Friday, September 21, 2018

Ypsilanti District Library Hosts Booktalk on Richard Streicher Jr. Murder

On Tuesday October 2, 2018, I will be giving a book talk on The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder at the Ypsilanti District Library on Whittaker Road at 6:30 pm. This event is sponsored by the Ypsilanti Historical Society which will provide free donuts and apple cider. Please join us if you are in the area and bring a friend.

This Depot Town cold case project was the brainchild of Ypsilanti Historical Society docents George Ridenour and Lyle McDermott. From 2001 to 2007, they collected two boxes of documentation for this case from government agencies and interviews with several people who went to school with Richard Streicher Jr.

After an extended illness, George passed away. Lyle asked if I would complete the project. This crime was big news in Ypsilanti during the Depression but mostly forgotten about for eighty years. Now for the first time in print, the story is told from the point-of-view of the people who lived it. This missing part of Ypsilanti's lost history has been found. My only hope is that George would be pleased with the final result.

I plan to speak for about twenty minutes and then answer questions about either the Streicher book or my John Norman Collins book. Copies of my books will be available at clearance prices. They make great holiday gifts for the true crime or history lover in your life.

Streicher school friend makes an appearance in July:

Friday, September 14, 2018

The EDSEL--Car of the Future--Really?

I grew up in the Dearborn, Michigan--the center of what is commonly known as Ford Country. Most people in the area buy Ford products--unless of course they work for Chrysler or General Motors. Brand loyalty is encouraged by the automotive companies and most workers comply--especially when the company offers employee discounts.

When Ford Motor Company came out with the Edsel in 1958, the company upgraded its Lincoln Division to compete with General Motor's luxury Cadillac. Ford needed a premium vehicle to fill the intermediate slot vacated by Lincoln to compete with Oldsmobile, Buick, and DeSoto. Ford promoted the Edsel as the product of extensive research and development. Their sophisticated market analysis indicated to the suits at Ford's that they had a winner.

The Edsel was touted as the car of the future. Ford executives were confident of brand acceptance by the car buying public. Innovative features like a rolling-dome speedometer, engine warning lights, an available Teletouch pushbutton shifting system, self-adjusting brakes, optional seat belts, and child-proof rear door locks would surely capture the imagination of modern-thinking consumers.

The day after the Edsel was introduced, The New York Times dubbed it the "reborn LaSalle"--a nameplate that disappeared in the early 1940s. So much for the car of the future concept. Once the Edsel hit the streets, the public thought it was unattractive, overpriced, and overhyped. The car's production was stopped after three years of under performing in Ford and Mercury showrooms.

Ford Motor Company lost $250 million on the project. Edsel's failure was across the board. Popular culture thought the car's styling was odd. The nameplate's trademark horsecollar grille was said to resemble "an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon." The Teletouch pushbutton transmission was problematic being centered on the steering wheel hub where most cars had their warning horn. Some drivers accidently shifted when they meant to sound their horn. Another unforeseen problem was that the pushbutton transmission was not suited for street racing, so the Edsel became known as an old man's car.

What turned off other consumers was the car's sticker price which placed it in direct competition with Mercury--Ford's sister division. Further complicating matters, the low priced Volkswagen Beetle hit the American car market in 1957. Many younger buyers were fascinated by the odd-looking vehicle with the incredible gas mileage. The Edsel was a gas guzzler.

Consumer Reports blamed the car's poor workmanship. For instance, the trunk leaked in heavy rain, and the pushbutton transmission was fraught with technical problems. Marketing experts insisted the Edsel was doomed from the start because of Ford's inability to understand the American consumer and market trends. Automotive historians believe the Edsel was the wrong car at the wrong time.

Edsel Ford
Unfairly, the name Edsel became synonymous with epic failure. Named after Henry Ford's only son, this car became a posthumous slap in the face to the man who mobilized his family's vast industrial resources to produce B-24 Liberator bombers, instrumental in helping win World War II. Edsel Ford's legacy deserved better.

As luck would have it, my father bought a brand-new Edsel in 1959. It was Christmas time and I was eleven years old. After my brothers and I had our photograph taken with Santa at Muirhead's Department Store, my dad brought us to the Ford Dealership across the street for our family Christmas present.

He went into an office and signed a few papers, then the salesman handed over the keys. As we were driving away from the dealership, I remember snowflake clusters illuminated by the car's headlights. It was magical. By the time my family got home, we were intoxicated with the new-car smell of fresh upholstery and uncured lacquer.

Later that week, my dad was celebrating with his friends on Friday and had a few too many before coming home from work. On the way, he hit an ice patch and lost control of the car, wrapping it around a telephone pole. He was relatively uninjured, but the Edsel was totaled. We had that Edsel for such a short time I can't remember what color it was. 

Edsel concept car.
Misfortune aside, I've always had a love for the Edsel and often wished Ford would find a market for the nameplate and start production again. That may never happen, but a boy can dream.

