Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy New Year 2016--Why January First?

New Year's Eve in Kiev, Ukraine.
Historians have charted the origins of our New Year's celebrations to the ancient Babylonians four millennium ago. They marked the new year as the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox--sometime in March of our calendar.

Traditionally, the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle which frequently fell out of phase with the seasons. After consulting Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer, Julius Caesar was advised to discard the lunar calendar and adopt the solar calendar, like the Egyptians had.

In 46 B.C., two years before his political assassination, Caesar added sixty-seven extra days to realign the Roman calendar with the sun. A year was calculated to be 365 and 1/4 days long.
Caesar decreed that every four years an extra day be added to February. He named the first month of the new calendar after Janus--the Roman god of beginnings. His two faces could look back at the past and forward to the future.  While Caesar was at it, he also renamed the Roman month Quintilis to July, after himself. 

The Julian calendar was replaced in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to devise a more accurate calendar. There was an eleven minute error per year in the Julian calendar. The revised Gregorian calendar was implemented throughout Christendom and is the one we use today. Pope Gregory designated January 1st as the first day of the new year.


New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia.
New Year's Eve is celebrated the last day of the Gregorian calendar--December 31st. Common traditions through much of the world include huge public gatherings, private parties, making resolutions, and fireworks displays. In English-speaking countries, "Auld Lang Syne" is sung at the stroke of midnight. The Robert Burn's song is based on a traditional Scottish phrase which is loosely translated as "long, long, ago" or "for old times."

A tradition in America since 1907 is the giant ball drop in Times Square. The original ball weighed 700 pounds and was made of iron and wood. Today, the orb is 12 feet across and weighs 2,000 pounds. It is electrified with many thousands of LED lights producing millions of colors and billions of patterns.

One thing has not changed over the years. New Year's Eve lights the beacon to the future with hopes for a better year than the last.

Happy New Year, Everyone.


History Channel's short history of New Year's: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/new-years

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Coca-Cola Santa Story


Santa's origin can be traced back to ancient Germanic folklore and the Norse god Odin. The modern character of Santa was embraced by America with the 1823 publication of Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"--better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first Santa images based on Clement's fifty-six line poem.


Haddon Sundblom at work.
Michigan artist Haddon Sundblom painted the iconic image we now recognize as Santa Claus--for the Coca-Cola company from 1931 until 1964. These images appeared in Coke's print advertising, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and on television commercials. Sundblom helped make Santa the most recognizable and successful pitchman in advertising history.

The Coca-Cola Santa story: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coke-lore-santa-claus/

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Detroit's Movie Maven--Bill Kennedy


Detroit Free Press TV Channel Guide print advertisement from the 1970s.

Every Baby-Boomer from Detroit and Windsor remembers who gave us our extensive Hollywood movie education--Bill Kennedy. Bill started announcing on the radio professionally in the 1930s at WWJ - The Detroit News station. His deep voice resonated over the air waves.

In 1940, he embarked on a movie career and signed a contract with Warner Brothers Studios where he worked from 1941 until 1955. Bill had the voice but not the face. He didn't emote well on screen, so he was relegated to a series of flat supporting roles. He played mainly cops, bad guys, radio announcers (no stretch for Bill), newspaper men, and swindlers. In all, Bill Kennedy has 103 film credits.

In the post World War Two era, Kennedy appeared on numerous B-Western television shows including The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and The Gene Autry Show. Kennedy always spoke kindly of Gene Autry. Bill was over six feet tall and many of Hollywood's leading men were short and didn't like doing fight scenes with him. Gene Autry was short, but always had a job for Bill when he needed it. Autry told him once, "I like beating up bad guys on screen who are bigger than me."

Bill Kennedy playing a newscaster in a Superman episode.

What many of us in Detroit know that most people don't is Bill's was the voice behind the opening credits of  The Adventures of Superman--one of the most iconic introductions in television history. Bill received a one-time check for $350. He regretted not asking for screen credit which might have benefited his career. The show has been continuously running in syndication since 1952. A link to the Superman program opening is below.

In 1956, Bill Kennedy returned to the Detroit area to host an afternoon movie program called Bill Kennedy's Showtime, for CKLW-TV across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The show became a big hit. Bill talked about his jaded experiences in Hollywood's heyday and how he worked with many of the top stars. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit won the loyalty of viewers. He had an avuncular, self-deprecating manner--especially if talking about a film he was in. If the movie was bad, he would tell his audience.

