Did the legal system use him as a pawn, or was it the other way around?
Caryl Chessman and a detective named E.M. Goossen appear in the above photo made shortly after Chessman's arrest in January of 1948. Chessman had robbed several victims in the Los Angeles area, two of whom were women that he sexually assaulted. He forced one woman to perform oral sex on him, and did the same to the other in addition to anally raping her. Chessman was convicted under California's Little Lindbergh Law, named after Charles Lindbergh's infamously kidnapped and murdered son. The law specifically covered intrastate acts of abduction in which victims were physically harmed, two conditions that made the crime a potentially capital offense.
The law was intended to prevent deliberate acts of kidnapping and ransom, as had occurred in the Lindbergh case, but Chessman's prosecutors—demonstrating typical prosecutorial zeal—argued that Chessman had abducted one victim by dragging her approximately twenty-two feet, and had abducted the other woman when he placed her in his car, then drove in pursuit of the victim's boyfriend, who had fled the scene in his own vehicle. Chessman was indeed sentenced to death. The Little Lindbergh Law was revised while he was in prison so that it no longer applied to his crimes, but his execution was not stayed.
During his nearly twelve years on death row he authored four bestselling books—Trial by Ordeal, The Face of Justice, The Kid Was a Killer, and Cell 2455: Death Row, the latter of which was made into a 1955 movie. The books, many interviews, and a steady stream of articles fueled public debate about his looming execution. Among those who appealed for clemency were Aldous Huxley, the Rev. Billy Graham, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Frost. Their interest was not wholly about Chessman so much as it was about the issue of the cruelty of the death penalty, which had already been abandoned in other advanced nations.
In the end the campaigning was ineffective, and Chessman was finally gassed in San Quentin Prison. But even dying, he further catalyzed the death penalty debate. The question of whether a capital punishment is cruel and unusual hinges on whether it causes pain. Gas was held by its proponents to be painless. Chessman had been asked by reporters who would be observing his execution to nod his head if he was in pain. As he was gassed, he nodded his head vigorously and kept at it for several minutes. It took him nine minutes to die. That happened today in 1960.
Did she or didn’t she?
These two photos showing burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were shot today in 1951 for a Los Angeles Examiner story about St. Cyr’s legal difficulties. On 23 February of that year she had begun performing at Ciro’s supper club in Hollywood. It was a different type of club for her—it lacked the intimacy of her normal venues, and would sap some of the heat from her act, but the place was world famous and considered by the smart set to be classy. It had hosted Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Dinah Washington. Of late it was facing stiff competition from Macambo’s, a Brazilian themed joint across the street, and owner Herman Hover wanted to make a splash with St. Cyr. He spent thousands refurbishing the stage just for her, and she would be the first burlesque dancer to transition from men’s clubs to L.A.’s most famous supper club.
On premier night celebs such as Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Franchot Tone, Barbara Payton, Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney, and Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron watched her strip down to toned perfection as they ate dinner and sipped drinks. Other celebs that visited that summer included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. During St. Cyr’s residency she varied her act, but a standard bit wasentitled "An Interlude Before Evening," and involved being helped from her clothing by her maid Sadie before slipping nude into a bathtub. But the nudity was an illusion, the cleverest part of her act, achieved through a combination of lighting, positioning, flesh-colored underwear, and sheer athleticism as she slipped quickly from behind a towel and into the sudsy tub.
On 18 October a group of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who were trying to enforce a countywide ban against stripping, arrested St. Cyr and Herman Hover. The charges were the usual slate. St. Cyr called upon celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler—an event the two Examiner photos at top are supposed to be illustrating—and Giesler proceeded to help turn what was already a media boon for St. Cyr into a full bonanza. Giesler was a showman, and he loved cases that had the potential to increase his fame. He made assorted sensational statements to the press, including one in which he promised to have his client perform her bath routine in the courtroom, and another in which he opined that putting together a jury of peers required empaneling a dozen strippers. He described St. Cyr as merely trying to improve her station in life, just an industrious woman trying to carve herself a piece of American pie. The press ate it up.
