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