Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Washtenaw County Release of Double-Murderer Ralph C. Nuss

Washtenaw County Detectives Chester A. Wilson and Stanton L. Bordine taking Ralph C. Nuss for a ride to Ionia State Mental Hospital.

One of the most disturbing events in the history of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office was the release of Ralph C. Nuss for the strangulation murder of seventeen-year-old Arlan Withrow of Ypsilanti, Michigan on October 16, 1966. His body was found on October 20 in a shallow creek near Port Huron, Michigan with a cement block tied to his leg. Nuss was also charged with the strangulation/shooting murder of eighteen-year-old Thomas Brown of Windsor, Ontario on November 10, 1966. A combination of prosecutorial delay and a change in Michigan state law regarding its "criminal sexual psychopath (CSP)" statutes combined to release Nuss on February 9, 1979 after eight years of detention without being charged. 

Thirty-year-old Nuss was arrested on November 14, 1966 on a warrant charging him with "gross indecency between males." During an early morning interrogation the next morning, Nuss tearfully confessed to Washtenaw County sheriff's detectives that he molested both youths after killing them. When asked for a motive, all Nuss said was "I just had to  kill them." Detectives said Nuss "wept so much that the tears flowed off his chin."

On November 16th, Nuss led detectives to a creek near Harland in Livingston County where they found Brown's body. Nuss initially told detectives that the Withrow murder occurred on federal property outside Milan Federal Prison, which brought a federal charge carrying a death penalty sentence. Nuss was held in the Washtenaw County Jail.

A glaring irony of this case was that Nuss was a respected supervisor at Milan Federal Prison where he managed the prison's work release program for eligible inmates. Warden Paul P. Sartwell said, "Nuss' confession is shocking to me and all of his fellow employees. He began working at Milan Prison on May 25th, 1965 and had an excellent work record during his tenure here."

Nuss' landlady in Augusta Township, Mrs. Dubik, told investigators that her tenant was "very polite and considerate. He took me to church every Sunday, drove me to the grocery store, and helped me around the house. He didn't smoke or drink either." Further investigation revealed Nuss attended St. Joseph Catholic Church in Whittaker, near Ypsilanti where he taught Sunday School catechism class. When Mrs. Dubik was asked if she noticed anything unusual about her tenant, she said he entertained male friends who sometimes left early in the morning. Dubik also mentioned that sometimes she visited her family for several days giving Nuss free reign of her home.

Nuss' admission of leading a double-life set off an Ypsilanti police investigation of a young-adult underworld in the Ypsi area. Nuss used the psydonym "Ken Nichols" and regularly associated with teens on the fringes of the youthful underworld he met on street corners and teen hangouts. Police say they uncovered drug trafficking, a car theft ring, a pornography market, and homosexual activities.

Nuss was acquainted with several youths involved in illegal activity. Investigators found that the name Ken Nichols kept turning up with some of Withrow's known associates. After a month-long investigation, Nuss was arrested for gross indecency on November 14, 1966 by Washtenaw County Sheriff detectives Stanton L. Bordine and Chester A. Wilson. Nuss used the pseudonym Ken Nichols when apprehended. 

Thirty-year-old Nuss admitted he met Arlan Withrow through a "mutual friend." He telephoned Withrow on the evening of October 16th after Withrow returned from a movie date with his girlfriend. Later that night, he met Withrow and drove him to his rented room on Tuttle Hill Road in Augusta Township. Nuss said Withrow fell asleep (passed out?) and he bound Withrow's hands.

Nuss initially told police that he took Withrow to a secluded area near Milan Prison and strangled him with a rope. Then he threw Withrow's nude body in the trunk of his car until the next evening when he drove the body outside the Port Huron area and threw Withrow's body into a shallow creek.

Twenty-four days later on November 10th, Nuss took Thomas Brown to his rented room and tried to bind him also. Brown struggled, so Nuss shot him in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. He stored the body in the trunk of his car and took it to Harland in Livingston County, 40 miles north of Ann Arbor and threw Brown's nude body in a secluded creek.

Nuss was six-feet tall and 190 pounds with a receding hair line. He looked frightened and confused at the arraignment for the Brown slaying. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf and an examination was scheduled for 9:00 am on November 25th. As Nuss was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and restraints, he unknowingly passed Withrow's father and the slain youth's girlfriend who were standing in the crowd outside the courtroom.

Arlan Withrow's murder case was problematic from the start. On January 10, 1967, an FBI investigation revealed that Nuss did not kill Withrow on federal property. Now, jurisdiction fell upon Washtenaw County, but Prosecutor William Delhey took no action on charging Nuss with Withrow's slaying. On March 14th, Nuss' defense attorneys filed a petition in the Washtenaw County District Court for a hearing to determine whether Nuss was a criminal sexual psychopath (CSP).

On the same day in a different courtroom, Nuss' lawyers filed a Demand for a Speedy Trial motion. Two weeks later, the court declared Nuss a CSP and ordered him committed to Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. On June 21,1967, Nuss entered Ionia and underwent a thorough mental evaluation and participated in psychotherapy sessions.

On July 13, 1973, Nuss was pronounced cured by Ionia's medical superintendent and remanded back to the custody of the Washtenaw County Detention Center. Prosecutor William F. Delhey reinstituted the original Brown murder charge and charged Nuss with the Withrow murder for the first time.

In the case of the People vs. Nuss, the Michigan Circuit Court decided on May 3, 1977 that the state was barred from trying Nuss on the determination that Nuss recovered from his psychopathy and was no longer a menace to society. Nuss' defense lawyers argued the state law that Nuss was arrested under had since been declared unconstitutional and abolished, and the Michigan Supreme Court decision was retroactive.