The trial was scheduled for early December in the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Giesler kept the jury—which wasn’t all strippers, but at least was mostly female—laughing with his continual antics. He introduced St. Cyr’s rhinestone encrusted bra and g-string as people’s exhibits A and B. He drew diagrams on a blackboard illustrating how different observers' vantage points toward the stage were blocked by St. Cyr's maid. He flustered police officials by making them discuss in detail such such terms as “bump,” “grind,” and “half-bump,” and followed that up by putting Herman Hover on the witness stand and having him demonstrate those moves. The sight of the portly Hover attempting burlesque sent ripples of laughter through the courtroom. Years later Giesler wrote: “I can honestly say I succeeded in having her case laughed into a not-guilty verdict.”
That may have been true, but St Cyr’s icy demeanor was also an important factor. The women found her elegant and remote—the opposite of what they had expected. And the cops did their part for St. Cyr's defense by being terrible witnesses. One claimed that she emerged from the tub completely nude (the normal conclusion to her Interlude, and just as illusory). Another said she wore undies but that he couldsee the outline of her “private parts,” which he discerned in enough detail to determine “were shaven.” The inconsistencies were epic. Some said she caressed herself, others weren’t sure. Another described her towel as “about twenty, twenty-four inches.” In reality it was three times that size. It was as if St. Cyr's dance had dumbfounded the cops.
The confusion has extended even to the present day. For a performance that lasted barely fifteen minutes, it has had an amazing amount of conflicting information attached to it. Columnist Army Archerd claimed St. Cyr was indeed nude that night (clearly wrong, according to multiple testimonies); Sheila Weller’s book Dancing at Ciro’s claims an “all-male” jury (it was mostly female) was taken to Ciro’s to see the act (Giesler tried, but the judge said no); some sources claim St. Cyr performed a reverse strip, beginning nude in the tub and emerging to be slowly dressed by her maid (indeed, that was an oft-performed variation, so it is certainly possible it happened that night). Who's right, and who's wrong? Short of using a time machine to return to October 1951 there's no way to tell.
At the end of the six-day trial the jury acquitted St. Cyr following a mere seventy-eight minutes of deliberations. There had been no indecent exposure. At least not that night. All St. Cyr’s biographers agree on this much—she was shy and regal offstage, but her performancesfreed her to inhabit different characters. Despite her assertions that she always wore at least a g-string and bra, she definitely performed topless on occasion, as shown by the above photo taken at Ciro’s during early 1951.
Sheriff’s deputies had gone to the club already intent upon arresting her based on what they had heard about the act, which may have influenced their testimony—i.e., they didn’t see her nude, but knew she had done it before. St. Cyr admitted in court she knew police were in the audience, thus she was especially careful that night. But what of other nights? Maybe Army Archerd did what columnists do—took an event he witnessed on one night and pretended it happened on a more useful one. Maybe St. Cyr, on occasions when she knew the cops were far away, flashed her audience to generate buzz. It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened, but that merely adds to the St. Cyr mystique. Did she or didn’t she? Only her maid knew for sure.
These two things are called eyes, and if you don’t want to be offended you can do something incredible—close them.
Studio nudes of Susanne Haines have been floating around the web for a while now, and they made us curious who she is. No info was readily available, but after some digging it turns out this obscure dancer has a very interesting story. She born and raised around Sacramento, California, and spent some time in Utah, before winning the Miss Placer County beauty contest in 1963 when she was sixteen. Several years later, as an unhappily married college student, she saw an ad asking for a go-go waitress and took the job to get away from her husband. She was soon earning $72.50 a week serving drinks in a nightclub.