Here is a Psychology Today article on how the Edsel got its name:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bald Barbie Doll

My wife Susan wrote Mattel Consumer Services suggesting that their company produce a bald Barbie doll for young cancer patients. We were quite moved by Mattel's response and want to share this rare look into Mattel's corporate heart.
From: Mattel Consumer Services [] Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2015 12:08 PM To: [address omitted] Subject: In Reference to Case Number: 23107550 
Hi Susan,

We are honored that you believe that Barbie could be the face of such an important cause. Mattel appreciates and respects the passion that has been
built up for the request for a bald Barbie doll.  

Play is vital for children, especially during difficult times.We are pleased to say that in 2013 we produced a fashion doll, Ella friend of Barbie,and she included wigs, hats, scarves and other fashion accessories to provide girls with a traditional fashion play experience.For those girls
who choose, the wigs and head coverings can be interchanged or completely removed.

We will work with our longstanding partner, the Children's Hospital Association,to donate and distribute the dolls exclusively to children's
hospitals directly reaching girls who are most affected by hair loss. A limited number of dolls and monetary donations will also be made to CureSearch for Children's Cancer and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

Through a thoughtful approach, we made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience, demonstrating Mattel's ongoing commitment to encourage play as respite for children in the hospital and to bring joy to children who need it most.
We appreciate the conversation around this issue, and thank you for contacting us to provide
your feedback!


Consumer Services Associate

Ella, Friend of Barbie (Request for doll)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Prohibition History Crash Course

With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to our United States Constitution and the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919, the manufacture, sale, and distribution of intoxicating spirits was made illegal in the United States. The Prohibition Act went into effect in 1920 and pushed the consumption of booze underground, creating the Roaring Twenties and the age of the big city gangster.

Seen as a "Noble Experiment," Protestant, Baptist, and women's Temperance groups believed that Prohibition would improve American life and guide our nation towards prosperity and morality. The evils of alcohol were readily visible with scenes of public drunkenness, violence, and domestic abuse of women and children commonplace events.

Henry Ford was a strong advocate of the Temperance movement hoping to improve the attendance of his workforce--many of whom were drinkers of alcoholic beverages. The Klu Klux Klan was also a supporter of the movement for anti-immigrant reasons. Anti-German sentiment after World War I was unsympathetic with the German tradition of beer drinking. The Irish Catholics had a taste for hard liquor while Italian and French Catholics enjoyed their wine. All were opposed to the alcohol ban on cultural grounds.

A loophole in the Volstead Act did not specifically prohibit the use of intoxicating beverages. Physicians were allowed to prescribe whiskey for medicinal purposes. Patients could buy a prescription from a doctor for $4.00 and then take it to a pharmacy to be filled. Doctors were doing a box-office business. Because of rampant abuses in the first years of Prohibition, a law was passed to allow physicians to write no more than fifty prescriptions per year and patients could obtain no more than one gallon of whiskey per month. 

Homemade wine and apple jack could be produced for personal consumption so farmers and home vintners could preserve their grape and apple crops over the winter months. Sacramental wine for religious purposes was also allowed to placate Catholic and Jewish voters.

Prohibition began the era of smuggling distilled liquor from Canada, Cuba, and the Bahamas. There was also wildcat liquor production in the form of moonshine and bathtub gin. Moonshine production increased in Appalachia in the backwoods and hollows of the Smokey Mountains. Farmers realized that converting their corn crops to alcohol was ten times more profitable than transporting sacks of grain for human or animal consumption.
Typical still setup
To increase production and profits, some moonshiners used old automobile radiators for condensation units and switched from corn mash to pure sugar. Because of unsanitary conditions and contaminated backwoods stills, many drinkers of moonshine went blind from glycol and lead poisoning, prompting the expression "blind drunk." The stronger the "shine," the higher the proof--180 proof meant that the liquor was 90% alcohol and 10% water. Commercial liquor is typically 80 proof with 40% alcohol and 60% water. The strength of moonshine earned it the name White Lightening.

Scene from "The Roaring Twenties" with James Cagney and Frank McHugh.
Enterprising city dwellers also began making a concoction called bathtub gin. Five gallon steel containers of cheap grain alcohol were poured into a tub. Tap water was used as a cutting agent at a ratio of one part alcohol to three parts water to stretch the supply. Then, flavoring agents such as juniper berry juice or fruit juice was added. For color and aging, a few drops of coal tar extract would do nicely as would burnt sugar. Then, the mixture was hand-bottled in used liquor bottles or relabeled with counterfit brand names and sealed with phony Federal liquor commission stamps.

Because of increased demand, the general quality of homemade liquor declined during Prohibition and was harsh to the taste. This created the popularity of the cocktail and the highball to cut the bitterness of the hooch. In those days, cocktails contained three or more ingredients--alcohol, a source of sweetness (honey, sugar, or molasses), and a bitter/citrus flavor to mask the harshness. Highballs were simply liquor and a mixer like 7-Up to flavor and dilute the alcohol.