Nuss' attorneys contended that the eight-year delay in their client's prosecution of the Withrow slaying was prejudicial to a fair trial for the following reasons:

  • the defendants' right to speedy trial was violated
  • the defendant was denied due process
  • original witnesses admit they could not remember many of the surrounding circumstances
  • Dr. Alexander Dukay, who examined Nuss in 1967, was now deceased

The United States Circuit Court denied the Washtenaw County Court's appeal. Michigan Secretary of State Frank Kelley and Washtenaw County Prosecutor William F. Delhey argued the case to the Michigan Supreme Court on March 7, 1978. The high court upheld the lower court's rulings. The law stipulated that no person designated a CSP could be tried for that crime after successful, psychiatric treatment and release. Nuss could not be tried on the Brown murder. The Withrow case was also dismissed on the grounds that Nuss was denied the right to a speedy trial.

The Michigan Supreme Court case was decided on February 5, 1979. Four days later, Ralph C. Nuss was released and driven to the bus station by the same two Washtenaw County detectives who arrested him. Nuss was given a one-way ticket to his home state of Pennsylvania, where he died in 1991 at the age of fifty-five.

Terror In Ypsilanti videocast 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Medical Marijuana and My Friend Peter McWilliams

Peter and I went to Allen Park High School together in the mid-1960's
. He was a bright and precocious student but was considered by many to be a weird nerd. Like many nerds before or since, Peter was grossly underestimated by most of his high school peers.


Peter came into his own during his college days at Eastern Michigan University and began a successful career as an author. The story of his death is emblematic of the senseless and inhumane war on marijuana waged by a misguided legal system. In his case, the law killed him. The following article ran in Liberty magazine, written by a staff writer.




Another Casualty Of The War On Drugs

On June 14, Natalie Fisher went to Peter McWilliams' home, where she worked as housekeeper to the wheelchair-bound victim of AIDS and cancer.  In the bathroom on the second floor, she found his life-less body.  He had choked to death on his own vomit.

As regular readers of Liberty know, Peter, a world famous author* and a regular contributor to these pages, was diagnosed with AIDS and non-Hodgkins lymphoma in early 1996.  Like many people stricken with AIDS or cancer, he had great difficulty keeping down the drugs that controlled or mitigated those afflictions.  He began to smoke marijuana to control the drug-induced nausea.  It saved his life: by early 1998, both his cancer and his AIDS were under control.

In 1996, California voters enacted a law legalizing the use of marijuana by people like Peter, who needed it for medical reasons.  Peter was an enthusiastic supporter of the new law, both because he believed in maximizing human liberty and because marijuana had saved his life and was, indeed, keeping him alive.

But Peter was more than an advocate.  After the Clinton administration announced it would ignore the state law and continue to prosecute marijuana users who needed the drug to stay alive, it remained very difficult for others who needed medical marijuana to get the drug.  So Peter helped finance the efforts of Todd McCormick to cultivate marijuana for distribution to those who needed it for medical reasons.

His articulate advocacy for legalizing medical marijuana brought him to the attention of federal authorities, who got wind of Todd McCormick's attempt to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes and of Peter's involvement with it.  And it came to pass that in the early morning of December 17, 1997, federal agents invaded his home and business, and confiscated a wide array of his property 
(including his computers, one of whose hard disks contained the book he was writing).  In July 1998 they arrested him on charges of conspiring to grow marijuana.

His mother and brother put up their homes as bond and he was released from jail to await his trial.  One of the conditions of his bail was that he smoke no marijuana.  Unwilling to risk the homes of his mother and brother, he obeyed the order.  His viral load, which had fallen to undetectable levels, now soared to dangerous levels:

"Unable to keep down the life-saving prescription medications, by November 1998, four months after my arrest, my viral load soared to more than 256,000.  In 1996 when my viral load was only 12,500, I had already developed an AIDS-related cancer ....  Even so, the government would not yield.  It continued to urine test me.  If marijuana were found in my system, my mother and brother would lose their homes and I would be returned to prison" said Peter.

Peter's health wasn't all that was ruined.  Unable to work because of the disease and facing mounting legal bills, he was forced into bankruptcy.  But he didn't give up: he experimented with various regimens and eventually managed to keep his medication down for as long as an hour and a quarter, long enough for some of the medication to work its way into his system.  But the process had weakened him to the point where he was wheelchair-bound.

His publishing venture destroyed and his assets gone, Peter focused on his upcoming trial.  He relished the chance to defend himself in court: medical marijuana was legal under state law and he believed a spirited defense could both exonerate him and help establish a legal fight to grow marijuana for medical purposes.

Last November, news came that would have crushed a lesser man: the judge in the case ruled that Peter could not present to the jury any information about his illness, the fact that the government's own research concludes that marijuana is virtually the only way to treat the illness, or that using marijuana for medical purposes was legal in California.

Unable to defend himself against the government's charges, Peter concluded that he had no choice but to plea bargain.  He agreed to plead guilty, in hopes that any incarceration could be served under house arrest, since sending him to prison, where he would not be able to follow his lifesaving regimen, would be tantamount to sentencing him to death.

On June 11, there was a fire in his home, which destroyed the letters to the judge that he had acquired and the computer containing the book he was writing on his ordeal.  Three days later, he died, apparently as a result of his inability to keep his medication down.

When I heard that Peter had died I was grief-stricken.  I'd known him only for a couple of years, but that was more than enough for me to come to respect and love him.  I became acquainted with him shortly after the drug police raided his home, the first in the series of calamities that befell him.

Three things about Peter were truly amazing.

Despite the government's persecution, which resulted in the loss of virtually all his property, his freedom, and ultimately his life, he never descended into hatred.  Time and time again, he cautioned friends against falling victim to hate or giving in to the desire for revenge.  "My enemy is ignorance," he'd say, "not individuals."

I was also astonished by his ability to focus on the future and not get depressed about the calamities that befell him.  I spoke to him dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times during his ordeal, and I do not recall a single time when he even remotely sounded down or acted as if he were seeking my sympathy.