From there it was a short leap to the stage—and a bump in earnings to $450 a week as she peeled for male customers. In May 1969 she was performing at the Pink Pussy Kat in the Sacramento suburb of Orangevale when two sheriff’s deputies entered and found Haines and two other women serving drinks topless. When Haines took the stage and performed a dance number that ended with her completely naked, the cops arrested her along with fellow dancer Sheila Brendenson for indecent exposure and lewd and dissolute conduct. Club owner Leonard Glancy was arrested for soliciting.
That case didn’t reach court until late summer, when it landed before the bench of Judge Earl Warren, Jr., son of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had just retired in June. Glancy had kept the Pink Pussy Kat open by featuring only bikini dancing, and he also cooked up an ingenious scheme of having patrons pay to watch nude dances on closed circuit television, as in the photo just below, since it was only “live” nudity that was legally dangerous.
Early in the trial, Judge Warren Jr. agreed with defense attorney Ronald Sypnicki and D.A. Kenneth Hake that, since there was no film or photos of the offending performance, the only fair thing was to allow the jurors to see it for themselves. That couldn’t happen in the courthouse, so Warren had the jury conducted to the Pink Pussy Kat, where Haines performed nude under psychedelic illumination to songs such as “Israelites” and Jimi Hendrix’s hip shaker “Foxy Lady.” Because the bar was open to regular patrons in an attempt to recreate the normal atmosphere of a nude performance, Haines received raucous applause after each of her numbers.
Asked for comment by reporters afterward, Warren deemed his decision a sound one, saying, “[They] got a better look than we could have given them with just plain oral testimony or by trying to re-create some of these things in the courtroom.” Five days later Warren proved his faith in x-rated field trips by taking another panel to another nudie club during a trial involving stripper Carol Doda. The Haines case lasted for five weeks total.The jury was finally sent to their chambers the second day of October, and after ten hours of deliberation returned with a verdict of guilty on the indecent exposure charge, but innocent on lewd conduct. Warren explained that it had to be guilty on both or innocent on both—if the exposure was indecent the conduct was obviously lewd, or conversely neither was true—and the jury was sent back into their chambers. After another hour of deliberation, Haines and Brendenson won acquittals, as did club owner Glancy on his soliciting charge.
Brendenson quit dancing after the trial, but Haines was ready to get naked again, and Glancy was more than willing to provide a stage. The county sheriff had said he’d continue to jail dancers despite the jury’s verdict, and Haines racked up seven arrests at the Pink Pussy Kat—plus about fifteen others at various venues over the years. But she also was nationally known thanks to the trial and won the title of Miss Nude Universe in 1972, which in turn pushed her earnings as high as $1,000—about $5,700 in today’s money. Fame didn’t deter the morals squads, though. She was arrested for indecent exposure in Oklahoma and this time lost a $5,000 judgment. Later she was arrested for larceny.
Not long after, realizing her life was going in a direction she couldn’t control, she quit show business and became an evangelical Christian. In 1978, under her married name Susanne Haines Register, she wrote an autobiography, a cautionary tale of life in the fast lane entitled—what else?—Take It All Off. She does just that in the four shots below. They were made, like the one at top, around 1969.
Liberace experiences tabloid wrath at its most merciless.
It was in this July 1957 issue of Confidential that journalist “Horton Streete’ infamously outed cover star Liberace in the most vicious and dehumanizing way with an article entitled “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy’.” We’ve talked about it before. Streete willfully attempted to damage the singer’s career by spinning a shocking tale of how he attacked a young, male press agent. The article refers to Liberace as Fatso, Pudgy, Dimples, and other, less flattering monikers.
Here’s a rule you can count on—when a journalist or on-air personality constantly refers to someone by other than his or her name or title, it’s a hit piece. Liberace was horrified and sued Confidential. California Attorney General Pat Brown had already managed to win an indictment of the magazine two months earlier. Owner Robert Harrison was about to spend his entire summer in court. He took these legal threats to heart and publicly promised to stop publishing stories about the private lives of Hollywood stars.