The following link from the History Channel gives a three minute, animated survey of Prohibition in America. Wait for the ad to run:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Gaslighting--A Sociopath's Favorite Tool

The psychological phenomenon known as gaslighting has become a colloquial term to describe a form of mental abuse where a dominant individual manipulates a weaker person's sense of psychological well-being to undermine the victim's mental stability. It is the manipulation of external reality to make someone doubt their sanity.

The term derives from the popular 1944 American film entitled Gaslight--based on a 1938 British stage play. Frenchman Charles Boyer plays the sociopathic husband of the psychologically frail Ingrid Bergman. This memorable film portrays a husband's attempt to destroy his wife's sanity by manipulating her perception of reality, so he can steal her jewels.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman
Sociopaths instill a high level of anxiety and confusion to disorient their victims. Information is twisted and spun by them so victims begin to doubt themselves. Targets lose faith in their ability to make judgments and become insecure about their decision-making abilities.

Gaslighting describes an antisocial personality disorder that relies on deception, denial, mind games, sabotage, isolation, and destabilization. It is a form of narcissistic abuse that occurs in all types of relationships and every walk of life. This syndrome is often associated with marital relationships, but anyone can be a victim. Gaslighting can be seen in abusive parent-child relationships and in the workplace with an aggressive boss brow-beating his employees. It is mental bullying that can escalate into physical violence. These narcissists are puppet masters who often manipulate people for their own personal gain or to play twisted power and control games.

Gaslighting is a deliberate and progressive method of covert control that imposes a form of psychosis on its victims. Brainwashing, interrogation, isolation, and torture are all forms of psychological warfare used by the military, intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and terrorist organizations. On any level, it is a human and civil rights violation. 


For more detailed information on gaslighting and a link to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, view the following link:

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Outrage and the Nature of Truth

One of Paul Newman's least known and seldom shown films is The Outrage (1964). The film explores the elusive nature of truth as five conflicting versions of the same crime are presented to a frontier judge before a burned out courthouse. The film is an adaptation of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950).

Newman plays the unlikely role of Juan Carrasco, a Mexican outlaw accused of raping a Southern belle and killing her aristocratic husband. The beguiling Claire Bloom plays the violated woman, and Laurence Harvey plays her Southern gentleman. Despite the lurid subject matter, Newman, Bloom, and Harvey give tongue and cheek performances in episodic flashbacks which entertain in unexpected ways.

Rounding out the cast is Edward G. Robinson as a cynical, larcenous gambler. His performance may be one of his best as he shines throughout the film. William Shatner plays a frontier preacher who has lost his faith after he hears the conflicting trial testimony. His performance is subdued and pensive making Robinson's portrayal of the sleazy conman all the more compelling. Howard Da Silva plays a down-on-his-luck prospector undergoing a moral crisis. He has withheld important evidence by not testifying at the trial.

The three men are waiting overnight in a rundown train depot for the next train out of town. A driving rainstorm sets the somber tone for the movie. As the three men discuss the Carrasco case, director Martin Ritt intersperses flashbacks depicting the various points-of-view which have as much to do with the truth as the basic facts of the case.

The Outrage is a provocative and thought-provoking movie filmed in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona. Every Paul Newman fan should see this film at least once.

Trailer for The Outrage:

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Canadian Prohibition Loophole Fuels Roaring Twenties in United States

Model T stake truck breaks through Detroit River ice with overload of Canadian liquor

During the United States Prohibition period, the majority of liquor passing through Windsor, Ontario and the Border Cities into the United States came across the Detroit River. The United States Customs Department estimates that 80% of all illegal spirits brought into the country during Prohibition originated in Canada--our neighbor to the North. This "Detroit Funnel" as it became known in the press supplied liquor to Chicago, Lansing, Toledo, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City and all points in between.

When Ontario passed the Ontario Temperance Act in 1916, the province closed the bars, clubs, and liquor stores until the end of World War I. The government needed the grain for the war effort. But with the end of the war, the Canadian government repealed wartime Prohibition and liquor began to flow again in the Dominion.

Meanwhile, the United States Congress passed the 18th Amendment--otherwise known as the Volstead Act--on October 28, 1919. The act banned the manufacture, transport, sale, import, export, and delivery of alcohol spirits within its borders. The bootlegger, rum runner, and flapper were born. The easy market and close access to Detroit became the focal point for shipping illegal booze into the United States from Canada. Historians labeled the age The Roaring Twenties--when organized crime flourished on both sides of the International Border.

Under pressure from vocal Temperence groups on both sides of the International Border, Ottawa passed Bill 26 decreeing that each province could prevent the importation of liquor by holding a referendum vote. The rest of Canada voted dry leaving Ontario to stand alone. The province did vote to approve the Sandy Bill on July 19, 1921 which disallowed the movement of liquor within Ontario without an order of the Board of License Commissioners.

Jim Cooper--Belle River and Walkerville roadhouse owner and illicit liquor dealer--figured out that if he set up an export business in Detroit, he could circumvent the Ontario law. Canadians would place an order through a Detroit telephone number. The purchased goods were not imported into Ontario. The liquor was already in Windsor and Walkerville warehouses. Because the purchase was made out of the country, it was perfectly legal to be delivered within Ontario.  