The third astonishing thing about Peter was his remarkable generosity of spirit.  He always offered help and encouragement to others, no matter what his own circumstances were.  A few months ago, I was contacted by a publisher with a request to reprint an article of Peter's that had appeared in Liberty.  The publisher was one of the few who routinely is willing to pay for reprint rights, so I called Peter with the good news, and asked him how much he'd like me to ask for his article.
"Nothing," he said.  "I want to encourage people to reprint my writing on the drug war." I reiterated that this publisher happily paid $100 to $200 for reprint rights, that it was very prosperous and that he could use the money.  (By this time, Peter was so broke that he was asking friends to use his website as a portal to various shopping websites so that he would receive the small commissions that they offer.) But Peter would have none of it.  "We are in a war of ideas," he said.  "And I want my writing to have the widest possible effect."

I must admit that when I learned the tragic news of Peter's death, my spirit was not so generous as his.  I thought about the judge who had denied him his day in court and had ordered him to forgo the medication that kept him alive.  I suppose he's happy, I said to myself, now that he's murdered Peter.

I'm one of those libertarians who generally tries to look at government policies more as folly than as evil.  But sometimes, the evil that government does transcends simple folly.  Sometimes I have to be reminded that there is a real human cost of government.  It happened when I learned of the government's killing of 86 people at Waco and its murder of Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge.  And it happened with Peter, too.

Peter never wanted to be a martyr.  But he wanted to live in a free country, where people respected each others rights and choices, and he did what he thought was best to keep himself alive and to advance the cause of liberty.  He was one of the most joyous people I've ever known, a hero in every sense of the word.

So rather than belabor his tragic death, Liberty will celebrate his life by publishing for the first time the full text of his address to the Libertarian Party National Convention in 1998.  It's vintage Peter McWilliams: funny, wise, charming, intelligent, full of piss and vinegar.

I invite you to read and enjoy it -- and join with other people of good will in celebrating the life of this good, kind, decent, generous, and brilliant man. 

* He wrote several best-sellers, including some of the first books about using microcomputers, "How to Survive the Loss of Love" ( which sold more than four million copies, several books of poetry ( with total sales of nearly four million ), and "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do", a brilliant analysis of consensual "crimes."

MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk

See William F. Buckley's take on Peter's death in part two of this tragedy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Elusive Purple Gang videocast

In October 30th, 2020, I was interviewed about my true crime book The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra by D.A. Kulczyk and Phil D'Asaro for their Cities of Blood videocast. This title is available in a quality paperback, ebook, or audio format. Makes a great holiday gift.

Elusive Purple Gang interview

Friday, December 11, 2020

Edythe Fern Melrose--The Lady of Charm

The Lady of Charm

Edythe Fern (Culp) Melrose was born in rural Illinois in 1897, but she was raised on a farm in West Mansfield, Ohio. She grew up a farmer's daughter doing chores like milking cows and gathering eggs. "My parents had four daughters and we all did boy's work and household chores." Edythe went to a little country school until her father moved the family to Chicago, so his daughters could get a better education.

At first, Edythe was insecure about being a "country hick" or a "hayseed" at the Bush Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts. To avoid being labeled a "dunce," she became an overachiever and pushed herself to get the highest grades in her class. She learned about charm, personality, diction, poise, and proper speech habits--the standard expectations for young, educated women of that era. Unbeknowst to Edythe, these traits became the focus of her future career.

She graduated with honors from the Bush Conservatory and entered Columbia College in Chicago--a private, nonprofit college specializing in visual and performing arts, liberal arts, and business degrees. There, she graduated from the "School of Media Arts" where she learned about radio broadcasting and business management.

In 1929, Edythe became one of the first women in America to manage a radio station--WJAY in Cleveland. From 1933 until 1941, she emceed her own women's program which was popular locally. Edythe moved her program in 1941 to WXYZ-Radio in Detroit and renamed it "The Lady of Charm." By 1943, she created House of Charm Radio Productions and syndicated her program throughout Michigan, building her Lady of Charm brand. She had a pleasant radio voice, an infectious chuckle, and a wealth of common sense for women that she would sprinkle throughout her program. Her tag line was "A women's charm depends on the way she looks and the way she cooks."

Early television pioneers

Edythe's public image was motherhood and apple pie, but behind the scenes, she was a consummate business woman active in Detroit's professional business organizations. As the Lady of Charm, Edythe Fern Melrose was a much sought-after speaker in the Detroit area. Seven years later, she made the leap to television and became a television pioneer. Her program on WXYZ-TV Channel 7 ran from 1948 until 1960. She was always fashionably dressed and looked like she just left the beauty parlor.

Edythe was one of the first television personalities to utilize product placement, and she doubled-down by shrewdly mentioning the brand names of the appliances used on her studio set which endeared her to sponsors like Frigidaire, Hotpoint, and General Electric. 

Her recommendations were much sought-after by advertisers. She had a fully-functional replica of her home kitchen constructed in the studio at the Maccabees Building and later at WXYZ's Broadcast House in Southfield. Every year, kitchen appliance styles would change, and the Lady of Charm got whatever she asked for free of charge. Her studio kitchen always had the latest appliances and was an advertisement in itself. 


When Edythe did a cooking segment, everything was premeasured for her to save precious air-time. Every dish was prepared in two stages: one with ingredients for preparation on-air to be shoved in the oven and another already baked to take out of the oven. She would choose an invited guest or someone from the station to sit down at the end of her show and share the dish while seated at a tablecloth-covered, fully decked-out table with silverware and crystal service. After taping her show, Edythe's assistant finished cooking or baking the extra dish for Edyth's camera crew. Soupy Sales remembered, "We were the best-fed station in town."

WXYZ did not renew Edythe's contract in 1960 after twelve years on Detroit television. She revived her production company producing commercials and syndicated segments titled "The Charm Kitchen" and "House of Fashion" for other Detroit stations including CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. In addition to producing and appearing in ads, she wrote advertising copy for her high-dollar, corporate clientele. To produce her segments, she rented studio time and production facilities from WXYZ Broadcast House in Southfield.