Up until then Confidential had been as reckless as a magazine could be. This issue accuses Gary Crosby of punching a woman in the face, and Eartha Kitt of trapping her friend’s boyfriend in her penthouse. An extraordinary story about boxer Jake LaMotta suggests the he got a bumrap in his morals trial. LaMotta was serving time for bedding a 14-year-old. Prosecutors had convinced a jury that the incident with LaMotta was a primary cause of the girl later becoming a prostitute. Confidential rides to the rescue, claiming that the girl’s father had already deflowered her, therefore LaMotta could not have had any influence on the girl’s fate. How’s that for a principled stand?
These early issues of Confidential are a cesspool of journalistic ethics, no doubt, but they’re also a visual treat. Using black, red, blue, and yellow, plus the white of the pages themselves, the designers put together a bold and gaudy package that would influence every other tabloid on the market. The layouts on Kitt, Liberace, Alan Dale, and Lex Barker are among the most eye-catching we’ve seen from the period. Elsewhere you get Anthony Quinn, and a host of other stars. We have a bunch of scans below. Remember, you can always see more from Confidential and other tabs by visiting our tabloid index at this link.
Good aim is helpful for committing murders, and absolutely crucial for solving them.
Front Page Detective shows on this November 1971 cover how to attract eyeballs with lurid art and titillating text. Eisenhower’s social secretary murdered? That sounds intriguingly political, but it turns out Eisenhower’s only connection is that his White House had more than a decade earlier employed the murder victim in a secretarial position. Though no political angle exists, the crime itself is still very interesting. Laura Carpi, scion of a prominent Philadelphia family, disappeared in February 1971. In June the decomposed body of a woman was found in New York City’s East River, labeled an accidental drowning victim, and twenty days later interred on Hart Island as a Jane Doe in the potter’s field there. After the body was identified as Carpi’s, the New York Times published a sensational story claiming that her head had been removed before burial for study by junior pathologists, or, according to some sources in the pathologist’s office, simply to be used as a desk ornament. The Times claimed that a technician had been cleaning out whatever grisly remnants of flesh were still attached to the skull and happened to find a bullet lodged in its neck tissue. Dealing now with a suspected homicide, police focused on missing persons, and eventually summoned Carpi’s dentist. Recognizing his own work, he made the positive identification.
The ME’s office became the center of a storm, with Chief Medical Examiner Milton Helpern blasting the Times story for insinuating that “the doctors in this office are cutting off people’s heads to make ashtrays.” He pronounced the entire article “grossly distorted.” Perhaps it was, but uncovering a murder by chance never looks good, and he didn’t help his cause when he responded to a question about why his staff had failed to discover the bullet by saying that he ran a mortuary, not a graveyard, and was extremely busy. Though his answer was callous, it was also correct. His office had a contant flow of bodies coming through—that year more than 1,800 alone that had been victims of murder—and his staff was overworked. Add to this the facts that Laura Carpi had thick hair that concealed the small caliber entry wound at the base of her skull, the slug had left no exit wound, and the head had been four months in the water, and it’s possible to see how mistakes could be made. As to why the head was kept, the unconvincing official reason was that it was because the dentalwork would allow for possible future identification—which only made sense if all the Jane and John Does on Hart Island were also headless.
In any case, the finger of suspicion for the murder immediately pointed toward Carpi’s estranged husband Colin, at right, who was battling for custody of their four children. Not only would the loss of this battle and subsequent divorce settlement wipe him out financially, but he was also well aware that his wife had been seeing another man. For various reasons—jurisdictional issues and general reluctance to pursue the crime—Colin Carpi didn’t go to trial for two more years. A mountain of circumstantial evidence pointed at him, but his acquittal was deemed by most legal experts to be the right decision. The prosecution simply bungled its presentation to the jury, and even if the courtroom aspect had been perfect, much of Colin Carpi’s suspicious behavior could be chalked up to the circumstances around the custody battle and his wife’s affair. Perhaps a not-guilty verdict was an anti-climax after the high drama associated with the identification of Laura Carpi’s body, but not finding the perp is the way it often goes in true crime, and real life.