During Prohibition, six distilleries and twenty-nine brewers operated within Ontario all licensed by the federal government. It is estimated that forty million dollars of booze illegally crossed the border every year. At first, there was a lot of small-time suitcase smuggling for personal use. All manner of devices were contrived to conceal bottles. Some people strapped bottles under their clothing, pints were slid into high boots, and cars were fitted with hidden compartments.

After organized crime wrestled control of the river from small-time operators, much of the liquor was smuggled in by the boat load. In the winter, old jalopies, trucks, and sleds scurried across the frozen river to engage in the illegal trade. When the U.S. Coast Guard built up their fleet with 200 h.p. patrol boats hoping to dominate the river traffic, the Purple Gang's Little Jewish Navy bought specially outfitted speed boats and mounted small cannons on their bows with Tommy Gun-toting crews to harass the authorities leveling the playing field. The Purple Gang laid claim to the Detroit River as their territory. Any freelance bootleggers unlucky enough to be caught smuggling by the gang lost their booty and often their lives. The Purple Gang alone is credited by police with the murder of over 500 people during their bloody reign of the Detroit underworld.

Earning the big money became possible because of a gaping loophole in the Canadian law. Large quantities of liquor could be bought from Canadian distilleries for export purposes if purchasers or their agents carried a Canadian Customs B-13 export clearance document certifying that the buyer was exporting liquor anywhere but a country where Prohibition was the law. Shipments were marked for Europe, Cuba, and South America. But once a boat left the loading dock, the Canadian government was unconcerned where it actually moored and unloaded. The burden of enforcing this American law fell squarely upon the United States, and the Dominion felt no obligation to enforce the laws of their sovereign neighbor.

The boxes and barrels of liquor were distributed to Ontario Border City export docks strung out along the length of the Detroit River. Rum runners from Detroit would cruise across, load up their boats, and make their river runs--mostly at night. In the winter, the shipments were loaded on the frozen Canadian river bank awaiting their mass exodus across the International Border.

Some of the diverted illegal liquor stayed in Canada by sailing directly into slips behind Ontatio's chain of roadhouses stretching from Windsor to Niagara Falls offering dining, drinking, dancing, gambling, and adult entertainment. Americans flocked to Ontario to patronize the Border Cities thriving vice economies.

For its part, the Canadian Government levied a nine dollar tax per gallon on all liquor sales. This export tax was returned when the customs department received a certificated receipt from the country where the shipment was imported. Since most of the liquor landed in America, those receipts were never redeemed. By 1928, Canada earned up to thirty-million dollars per year this way.

With the New York stock market crash on October 29, 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, many people lost everything. Jobs were scarce and money was tight. The drunken revel was all but over. Then on December 5, 1933, the United States government passed the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition. The bill landed on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's desk and he signed it. The boom times of Prohibition ended on both sides of the international border. It would take another World War to turn the economies around for both countries.

The Rise and Fall of the Purple Gang:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Richard Streicher Jr. School Friend Makes Unexpected Appearance

December 1934 Fresh Air School Christmas assembly. Richard Streicher Jr. is in first row marked with an X and Paul Woodside is in the second row behind him. Richard had only ten weeks to live.

On March 7, 1935--the day seven-year-old Richard Streicher Jr. went missing--his friend Paul Woodside walked home from school with him. Both boys were enrolled in a special education program called the Fresh Air School at Welsh Hall on the campus of the Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti.

The History of Special Education at Eastern Michigan University mentions the program as for "children of low vitality." These students had various health or orthopedic conditions which were accommodated in this setting. Woodside suggested in an April 23, 2007 interview with Ypsilanti Historical Society docents George Ridenour and Lyle McDermott that he thought Richie Streicher may have had a heart or blood-pressure problem or perhaps he was hyperactive.

Woodside recounted how he was awakened by his parents the day after his friend's body was found frozen under the Frog Island Bridge. The Ypsilanti Police wanted to interview him, but he knew nothing about Richie's disappearance.

Paul said he liked going to Richie's apartment to play with his toys--many of which he and other kids couldn't afford during lean Depression times. Paul remembered Richie's grandparents giving their grandson a pedal-powered motor car but couldn't recollect anything about Richie's parents.

Eighty-year-old Woodside said he thinks of Richie often. "I sometimes wish I could go to bed at night and dream what happened and see who did this. Why would someone do this to a seven-year-old kid? Especially so close to his house. Did Richie see something he shouldn't have seen? How could someone kill him on such a busy, well-lighted street?"

These questions have haunted Paul Woodside for over seven decades. After the original news reports of the crime, Woodside said he never heard anything else about the murder. He was unaware that Richie's body was exhumed ten months after his death and that Richie was reburied in an unmarked grave in Highland Cemetery.

