Friday, August 16, 2019

Terror In Ypsilanti--House of Mystery/NBC Radio August 15, 2019

Thank you to the House of Mystery for interviewing me (August 15, 2019) about my true crime book Terror In Ypsilanti and Michigan serial killer John Norman Collins.

The interview occurs 20 minutes into the program and runs for about 25 minutes. The Detroit Fox 2 News feature is in three segments--each with its own link.

Terror In Ypsilanti Los Angeles Radio Interview--August 2019 

Detroit Fox 2 News feature about the Washtenaw County Murders--September 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Antoine Cadillac--Detroit's First Godfather

Bust of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac
An expedition financed by the French monarch--King Louis XIV--and promoted by his Minister of Marine--Comte de Pontchartrain--appointed Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as their agent to establish a fur trading post and fort in New France. In return, Cadillac was granted generous riverfront real estate. He envisioned a permanent French colony controlling the fur trade routes through the upper Great Lakes, with him at the helm.

Commander Antoine Cadillac led a fleet of 25 large canoes--with 50 soldiers, 50 empire builders, 2 Roman Catholic priests, and his 11-year-old son--on a 52 day trip westward from French-controlled Montreal to the western bank of a swift running river that connected Lac Erie with Lac St. Clair.

This site was chosen because it was the narrowest point of the strait--de troit--which is how Detroit earned its name. There was an eroded 40' clay bluff leading up from the river bank to a flat clearing. Once a fort was built on the plain, anything moving up or down the river could be seen and was in easy range of their cannons. This was a defensible position to discourage the British and control the fur trade.

The empire builders arrived on July 23, 1701 and began work on a log fort Cadillac named after his benefactor--French Minister of Marine--Comte de Pontchartrain. Two days later, a mass was said in honor of Ste. Anne--the patron saint of France and mother of the Virgin Mary. After the service, the foundations for the church were laid. Catholicism had come to the wilderness.

Fort Pontchartrain contained a warehouse which doubled as a store. There were also two guard houses, Ste. Anne's Church, and about 15 houses within the fort. Lots could be no larger than 25 square feet and some were smaller.

In a report about Detroit to his superior officers, Cadillac noted, "Especially attractive was the region that lies south of the pear-like lake to which they gave the name of St. Clair, and the country bordering upon that deep, clear river, a quarter of a league broad, known as Le Detroit.

"On both sides of this strait lie fine, open plains where the deer roam in graceful herds, where bear, by no means fierce and exceedingly good to eat, are to be found, as are also the savory poules d'Indies (wild duck) and other varieties of game. The islands are covered with trees; chestnuts, walnuts, apples, and plums abound; and in season, the wild vines are heavy with grapes.

"Le Detroit is the real center of the lake country--the gateway to the West. It is from there that we can best hold the English in check."

French trade with the local Native American tribes went well for the most part. Cadillac encouraged the Ottawa, Huron, Pottawatomie, Miami, and Wyandotte tribes to cluster together in villages near the fort for protection from their mutual enemies--the Iroquois and the British. In total, Cadillac estimated that there were about 2,000 Indians in and around Fort Pontchartrain allied with the French.

In 1702, the first European baby born in Detroit was the daughter of Alphonse de Tonty--Cadillac's second-in-command--and his wife. Not to be outdone--in 1704--the Cadillac's gave birth to Marie Therese, who became the first recorded baptism christened in Ste. Anne's Church registry.

Cadillac wanted the settlement to grow rapidly, but few if any unattached women were available to single men, so he proposed that christened Indian women be allowed to marry French settlers. The Jesuit priest strongly objected on moral and religious grounds, and the plan was soon rejected. This is likely the first official instance of discrimination in Detroit's long history.

In 1707, Cadillac began issuing farm grants--known as ribbon farms--to attract new settlers. These farms ranged from 200' to 1,000' wide and extended from the shoreline for 2 or 3 miles. Each farm had waterfront access. Many of Detroit's current street names derive from the original ribbon farm grant holders--for instance--Beaubien, Campau, Livernois, Riopell, Dequindre, and others. Cadillac plotted out 68 parcels. 

Cadillac acted like a feudal landlord requiring farmers to pay him an annual rent and a percentage of their grain to use the windmill he had built on the waterfront north of the fort. He was the mill's sole proprietor and could charge whatever he wanted. Renters were also required to work on Cadillac's farm for a specified number of days each year.

To engage in any kind of trade, settlers had to pay a licensing fee and annual taxes. Cadillac grew rich by padding the fees and taxes and skimming off the top. When he withheld the allotment of imported brandy behind padlocked warehouse doors, it was discovered--and reported--that he was trading it to the Indians for beaver pelts. He had defied a Royal decree not to provide liquor to the native population.