The show opened with a tight shot on a picture of a woman smoking a cigarette with Bill's theme song Just in Time playing in the background. The photograph was from a magazine. I can see the model in my mind's eye with her elbows on a table and a smoldering cigarette in her right hand. Bill chose Just In Time for his theme song because his professional life was at a low point when he got the job with CKLW.


Bill wearing a hat to cover up his hair transplant surgery.
In 1969, Bill took his show to WKBD which broadcast out of Southfield, Michigan. The show remained essentially the same with a title change to Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill would interview celebrities when they were in Detroit and he took on-air phone calls which were sometimes more interesting than the movies. I enjoyed the live TV commercial pitches of Abe Schroe for his furniture upholstery business.

Abe and Bill always had lively repartee like they knew each other well outside of work. These two got along so well on air that it strikes me Bill was probably part-owner or an investor in Artistic Upholstery. Bill would take a break and Abe would go into his pitch. Nobody else made live commercials on Bill's show--not Ollie Fretter--not even Mr. Belvedere (Detroit inside joke).

In 1983, Bill retired to Palm Beach, Florida. He died of emphysema on January 27, 1997, at the age of eighty-eight. Rest in peace "young, old-timer."

The Adventures of Superman introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2l4bz1FT8U

Bill Kennedy's theme song Just In Time by Frank Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIcQ26arWAs

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Henry Ford's Tough Guy--Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett
Harry Herbert Bennett was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on January 17, 1892. At the age of seventeen, he joined the United States Navy where he learned the pugilistic arts and became a champion lightweight boxer fighting under the name of Sailor Reese.

Legend has it that sometime in 1916, New York newspaper columnist Arthur Brisbane introduced the twenty-four year-old Bennett to Henry Ford. Brisbane witnessed a street brawl where Bennett came to the defense of a fellow sailor under attack by some local thugs. The naval boxing champion acquitted himself well. When the police arrived, they were going to arrest Bennett, but the newspaper man vouched for the young sailor and he was released.

Brisbane told the young tough he had someone he wanted him to meet. Brisbane was writing an article about Henry Ford for the Hearst newspaper chain while Ford was in New York. They met in Ford's hotel room. Kidnapping wealthy people was on the rise in America and Henry Ford was concerned for the safety of his family. Ford was fascinated hearing about the street brawl Bennett was just in. He asked Bennett if he could handle a gun. He could. Upon the young sailor's discharge from the Navy, Bennett was hired at the Highland Park Ford plant in the art department.

Red-haired Harry Bennett was five feet, six inches tall--built like a fire hydrant and just as strong. He cultivated his tough guy image by wearing a fedora, a hand gun, and a bow tie. People who knew him said he was fearless. With no background in engineering or the automobile business, Bennett rose in five years to become head of Ford's infamous Service Department. He was known within the company as the old man's hatchet man. 

Battle of the Overpass reaching flash point.
The Battle of the Overpass outside the Ford Rouge plant was a defining moment for Harry Bennett and the United Auto Workers (UAW). On May 26, 1937, Walter Reuther, Richard Frankensteen, among other union organizers, were beaten by Ford Service men and dragged and kicked down two flights of steel and concrete stairs. The attack was captured by a Detroit News staff photographer. The next day, newspapers around the world ran the photographs and the story. Overnight, Walter Reuther became the most recognized labor leader in America.


Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen

At a National Labor Relations Board hearing held in the summer of 1937, UAW field-organizer Frankensteen testified how Ford's security force assaulted him and Walter Reuther. The labor board found the Ford Service Department had underworld connections with the local Black Hand--a Sicilian gang, and the Dearborn police stood by while the labor demonstrators were beaten. No charges were ever filed.

In 1941, the four-year bloody conflict resulted in the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) recognizing the UAW and negotiating their first contract. The Ford executive to sign the contract--Harry Bennett. But this was the beginning of the end of Bennett's tenure with the automotive giant. Henry Ford's wife Clara had as much to do with the contract settlement as anyone. Ford family history notes she threatened to divorce her husband if the labor violence wasn't ended and the contract settled.


Henry Ford II
By 1945, the old man's health and mental state were declining as Bennett maneuvered to gain control of the company. Clara and her son Edsel's widow--Eleanor Clay-Ford--insisted the company remain under family control. Eleanor threatened to sell her stock if her son was not made president. On September 20th, Henry Ford I officially resigned the presidency and nominated his grandson Henry Ford II to replace him. The Board of Directors rubber-stamped the recommendation. Twenty-eight-year-old Henry Ford II was discharged from active duty with the United States Navy to man the helm of his grand sire's company.