While signing copies of The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder: Ypsilanti's Depot Town Mystery at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum on July 12, 2018, I was about to leave when ninety-one-year-old Paul Woodside walked through the door. He rushed over from an appointment in Ann Arbor and was afraid he would miss the book signing. I was fortunate my signing went past four o'clock, so I didn't miss meeting and speaking with Paul. He was interested in my true crime treatment of what happened to his friend eighty-three years before.

Paul is the only person I have interviewed who actually knew Richie Streicher. I asked him what Richie was like.

Paul Woodside and I at the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives--July 12, 2018.

"(Richie) was a very friendly, likeable kid who was well-behaved and somewhat shy, but he enjoyed school life and playing with friends, and he was smart."

"Did he ever talk about his mom and dad with you?"

"No, we were just kids who liked playing together and didn't talk about adults."

Then the conversation turned to Paul Woodside's family roots in the Ypsilanti area which stretch back at least five generations. If you grew up in Ypsi, you probably know a Woodside or two.

For locals, copies of the Streicher book are available at the Ypsilanti Historical Society on 220 North Huron Street in their basement archives. All proceeds go to the society. 

A paperback edition and all five ebook formats are available at

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Detroit Festival of Books Is Just Around the Corner

Take Interstate 94 to Russell St. exit (216A). Go south for a few blocks. Ample parking nearby.

For information about my books, check out my author site at

Sunday, July 1, 2018

White Castle Rules!

One of my guilty pleasures when flying into Detroit is stopping at the White Castle on Telegraph Road and Northline. My favorite item is the #2 combo--two double-cheese burgers and fries with a medium soft drink. The family-owned chain services the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, so most of the country is unaware of this delectable taste treat.

White Castle slider
Their signature product consists of a thin square of 100% ground beef with five steam holes punched into it. The patty is cooked on a bed of diced onions and topped with a steamed hamburger bun, dressed with dill pickles, mustard and ketchup, and served up in a cardboard sleeve. One food critic called it "French onion soup on a bun." To be honest, either you love them or you hate them.

Walter A. Anderson began his restaurant career working at food stands in Wichita, Kansas. In 1916, he bought an obsolete streetcar and converted it into a diner. He had opened two more diners by the time he met businessman Edgar Wolds "Billy" Ingram and co-founded the first White Castle restaurant on an original investment of $700 in 1921.

White Castle #1
Since the publication of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in 1906 exposing the unsanitary practices of the meat packing industry in Chicago, Americans were reluctant to eat ground beef. Aware of this, the White Castle founders sought to change the public's perception by stressing cleanliness in their restaurants and high quality ingredients.

Their earliest buildings had white enameled brick exteriors and enameled steel counters. By the 1930s, the chain's restaurants were built with prefabricated white-porcelain enameled steel exteriors and outfitted with stainless steel counters. Buildings were designed so customers could see their food being prepared by employees who had to conform to a strict dress code. White Castle produced the first disposable paper hats, napkins, and cardboard sleeves to package their product.

Short-order cook Walter Anderson is credited with the invention of the hamburger bun and the assembly-line kitchen which replaced experienced cooks with employees who could operate the griddle with minimal training. Chain-wide standardization assured the same product and service at all their locations. Often imitated but never duplicated, numerous earlier competitors were unable to match White Castle's success.

The fast-food industry we take for granted today was unknown in America before the White Castle chain. Anderson and Ingram gave rise to the fast-food phenomenon. There was no infrastructure to support their business expansion, so Anderson and Ingram established centralized bakeries, meat suppliers, branded paper manufacturing, and warehouses to supply their system's needs.

In 1933, Anderson sold his half of the business to Billy Ingram. The following year, the company moved its corporate offices to Columbus, Ohio, the center of their distribution area. Ingram's business savvy is credited for the popularity of the hamburger in America.

Since the beginning, White Castle has been privately owned, and none of its restaurants are franchised. Founder Billy Ingram retired in 1958 as CEO, followed by his son E.W. Ingram Jr, and then his grandson E.W. Ingram III. In December 2015, Ingram III stepped down and his daughter Lisa Ingram became the fourth CEO of the company.

The Ingram family's refusal to franchise or take on debt throughout the company's existence has kept the chain relatively small with only about 420 outlets--all in the United States. By comparison, McDonald's has 36,000 outlets worldwide with 14,000 of those in the United States. In recent years, White Castle has been selling sliders at supermarkets nationwide.

On January 27, 2015, White Castle opened its first outlet in the western United States at the Casino Royale Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip--the chain's first expansion into a different state in fifty-six years. On its first day of business, the restaurant had to close for two hours to restock their depleted supplies. In its first twelve hours of operation, the store sold 4,000 sliders per hour. It appears that I'm not the only one who enjoys this guilty pleasure.

Delray, Detroit and O-So Pop:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Richard Streicher Jr. Murder" Book Reveal

During the depths of the Great Depression in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a seven-year-old boy is found frozen to death under the Frog Island Footbridge in Depot Town after being reported missing the night before by his parents.

Upon closer examination, the Washtenaw County Coroner discovered the child was the victim of foul play. Local gossips and some police were convinced they knew who the guilty party was, but proving it in a court of law was a different matter.