During a studio taping for the Pontiac Motor Car Company on February 27, 1968, one of the station's directors asked Edythe to go backstage and attach a microphone to her bra. It was dark behind the curtain where she tripped over a cable and severely twisted her leg dislocating her knee. She was rushed to the hospital for surgery where her knee cap was removed confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

She and her husband (Forest U. Webster) filed a lawsuit charging WXYZ with neglect for not providing a proper passageway backstage for her. The station dragged the lawsuit through two appeals taking eight years to work through the Macomb County Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Just fifteen days after she and her husband were awarded a settlement of $952,000 for damages including back interest, Edythe Fern (Melrose) Webster died at the age of seventy-seven at her home on May 19, 1976. Services were held in Grosse Point Woods at A.H. Peters Funeral Home, and she was buried in Grayling, Michigan.

Edythe was a product of her times as much as a trendsetter for women of her day. Her friends and colleagues remembered Edythe as active in public affairs and concerned about her television viewers. Longtime friend Diane Edgecomb told The Detroit Free Press that "Edythe was a classic, a real television pioneer. She was a genteel women's libber all her life." Business associate and friend Marion Ryan said, "Edythe had a very charming personality and a nice way of putting people at ease. She will be missed." 

Lady of Charm Brings Home the Bacon 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

TERROR IN YPSILANTI Podcast -Gregory A. Fournier From: True Murder: The Most Shocking Killers



True crime podcast recorded on December 9, 2020 on the John Norman Collins murders from July 1967 through August 1969 in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Available in paperback, all ebook formats, and an audio.

An eight-part miniseries is being developed by a Canadian media company for possible production in the next few years. First, a "proof of concept" pilot must be shopped around and then picked up by a production company. I'm confident this project will become a reality in the next couple of years. Stay tuned.

Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked podcast (90 minutes)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Cities of Blood Terror In Ypsilanti Videocast

On November 29, 2020, I spoke with D.A. Kulczyk and Phil D'Asaro about my true crime account of the John Norman Collins murders in Ypsilanti, Michigan between July 1967 and August 1969. Makes a good holiday gift for the true crime lover in your life.

Terror In Ypsilanti 2020 Videocast

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Grande Ballroom--Detroit's Hard Rock Mecca

Mural painted on plywood used to board up the Grande Ballroom.

Detroit empresario Harry Weitzman was the financier and original owner of the Grande Ballroom located on the corner of Grand River Blvd and Joy Rd in the predominately Jewish Petosky-Otsego neighborhood on Detroit's Westside. Construction began in May 1928 on the multiuse, two-story building with basement space which opened that October. The architectual style was Art Deco with Spanish Colonial Revival elements. The building was not equipped with air conditioning, so the ballroom was surrounded on three sides by twenty-two Moorish arched windows for cross-ventilation during the hot summer months.

Retail shops occupied the first floor, the mezzenine, and the basement. The ballroom dance floor filled most of the second floor--one of the largest in the Midwest with a capacity for 1,837 dancers. The hardwood floor featured a "sprung" design built over subflooring and a lattice work of cork strips to allow the floor to cushion the dancers' steps, and whether by design or happy coincidence, the ballroom had fabulous acoustics.

The Grande Ballroom became a favorite playground for the surrounding Jewish neighborhood. One can imagine Purple Gang members dressed in fancy clothes, strolling into the dance hall checking out the local talent. From the 1930s until the end of World War II, the Grande featured jazz and big band music. After the war, the music business changed as prewar entertainment habits changed.

The jukebox and a burgeoning record industry turned many dancers into listeners. Youth in the1950s began hosting basement and garage record parties to the detriment of ballroom culture. Commercial radio and television did not help either.

The rise of teen dance television programs like Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Swinging Time with Robin Seymour helped record companies shift America's musical tastes from big bands and orchestras to smaller rock & roll bands and rhythm & blues groups that could lip synch their music and reach a huge, teenage audience. All the city's ballrooms fell on hard times. The Grande's dance floor was turned into a roller skating rink for a time and then a storage facility for mattresses.

In 1966, WKNR deejay "Uncle" Russ Gibb cut a rent-to-buy deal with current owners, the Kleinmann family, for $700 a month. Gibb turned the boarded-up eyesore into a hard rock venue modeled after Bill Graham's San Francisco Fillmore Theater. The surrounding neighborhood and the outside of the Grande had seen better days and was in decline.

Gibb asked other Detroit deejays to partner with him, but they said, "It will never work; that's a Black neighborhood." He reached out to John Sinclair, a key figure in the collaborative Detroit Artists' Workshop, which morphed into Trans-Love Energies Unlimited. Together, they made the Grande Ballroom a success. Where else could young people in Detroit go to see two local bands and two headliner groups for five dollars?

Russ Gibb wanted the Grande to be a place where bands were free to write and perform their own material and forge their own identities. He was not interested in cover bands or bar bands. To help create a psychedelic atmosphere, one of the largest strobe lights ever constructed was installed.

A large screen behind the bandstand displayed light shows created with vegetable oil, food coloring, and a piece of Saran Wrap manipulated in a clear glass bowl or plate projected onto the screen with a transparency projector. This low tech light show combined with the strobe light was unlike anything Detroit kids had ever experienced before. Pretty soon, the weekly gatherings of the tribe began to resemble the characters on the pages of Rob Crumb's Zap Comix.

First Grande Ballroom handbill by Gary Grimshaw in October 1966.

If Crumb was the artist in residence for the Fillmore West in San Francisco, Gary Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren were the artists in residence for the The Grande Ballroom. Their original graphic art became famous and was featured in the Grande's weekly handbills which were produced in large numbers and widely distributed. Today, original Grande poster and handbill art attracts collectors, especially if it's signed by the artists or featured band members.

An example of Carl Lundgren's work.

Arguably, the Grande Ballroom is the birthplace of punk and hard rock music. They started with Detroit's local power bands like SRC, Frost, Iggy and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger and the Last Herd, and the Grande's house band The MC5. Then the San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company started making Detroit appearances on their concert tours.

When emerging British rock groups heard about the Grande's rabid rock & roll scene, they made Detroit part of their tours--groups and performers like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull, Procol Harem, and Cream. To get a sense of how intense performances could be, listen to MC5s "Kick Out the Jams" album which was recorded live at the Grande.