Henry's first official act was to fire Harry Bennett. He drove to the Ford Administration Building on Schaefer Road and walked down to the secluded basement office of his late father's nemesis. But Bennett could see the writing on the wall. It was written in dark blue and read Ford.

The former boxer could not resist giving the young Ford a parting shot. "You're taking over a billion dollar organization here that you haven't contributed a thing to?" The rest of the afternoon, the basement was filled with smoke as Bennett burned his records--almost thirty years of company history--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Henry Ford I
Later that evening, Henry II drove to his grandfather's estate and told him he fired Bennett. The elder Ford's reaction was understated. He simply remarked, "Now Harry is back where he started." 

After his loss of power, Bennett retired to an 800 acre wilderness area outside Desert Springs, California. His last moment in the public spotlight came when he was called to testify in the Kefauver Senate Crime Investigation Committee Hearings in 1951. 

In 1973, Bennett suffered a stroke. In 1975, he entered the Beverly Manor Nursing Home in Los Gatos, California. On January 4, 1979, he died. His death went unreported for a week--the cause was never released to the public.

http://fornology.blogspot.com/2015/10/walter-p-reuther-assassination-attempt.html

Monday, November 23, 2015

John F. Kennedy's Beacon Extinguished Fifty-Two Years Ago

JFK in Ypsilanti. Photo courtesy of Susan Wolter-Brown
On October 20, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy's motorcade was stopped at about 1:10 AM by Eastern Michigan University students who jammed West Cross Street in front of McKinny Student Union. Kennedy was on his way to a political rally in Ann Arbor the following day.
 
He made a two or three minute speech telling the cheering crowd of students that he stood "for the oldest party in years, but the youngest party in ideas." Because of the late hour, the soon-to-be president asked to be excused explaining he had a difficult schedule planned for the next day.

In his inaugural speech on January 20, 1960, the new president boldly stated that "a torch has been passed to a new generation." Three years later, on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 11:30 AM, an assassin's bullet cut down President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas while he was campaigning for a second term. He was pronounced dead on the operating table thirty minutes later.

At 1:00 PM, the intercom system at Allen Park High School broadcast the sound of Walter Cronkite announcing John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States, had been assassinated--then he paused. The principal came on and asked for a moment of silence.

I was in sophomore biology class. The shocked silence was punctuated first by whimpering and then open sobbing. This was a defining moment for an entire generation. A mourning wind swept over the nation and the world held its breath.
 

After two years, ten months, two days, and sixty-nine minutes, Kennedy's torch of optimism was extinguished. But his challenge to America had been met--putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The technical breakthroughs from that achievement still benefit mankind.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The John Norman Collins Reward Money Shell Game



The third of four composite drawings.
On the day of John Norman Collins' sentencing for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman--August 28, 1970--The Ypsilanti Press reported rewards for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers of seven women in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area had reached $43,500. The rewards came from a variety of sources--each with its own conditions for pay out.
  • $14,000 - The Detroit News offered $2,000 in each of the unsolved murder cases that plagued Washtenaw County from July of 1967 through July of 1969.
  • $7,500 from the Ann Arbor City Council for Police Chief Walter E. Krasney’s discretionary use. Most of the money went into overtime for detectives. 
  • $5,000 from the Ypsilanti City Council--which was no longer available. 
  •  $5,500 raised by The Eastern Echo--Eastern Michigan University's campus newspaper--still available. 
  • $1,000 offered by The Ypsilanti Press, and $1,000 donated by Ypsilanti Savings Bank, could only be claimed by persons going through The Ypsi Press. 
  • The University of Michigan offered a $7,500 reward for the arrest of Alice Kalom’s killer--but not for the other victims.
  • $2,000 was set aside by The Washtenaw County Board of Supervisors for the capture and conviction of the unknown killer.

Prosecutor William Delhey
When questioned by the press the day before Collins was sentenced, Prosecutor William Delhey said, “If there is one person who triggered the events which led to the arrest of Collins, it was Eastern Michigan University Police Officer Larry Mathewson. I have to give a great deal of credit to Mathewson.” High praise indeed for a rookie cop on a university police force who used an old-fashioned police technique--he followed a hunch and started knocking on doors. Delhey was clearly grateful.

Patricia Spaulding and Diane Joan Goshe
During the cross-examination of Mrs. Diane Joan Goshe, one of the two women who identified Collins driving away with Miss Beineman on the motorcycle, defense attorneys badgered her about the reward money. On the stand, Goshe said she had not given any thought to claiming the reward and "hadn’t really checked into it."