Be careful what you wish for—you may have to kill for it.
These two issues of Crime Detective, which appeared today in 1962 and 1964 respectively, both feature the same cover photo—each a reverse of the other—of Jean DiFede and Armando Cossentino. DiFede and Cossentino, who were thirty-six and nineteen, were May-December lovers convicted of murdering DiFede’s husband Dr. Joseph DiFede in order to collect a $72.000 life insurance policy (about $560,000 in today’s money). Dr. DiFede was attacked in his bedroom with a hammer and carving knife, and the disarray of the scene showed that he had battled fiercely for his life before succumbing to multiple blows and seven stab wounds. A third person on the scene later turned eyewitness against the lovers, claiming Dr. DiFede gasped to his wife with his last words, “I forgive you everything… Don’t kill me.” Meanwhile Cossentino stood over him and shouted, “Die! Die! Die!”
The eyewitness account (he said the extent of his participation had been helping to clean the crime scene because he feared for his life) was damning enough on its own. Police also discovered that Jean DiFede had bought Cossentino a new convertible, rented an apartment for him, and went on public dates with him. And just for good measure the all-male jury was repeatedly reminded that Cossentino was only two years older than Jean DiFede’s oldest son, who had been instructed to refer to her by her name rather than “mom.” When the guilty verdicts came down, Cossentino was sentenced to die in the electric chair and DiFede got twenty years. Upon hearing her sentence she screamed, “If I have to spend twenty years in jail I’d rather be dead!” As it turned out, neither of them died in prison. Cossentino’s sentence was commuted to life, and both eventually earned parole.
So, let me show you what I meant when I said I wanted us all to come early tonight.
Above is a cover for 1963’s Pajama Party, a book written by Peggy Swenson, who was in reality Richard E. Geis. Interesting fellow, Geis—he specialized in beatnik and counterculture sleaze, churning out lightweight novels like Bongo Bum, Beat Nymph, and Like Crazy, Man, and was indicted for obscenity over a novel called Three-Way Apartment. This was in 1964. Geis went to trial twice, first in California, then in federal court in Iowa. He was convicted but the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the panel overturned the verdict, thus making Geis’s Three-Way Apartment one of those forgotten but important books that helped free publishing from the grip of reactionary prudes. After Geis’s close call with the feds he must have felt artistically liberated, because his writing promptly went to the far ends, so to speak, of taste. Some titles: Anal Husbands and Deviant Wives, The Endless Orgy, Women and Bestiality, and, our two favorites—Orality ’69 and its sequel Orality ’70. Pajama Party was not so notable a book as those—five co-eds have a sleepover that involves a pillow fight, skinny-dipping, a striptease contest and a game of dares, before finally getting down to a little Sapphic lust—but we really like the Paul Rader cover, so there you go.
On a different subject, we got a couple of reader pulp submissions with no art, which tells us our little uploader (located in the righthand sidebar, for those who don't know) is probably malfunctioning. This may have had something to do with the several hours of down time we had a couple of weeks ago that cost us several posts (since restored). But don't worry. The Black Bomber will have it working properly again in a jiff, because that's what he does, at which point we'll let you know and hopefully get resubmissions of those reader offerings. Thanks as always for your patience.
Former lifesaver convicted of murder in Manchester.
Yesterday in Manchester, England, 46-year-old Stephen Seddon was found guilty of murdering his parents for £235,000 in insurance money. Robert and Patricia Seddon were found shot dead in their home in July 2012, a sawed-off shotgun on the scene indicating a possible murder/suicide. But ballistic experts decided that scenario was not possible, and soon Stephen Seddon—who had boasted to acquaintances before his parents’ deaths that he was about to come into a large sum of money—was arrested. Yesterday’s conviction marked the final chapter of just another sad, senseless murder tale. What’s shocking, though, is the preamble.