The Grande also hosted Black jazz and blues performers helping to expand their audiences. This drew in racially mixed crowds and endeared the Grande to the local community--performers like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, John Coltrane, Howling Wolf, Taj Mahal, and Sun Ra were booked, as well as rock & roll legends Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Jimi Hendrix

Russ Gibb closed the Grande on New Year's Eve 1972 after six years of operation. The counter-culture and the record business had changed. Corporate suits realized they could make megabucks promoting these groups through much larger venues like auditoriums, university fieldhouses, and stadiums. One by one, the groups signed binding record contracts changing the performers and their performances, making the Grande's grassroots venue a victim of its own success.

Gibb returned to teaching and landed a job at Dearborn High School where he worked until retirement promoting media education. As the decades passed, the weather and vandals turned the dance hall into a ruin. Some efforts are being made to restore the roof of the building to make it weather tight.


Suffice it to say, the Grande's history takes more than a blog post to recount. There is an interesting book available on Amazon, named aptly enough The Grande Ballroom: Detroit's Rock 'N' Palace, by Leo Early.

An Emmy-winning documentary Louder Than Love--The Grande Ballroom was released in 2012. It tells the rock palace's story as told by many of the people who made musical history there. The 52 minute documentary is linked below.

Louder Than Love

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Alex Karras--Basketball Bully?

Anybody know what this publicity shot was for? I recognize Alex Karras and Merle Olsen. Who are the other guys? I think the guy with his legs crossed might be Jack Nicklaus.

Over the spring of 1963, Detroit Lion Alex Karras was waiting to hear his fate over NFL gambling allegations. He continued to go about his life as normally as possible. In the off-season, the Lions' public relations department organized a series of exhibition basketball games in the greater Detroit area to raise money for worthy causes with the side benefit of selling Lions' season tickets. The games were meant to be fun, with the Lions players pulling gags, breaking the rules, and ignoring the volunteer referees much like the Harlem Globetrotters but without the talent or precision timing.

On March 24, 1963, The Detroit Free Press reported that during a Lions exhibition game in Bronson, Michigan on March 19th Alex Karras hit community player Darian Wiler with a "deliberate backhand blow to the neck that left him flat on the floor for five minutes." After Karras was pulled from the game and sent to the showers, the rest of the Lions stuck to playing the basketball game without any further antics.

Another roughing incident occurred several days later in Belleville, Michigan which broke up the game before the clock ran out. The Lions' opponents were an alumni team of former Belleview High School basketball athletes who wanted to prove they still had what it takes before the hometown crowd who was rooting them on.

Former local basketball star, twenty-year-old Gerald Linderman told the Free Press that Alex Karras roughed him up on the court and slugged him when he attempted to shake hands with him in the locker room. Karras denied the incident, "I didn't get hit and I didn't hit anybody. I can't understand what all the trouble is about. There was no real trouble."

Detroit Lions Logo 1961-1969

Spectators reported that they hoped to see a fun Lions' celebrity fundraiser for Little League baseball, but Karras was playing roughhouse basketball more like a football game or a professional wrestling match.

"Before me," Linderman said, "(Karras) hit one guy with a forehead and he elbowed another in the mouth; then, he got all over me just before the game was ended. The game took a turn for the worse when our team's biggest player, Fritz Steger (6' 3"/220#), was sent to the showers after he bumped Lion Wayne Walker, and Walker hit him with a basketball squarely in the face from only five feet away.

"Karras came up to me and said, 'You gave me an elbow for the last time. I'm gonna give you one in the mouth'. We swung at each other a couple of times as I tried to back away to protect myself. He tackled me giving me a cut over my right eye. The (organizers) called off the game."

One of the referees Richard Duffield, a teacher at Livonia High School, was an eyewitness. "Linderman had his hand out and said he was sorry thinking Karras would shake it, then he pinned Linderman against the wall. (Karras) backed off, changed his mind, and hit him hard in the jaw. Thirty minutes later, Karras apologized saying he was already in enough trouble.

A couple days after the unflattering Free Press article ran, the Detroit Lions' public relations office had club trainer Millard Kelly and a couple of players including Karras make a press statement about their promotional basketball program and the incident.

Kelly told the local Detroit media, "You get some (players) who want to make it a friendly exhibition game and some who are gung-ho about winning. The gung-ho ones are kids out of high school a few years that are rusty but ready to show the hometown crowd they can still play basketball and aren't going to be pushed around by any pro football bullies."

Detroit Lion end Gail Gogdill said of the Belleville scuffle, "We want to put on a good show, but there are always some of the hometown team who want to beat the big, bad Lions. They think they can pop a few elbows. Wayne (Walker) and Alex (Karras) were elbowed all the time. We pulled our stunts like flying wedges, fake field goals, holding each other on our shoulders to make a shot. We signed autographs at halftime and everybody had a good time."

Karras' final words on the subject were "You know how guys are sometimes? He (Linderman) banged me in the throat twice with his elbows, and I told him 'Kid, that's enough. Cut it out now', so he bangs me again. So, I'm the bully?"

Karras in locker room interview.

The fracas undoubtedly reached the desk of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, as did the news of the professional wrestling match Karras was scheduled to have with mauler Dick the Bruiser at Detroit's Olympia Stadium on April 29, 1963. Karras was left to twist in the wind until April 17th when Commissioner Rozelle called and informed him he was suspended for the 1963 NFL season after admitting gambling on NFL games.

On April 21st, Karras was contacted by The Detroit Free Press for comment. The Lion's beleaguered, defensive lineman said he felt the suspension was unfair but there was nothing he could do about it. To play down his simmering resentment, he added, "I even got a call from Belleview. They said they were forming a Dick the Bruiser fan club. They're coming down to see me take a beating."

The Bellevue boosters were not disappointed.

Killer Karras vs. Dick the Bruiser

Thursday, October 22, 2020

California Kid/Midwestern Heart

I'm proud to announce that my daughter Nicole Fribourg is a romance novelist. I asked her to write a brief guest post about her motivation.