Ann Arbor News reporter William Treml wrote that the “most eligible” persons for the reward were the two wig shop ladies—Diane Joan Goshe and Patricia Spaulding—whose eyewitness accounts linked Collins with Beineman. “Without their testimony, it is doubtful the prosecution would have obtained a conviction.”

Collins defense lawyers--Neil Fink and Joseph Louisell
The defense team of Joseph Louisell and Neil Fink tried to plant the impression in the minds of the jurors that the reward money was their key motive for testifying. At one point, Fink asked Mrs. Spaulding if it was not true she and Mrs. Goshe discussed dividing up the reward. Mrs. Spaulding answered emphatically, “No!”

On December 19, 1970, The Ann Arbor News reported Mrs. Goshe had hired the law firm of Keyes, Creal, and Hurbis, to mail letters of inquiry to several public agencies offering reward money. William Delhey ordered an investigation into the status of the reward money. When it was all added up, the conviction reward was small for the Beineman murder. Most of the original offers were no longer available because of restrictions placed by each organization on the reward. Collins was not charged with the other deaths for which the money was set aside.

On February 16, 1971, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners recommended the denial of Mrs. Goshe’s claim for the $2,000 the county offered. Writing the legal opinion for the committee, Prosecutor Delhey noted “the reward was offered June 3, 1969, for evidence leading to the conviction for any of the slaying victims of young women committed up to then. Mrs. Goshe testified on the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, and that case came about a month and a half after the reward was offered. Thus, her testimony did not result in any convictions for the still unsolved five murders that preceded the reward offer.


John Norman Collins
Delhey added, “Even if the murder of Miss Beineman was included in the reward offer, the evidence that led to the conviction of Collins came to light through the work of Eastern Michigan University Policeman Larry Mathewson.”

Ironically, the women whose testimony helped Delhey win the biggest case of his career were cut out of the reward money by his recommendation. Mathewson was also ineligible for the reward because he was a member of law enforcement and on the public payroll at the time.

Mrs. Goshe was portrayed by the press as trying to profit from the misery of the Beineman family, but she and Patricia Spaulding bravely stood up, cooperated with police, and testified in open court. Both ladies performed laudable public service and came forward when others who knew things did not.

And what was Mrs. Goshe’s reward for sticking her neck out? The defense team publicly dissected her private life revealing a family secret that had nothing to do with the trial and did nothing but hurt a mother and her twelve-year-old son. She was not married to the boy's father. No good deed goes unpunished.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Edmund Fitzgerald Sinking--40th Anniversary


November 10, 2015, marks forty years since all twenty-nine crew members went down with their ship--the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. The largest of the Great Lakes ore freighters at the time of her sinking, she was dubbed "The Queen of the Great Lakes." The ship was 729 feet long, 39 feet high, and 75 feet wide.


The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded in Superior, Wisconsin with 26,000 tons of taconite (iron pellets) headed for the ore docks of Zug Island--just south of Detroit. Winds over 45 knots (50 mph) and waves over 30 feet caused the ship to roll heavily. The captain made a call to another ore freighter saying they had taken on some water but were holding their own. That was just before the ship went off U.S. Coast Guard radar. The pride of the Great Lakes broke in two and sank 530 feet into Lake Superior's Canadian waters--only seventeen miles from protected Whitefish Bay.

Since the submerged giant sank on November 10, 1975, there have been three underwater expeditions--in 1989, 1994, and 1995. At the request of the families who lost their loved ones, the Canadian government recovered the 200 pound brass bell from the deck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on July 4, 1995, and presented it to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

Today, the bell is displayed at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, Michigan. Every November 10th at 7:10 PM, the bell is tolled twenty-nine times to honor the Fitzgerald's crew and a thirtieth time to commemorate the estimated 30,000 people and 6,000 ships lost in the Great Lakes.


Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald with documentary footage: https://youtu.be/hgI8bta-7aw

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Walter P. Reuther Assassination Attempt Foiled


Walter P. Reuther, recently re-elected to a second term as United Automobile Workers (UAW) president, lived with his wife May and their two small daughters in a modest ranch house on Appoline Street in Detroit, just south of Eight Mile Road.

