a hit at some point, you know.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, get some staff writer in there and make little extra money. I don’t know. You know, I don’t know. It is TV it is, to me, this is… This is what. It’s as real as it gets and their marriage lasted until 2015 when they both passed in 15 toward the end. So, I mean that was a lot better than some of these other more modern TV marriages.

Steve Silverman: Certainly. Well, the interesting thing is that a lot of people went on the show because of the prizes. I mean, they gave everybody a free car, they gave them a honeymoon, they gave them things like refrigerators and stoves and TVs which were brand-new and crazy expensive. So, they were given all these things. I mean, you’re starting out in life you don’t have any of these so it’s a good way to just get going in life. You know.

Leigh Rubin: You know they didn’t get to keep the car. That was used to go to the Grossinger.

Steve Silverman: Wow. You’d never know that from the… I mean I watched a bunch of these besides your parents. You’d never know that. You think they actually won the car.

John Nelson: And then here come our bride and groom. Congratulations Stan.

Stan Rubin: Thank you.

John Nelson: You’re a lovely, lovely bride, Natalie. We have some things we think you like that will make your home a little nicer. When start right out in the kitchen with a wonderful gift, this gleaming and shiny new Tappan gas range. Stan, you won’t have to pick to see what’s cooking because it has the famous window in the oven door and the tell your set time and temperature guide in many other exclusive Tappan features.

Phil Hanna: And for your table, a complete service of four of Gorham Sterling Silver. The Greenbrier pattern that you chose is just one of the many elegant designs created by Gorham since 1831.

John Nelson: I will always travel in style with this nationally famous Samsonite luggage. You’ll find Samsonite as roomy and durable, as well as ultra-smart in appearance.

Phil Hanna: And there’s at least a hundred uses for this Sew-Gem sewing machine which features Suzie, the right-hand miracle stitcher. When friends admire your wardrobe and home accessories, you’ll say thanks to Suzie at Sew-Gem.

John Nelson: And over here a full year’s supply of our sponsor’s four wonderful Hudson napkins. Hudson rainbow napkins to add for colorful notes or a colorful note to your table settings, Hudson guest napkins for special occasions, Hudson Demask napkins for your dressiest parties and the famous Hudson table napkins to keep your family’s close cleaner every day. All four Hudson paper napkins to dress up your table to cut down on your work Natalie.

Phil Hanna: And here is a handsome Spartan stop 17-inch table model television set. And it will bring you many fine hours of entertainment because Spartan stabilized drift lock control assures the clearest, steadiest picture that you’ve ever seen.

John Nelson: And we’ve also planned an exciting honeymoon for you two. One that I just know that you’re going to enjoy and remember always. You’ll drive in a luxury 4-door Pontiac Chieftain to the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York to the Grossinger Hotel and Country Club where you will be guests of owner Jenny Grossinger. This fabulous 700-acre resort has an 18-hole golf course, as well as a tremendous artificial ice-skating rink and there’s an ice carnival every weekend, too. Their world-famous slogan “Grossinger’s has Everything” becomes a reality there with dancing, fishing, boating, riding, tennis, and many other diversions at your disposal. You enjoy hiking and driving through the surrounding Catskill Mountains was splendid fall colors. I know you’ll have a wonderfully happy honeymoon at Grossingers and, as a matter fact, it will be the perfect spot to celebrate your wedding anniversaries in the years to come.

Steve Silverman: Do you know if any the prizes still exist?

Leigh Rubin: Yes, they do. They had this incredibly durable Samsonite card table with the four chairs that you’d see. That green. That 1950s green kind of top on it and those chairs last forever. And, in fact, I think at one point some of the legs became a little wobbly, but it was the typical square folding table and, I mean, we grew up with it and had it. My sister actually may still have that.

Steve Silverman: They were getting Keepsake wedding rings.

John Nelson: These beautiful Keepsake matched wedding rings set to preserve the memory of this very precious moment. Keepsake are yours to cherish as long as the wedding vows are kept.

Steve Silverman: Did they wear them for the remainder of their lives or did they go out and buy new ones?

Leigh Rubin: No, they did and they were real and I’m actually wearing my dad’s wedding ring that is shown in the video. I have it on my right hand.

Steve Silverman: I was trying to figure out from the later news segment as to whether or not they were still the same rings. Because they focused on their hand, you know, they were holding hands and I could see the rings but I couldn’t see clear enough to find out they were the rings from the show. So I guess they were?

Leigh Rubin: Yeah. Yeah. Just a very simple gold band and I’ve always kind of treasured it. I got it, you know my sister was in charge of that and I said, do you mind if I hang onto that. So, I’ve worn it pretty much ever since he passed.

Image Caption: BRIDE AND GROOM… After taking their vows on the “Bride and Groom” television show on C.B.S.-TV, Stanley Rubin (left) and his pretty bride spent their honeymoon at Grossinger’s. Here, the couple accept congratulations from Paul Grossinger. (From the Grossinger News. Image courtesy of Leigh Rubin.)

Steve Silverman: I did notice that their honeymoon was at Grossinger’s Hotel and Country Club, which, oddly, I grew up not too far from that. Now the interesting thing is that I went through a whole bunch of the shows are posted on YouTube and archive.org and no one else was sent to Grossinger’s. They were all sent to the Poconos and places like that. Now Grossingers happened to have been a kosher Jewish hotel. Did your parents choose that or did the producers of the show choose that.

Leigh Rubin: That’s a good question and I’m just going to guess that it had to do that they were Jewish and that was a Jewish one of those places. They make reference to not maybe not Grossinger or maybe maybe they do do Grossinger’s on the Marvelous Mrs. Meisel. You know, where these were because there was obviously anti-Semitism and there was certainly only exclusionary rules that that barred people of color and religion from even going to some of these places, so they started their own. Or, Grossinger did and I know there were other ones. There’s a wonderful documentary on one of these places. I can’t remember the name of it on Amazon now. The last one.