It's been wonderful to have a foot in one state and a toe in another. I've always been an observer of people, curious about what makes them do what they do and think what they think. The Michigan blizzard of 1979 drove my parents to leave the Detroit area for sunny San Diego. I grew up 2,400 miles away from Detroit, but Vernor's ginger ale was always in our fridge and I know what a Boston Cooler is.

When my family visited Michigan in the summers, we always went by car. We drove across the California mountains, the Southwestern deserts, the Great Plains, the Midwest, and the Great Lakes region--often on the back roads off the interstate. We'd have an adventure of the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes along the journey--not to mention the many people we encountered.

This treasure trove of memories and images I use to create my characters to make them more textured and relatable to readers. I write through the lens of the experiences and the diverse people I've met along the way. My wish is that my books take readers on an entertaining journey to better understand themselves and their personal relationships.


Check out my latest romance novel: "Fixing Flynn"

For a list of my current novels, see my Amazon Author page: amazon.com/author/nicolefribourg 

Join my mailing list for information about my upcoming projects:   https://nicolefribourg.wixsite.com/nicolefribourg

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Michigan Homegrown Terrorism of the 1930s--The Black Legion

I like to think I am well-versed in Michigan and Detroit history, but it wasn't until I recently read Tom Stanton's Terror in the City of Champions that I learned of the Black Legion, a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. The original group called the Black Guard was founded in the mid-1920's as a security force for Ohio Klan officers, many of whom held public office.

After being kicked out of the Klan for establishing a fiefdom, Dr. Billy Shephard from Lima, Ohio further radicalized the group. They became known as the Black Legion, an even more ruthless and reckless organization than the Klan. In 1931, a Michigan regiment was established by Arthur Lupp of Highland Park.

From there, Virgil "Bert" Effinger began to reorganize the group throughout the Midwest and became the group's spokesperson. Every new member had to repeat an oath "In the name of God and the Devil." They were given a .38 caliber bullet cartridge and told another one had their name on it if they violated their vow of secrecy.

Some people were tricked into joining by friends or family and soon discovered they were in over their heads. High-ranking officers wore black capes with gold trim and brandished weapons openly. The legion expanded aggressively through deception, threats, and brutality. Beatings and torture were used to keep errant members in line.
Policemen display captured Black Legion vestments and the tools of their trade.

The Black Legion boasted having over one million members nationwide. At its height in Michigan, there were 5 brigades, 16 regiments, 64 battalions, and 256 companies. Law enforcement estimated membership at 20,000 to 30,000 statewide. The Detroit area had 10,000 members. Michigan State Police investigator Ira Holloway Marmon discovered Black Legion strongholds in Highland Park, Ecorse, Wyandotte, Lincoln Park, Saline, Monroe, Irish Hills, Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, and of course, Detroit. Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio also had active chapters.

Their members were primarily angry, white, Anglo-Saxon males who were transplants from the South during the boom years of the auto industry in what history marks as the Great Migration. Whites and Blacks with little or no industrial skills flooded into Detroit heeding Henry Ford's clarion call, "Jobs at $5 a day." Competition for work was fierce in the 1920s, but during the Great Depression, people were killed over jobs.

The Legion was frustrated by the economic and social instability of the 1930s. They felt alienated by Detroit's industrial landscape. One of their core beliefs was that Anglo-Saxon Protestants were being pushed aside in America because foreigners (Catholic and Jewish immigrants) and Blacks were taking their jobs they believed they were entitled to.

1937 Movie Lobby Card

Being in the Legion made members feel connected with something larger than themselves. Membership for many people increased their self-esteem and sense of white supremacy. They absolutely believed race mixing was destabilizing the American way of life leading to social degeneracy.

Legionnaires widened the scope of their wrath to include terrorizing and murdering welfare recipients, labor union organizers, and political opponents. Probably more than anything else, the Black Legion hated socialists and communists. The legionnaires were a homegrown, right-wing, secret terrorist society.

Using fronts like the Wayne County Rifle and Pistol Club (members honed their shooting skills in the club's backroom firing range) and the Wolverine Republican Club (where thinly disguised rallies and gatherings were staged), Legion-approved speakers would rail against their perceived enemies and rally the faithful. New recruits would hear lengthy diatribes whipping the crowd to a frenzy of hatred.

The Legion provided easy answers to the complex questions of their day. One of their political fliers read, "We will fight political Romanism (Catholics), Judaism (Jews), Communism (Socialists), and all 'isms' which our forefathers came to this country to avoid," all the while wrapping themselves in the American flag and patriotism. 

Charles Poole
Works Progress organizer Charles Poole (22- year-old Catholic) was shot five times at point blank range in Dearborn Township on May 13th, 1936. A number of key Legion members were arrested and convicted.

Investigators uncovered the organization's propaganda, their enrollment records, some Black Legion robes and hoods including the tools of their trade--guns, bludgeons, blackjacks, and whips. Dayton Dean was convicted of being the trigger-man in Poole's death. Once on the stand, Dean sang like a canary.

For more details on the Black Legion, view this link: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/11/28/history-the-black-legion-where-vets-and-the-klan-met/

In 1937, Warner Bros. Pictures made a movie about the Black Legion starring Humphrey Bogart. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0027367/

Sunday, October 4, 2020

FORNOLOGY Reaches One Million Hits

Photo credit: Nicole Fribourg

It took over nine years for my Fornology.com blog to reach one million hits at 2:45 pm, October 3, 2020. My first post was on May 3, 2011, since then I've written 460 posts on a variety of topics. My current goal is to reach 500 posts before I run out of sunlight. It should take me two or three more years.

Writing my Fornology blog over the past decade has been a joy. It has helped me build an audience for my books, establish my writing voice, and improve my editing skills. Another thing I like about blogging is it is a source of instant gratification when I get comments from readers.

But truthfully, the thing I most like about blogging is that it makes me appear smarter than I really am. I owe that to my wife Sue's proofreading help, and my ability to infinitely edit my posts to make them more correct.