In his 2013 book Built in Detroit: A Story of the UAW, a Company, and a Gangster, Bob Morris recounts the evening of April 20, 1948. After coming home late from a UAW meeting, Reuther prepared to eat his warmed-over dinner. He was opening the refrigerator door to get some peaches when he turned to answer a question from his wife and survived a 12 gauge shotgun blast through the kitchen window.

Four lead pellets lodged in his right arm, one in his chest, and the rest hit the kitchen cabinets. Reuther was taken to New Grace Hospital where doctors told him he might lose his arm. The labor leader was determined to save it. By working tirelessly at painful physical therapy, he was able to regain limited use of his arm. For the rest of his life, neither Reuther nor his family were without UAW bodyguards and traveled everywhere in an armored Packard.

The attempt on Reuther's life was not an isolated incident of industrial violence. Thirteen months later, Walter's brother Victor, met a similar fate. Bob Morris writes, "Late on the evening of May 24, Victor was reading in his living room when a shot gun blast blew threw his front living room window. The shotgun pellets ripped through the right side of his face and upper body tearing out his right eye."


Victor and Walter Reuther shaking hands left-handed with brother Roy between them.

At first the Detroit police dismissed the botched murder attempt of Walter Reuther as a power struggle among union Communists. The Red Scare was a popular and convenient scapegoat for corporate America and made good copy for the post-war press. A Detroit detective said, "Gamblers and crime syndicates have nothing to do with this. It's Communists."

But investigators began hearing underworld connections might be involved. Within five days of Reuther being shot, Detroit police--acting on a telephone tip--brought former vice-president of Ford UAW Local 400, Carl E. Bolton, in for questioning. He was charged with intent to commit murder.

Joseph W. Louisell and Carl. E. Bolton
Joseph W. Louisell, Detroit attorney known for defending suspected mob figures, argued Bolton had an alibi and was not at the scene of the crime. After three days in jail, Bolton was released and prosecutors dropped the charges. Bolton was free but still under suspicion.

During the Senator Kefauver Organized Crime Committee hearings (1951-1952), testimony suggested Walter Reuther ran afoul of the Detroit underworld.

Before the shooting, Reuther was aware a Sicilian gang, led by Santo Perrone, was acting as a strike-breaking agency for Detroit companies--big and small. Author Nelson Lichtenstein writes in The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, "Reuther's assailants were paid by Santo 'the Shark' Perrone, an illiterate but powerful Sicilian gangster." The mid-century labor movement was the age of "the cash payoff, the sweetheart contract, and the gangland beating. It was part of the industrial relations system."

The Organized Crime Committee felt the Detroit police made no serious attempt to solve the crime or curb the anti-union violence. "The Detroit police saw industrial violence as little more significant than a bar brawl," Lichtenstein wrote.

Six years later, Wayne County Prosecutor O'Brien announced at a Detroit press conference that he had solved the Reuther shooting. Arrest warrants were issued for Santo Perrone, Carl B. Renda, Peter M. Lombardo, and Clarence Jacobs.

Donald Ritchie, an ex-con with connections with the Perrones, made a secret arrangement with UAW officials. Ritchie agreed to rat out the people involved with the Reuther shooting for a $25,000 payoff placed in escrow.

If he cooperated with authorities, he would get $5,000 after making the initial statement to the prosecutor and the arrest warrants were issued, an additional $10,000 payable when those named in the warrants were bound over for trial, and another $10,000 when convicted. If murdered before he could cash-in, Ritchie wanted the reward given to his common-law wife.

Part of Ritchie's statement to Prosecutor O'Brien reads, "The night of the shooting, I was picked up at a gas station. The car was a red Mercury.... I sat in the back seat. Clarence Jacobs drove and Peter Lombardo sat in the front seat with Jacobs. The shotgun was in the front seat between (them)--a Winchester 12 gauge pump. I was there in case there was any trouble. If anything happened, I was to drive the car away.

"Jacobs did the shooting. He was the only one who got out of the car.... I heard the report from the gun. Then Jacob got back in the car and said, 'Well, I knocked the bastard down.' After the job, they dropped me off at Helen's bar.... I had some drinks and went to see Carl Renda. He got a bundle of cash and handed it to me. I took a taxi to Windsor and counted my money after I got to Canada. Exactly five grand."

As prearranged, when Ritchie came back across the international border, he was immediately placed under the protection of the Detroit Police Department. While waiting for the trial so he could give his star-witness testimony, he told the Detroit police detail assigned to protect him that he wanted to take a shower. Ritchie escaped from a bathroom window at the Statler Hilton Hotel on Grand Circus Park.  Ritchie was on the lam. Once again, he took a cab to safety across the United States/Canada border.