In March 2012 Seddon was driving with his parents on a highway when his car hit a brick and skidded into a canal. He dragged his nephew Daniel from the car, then went back for his father while bystanders saved his mother. Seddon was hailed as a hero. Some details of the accident were strange, but police glossed over them. The details? There was no evidence of the car hitting a brick, and Seddon coincidentally happened to be carrying a knife with which to cut his seatbelt and a wheel lock with which to smash out the driverside window as the car went down. Oh, and several witnesses saw him jumping up and down on the roof of the car as it sank. Red flag? You’d tend to think so.
Picture the scene: Seddon is jumping on the car trying to help his parents to a watery grave, suddenly realizes he’s being observed, and shifts into hero mode. He must have thought, No way anyone’s going to buy this act. But they did. Or at least, the police, who hadn’t seen him going bouncy bouncy on the car, bought it. But eventually the parents began to suspect their accident was attempted murder. Their deaths occurred the day after Robert Seddon told his doctor that he planned to confront his son. The confrontation led to a double shooting, but yesterday in Manchester justice was served, at least in some form. Stephen Seddon wasn’t just convicted of murder—he was also convicted of attempted murder for the March canal plunge.
You wouldn’t mind terribly if we steal your nickname?
Today we have a January 1961 issue of Confidential for you, with cover stars Sammy Davis, Jr. and May Britt. Since we’ve already discussed Sammy and May of late, and even made her a recent femme fatale, we’ll skip past them and focus on another interesting story—the tale of Diane Harris, who shot to notoriety as a witness in the infamous Minot Jelke pimping trial of 1952. We wrote about it back in 2009—Jelke was an oleomargarine heir who was cut off from his trust fund and decided to turn his girlfriend Patricia Ward into a prostitute in order to make ends meet. Ward became known as the “Golden Girl of Vice” and “The Golden Girl of Café Society,” which is why it’s interesting that Confidential calls Diane Harris “The Golden Prostitute.” Apparently Jelke had the Midas touch.
Confidential wastes no time in its article. It begins: She gave herself a title… Lady Diana Harrington. The New York D.A. gave her another… the Golden Girl of Café Society. Houston police gave her a third, less flamboyant title… prostitute. Uh oh—the New York District Attorney’s nickname for Harris is identical to Patricia Ward’s nickname. After a few more paragraphs of reading, it becomes clear that Confidentialbelieves the Golden Girl is Diane Harris—not Patricia Ward. While it’s true that Harris did use some aliases, including Lady Diana Harrington and Mary Lou Brew, nowhere is the name Ward mentioned as a pseudonym.
After searching high and low for some idea of whether we were dealing with one woman or two, we finally saw in the IMDB page on the 1995 Jelke biopic Café Society that Patricia Ward and Diana Harris were played by separate actresses—Lara Flynn Boyle and Cynthia Watrous. So was there some confusion in 1961 about who exactly the Golden Girl was? Looking back at our original post on the subject, the photo of the Golden Girl on the cover of Hush-Hush shows a blonde. Confidential has numerous photos of their Golden Girl Diane Harris, and a single photo they identify as Pat Ward. Just plain Pat—no Golden, no nickname at all. And she’s a brunette. So not only does Confidential identify the Golden Girl of Café Society as Diane Harris—turns out so did that March 1961 Hush-Hush. We just didn’t realize it at the time.
Our mistake came when we first researched the Jelke trial and found a New York Times movie review that identified Pat Ward as the Golden Girl. From that point we just ran with it and never thought to doublecheck. Until today. Now, based on available evidence, it seems that at some point over the intervening years the historical record got twisted and the label Golden Girl was applied to Patricia Ward, where it stayed even up to thepoint of a Hollywood motion picture misidentifying her. She was indeed Minot Jelke’s girlfriend, whereas Harris was just a fellow high dollar prostie (and corroborating witness), so perhaps some clever scribe, or even the writers of the 1995 movie, decided that such a catchy nickname would be better applied to the girlfriend. At least that’s the way it looks to us.