Many thanks to all my readers. I appreciate everyone who reads and shares my posts. I could not have reached this milestone alone.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Detroit's Stroh's Brewing Company--With Its Days of Future Passed

Founder Bernhard Stroh
Avoiding the German Revolution of 1848, Bernhard Stroh emigrated to the United States with knowledge of the brewing trade from his father Georg Friedrich Stroh--landowner and inn keeper. He was taught the Pilzen method of brewing a light-lager beer. In 1850--at the age of twenty-eight--Stroh established his basement brewery operation in Detroit with a $150 investment. Immediately, he started brewing Bohemian-style lager beer in copper-clad kettles that promoted the carmelization of the wort--unfermented beer--that made the beer lighter without reducing the flavor.

Stroh's home and first brewery building
Stroh's beer was sold door-to-door in beer buckets from a wheelbarrow, but soon horse-drawn wagons would be delivering his authentic German beer across town in barrels. Bernhard Stroh expanded his business in 1865 and adopted the heraldic lion emblem from the Kyrburg Castle in Germany. The lion icon is still visible in Stroh's product labeling.

Oldest son Bernhard Stroh Jr. assumed leadership of the brewing business when his father died on June 28, 1882 at the age of 59. The company patriarch was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan. Bernhard Jr. introduced pasteurization and refrigerated rail cars which increased the shelf-life of their product and broadened their markets. Stroh's became the Detroit area's signature beer.

In 1908, Julius Stroh took over the family business from his brother. After a celebrated tour of Europe's finest breweries, Julius introduced direct flame--rather than steam--to heat the copper kettles. The company motto became "America's Only Fire-Brewed Beer" and part of the brand's labeling.

Prohibition was tough on the beer brewing industry and many breweries closed across the country. Rather than shut down and abandon their loyal workers, the company diversified and made near-beer (non-alcoholic), soft drinks, and ice cream. It is not unlikely that Stroh's Brewery may have made specially-ordered batches of the Real McCoy for Detroit's vast Speakeasy network. The country may have been dry, but Detroit was awash in booze. After Prohibition, the business grew and Stroh's became a regional favorite.

What Detroiters recognize as Stroh's.
A statewide strike halted beer production in 1958 which gave national brands a foothold in the Michigan beer market. In the 1960s, the Stroh family wanted to move the company into the national arena. They bought the Goebel Brewing Company--their rival across the street--in 1964. This increased Stroh's brewing capacity and solved the company's short term growing pains. Some twenty years later, Stroh's was sold in seventeen states. They needed even more brewing capacity, so they bought Schaefer Brewing Company--that had recently gone belly-up in the Miller beer advertising wars.

Then in 1982, Stroh's bought the Schlitz Brewing Company to become America's third-largest brewer--producing many well-known brands like Goebel, Schaefer, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Colt 45, and many others. In 1985, the 135-year-old-brewery on the East Side was simply outdated and had no room to expand. The following year it was imploded--a better fate than many of Detroit's factory ruins.

The Stroh's company business plan was to buy up struggling breweries and drive up the company's market share. Stroh's $500 million heavy debt load to buy Schlitz weakened the company's financial position and left them cash poor to compete with the onslaught of Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company's national marketing campaigns.

In 1990, Coors moved past Stroh's as America's #3 brewer. Stroh's market share dropped 50%. Beer analysts felt that Stroh's came to the light-beer party late. In 1973, Miller Brewing created Miller Lite beer and used macho football players and "tough guys" like pulp-fiction author Mickey Spillane. Miller's "Tastes Great/Less Filling" debate was a stroke of marketing genius. The Budweiser Clydesdales were a potent marketing image for Stroh's to compete with as well.

From the beginning of the company, Stroh's catered to working-class tastes at working-class prices. But Joe Six-Pack had moved on. Beer marketing shifted away from the product and onto the drinker. Advertising slogans like "This Bud's for You" and "It's Miller time--You earned it!" had great appeal to blue-collar beer drinkers. Coors' Silver Bullet promotion was the last straw.

In 1999--unable to compete in the twenty-first century--the 149 year-old brewer closed, and its assets were broken up and sold for the sum of their parts to Pabst Brewing and Miller Brewing companies. Many of the Stroh's brands were discontinued or sold off to other companies. Pabst acquired the well-known brands Colt 45, Schlitz, and Old Milwaukee--Miller got Mickey's Malt Liquor and the Henry Weinhard's line of beers.

Today's Stroh's is produced by Miller Brewing Company. They don't use the special open-flame copper kettles, and the taste reflects the difference. The traditional Stroh's label read "America's Only Fire-Brewed Beer," but now it reads "America's Premium Brewed Beer."

As for the Stroh's family legacy, somehow the seventh generation has managed to lose over $700 million. Forbes magazine reports that by 2008, the family fortune was completely tapped out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Victorian Theater and The Limelight

In the Victorian period, the expression in the limelight meant the most desirable acting area on the stage, front and center. Today, the expression simply means someone is getting public recognition and acclaim.

The limelight effect was discovered by Goldsmith Gurney in the 1820s based on his work with an oxy-hydrogen blowpipe. Scottish inventor, Thomas Drummond (1797-1840), built a working model of the calcium light in 1826 for use in the surveying profession.

The calcium light was created by super heating a cylinder of quicklime (calcium oxide) with an oxy-hydrogen flame that gives off a bright light with a greenish tint.

Eleven years later, the term limelight was coined to describe a form of stage illumination first used in 1837 for a public performance at the Covent Garden Theatre in London. 

By the 1860s, this new technology of stage lighting was in wide use in theaters and dance halls around the world. It was a great improvement over the previous method of stage lighting, candle powered footlights placed along the stage apron. 

Limelight lanterns could also be placed along the front of the lower balcony for general stage illumination providing more natural light than footlights alone. 

A lighthouse-like lens (Fresnel lens) was developed that could direct and focus concentrated light on the stage to spotlight a solo performance. Actors and performers must have felt they were living in the heyday of the theater.