At the same time, Ritchie's common law wife was given the first installment of the escrow account. Ritchie delivered on the first part of the bargain. He made an initial statement and the suspects were charged. The UAW had no choice but pay off the first escrow installment. Ritchie dropped a dime from Canada and denied his entire confession to a Detroit Free Press reporter. He said he needed the money and was taking the UAW for a ride.

Without Ritchie's testimony, Prosecutor O'Brien's case collapsed leaving him with an embarrassing fiasco. He dropped all the charges. The UAW made the stupid mistake of paying a witness. The labor organization had been swindled out of $5,000 by an ex-con.

***

Seconds before the confrontation.
The assassination attempt was not the first time Walter Reuther ran afoul of the car companies. On May 26, 1937, Reuther and several other labor organizers were badly beaten by Ford Motor Company Security men in what history notes as the Battle of the Overpass. This was Ford's security chief Harry Bennett's opening salvo against labor organization inside the Ford empire. 

Bob Morris writes, "This was a public relations disaster for Ford, as a Detroit News photographer captured the beating of the labor leaders. The photos... were published around the world. The attack on Walter Reuther made him one of the most recognized labor leaders in Detroit and the country."

Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen
Arnold Freeman of the Detroit Times reported that Bennett assembled semi-permanent gangs of thugs known as outside squads. A member of one of those squads "Fats Perry" turned state's evidence in 1939. He testified,
"These squads were armed with pistols, whips, blackjacks, lengths of rubber hose called persuaders, and a variety of weapons, some of which made up by a department in the (Rouge) plant itself."
***

On May11, 1970, The New York Times reported Walter Reuther, his wife May, and four other people died in the crash of a two-engined Lear Jet on May 9th at 9:33 PM. The chartered jet--on its final approach to the Pellston Regional Airport, arriving from Detroit in the fog and rain--broke through the clouds short of the runway and clipped some tree tops sheering off both wings. The plane crashed and burst into a fireball a mile southwest of the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration listed a faulty altimeter as the official cause. No charges were ever filed, but the persistent belief is the crash was not an accident. Reuther was sixty-two.

Silent clip of police investigating Walter Reuther's home after the assassination attempt. His wife speaks briefly to the press. Fingerprints are taken outside the Reuther home. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMayuqfDpuI 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Detroit's Femme Fatale Nelle (Lassiter)

Nelle Lassiter faces newsmen-February 24, 1960.
On Tuesday, February 23, 1960, Mrs. Nelle Eaker Lassiter--a striking, thirty-eight year old, silver-blonde and shapely former model--was arrested and charged with being the mastermind behind the April 7, 1959 murder of her husband, Parvin (Bill) Lassiter, co-owner of a successful automobile dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan. 

One newspaper account of the arrest says Nelle was on her way to Detroit's City-County building believing she was to be a prosecution witness at the murder trial of her husband. Another account reports police arresting her at an unnamed hospital where she was visiting her daughter and newborn grandson.

The week before her arrest, The Miami News reported, "Nelle Lassiter sobbed and became hysterical with apparent widow's grief while testifying against the three men on trial for bludgeoning and shooting her husband."

Gordon Watson
Several hours after her arrest, Nelle Lassiter's lover--and her husband's business partner--was arrested in Los Angeles on a fugitive warrant. Gordon Watson moved to California with his wife and children shortly after Parvin Lassiter's fatal beating and shooting.

The arrests of Nelle Lassiter and Gordon Watson were the result of the defense attorneys for the accused men asking the prosecution in open court if they had investigated the possibility this was a murder-for-profit case. That left the door open for a second-degree murder plea for their clients Roy C. Hicks (37), Richard Jones (27), and Charles Nash (43) who were being tried on first-degree murder charges. The three men were former employees of Parvin Lassiter. The charges against Mrs. Lassiter and Watson stemmed from statements made by Jones and Hicks to their attorneys.

Mrs. Lassiter and Watson were named in the warrant as "the principal perpetrators and procurers of this evil crime." Both denied any knowledge of the killing. The Buffalo Courier-Express reported "Mrs. Nelle Lassiter pleaded innocent on charges she had her husband slain in a murder-for-hire plot to grab his fortune and clear the path for her romance with his business partner. She looked tired and drawn after spending the night in county jail instead of her fashionable home (in Beverly Hills, Michigan)."