At the behest of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and through the research efforts of docents George Ridenour and Lyle McDermott, I bring you the true story of this notorious Ypsilanti murder mostly forgotten for over eighty years.

The paperback is available online through Amazon and B&N, and all five digital ebook formats. Link to Amazon site:

Monday, June 4, 2018

Allen Park Wrestler Lou Klein and Protege Heather Feather

Lou Klein
Allen Park, Michigan resident Lou Klein began his pro-wrestling career in 1941 after dominating the Michigan amateur ranks and earning four national titles. In the beginning of his pro-career, Kline donned a mask and wrestled as the Green Hornet so he could earn a living while protecting his amateur standing. For a time, he wrestled with Red Bastien in a tag team, but most of his career he worked as a single performer known to be a "scientific" wrestler. Early on, Klein's tag line was "The Atomic Blond from Detroit" and later in his career "The Man of a Thousand Holds." His signature finish moves were the Boston Crab and the Atomic Drop. After thirty-six years of competing in the squared circle, Klein retired on July 9, 1977.

Later in his career, Kline was known as a developer and promoter of new talent which he would manage into the professional ranks. In the 1960s, Klein leased a vacant building which had been the Allen Park Poultry Company where you could buy a live chicken and have it butchered. Kline converted the space into a wrestling school with a workout gym. In addition to teaching wrestling holds, and counter holds, he prepared new-comers for the professional ranks and pro-wrestling's secret code of Kayfabe--the representation of a staged event as genuine and authentic.

Kayfabe required wrestlers to stay in character in the ring and in public and not give away trade secrets. Kayfabe can be considered a verbal non-disclosure agreement. This three-syllable word is a Pig Latin carny term for "Be Fake" spelled backwards. If anyone came backstage who wasn't in the business for example, security or someone else would shout out "Kayfabe!" and the alert would travel through the ranks. Then, the wrestlers would put on their game faces for the press or whomever the interloper was.

In addition to his gym and wrestling school, Klein owned the local Tastee Freeze on Allen Road. Occasionally in the summer, Klein would set up a ring outside next to his gym or ice cream shop and let the kids play on it. Klein and some of his wrestling cohorts would teach the guys some grappling moves. My Allen Park High School friends Mick Osman and Earl Rennie made pocket money helping set up the ring for local promotions. Jack Ulrich remembers setting up and breaking down rings for Klein in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Heather Feather
One of Lou Kline's proteges was Allen Park resident Peggy Jones. He first met Peggy when she was working the counter at the Thunderbowl bowling alley. At 5' 10" and weighing over 300#, Peggy always stood out from the crowd at North Junior High and suffered more than her share of verbal abuse and body shaming. Kline approached her about coming to the gym and begin training for a possible new career.

She did and four months later, Kline--acting as Peggy's manager--introduced her to Big Time Wrestling promoter Eddie (The Sheik) Farhat. What Peggy lacked in speed and wrestling prowess, she made up in bulk and strength. But there were two things Peggy needed to go pro--a gimmick and a stage name.

For a gimmick, Farhat had Peggy primarily wrestle men as a parody of feminism and the growing woman's equal rights movement of the 1970s. For a stage name, Farhat came up with Heather Feather. She wrestled throughout the Midwest, but Detroit was her home base. Feather would hang ringside during a bout and taunt the male wrestlers trying to shame them into a match. Then in an unscheduled ringside interview with the announcer, she would amplify her challenge making the men look weak and cowardly. The crowd loved it. Heather Feather was the first woman to wrestle and pin a man and soon became a fan favorite.

The Fabulous Moola and her crew.
Her debut match was an eight-woman Battle Royale in Detroit at Cobo Hall. Several of the lady wrestlers with great effort threw the newcomer into the front row seats. Heather Feather was the first woman eliminated that night. Peggy was black and blue for her pains, but she was $200 richer. Her tenure lasted five years from 1973 until 1978. 

Toward the end of her career, Feather wrestled an eight-foot-tall bear in an interspecies match. Victor, the bear, was found as an orphan cub and rescued. Pro-wrestler Tuffy Truesdell purchased the bear and trained him to wrestle humans. Victor wore a muzzle and was declawed. Truesdell and Victor toured the wrestling circuit as a novelty act. The bear was undefeated by over 100 men but could only get a draw against Feather. Once again, she bested the men but left the bear's undefeated record intact.

Heather Feather was one of the featured wrestlers in a wrestling mockumentary called I Like to Hurt People. In a rare break from the Kayfabe code of silence, the film's host Dr. Sonia Freidman asked Feather, "What's a nice twenty-three-year-old-girl doing in this racket?"

Out of character, Peggy answered, "It's really kinda hard to say. There are lots of reasons why I'm in it. Mainly it's a way of proving myself. A way of making me something in life. Have you ever met a girl built like Rosie Grier (famous 1960s football player)? I've been this tall and this weight since I was twelve. I won't lie, it was tough growing up."