The term green room has been used since the Victoria period to describe the waiting area performers use before going on stage. Theater lore has it that actors would sit in a room lit by limelight to allow their eyes to adjust to the harsh stage lighting, preventing squinting during their stage entrances.

Although the electric light replaced limelight in theaters by the end of the nineteenth century, the term limelight still exists in show business, as does the term green room.

Today, the green room is used by celebrities before they appear on talk shows, but it is not usually painted green. The room still performs a similar function as in the Victorian age--to prepare a performer to go on stage.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Alex Karras' NFL Gambling Suspension--Part Three of Three

Late one December night in 1963 just before closing, Johnny Butsicaris was tending bar while Alex Karras was sitting in a booth counting money and doing some bookkeeping. Celebrated Detroit defense lawyer Joseph Louisell came in and ordered a triple shot of bourbon, took off his overcoat and scarf, and sat across from Karras.

Defense lawyer Joseph Louisell

Louisell was a popular customer at the Lindell AC. He was a heavy set, jovial man who was well-read and an avid sports fan. Louisell was known for winning some of Detroit's most notorious cases. He earned respect for bringing acquittals or reduced sentences for many local crime figures. He lived in the same Grosse Pointe Park neighborhood with many of Detroit's top-ranking mob figures. Their kids even went to school together.

"I want to talk with you about your suspension, Alex. The NFL meets in Miami next month. Have you made any plans regarding your reinstatement?"

"No, Rozelle wants me to drop my interest in the bar and I can't afford to do that."

"I've thoroughly checked out your bar activities.... You're as clean as snow."

"Tell that to Rozelle!"

"Give me the okay and I'll represent you."

"I can't afford you, Joe."

Over 65% of Joseph Louisell's law practice was devoted to civil and corporate law. That's how he and partner Ivan Baris made their money, but that bored Louisell. Joe would take some cases pro bono (free) if they interested him. Winning several high-profile defense cases helped build his reputation. Louisell was a diehard Lions fan, as were other interested parties who wanted to see Karras back in a Lions uniform, but they preferred to remain anonymous not wanting to prejudice the case against him.

"I'll take your case pro bono. I want to see you back on the gridiron, Alex. Here's my argument."

Louisell cited a provision in Michigan liquor licensing that states if your name appears on a Michigan liquor license, you can't sell your business for one year--by law. That includes taverns and liquor stores.

"What does that mean for me?"

"Were you to sell your interest in the bar business, you can 't get another liquor license for three years. We can sue them for lost wages if they force you to sell your stake in the Lindell, and they don't reinstate you."

Louisell told Alex to quit working at the bar, return to his family in Clinton, Iowa, maintain a low profile, and most of all, do not speak with the press. "Wait for my phone call," Louisell emphasized. In late January, Louisell made sure Karras' formal reinstatement appeal was on Commissioner Pete Rozelle's desk.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle

In early March, Louisell and Karras went to meet with Commissioner Rozelle at his New York offices. After waiting for almost an hour in a reception room, the two men were led into the commissioner's office where Rozelle on the phone ignored them for some minutes. With Karras about to storm out of the office in frustration, Louisell calmed him down and told Rozelle to get off the phone, "This man's life is important."

Cutting short his phone call, Rozelle said, "Okay, Mr. Louisell, I'm listening."

Louisell explained that gambling is as intrinsic to professional football as the two-pointed pigskin, and Rozelle knew it. NFL football gambling existed on every level of American society and occurred weekly in office and factory pools, in Las Vegas sports betting parlors, and with private wagers made by John Q. Public--most of it innocent enough.

"You've unjustly punished Alex Karras for a year. My advice to you is make a decision within a week. If it's negative, I will tear the NFL apart." Louisell and Karras rose promptly from their seats and left the commissioner to think it over.

Rozelle knew any bad publicity with a headline-hungry press was not good for the league. He also knew that Louisell was not some ambulance-chasing shyster. His client list included many of Detroit's most notorious power-players including Jimmy Hoffa and the Giacoloni brothers. The last thing the NFL wanted was a media circus broadcast nationwide.

On March 16, 1964, both Green Bay Packer Paul Horning and Detroit Lion Alex Karras were reinstated. The NFL issued a statement saying both men bet on football games but never against their own teams, and there was no evidence either man performed less than his best in any football game.

"After personal discussions with each man, the commissioner is satisified that they have a clear understanding of the seriousness of their offenses," said an NFL spokesman. Nothing was mentioned about Karras' co-ownership of the Lindell AC sports bar.


In a 1969 interview with Sport magazine writer Lou Proto, Karras was led into the subject of his 1963 suspension. "It is my understanding," said Proto, "that you had to sell your interest in the Lindell AC when ordered by Pete Rozelle."

"I kept it for five more years."

"How did you manage that?"

"It was a verbal thing. If Rozelle would have claimed something illegal was going on at the Lindell, he would have been slapped with a lawsuit."

"Then, you were lying when you told Rozelle in 1964 that you sold your interests in the bar?"

"Lying to whom? The guy who was trying to screw me?"

Karras was outspoken but not altogether candid in the interview. He didn't care; he knew the end of his football career was near, and he had already shifted his career trajectory into show business by signing a contract with Hannah-Barbera Productions--already appearing in the TV series Daniel Boone with Fess Parker and a western named The Hard Case with Clint Walker.

William Clay Ford

Recently, Mel Butsicaris revealed to me what really happened. His father Johnny went to see Lions owner William (Bill) Clay Ford. He told Bill Ford if he ever wanted to see Karras in a Lions' uniform again, he needed to lend him and his brother Jimmy the money to buy out Karras' share of the Lindell. They put up their sports bar as security, cut a deal, and Ford had his lawyers write up the promissory note. It took the Butsicaris brothers five years to pay off the loan.

"My dad paid the last installment to Bill Ford personally and took the promisory note, twisted it up, and set one end on fire to light his cigar."

Although I can appreciate the symbolic gesture, the researcher in me regrets that this piece of documentation when up in smoke.

More background on Joseph Louisell

Karras NFL Suspension--Part One 

Karras NFL Suspension--Part Two