When complaints about Cadillac reached Montreal and Paris, King's Deputy Francois Clarembault went to survey Detroit area holdings in 1708 and found they did not match Cadillac's reports. After nineteen days in Detroit, Clarembault returned to Canada and sent his findings off to France. In 1709, Count Pontchartrain wrote to Cadillac complaining that he showed "too much greed and little moderation in his dealings with the settlers."

In 1710, Cadillac was called to Quebec to answer charges against him brought by his detractors. He was acquitted of extortion and abuse of power charges but was removed from his post--never to return to Detroit. The following year, Cadillac was promoted to the governorship of the Louisiana Territory.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fox 2 News Retrospective of Ypsilanti's Co-Ed Murders

John Norman Collins--1970

If you missed Detroit Fox 2 News investigative reporter Rob Wolcheck's retrospective on the fifty years since the Ypsilanti Co-Ed Murders of 1967 through 1969, this feature story is told over three nights.

For your convenience, I've linked the news segments together in this post.

Part one: Fox 2 News--Ypsilanti Co-Ed Murders 1967-1969

Part two: Who is John Norman Collins?

Part three:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The 1928 Delray Murder of Sportsman Gus Nykiel

A young Gus Nykiel next to his sister Martha. Their father John is wearing a hat. The woman in the striped dress is an unknown employee. They are standing in front of the family grocery store located at 8800 West Jefferson Ave. which became Joey's Stables named for Gus's youngest brother.

August "Gus" Nykiel (pronounced Nickel) was a popular local Detriot athlete who played semi-professional football for a team called The Delray Merchants almost one hundred years ago. The team's name was changed to the Detroit Tigers football franchise, but it failed after its first season with the National Professional League in 1921. Nykiel decided to sponsor the team which became a semi-professional powerhouse keeping the name. They played semi-pro clubs from around Michigan and the Midwest. The Tigers became regional champions and were the team to beat for several years. Nykiel became a popular, sporting world figure who had a sport's field named after him.

Gus Nykiel began his rum-running career shortly after Prohibition began. First, Gus and his three brothers--William, Frank, and Joseph--used a rowboat and made several trips a day hauling liquor and beer to the downriver area. The Nykiel brothers eventually built a fleet of speed boats and became some of the wealthiest bootleggers on the river. Gus and his brothers had ties to the Purple Gang's downriver distribution network.

Delray, Zug Island, the Detroit River, and the Rouge River.

Delray lies across the Zug Island channel and the Rouge River where boats could be unloaded and powerboats could evade Coast Guard patrol boats on the Detroit River. It was an ideal place to smuggle liquor. If a boat had to toss its load, burlap bags full with liquor bottles were tied with loops called rabbit ears. When the coast was clear, smugglers would come back with a grappling hook and retrieve their goods. Sometimes, local Delray and River Rouge boys would watch the evening gun battles between customs agents and smugglers from the shoreline. They would remember where the loads were ditched--usually near or on shallow sandbars. When the danger passed, the boys would dive in and retrieve what they could often selling the Canadian whiskey back to bootleggers.


On March 17, 1927, saloon owner Gus Nykiel was arraigned in federal court for reopening his saloon at 8631 West Jefferson Avenue which had been closed and padlocked on federal court order. Several undercover Prohibition officers made buys which resulted in the raid. Large quantities of beer, whiskey, and wine were seized. Nykiel was said to be the owner of four other places where liquor was stored and distributed: 8866 West Jefferson, 465 Clairpoint, 110 Henry Street, and 3021 Fourteenth Street.

Nykiel was released on $5,000 bail. When his case came to trial, he plead guilty to violating the padlock injunction and owning the property but denied ownership of the liquor. He admitted he knew it was stored in his business. Federal Judge Charles E. Simons fined him $1,000. The owners of the liquor were identified as Sam Kert and Sam "Sammy Purple" Cohen. They were under federal indictment for conspiracy to violate the Prohibition laws. The two Sammies were known mentors and associates of the Purple Gang.


Gus Nykiel
Nykiel's saloon was shut down permanently, but within a month, he opened a new location up the street at 8824 West Jefferson. At about 10:00 p.m. on June 27, 1928, Nykiel was parking his car in front of his saloon and scratched the paint of James Zanetti's car. Zanetti was a gunman from Chicago hired to extort money from bootleggers and speakeasy owners in the Downriver area for Pete Licovoli's East Side River Gang.

According to Gus's brother William, Zanetti began verbally abusing Gus, so Gus walked up and punched the out-of-town hood twice in the face. "I'll smack you again if you come around here looking for trouble. Tell your friends that Gus Nykiel hit you." Zanetti and Mike Dipisa--said to be gambler "Jimmy the Greek's" bodyguard--returned fifteen minutes later looking for Gus. The two men went into the saloon and spotted him behind the bar. Dipisa said he wanted to talk to Gus outside.