If we’re right, is any of this important? Does it matter that Harris was fleeced of her nickname, or possibly that a movie took liberties and those liberties were later assumed to be facts? Do we expect an award? No, not really, but it’s interesting. Confidential barely recounts the events of the trial. The story is actually about Diane Harris being found dead in a Houston apartment eight years afterward, in September 1960. She was still a prostitute at the time. Confidential tells us: The blonde’s nude body was in bed, a green sheet and a pink blanket covered her. Pictures of herin more glamorous days were on the walls. An autopsy disclosed a large amount of morphine in her body. Police theorize that a combination of drink and drugs killed her.
Diane Harris had wanted the best life had to offer, and money meant everything. All her friends and acquaintances knew that about her. According to her maid, even at the end she still bragged about once being able to command fifty dollars per date. An obsessive desire for luxury drove her into the arms of rich, uncaring men, and eventually, in order to maintain her high flying lifestyle, into prostitution. The one piece of her that endured long after she died naked and surrounded by bottles and pills was her famous nickname—The Golden Girl of Café Society. But she eventually lost that too.
If ever anyone was born under a bad sign it was surely him.
Crime always raises difficult social questions, and it seems to be the belief of each generation that the crimes are ever worse. But this issue of Official Detective Stories from fifty-one years ago details crimes, a criminal, and an entire set of circumstances that could have appeared on today’s front pages. It was the case of Michael Andrew Olds, a troubled Walla Walla, Washington youth who caused all of America to wonder, at least briefly, what had happened to the country they thought they knew.
Michael Olds was conceived via rape. His mother was fourteen when it happened, fifteen when she gave birth. Disowned by her relatives, she and her infant son lived wherever they could, and she fed him by stealing milk from front porches. By the time Michael was six months old he was suffering from profound malnourishment. Eventually he was wrested from the girl by state authorities, who placed him in foster care. He was shuttled from home to home, and constantly ran away to search for his mother. He would track her down occasionally, but she had her own difficulties—a series of failed relationships, and three failed marriages—and mother and son were never together for long.
Over the years, Michael developed dangerously violent tendencies. Once, when he was sixteen, he choked a four-year-old girl into unconsciousness. One of the psychologists who profiled him summed him up this way: “I am doubtful that Mike will ever make more than a marginal adjustment, for he has been damaged more than the human personality can stand without permanent scarring.” Nevertheless, he was released from foster care at age eighteen. Months later, on the night of March 28, 1961, he robbed a grocery in Seattle, Washington. On the way out the door he fired two shots, both of which struck a woman named Blossom Braham, who died at the scene. One week later he robbed and held hostage a cab driver. He was arrested later that night, and confessed to Braham’s killing.
Olds was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His mother was in court the day of sentencing, at right, and while she sounded a note of regret that her and her son’s lives had turned out so badly, Michael was philosophical. He blamed only himself for his predicament. But the American public, as well as many behavioral experts, felt there was blame to go around. One of Michael Olds’ state-appointed psychiatrists said: “In a day when we are thinking about shooting rockets to the moon, we should not allow conditions to exist where a child is starved emotionally and shuttled about.” A local juvenile authority said: “The boy pulled the trigger, but the background of the whole sordid mess began the moment he was brought into the world.”
Sixteen years later Michael Olds was released into the world again. Newly paroled, he went on a violent nationwide rampage, and when it was all done he’d kidnapped five people and shot dead a seventy-five-year-old woman and a cab driver. It was the late 1970s now, and this time through the courts there was not much sympathy for him, yet none of the questions surrounding this murderous child of rape had changed. What hadchanged was that most Americans had hardened toward crime to the extent that they considered the questions immaterial. All that mattered was to make sure Michael Olds preyed on no more innocent people. And that’s exactly what happened. He received two life sentences with no possibility of parole. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
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