Parvin "Bill" Lassiter
The body of Parvin Lassiter was found on a private estate near Willow Run Airport. Investigators discovered Parvin had returned from a trip to Arizona when he was lured into a waiting car, beaten behind the head, shot in the eye, and thrown in a ditch.

At Nelle's pretrial hearing in a Dearborn Township courtroom, Richard Jones took the stand. He testified, "Gordon Watson took a one-inch stack of bills from Mrs. Lassiter in the summer of 1958 which Watson called the down payment for the assassination of Parvin Lassiter."

The transaction took place in the office of the Royal Oak dealership where Watson and Parvin Lassiter were co-owners. Jones added, "Mrs. Lassiter told Watson 'It won't be long now, Darling, before we can be together forever'."

The Kentucky New Era reported "Nelle Lassiter wailed loudly 'That's not true, that's not true!' The high-strung blonde broke into sobs and clutched the arm of her defense attorney--Joseph Louisell.

"The judge was unable to restore order and called for a recess. After Mrs. Lassiter regained her composure, the hearing resumed twenty minutes later. Forty-five year-old Watson sat calmly in the courtroom throughout the disturbance."

Roy C. Hicks testified the three men were promised $50,000 worth of automobiles to procure the slaying. When Hicks' girlfriend Barbara McCommon testified, she told the court that Nelle Lassiter said Parvin was mean to her and treated her badly. She did not love him anymore. Under prosecution immunity, Miss McCommon suggested Mrs. Lassiter get rid of her husband and contact her boyfriend--Roy Hicks.

Mrs. Lassiter shouted out, "That's a lie! Why are they saying these things? I didn't kill my husband." She whipped herself into a frenzy and had a nervous breakdown in court. This was the fifth time the pre-trial hearing had been interrupted. Defense attorney Joseph Louisell requested Judge Joseph G. Rashid order Mrs. Lassiter to be examined by qualified mental health professionals to judge her competency to stand trial.

The Detroit Free Press reported Nelle Lassiter's sanity hearing took place at her bedside in Jenning's Memorial Hospital. "Mrs. Lassiter, wearing a standard white hospital gown, lay motionless on a narrow bed. Two of three psychiatrists who examined Lassiter found her to be insane within the scope of the law and were prepared to testify to that in open court.

Judge Rashid ruled, "I have no choice but to declare a mistrial and turn Mrs. Lassiter over to the sheriff for removal to Ionia State Hospital until she is restored."

The murder trial of her co-conspirator and co-defendant Gordon Watson continued without "the trim, blonde grandmother." He got a life sentence. Joseph Louisell was eventually able to get Nelle Lassiter acquitted. Afterwards, she vanished from the scrutiny of the public eye.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Ann Arbor Mallet Murder


Pauline Campbell was a nurse at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Saturday, September 15, 1951, had been a hot day in Ann Arbor, but near midnight it was pleasantly cool. Pauline Campbell (34) had just finished her evening shift working the maternity ward at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital. She crossed Observatory Street kitty-corner and headed down Washington Heights, a narrow, darker street towards where she lived several houses away. 

***

Only four nights before, a man had slugged a nurse with a blunt instrument while walking home from University Hospital in this same neighborhood. 

Bill Morey, Max Pell, and Dan Meyers were recent Ypsilanti High School graduates. On Wednesday night, they drove to Milan and bought two six-packs of beer at a tavern known to sell to minors.

Dan Meyers owned the car but didn't have his license yet and allowed Bill Morey to drive his car that night. They were cruising Ann Arbor, according to Dan, because they wanted to steal some hubcaps they could sell or trade for an echo can--a fifteen inch chrome exhaust pipe for his car.

Rather than steal hub caps on a quiet, shadowy street, Bill drove towards the well-lit University Hospital area. The three of them were tipsy, and Bill decided he wanted to pick up some girls. On the way over, Max and Bill began talking about snatching a nurse's purse. Later in court, Dan testified it was mainly Bill's idea.

"Let's hit somebody over the head and rob them," Bill said. There was a 12" crescent wrench among some loose tools they used to steal car parts under the front seat.

"This should do it," he said, striking his open palm to test its heft.

The street was busy, but when they saw a nurse walking up a deserted street alone, Bill said, "I'm going to hit her and drag her into the car."

In court, Dan Meyers claimed he kept telling Bill not to do it, but he did not hold Bill back nor did he shout out a warning to the nurse.

Bill got out of the car swiftly and walked up behind the unsuspecting nurse and swung the wrench. He hit her--but she didn't fall down--she screamed and ran. Bill jumped back to the car, and the three teenagers drove away laughing about the failed attempt.