When Dr. Freidman asked Feather how long she thought she would last in her chosen profession, she answered truthfully, "A girl can only last as long as she looks young. As soon as she starts looking old, she's done for. A man can do this until he drops dead in the ring." It wasn't long after this candid interview that Heather Feather was released from her wrestling contract. Kayfabe had been violated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Detroit's Wrestling Titans

If you grew up in Detroit in the 1950s through the 1970s, chances are you remember Big Time Wrestling (BTW) on WXYZ--Channel 7 which aired on Saturdays at 3:30 pm until 4:30 pm with announcer Fred Wolfe. BTW captured the rough and tumble world of Detroit's blue collar angst. Detroit wrestling fans had a strong work ethic, respect for fair play, and a hatred for dirty tactics and cheating. They particularly loved grudge matches, loser leaves town matches, and wars of attrition which could last twenty minutes or more. BTW wrestlers were not pretty boys from the West Coast or elite snobs from the East Coast--they were blue collar heroes who had to work for a living. 

Dick, the Bruiser
Early wrestling story lines involved coastal invaders coming into our town bragging how tough they were. They would abuse and destroy our mid-level wrestlers trying to climb the ranks and then turn and insult the crowd proclaiming Motor City wrestlers weren't that tough. They would leave town, then a month or so later, these sore winners would return to wrestle our top guys and get their clocks cleaned. A notable exception to this rule was the most hated wrestler in the business--Dick, the Bruiser. He beat the hell out of everyone. In and out of the ring.

Leaping Larry Chene (not Shane)
Some of Detroit's fan favorites were Lou Kline--the Man of a Thousand Holds, Dick "Mr. Michigan" Garza, Haystack Calhoun, Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd, Killer Kowalski, George "The Animal" Steele, the Junkyard Dog, and my favorite, Leaping Larry Chene.

Chene (Arthur Lawrence Beauchene) was tragically killed at the age of thirty-five in an early morning car accident on October 2, 1964 while returning home to Michigan from a match in Moline, Illinois the previous night. Leaping Larry Chene was a credit to his profession and sorely missed by his fans.

That same year, Edward Farhat and his father-in-law bought the BTW television rights and secured exclusive rights to promote wrestling events at Cobo Arena for a mere $50,000. Edward Farhat, better known as The Sheik, was the most hated wrestler in Detroit. Farhat's character usually came out dressed in a robe and an Arab headress. He wore wrestling shoes with exaggerated pointed toes and had a camel printed on his wrestling shorts. The Sheik was the focus of Detroit's frustration with the Middle Eastern oil crisis, and The Sheik did everything he could but set a Ford Pinto on fire in the middle of the squared circle to incite the crowd against him.

Rocky Johnson is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's father.
The Sheik's signature move was the Camel Clutch, but he was also known for "blinding" his opponents with his patented magic fire ball effect. Once his opponent was disoriented, The Sheik would attack him mercilessly and stretch him out for a win. Usually, medics stood by to roll the loser out of the arena on a gurney while the crowd gave the man a howling ovation. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the fireball. A few years later, I discovered that magician's flash paper could be purchased at any magic or novelty shop in town.
The Sheik with his manager son.
Under Farhat's leadership, BTW matches suddenly became edgier and bloodier with ethnic overtones. In the 1970s and 1980s, Detroit faced the oil crisis and stiff competition from foreign competitors. Farhat imported Japanese wrestlers like Kenuke Honda and Toyota Matahashi to exploit this economic reality. 

The Japanese tag team worked their way up the ranks until they won the BTW title belt by throwing Sumo salt into the eyes of their opponents--shades of The Sheik's fire ball move. Then, in front of rabid Detroit fans, the Japanese wrestlers destroyed the officially sanctioned title belt and replaced it with one made in Japan. They bragged their belt was better quality and less expensive. Those were fighting words in Detroit and the new champions were led out of the arena under police protection and left the country with the belt--as the narrative went. In professional wrestling, the line between reality and fantasy gets blurred, and if you can get the crowd fired up, that's money in the bank.

The Camel Clutch
When the national economy went belly up in 1980, BTW could no longer draw big crowds to fill Cobo Arena or other big venues in the Midwest. The advent of cable TV and two national wrestling federations--one out of Stamford, Connecticut and the other out of Atlanta, Georgia--helped spell the death knell for regional promotions. Professional wrestling went dark in Detroit.

Alex Karris meets Dick, the Bruiser at Lindell's AC sports bar:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

John Norman Collins Canadian Connection

When I speak to people about the Washtenaw County murders of the late 1960s, I am usually asked, "Have you been in contact with any of John Norman Collins's family?" My answer is always, "I've made several attempts without success."

JNC's older brother and his late sister were steadfast in their silence about their notorious younger brother. Neither of John's siblings bear any responsibility for what their brother did; regardless, they both paid a heavy personal price and are victims of the collateral damage from the very public and court case. They chose not to comment--well within their rights.