As soon as Nykiel stepped out the door, he was shot five times at close range and fell to the sidewalk. The shooters ran toward their getaway car. River Rouge Constable Edward A. McPherson happened to be in the saloon serving a summons when he heard the shots. With gun drawn, he stepped outside and exchanged gunfire hitting Dipisa. McPherson--for his pains--was shot in the upper jaw. Passerby, Mrs. Catherine Krozyck, was hit in the hand by a stray bullet.

Nykiel was taken to Delray Receiving Hospital where he died from his wounds. Dipisa was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital where he died from a shot to the head, the back, and his right eye. When police notified Mrs. Nykiel of her husband's murder, she wept at news. "Gus may have been a bootlegger," she said, "but he was a faithful husband and a good father."

Gus Nykiel's funeral service was July 2, 1928 at St. John Cantius Roman Catholic Church in Delray. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. Thousands of people paid their respects along the procession route to the cemetery. The majority of mourners were women, but underworld figures and police detectives were sprinkled among the crowd. 

Gus's younger brother William told Inspector Henry J. Garvin of the crime and bomb squad that he witnessed the shooting. At the inquest, William repeated what he saw. But Garvin thought that the murder was more than a road rage incident. The inspector told reporters he believed the East Side River Gang was trying to seize control of Nykiel's business interests and control smuggling on the Detroit River from Lake St. Clair to Monroe.

James Zanetti was arrested by two police officers after a short car chase and taken to Wayne County Jail. Because he attempted suicide in his cell, Zanetti was admitted to the psychopathic ward of Receiving Hospital, where he was heavily guarded and chained hand and foot to a hospital bed. Nurses reported that at intervals, he would shudder, roll his eyes back in his head, and quiver issuing long, drawn out moans. Psychiatrists believed Zanetti was mentally sick from "crime hysteria" or what was better known on the street as being "yellow." Dr. Polzker believed Zanetti's suicide attempt failed because he didn't have the courage to follow through with it.

The Zanetti trial was slated to begin on August 30th, but the prosecution's primary eyewitness--William Nykiel--could not be found. The case was postponed twice before Detroit police announced on September 8th that their key witness was hiding out for fear of his life in LaSalle, Ontario where they had no jurisdiction to extradite him. The prosecution proceeded without him. On September 13th, James Zanetti was acquitted of Gus Nykiel's murder. After the not guilty verdict was delivered, Zanetti and his lawyers were surrounded by back-slapping and handshaking from their underworld supporters.

Gus Nykiel left his widow and child an estate worth $55,000 which is over $800,000 in today's money.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

In Search of Detroit's Purple Gang

Photo credit: Don Gutz

I just returned from a research trip to the Walter Reuther Library and the Wyandotte Historical Museum to find some local color about Detroit's Purple Gang and the Prohibition era. Finding anything new about this group of Jewish mobsters after almost 100 years is like recovering bootlegged Canadian booze from the bottom of the Detroit River--what hasn't been dredged up already remains buried deep beneath the sand.

Obtaining simple documents like vital records for known Purple Gang members is next to impossible. Descendants of Purple Gangsters--protective or ashamed of their notorious family members--jealously guard their family documents, relics, and photographs. The trauma of losing husbands, brothers, uncles, and fathers to gang warfare and inter-gang disputes reflected badly on a family's reputation within their Jewish community. Their personal stories were not to be talked of in public, with the press, or even with younger family members who were kept in the dark. The less said, the better.

A Purple Gang roundup photo with several predominate members.

Stories of the gang's early years are the stuff of folklore and their legacy is mythic. What remains of the Purple Gang's real story is sprinkled throughout the pages of vintage 1930s-1940s newspaper articles written in real time as the gang achieved notoriety by becoming the dominant gang in Prohibition Detroit. Once the press gave the gang a name and marquee status, law enforcement went after them with a vengeance.

My nonfiction treatment of the Purple Gang saga is entitled The Elusive Purple Gang--Detroit's Kosher Nostra. It will be a concise history of their rise from juvenile delinquents committing petty street crime to young adults controlling Detroit's rackets during the city's most lawless and deadly period of its history. Rather than assume an academic voice, I chose to take on the voice of a storyteller to attract a popular audience of readers unfamiliar with the Purple Gang's history. The release of the book will coincide with the 100th anniversary of Federal Prohibition in 2020.

The Elusive Purple Gang post:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The "Cure" for Hysterical Women Behind Asylum Walls

Life Magazine advertisement from August 22, 1912.