Steve Silverman: Kutshers you’re talking about.

Leigh Rubin: Yes, yes. It was very, really informative.

Steve Silverman: Yeah, I watch that with my wife. I grew probably about 10 miles from Kutshers and I wouldn’t say I had been there a lot. The hotel I went to the most was the Concord hotel, but none of them exist anymore. I mean Kutshers is now shut down. Grossingers recently, in the last year they basically ripped the whole thing down. It was sitting, probably since the mid-1980s, abandoned, which is kind of sad. It was, when you drove into the town to Liberty, New York it’s sat up on this hill. You could see these buildings from miles away and they just, I mean just rotting away. And, it was very sad. There was always talk about them renovating them and reopening the hotel but it just never happened.

Leigh Rubin: Well, it’s a very expensive proposition. But how cool would it be? And it’s nice that there some of it still documented. My dad collected swizzle sticks. And he still he had those and I think my sister has those now from the Grossinger.

Steve Silverman: My brother collects a lot of the old hotel stuff. He still lives down there, so he has more of a connection than I do.

Leigh Rubin: Sure.

Steve Silverman: Did your parents keep kosher or not?

Leigh Rubin: No. No. That was pretty much my great-grandmother on my mom’s side that did that, but no they didn’t. We were typical children of the late 50s into the 60s. Great food though. My mom was a wonderful cook and we, you know that’s when families pretty much eight dinner together.

Steve Silverman: You’re lucky because, I mean I love my mom, but she was the worst cook. She always joked that she could burn water.

Leigh Rubin: I can’t say that about my mom.

Colorized photograph of Stan and Natalie Rubin at CBS Studios on their wedding day.

Steve Silverman: Well, I mean all those hotels are gone and I saw a comment that it was really the three A’s that shut them down: one was aircraft to fly anywhere, you didn’t need to go to the Catskills. The second was air-conditioned. By having air conditioning, you could now go to places you couldn’t before and those hotels certainly weren’t air-conditioned. And the third was that Jewish people just assimilated into society. So, it was aircraft, air conditioning and assimilation that brought the end of the Catskills.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, probably all the you know the civil rights laws and all that you know people just go where they want to go.

Steve Silverman: Sure.

Leigh Rubin: I mean my parents did drive down to Florida in the 50s and I won’t repeat what the sign said here, but some of them were not very kind to people of color or Jews.

Steve Silverman: So, a news clip was broadcast sixty-three years after their wedding and they died after that within a short period. Were either them ill when there on that show the time?

Leigh Rubin: My mother had COPD. Probably from the Northridge earthquake. Picked up a lot of dust and both of my parents got Valley fever. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that.

Steve Silverman: I’m not.

Leigh Rubin: Yeah, it sucks. It’s a spore. You might want to look that up to see that I’m get that correct, that gets kicked up. It’s in the ground it’s fine, but when it gets kicked up and people bring it in, it gets into your lungs. And it can be deadly. My mom never smoked a day in her life and then she got COPD and, you know, she had to be on oxygen more and more, and toward the end all the time.

Steve Silverman: And how long did she suffer from that?

Leigh Rubin: For quite a few years, but it got progressively worse.

Steve Silverman: Right. Because on the show, on the interview that she did she sounds perfectly fine.

Click on the YouTube video above to watch the interview that the Stan and Natalie Rubin did with Cody Stark in 2014.

Announcer 1: Well, a local couple is remembering their very special wedding ceremony. They tied the knot on a CBS show back in the 50s.

Announcer 2: Cody Stark with their unique nuptials and why the wedding almost didn’t happen.

Cody Stark: You know that couple is see at the mall and they been together forever, but there still holding hands? Well, this is that couple.


Natalie Leipmann (2014): People stop us all the time. They think it’s so cute.

Cody Stark: They were married on the CBS show sixty-three years ago called Bride and Groom hosted by fellow named John Nelson.

John Nelson: Theirs is a romance that is as delightful as a fairytale. And after we’ve heard them tell their story, will be guests at their wedding. And I want to remind you of the fact that all of this is brought to you by my good friends, the makers of these wonderful Hudson paper napkins.

Stan Rubin (2014): The reason we got on the show is that they asked us to write a love story and how you met.

Cody Stark: And how they met was quite a tale. They were introduced by one of his army buddies, which was one of her relatives, but they actually met years before when they were kids.

Natalie Leipmann (1951): We compared notes and we found out that we both went to the same dancing school.

John Nelson (1951): You mean you and Stan were friends as children and had forgotten about it?

Natalie Leipmann (1951): Well, I knew him, but he didn’t know me.

Cody Stark: The thing is, the perfect couple with the perfect story on the wedding show almost didn’t happen and not because they are cold feet, but because they were Jewish. The producers call them at the last minute to tell them.

Stan Rubin (2014): That’s when they said that Jewish people couldn’t be, wouldn’t be allowed on it.

Natalie Leipmann Rubin (2014): Well, my Rabbi pushed for it and got us on the program.

Cody Stark: After the controversy was cleared up, they had a lovely TV wedding, the rabbi, the chuppa, of course a smooch. And don’t forget those lovely parting gifts like a TV and some luggage. The key to such a long and loving relationship can probably be found between Natalie then and now.

Natalie Leipmann (1951): Whatever Stan wants is what I want most. I want to do anything that he wants always.

Natalie Leipmann Rubin (2014): You just agree, don’t argue, just say yes, and then do what you want anyhow.

Announcer (1951): This is the CBS television network.

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

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.

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.