Shirley Mackley was able to describe her attacker for police: five feet, ten inches tall; about one-hundred and seventy-five pounds; and young--possibly twenty years old. She was not seriously hurt. Her attacker had wanted to stun her and drag her into the car, so he held back a fatal blow. That would not happen again.

***

Four nights later, Bill Morey and Max Pell were out cruising again, but this time with Dave Royal, someone they recently met. Max was driving his beloved car that night.

They talked Dave into paying for the beer because he worked construction and had money. Max bought a case of beer, and they split it between themselves and two "wild" girls Bill knew from Milan. Dave was the odd man out and drank alone in the car.

They drank most of the beer and dropped the girls off at their homes at about eleven. The inebriated trio headed into Ann Arbor. That's when Bill told Max Pell, "Go up around the hospital."

There was a rubber mallet with a foot long wooden handle in the car that Max's father used to repair household furniture. They spotted a lone nurse leaving Mercy Hospital. She crossed Observatory Street kitty-corner and starting down the hill on Washington Heights Street which was narrower and darker.

Max turned off his headlights and Bill said, "Let me out here behind the nurse." 

With Bill on foot, Dave asked Max if Bill intended to assault and rob the nurse. "I know he had it on his mind, but I don't know if he is going to do it."

Wearing moccasins, Bill gained on the nurse, rushed her from behind, and knocked her unconscious. Bill struck her several more times, then he called out to Dave to help him drag her limp body to the car. 

They got only as much as her head in the car when Max told them, "Don't put her in the car!" They dropped her body in the street and drove off leaving her unconscious. She died soon after in the hospital where she had just finished her shift.

The young thugs took Huron River Drive back to Ypsilanti, but not before Bill went through the victim's purse. In it was a cigarette lighter, a watch, and a dollar and a half. From a bridge, they threw her purse into the Huron River. Afterwards, they bought ninety-four cents worth of gas, ate sandwiches, and drank coffee to sober up at a truck stop called the Fifth Wheel.

***

After the first nurse attack, Bill confessed to his good friend, Dan Baughey, who was on probation at the time, that he was the person who hit the nurse. When Dan heard about the killing of the second nurse, he was urged by his priest and his father to tell the police what he knew.

At 3:00 PM on Wednesday, September 19, Dan Baughey reported to police, and the three suspects were apprehended. On their drive from the Ann Arbor police station to Lansing to take lie-detector tests, Bill chatted with detectives about police cars. That's all he talked about. Dave Royal did not say much for most of the ride

But Max Pell was worried chiefly about his car which had been taken into evidence. He told the police that he recently put a new engine in it and asked them not to drive it over fifty miles an hour.

The young toughs confessed when they got to Lansing. Max Pell was the first to break down when police told him they were going to cut up his car's upholstery to check for blood evidence.

"You don't need to tear my car apart. I'll tell you. It's blood."

***

The victim, Pauline Campbell, was an orphan born in Ohio and raised by a farm family. She worked her way through college as a housemaid and later as a nurse's aide. She was single, quiet, tidy, and rather slight of build said her landlady.

Less than six weeks after the arrest, the case went to trial. The courtroom as packed with local teenage girls, some who managed to get their pictures in the paper and later got in trouble for skipping school. When the defendants entered or left the courtroom, Bill was always first, then Max, and then Dave. 

In his summation, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Reading told the jury that "...on the night Miss Campbell was killed she, unlike the three teens, had been working and working at a task that benefits other people." He asked the jury to bring forth a first degree murder conviction for all three defendants.

Bill Morey's aunt, mother, and father at arraignment.

Bill Morey and Max Pell were found guilty of murder one and given life sentences. Dave Royal was convicted of second degree murder and got twenty-two years to life for his part. Dan Meyers was sentenced to serve one to ten years for his complicity in the attack upon the first nurse who survived. 

***

After the trial, the community of Ypsilanti felt that the finger of shame was being pointed at them for letting their kids run wild and get out of control. This was true from the Ann Arbor News perspective and the Detroit newspapers also.

The city of Ypsilanti went into a defensive mode. One former Ypsilanti policewoman, Mrs. Dellinger, was quoted as saying, "The community has committed itself to a hush-hush policy. My feeling is that there will be another episode just as horrifying before this community can be awakened."

Sixteen years later, the first of the Washtenaw County Murders struck the Ypsilanti community. This time a serial killer was on the loose, and the rubber mallet murder had long been forgotten.