The concept of the "weaker sex" in the 1800s made women more susceptible to charges of mental illness or emotional breakdown. Before the mid-1800s, women who suffered from depression or mental illness were believed to have an incurable disease of the soul. Many of these women were sent to institutions popularly known as the mad house, the insane asylum, or the nut house. Some were undoubtedly sent to local parish priests for exorcisms.

Because of existing gender stereotypes and a patriarchal society, women who disagreed with their husbands or families could be committed without formal legal proceedings or medical exigency. Institutional records indicate that women were labeled mentally ill and committed at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.

Biddy Hughes was Michigan's Eloise Asylum's first official mental patient. She was committed by her family in 1841 when she was in her mid-thirties. She was kept behind locked doors until her death fifty-eight years later.

Being a woman in the nineteenth century would make any woman hysterical--a collective term then used to describe all manner of women's mental health issues--ranging from menstruation-related issues, pregnancy-related issues, post-partum depression, chronic fatigue, and anxiety. The word hysteria derives from the Ancient Greek word for womb--thus womb disease.

Asylums were essentially warehouses for non compliant women. Once committed, these unfortunate women were subjected to a daily life of neglect and abuse. These indignities only drove troubled women deeper into mental illness regardless of why they were there. Insane asylums were not places for treatment or cure of the mentally ill.

Women had no voice to protest nor did they have any advocacy beyond the asylum gates. They lacked the solidarity to stand up for themselves or each other. Once admitted, it was next to impossible to be discharged. Bad treatment by attendants and terrible living conditions led to many asylum suicides from constant harassment, violence, loneliness, and despair.

In the Victorian age, the perfect wife did not demand time or rights for herself. She was supposed to be subservient to the needs of her family. Her husband in particular. Women with strong personalities and active minds could never conform to that role without sacrificing the core of their beings. Unsatisfied and vindictive husbands could have their wives committed for stepping outside the boundaries of her role as a wife.

Married women were sent to asylums for nymphomania, promiscuity, bearing an illegitimate child, or being the victim of rape. Women who practiced sex outside of marriage were accused of moral imbecility and could be committed for the public good. Many husbands used commitment as a convenient alternative to divorce.

By the mid-nineteenth century, doctors began regarding mental illness as a medical problem. With little formal training, they tested their quack theories on mentally ill patients. Perhaps the most egregious example of a gratuitous treatment was devised by male doctors who created a condition they called Hysterical Paroxysm.

Doctors would give female patients "pelvic massages" to release the women's pent-up libido and frustrations. It wasn't long before women were being treated for frustration and anxiety as outpatients in doctors' offices. After the electric vibrator was invented towards the end of the century, women could effect this treatment in the privacy of their own homes.

Doctors of this era believed women who tried to improve their station in life by asserting their independence, getting an education, or living outside the family unit without a husband were considered suspect. Women who were outspoken, volatile, or expressed discontent were labeled mad if they refused to fit the stereotypical mold of the passive housewife. Many women were driven to mental illness by the rigid strictures polite society imposed upon them.

Mental health researchers in the Victorian age devised three archetypes of the mad woman:
  1. The Ophelia (named after the heroine in Hamlet). These women were pliant and pleasant--code words for easy to control.
  2. The Crazy Jane. These patients represented psychotic women who were clearly disturbed and needed to be watched.
  3. The Lucia (named after Renaissance poisoner Lucretia Borgia). These patients were prone to violence and considered dangerous.
Imposing these labels on women was a way for men to garner further control over women and possess them more thoroughly. Doctors of the day warned against any activity that might change a woman's domestic status. Suffragettes and women's rights advocates were particularly troublesome for the status quo and challenged the system.

Meanwhile, Edith Lanchester was committed in 1895 by her brother for refusing to marry. She was diagnosed as insane by reason of "over-education" while her brother took full possession and ownership of their jointly inherited estate.

"When We Called the Insane Asylum Eloise" link:

Monday, June 3, 2019

Literary Classics 2019 Awards Ceremony

For self-published authors who labor long hours in obscurity, winning a writing award is a cost effective way to gain exposure for your book title. Most competitions include press releases, photo opportunities, book cover medallions, and formal presentation ceremonies.

Winning a writing award competition is a valuable tool for self-published authors to gain media exposure and to network with like-minded individuals who share similar goals and challenges. Scheduled receptions and author forums allow for social opportunities with other writers to share information about our best practices and marketing strategies creating a sense of community for one brief weekend.

This year's Literary Classics Awards Ceremony occurred on May 12th, 2019 in Rapid City, South Dakota. My book The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder won a silver medallion for adolescent mystery and a gold medallion for true crime.

As an added bonus, my wife and I took a side trip to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial to make our trip a three-day weekend vacation. Both attractions are truly wonderous and awesome to see.

If you haven't entered a writing contest, you might want to give it a try. Winning is a great motivator.

Link to my Amazon author site.