John Norman Collins (13), his brother (16), and sister (15) - December 30th, 1960.
The Collins' family wall of silence is a legacy from their mother, Loretta--the family matriarch. She was the sole ruler and spokesperson for the family during her son's trial and afterward. Not even John was allowed to speak in his own defense. Now that Loretta is gone, no one speaks for the family. I had just about given up establishing contact with anyone in the Collins clan when I received an unexpected email from a surprising source.

"My name is John (Philip) Chapman; I am John Norman Collins's Canadian cousin. I've been in contact with my cousin since 1981, thirty-two years now--and I have some interesting information I would be willing to share with you pertaining to John's family history and facts he has revealed to me. 

"I normally would never get involved, however, after reading your blog post--Treading on the Grief of Others in the John Norman Collins Case--I agree a debt is owed to history that must be paid.

"My heart truly goes out to those young women and their families who had their daughters taken away from them too soon. If there is anything I can share with you to help, I would be happy to do so."

John Philip Chapman appeared exactly when we needed him most. My researcher Ryan M. Place and I had worked for three years to get someone from the Collins family to speak with us about John's early family history.

Richard Chapman in 1944 on motorcycle seen with his friend Fred Higgins who saved his life.
"John's father--my Uncle Rich--was a light-infantry officer and an explosives/demolition expert in His Majesty's Canadian Services. He lost his left leg in 1944 during the Second World War. After his injury, he spent weeks in a military hospital recovering from battle fatigue and physical complications before being shipped home to Canada. He was on medication for the rest of his life. My uncle lived until 1988.

"I want to correct a public inaccuracy. Uncle Richard was never abusive towards his children or my Aunt Marjorie (Loretta went by her middle name in Canada). He never abandoned his children and never would. My aunt divorced my uncle for alleged 'extreme mental cruelty.' Uncle Rich loved his children very much, however, due (to) the amount of lies Aunt Marjorie put in their heads, they didn't want to be bothered with him. Hoping to avoid dragging their children through a bitter divorce, my uncle gave Aunt Marjorie what she wanted--full custody. My cousin Gail learned the truth shortly before her Dad passed away."

According to Chapman, "My Aunt Marjorie's family felt Uncle Rich was not good enough for their daughter. He wasn't Catholic. Her parents didn't like their son-in-law and offered him money to disappear.... I know for a fact that my Uncle Rich never took the money."

John Philip Chapman
John Philip explained that he had been writing his cousin John (Collins) in prison since he (Chapman) was seven or eight years old. "(Collins) is twenty-five years older than me and has always been like a big brother. In our letters, he refers to me as 'Little Brother'." John Philip Chapman explained that he was an only child and found comfort in the attention from his older American cousin who became a virtual 'Big Brother' for him.

Somehow, Chapman managed to remain ignorant of his older cousin's crimes. Over the years, Chapman maintained a "Don't ask - Don't tell" policy regarding his cousin's imprisonment. After all, Collins had insisted he was innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman murder. Collins also complained in his letters that he was victimized by a rogue cop (Sheriff Douglas Harvey), an overzealous prosecutor (William Delhey), and a corrupt legal system looking for a scapegoat. Now forty-one years old, Chapman's personal search for knowledge about his cousin was making him confront his deepest fears.

John Philip Chapman asked if I would be interested in receiving some of his cousin's prison letters. Chapman had noticed a change in tone and intensity in the letters of late, and he wanted me to look at them. Then, Chapman volunteered something unexpected. He offered to see what other information he could find out from his cousin about his crimes. 

Without JNC's knowledge, over the next four months we received a total of nine prison letters from Collins to his cousin. The letters average seven pages and cover a range of subjects, but one theme became more and more prevalent as time went on. Collins was pressing for an international prisoner exchange with Canada. This was Chapman's original motivation for contacting me. He wanted to know if he and his mother had anything to fear from Collins. I told Chapman that I wouldn't feel comfortable with Collins in my house or my neighborhood.

Chapman told me that Collins tried unsuccessfully to get an international prisoner exchange with Canada in 1981. Canada has more liberal sentencing provisions than the United States, so Collins saw parole as a very real possibility. The basis for his repatriation claim was he was born in Canada and held dual citizenship. He claimed he had relatives and a support system there.

But both JNC's father and his uncle refused to offer their sponsorship to Collins after being contacted by authorities on both sides of the Detroit River informing them of the particulars of Collins's crimes. When the Detroit Free Press ran an article about the possible transfer acting on a tip from a Marquette prison inmate, the Michigan Department of Corrections summarily revoked Collins's application for the international prisoner exchange.

John Norman Collins
Thirty-two years later, Collins summoned up the courage to ask his younger cousin--his last Canadian blood relative--to sponsor him for another prisoner transfer attempt in hopes of receiving dispensation for timed served in Michigan. To Collins's way of thinking, all he needed was a relative and a place to stay; then, he could be assigned to a work release program in Canada and be free of his Michigan prison cell and his jailers. Now, it became clear to Chapman what JNC had been driving at for months--the chicken hawk wanted to come home to roost.

Link to the above mentioned blog post: