American Nazis: Homegrown Traitors in World War II

Meet Dale H. Maple: native of California, top of his class, Harvard graduate. A precocious student with an IQ over 150. Fluent in twenty languages before the age of 25. And to top it all off, one of the most famous American Nazi sympathizers of all time.

And yet—despite his genius—still not smart enough to avoid being captured.

Though not often discussed today, the anti-war movement in World War II occupied a very real place in American history. The pacifist cause regularly led marches and protests, seeking to keep the United States out of another costly war. One step beyond the pacifists, however, was the pro-German cause, which placed Nazi fascist ‘order’ and ‘efficiency’ above a messy, but free, democracy. Enter Maple, whose story Paul N. Herbert tells in his book Treason in the Rockies: Nazi Sympathizer Dale Maple’s POW Escape Plot.

Maple finished first in his high school class of 585 students. Courtesy of the San Diego High School Alumni Association.

As a young man in the 1930s, exposed to German history and culture in school, Maple quickly began to espouse Nazi ideals, to the shock of his classmates and teachers. Despite his academic prowess, his defiant support of Hitler’s regime (he proudly placed a bust of the Führer on his desk) drove even his friends in the campus German clubs away. So brazen was Maple’s zeal that after graduating from Harvard, the next step he saw to support the Nazi cause was to join the US Army.

Yes, you read that right.

Maple’s twisted logic held that if he could prove his American patriotism by enlisting, he would be able not only to spread the word as a subversive, but that it would also put him in a better position to enter Germany and offer his ‘services’ to the regime. In other words, to spy, to sabotage, or simply to defect. His tendencies were hardly a secret; recruiters for the Army, aware of the risk he posed, placed him in a special unit—the 620th Engineer General Service Company—where they grouped dissidents and subversives, keeping them not just Stateside but far away from fighting units they could influence.

Sent first to South Dakota and then to Colorado, the 620th ended up stationed nearby a prisoner-of-war camp, where lived thousands of German, Italian, and other soldiers taken from the European front. With the US soldiers able to travel on and off base, and the PWs frequently found in town, it was here that he met Erhard Schwichtenberg and Henrich Kikillus, two captured Germans from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. And so, in late 1943 and early 1944, the plan was hatched.

Their idea reads out of a spy thriller by John Le Carré: a getaway car, illegally procured. Prepacked rucksacks, courtesy of co-conspirators. Falsified movements on base. Disguises for the prisoners. A moonlit drive south to the Mexican border followed by a vehicle breakdown, an unwitting federal customs officer who steps in to help the stranded motorists. Border officials bribed for entry into Mexico, a safehouse waiting with an underground network of Nazis. Forged travel documents for the trip to Germany. Promises of honor and glory for the American who led his captured German ‘brothers’ to ‘freedom.’

POWs working in a shop. Courtesy of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum–Birdsong Collection.

And yet unfortunately for Maple, when the car broke down in the third act, so did the rest of the plan. Having to make the final trek across the border on foot, the three escapees were caught by border officers only a couple miles into Mexico, and promptly returned to Army custody. Their false identities exposed, it wasn’t long before a court-martial followed, and a conviction on the grounds of Article 81—the ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’ clause of the War Crimes Act. If Maple was searching for distinction, he found it: thanks to his crimes he became one of the few Americans ever convicted of Article 81 during the war.

Why did he do it? It’s a fascinating question, one that Herbert investigates through a range of sources—testimony, court transcripts, military records, and more. To enter the mind of an American Nazi is no everyday task, which is why Treason in the Rockies is such an accomplishment.

BUY THE BOOK: Meet “Jellybean” Bryce, the fastest shot in the FBI

Finally, as part of our occasional series on great American lawmen and -women, we here at Crime Capsule owe a parting shout-out to FBI agent Delf “Jellybean” Bryce, who interrogated Maple upon his arrest. A career lawman and an old-school G-man of the old-schoolest sort, Jellybean was widely respected for having the fastest draw of anyone in the agency. Thanks to exceptional reflexes and a unique firing stance he developed, he could draw his weapon in two-fifths of a second; it’s said he could have easily outgunned anyone in the Wild West.

Which leads us to ask. Hey Maple, seriously? You’re gonna go up against this guy? We don’t care how many languages you speak—looks like you have the IQ of a fence post after all.

“Jelly demonstrating the shooting speed that made him a legendary lawman. Courtesy of the Oklahoma Publishing Company Collection at the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Treason in the Rockies: Nazi Sympathizer Dale Maple's POW Escape Plot

Treason in the Rockies: Nazi Sympathizer Dale Maple’s POW Escape Plot

Harvard honor alumnus Dale Maple had a promising future, but his obsession with Nazi Germany led to his downfall. Classmates often accused him of pro-Nazi sentiments, and one campus organization even expelled him. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, only to be relegated to a unit of soldiers suspected of harboring German sympathies. 

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Who Was the Atlanta Ripper?

Fans of the recent HBO series Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children have become newly aware of the horrific crimes the Gate City suffered in the late 1970s, crimes that until recently went either unnoticed or in large part forgotten. But what devotees of the series may not have realized is that the nearly thirty murders committed at the end of that decade—twenty-three children and six adults, all of them Black—were presaged by another spate of slayings seventy years earlier.

We’re talking, of course, about the Atlanta Ripper.

The Atlanta who? You might ask. Agreed: though in the early 1900s the case made news worldwide, over a century later it had been eclipsed not just by the passage of time, but by other, cases featuring more sensational mass murderers—Jeffrey Dahmer, James Jones, and Charles Manson, to name a few. But thanks to the work of intrepid historians such as Jeffery Wells (The Atlanta Ripper: The Unsolved Case of the Gate City’s Most Infamous Murders) and Corinna Underwood (Murder and Mystery in Atlanta), these grisly crimes can finally be documented in full.

the largest city in the Southeast, hides a dark and violent past.

Following the Civil War, when General Sherman’s notorious march razed it nearly to the ground, Atlanta faced a protracted period of rebuilding. Though the process was lengthy and difficult, beset by many of the racial and economic inequities of the Reconstruction period, by the turn of the century Atlanta’s role as a railroad terminus had cemented its importance in the state. Though segregation plagued the Jim Crow South—and had engendered race-based violence, such as riots in 1906—the African-American neighborhoods in Atlanta banded together as a tightly-knit community, home to many small businesses, working families, and cultural and religious institutions.

“Rankin Street. Della Reid was found in a trash pile near this area on April 5, 1909.”
“Rankin Street. Della Reid was found in a trash pile near this area on April 5, 1909.”

The close-knit nature of these neighborhoods made the murders that began to take place there all the more horrifying. Beginning in April 1909, the bodies of African-American women began to show up in the historic Old Fourth Ward, some killed by gunshot, some killed by blunt force trauma to the head. As Wells notes, the accumulation of bodies—almost one per month during that time—stoked considerable fear in the area, especially once the next series of slayings began.

The moniker will sound familiar to crime enthusiasts for a reason: just a few years earlier, Jack the Ripper had terrorized London, murdering women and prostitutes in the goriest of fashions. By early 1911, the perpetrator had begun adding a similar grisly signature to his victims. Rosa Trice, a thirty-five year-old housewife, was found dead just a short distance from her home, her head bashed in, her throat slashed open. That February, another victim (never named) was found murdered in exactly the same way, and then in June, one Addie Watts fell prey as well. Local newspapers claimed a ‘Black Butcher,’ or in the name that stuck, an ‘Atlanta Ripper.’

“The fiend was tagged ‘The Ripper.’
“The fiend was tagged ‘The Ripper.’

Over the next three years, until 1913, the Ripper would strike again and again, almost always targeting young African-American women who were walking late at night in secluded or out-of-the-way areas, such as open fields between their workplace and their homes. Interestingly, the daughter of one of his early victims actually survived her own attack, and got a glimpse of her assailant as he fled—Emma Lou Sharp, daughter of the slain Lena Sharp, described him as a “tall, dark, broad-shouldered man wearing a broad-brimmed black hat.” But such identifiers were not enough to bring anybody in, and month after month, the Ripper continued to claim more lives.

There comes a point in every crime wave when enough is enough, and as Wells details, that point arrived quickly in old-town Atlanta. In contrast to the racial unrest of 1906, by the summer of 1911 both black and white communities had begun working together to try to solve the crimes. Despite a couple of arrests (and several dubious confessions), the cases remained open, and by the early autumn the Ripper had started striking again. By the end of the year, Wells notes, this seemingly uncatchable criminal had claimed no fewer than fifteen lives. The following two years, 1912 and 1913, each saw a handful more, then the flood slowed to a trickle, with the last murder taking place in 1915. The total death toll attributed to the Ripper was nearly two dozen, nearly all young Black women.

Meet the men who claimed to be the Atlanta Ripper.

Again you may ask: the Atlanta who? The problem is, similarities in methods, victims, and settings don’t necessarily mean the same person was responsible for all the crimes, and as Wells notes, the great legacy of the Atlanta Ripper murders is that to this day, no one knows if there was one Ripper, multiple Rippers, one Ripper and a series of copycats, or—just as frighteningly—an unchecked outburst of random killings by an unknown number of perpetrators. More than a century later, it’s likely we will never know, despite the work of historians like Wells who have uncovered new evidence and connections. But there’s another legacy at work too. We’ll let Wells have the final say:

“…the [Ripper] murders showed the pride and resilience of the black community. It was no time before the clergy and black business community stood up for peace, order and safety in Atlanta, not just in their community, but also for all people on the city’s streets.”  

Now that’s a legacy we can all get behind.

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Quarantine, Southern Style: Outbreak in Hattiesburg, MS

Can criminals be quarantined? Absolutely. But can the quarantined be criminals? Sometimes, dear readers, even rectangles are squares. This week on Crime Capsule, as even more of our country falls under “Stay Home” orders and further restrictions on travel, gatherings, and social interactions due to the coronavirus, we wanted to bring you a story of solidarity from America’s past.

Travel with us to a small lumber town in the heart of the southern Mississippi pine forest, a town that has just been born. In his book Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City, author and historian Benjamin Morris offers the first narrative history of one of the Magnolia State’s most beloved cities, a town that despite its humble beginnings as a railroad depot would grow to become a regional capital for education, medicine, commerce, and the armed forces.

A black and white photo of a train
Gulf and Ship Island locomotive and tender (undated). Hattiesburg Historical Photographs Collection, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi. Courtesy of Kenneth G. McCarty Jr. Image sourced from Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City.

In the late 1800s, however, those achievements were decades away, as Hattiesburg struggled to get its feet off the ground. Officially incorporated only in 1884, whose busy rail lines daily brought workers and investors seeking to profit off the burgeoning timber industry, the young town had suffered waves of deadly diseases. Yellow fever had first arrived in 1888, then smallpox in 1890, leading to the creation of a Pest House (a not-so-sanitary sanitarium) for the infected. Then, in 1897, came the worst outbreak yet—of yellow fever once again. Morris narrates what happened:

“Mayor T.J. Mixon called a special meeting of the board of aldermen ‘for the purpose of requiring all landlords, tenants, leaseholders, etc. to immediately have a thorough cleansing of said premises of all privies, sewers, cesspools, or other places that might form a possible source of infection.’ The town was put on quarantine: all trains were instructed to pass through at fifteen miles per hour without stopping, mail service was suspended, public highways were staffed with guard patrols, all businesses (except drugstores) were ordered to close at 5:30 p.m., any public gatherings of any nature were prohibited and a nine o’clock–curfew was put in place.”

A long shot black and white photo of the South Mississippi infirmary
South Mississippi Infirmary. Forrest Lamar Cooper Postcard Collection, courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Image sourced from Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City.

The measures seemed to be effective at curtailing the outbreak, at least until smallpox returned once more the following year. Again, strict measures to limit the spread were put into place. Morris:

“A letter dated September 28, 1898, again from Mayor Mixon, calls for a special meeting of the board of aldermen, toward ‘passing an ordinance requiring all persons to be vaccinated who live in an infected locality.’ Guards were hired to man detention camps and were paid around $1.50 per day; according to receipts issued by A.C. Duckworth, the city jailor, at least some of the infected seem to have been housed in the city jail.”

Quarantine yourself in America’s past with a great book

As serious as our current outbreak is, consider how much worse it could be were all transport to cease, all mail service to stop, every business save pharmacies to be closed, and for infected citizens to suffer through their illness in the city jail—surely, amid this crisis, there are a few things for which we can still be thankful! Of course, part of the reason Hattiesburg had suffered such outbreaks is because of its rudimentary sanitation systems, common to frontier towns in the southern wilds. Recognizing this, in subsequent years city leadership worked diligently to pave roads, drain ditches, and standardize public utilities—moves that would, in time, speed the growth of the robust medical sector in the “Hub City.”

Of course, infected or not, Mississippians have always found creative ways to end up on the wrong side of the law, and one of Morris’ most entertaining accounts from his research comes from examining the city’s arrest affidavits collected in the 1890s. To read them all—and boy are they juicy—you’ll have to dive into his book yourself, but we’ll leave you with just one: the first-known speeding ticket ever issued in Hattiesburg, citing one Bob Moore on August 24, 1898, who “did unlawfully drive a horse at a reckless gait and against the peace and dignity of the state of Mississippi.”

140 years later, we can only wonder—how fast was the police horse who caught him?

Arrest affidavit
Arrest affidavit, Bob Moore, August 24, 1898. From the Hattiesburg Municipal Records, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi. Image sourced from Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City.

Interested in more cases about law enforcement from America’s past? Check out our archive of stories here. Love tales of misfit Southerners, good ol’ boys who get up to no good? Dive into our recent series on the Dixie Mafia, both in Texas and in Mississippi/Alabama. Visiting us for the first time and want to learn more about what we do? Check out our welcome page and sign up for the Crime Capsule email newsletter. See you behind bars!

Meet Teresa Nordheim, Author of “Wicked Seattle”

As readers know, the ongoing health crisis has disrupted nearly every sector of our society, often in surprising ways. In late March, veteran author and historian Teresa Nordheim had planned to release her new book on true crime in Seattle, but concerns for safety brought those plans to a screeching halt. An Army nurse by day—a hero(ine) twice over!—Nordheim knew that amending her book launch for safety’s sake was the right call to make, so we’re proud to welcome her to Crime Capsule to talk about her new book, Wicked Seattle, available now from Arcadia Publishing/The History Press.

CC: First things first, congratulations on your new book! How did it come about? What was Wicked Seattle’s origin story?

TN: Thank you! This was my third book with Arcadia Publishing and the origin story is intriguing. Every writer needs a good story. When I pitched my editor, Laurie Krill, an idea, she quickly returned my email and told me the idea was good, but she wanted me to explore the Wicked Series as she felt it would be right up my alley. She was right. I love writing true crime and found the characters I met in Wicked Seattle relatable and colorful. Each one could easily blend into today’s society, even though they stood out in history.

As a researcher, what did you learn working on your previous books that you could apply to Wicked Seattle?

I could spend hours in an old library, chatting with other historians and finding hidden gems in the newspaper archives. I love learning and I love creating a non-fiction book that can lure in the most reluctant readers and cynics, but the writer in me constantly seeks ways to improve my writing, my stories, and my work. For this, I turned to the Teresa Nordheim critics—I owe the improvements in my third book to everyone who left a negative review on my previous books! My own mother reported she found the writing level difficult to read in one of my books. Another critic noted an error in the cited facts. Perhaps the biggest lesson came from a reader stating they would have preferred to see a history book written in chronological order. I was careful to utilize the constructive criticism to give my readers more of what they wanted and less of what they disliked in my previous books. While I prefer a five-star review, I do value the input from a valid suggestion.

What most surprised you in the research? Were there any curveballs?

I began with an outline of chapters and characters, expecting that the pieces would fall into place as I reserved library books, sifted through archives, and put out feelers to the public looking for information. By week one, though, I knew I was in trouble. Unlike my previous book, Murder & Mayhem in Seattle, the new book highlights the seedy underground. While the characters were well known in their time, they weren’t often in the newspapers or talked about by the well-to-do of society. Even today, we tend to hide prostitution, gambling, drinking, and corruption—beyond mugshots, there weren’t many such photos circulating around the archives. This nearly halted my progress, but I found a couple of surprises along the way.

One item was political and police corruption. We’ve all heard stories of the wild west and gunslingers. However, Seattle still had a few on the ‘payroll’ well into the 1970s. Perhaps this is one reason it was so difficult to find photos? Similarly, the Wah-Mee Club also presented issues as the building was destroyed by fire. At its prime, it was an underground, very selective, high-stakes gambling den in the International District. Until the fateful night of the robbery and massacre that I talk about in the book, this small club hid under the radar of locals and paid to keep the police at bay.

A photo of author Teresa Nordheim

You met some amazing characters in the course of your research—bootleggers, crime bosses, and the legendary Madam Damnable. What was it like, learning about these men and women?

I was surprised to find I really liked some of the wicked people I was writing about. While they weren’t always on the right side of the law, many were good people and had pleasant personalities. I could see myself getting a good laugh as Madam Damnable, nicknamed for her ability to curse in many different languages, tossed rocks at the Navy men who kept disturbing her brothel. I could also see myself hanging out with Lou Graham as she was intelligent, money-wise, and had every local businessman wrapped around her fingers. But she also had a caring side, and often helped women who were on the run from a battered relationship or family troubles. Prior to his arrest, Officer Charles “Wappy” Wappenstein walked around in a spiffy pin-striped suit, bowler hat and a mustache that went on for miles—until he found himself wearing coveralls at the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, and with a new love for gardening.

I usually pick a favorite character in my books, but these men and women challenged me. I don’t believe I could choose just one to shine. Were they wicked? I suppose if you look at it from the perspective of the law, they were indeed wicked. However, many of them were just doing what they did best to pass time and earn a living.

What do you think makes Seattle such a hotbed for wickedness?

First, early Seattle was filled with fisherman, miners, loggers, and railroad workers. These occupations brought in young men from all over the world. These men were single and when they had down time, they became bored. Early Seattle had a major deficit of women and entertainment venues, so the solution came in the form of brothels, gambling clubs, live theater, and saloons. When those items are mixed with mayors and policemen who are willing to take graft in exchange for looking the other way, crime becomes inevitable.

Second, I read an article some time ago where an FBI profiler was asked why the Pacific Northwest had such a pull for serial killers. His response echoes my own: people in general are drawn to the area because Washington State provides an eclectic mix of beaches, mountains, rain forests, and even deserts. People enjoy a quiet camping trip to the mountains, and being secluded behind a mask of evergreen trees. They come to get away and hide when needed—the good and the bad alike.

Do you have a favorite time period in Seattle’s history to write about?

A large part of me believes I lived a past life in the Seattle and Tacoma area. I see myself wearing a Victorian gown and plumed hat as a horse-drawn carriage makes its way down the cobblestone streets. I’ve lived in the area for most of my life, as I was born in Aberdeen and now reside just south of Seattle. I still love the city today, but if I had a time machine, I would travel back to the early 1900s and go throw rocks with Madam Damnable or a ride in the carriage with Lou Graham.

Every big city is in some way a village. Did any of the stories (or people) you wrote about hit home, or did you have any personal connection to any of them?

I do often find connections to the characters I write about. My friends and I have a solid joke that has now carried on for five years. They say the city of Tacoma has a restraining order against me, and I’m not allowed within one hundred feet of the Rust mansion. This story is in my first book and yes, I had a strong connection. I didn’t have a strong connection to any individual character in Wicked Seattle, but I could relate to many of the men and women.

Throw stones with Madam Damnable in old-time Seattle

What kind of true crime do you like to read? Or are you a fiction kind of gal?

I’m a hard-core true crime gal. On a few occasions I was able to meet true crime great Ann Rule while she did book signings at Borders. My ex-husband was the district manager, and I was able to sit down and visit with the woman who remains my number-one writing idol. She has a style of writing that pulls the reader into the middle of the heat. To me, her work reads like fiction because it flows so smoothly, and while it highlights facts from historical cases, it’s presented in a manner that the reader really sees, hears, and feels the surrounding. Gregg Olsen is another local author (yet nationally-known) who writes in this same style. My goal, one day in the future, is to master this method. I feel truth is far stranger than fiction.

Don’t tell anyone, but I do occasionally sneak a good romantic-suspense book into my reading list. So I can deviate a bit from true crime.

Last but not least, what’s your next project? Do you have any ideas?

That’s currently the million-dollar question. I have many ideas, but trouble narrowing them down to just one. My youngest daughter graduates this year and has been accepted to University of North Texas, very close to my other daughter and my two wickedly adorable granddaughters. This means, I haven’t ruled out the idea of writing a good Texas true crime story in the future!

Vote Early and Often! America’s Shadiest Elections


With nearly every headline you can find these days about the health crisis, it would be easy to forget that here in America, it’s still an election year. This fall, in whatever form it takes—whether by voting booth, mail-in-ballot, or carrier pigeon—Americans will exercise their right to vote.

Regardless of which horse you’re backing—or whether you’d rather back an actual horse this fall instead—our quadrennial ritual feels more freighted than usual, and not just because of the issues newly posed by the coronavirus. Even before the current crisis, fears of internal failure and outside influence alike have pervaded the 2020 contest, as voters worry about the integrity of the process. While we at Crime Capsule have great faith in our democracy, both its principles and its mechanisms, even a brief tour of American history suggests it’s wise to stay on guard for any mischief. After all, remember the lesson from Pittsburgh—if you’re not fond of how the ballots were cast, just throw the suckers in the river.

So: to enlighten, educate, and hopefully even entertain you, we wanted to offer a few lessons from noted American historians on what to watch for this coming election year.


Electoral skullduggery may be as old as elections themselves, but it’s certainly as old as our republic. Our first stop is Vermont, where author Gary Shattuck (Insurrection, Corruption, and Murder in Early Vermont) has unearthed an account from the War of 1812, when a detachment of soldiers were penalized not for voting but for failing to vote. Despite the ongoing war with the British, American elections still continued as planned, and as Shattuck records, one Army major from New Hampshire marched nearly 200 soldiers eight miles into Colchester, VT. If they didn’t vote as instructed, Shattuck writes, “they would be severely punished, or ‘cobbed,’ as one soldier attested. Cobbing was a new form of punishment being inflicted on the men as a substitute to flogging the bare back, employing the use of a stick to strike a soldier’s exposed buttocks.”

How many instances of cobbing took place isn’t recorded, but after the ballots—pre-marked with the preferred candidate, of course—were handed out, punched, and collected, the troops were rewarded for their ‘choice’ with rum. Needless to say, among that particular company of men, the election was a landslide.


The next stop on the tour comes fifty years later in Kentucky, where another officer pulled the reverse stunt in a different conflict. During the Civil War, Kentucky was a Union state, but as Berry Craig (True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon & Burgoo) notes, by election year 1863 many Kentucky folk had grown tired of the war. To prevent the pacifist candidate Charles Wickliffe from being elected to a second term as governor, and potentially sway the locals into an armistice with the South, Union General Ambrose E. Burnside declared martial law, arguing that “disloyal” Kentuckians ought not to be able to vote. As Craig records, over a third of potential voters were forcibly kept from the polls. The result? You guessed it—another landslide, for the pro-war ticket.

 “Charles A. Wickliffe (1788-1869). Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.”
“Charles A. Wickliffe (1788-1869). Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.”


Fast-forward another half-century and a little further west to Prohibition-era Portland, where, as two sets of authors—JD Chandler and Theresa Griffin Kennedy (Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland: Sex, Vice & Misdeeds in Mayor Baker’s Reign) and JD Chandler and JB Fisher (Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders)have explored, the only good palm was a greased one. One of the most prominent names of the era was four-term mayor George Baker; under fire for charges of public corruption (owing largely to the infamous Public Market Scandal), Baker was finally facing a special recall election in 1932. Tired of Baker’s profiting from racketeering and blind-eye deals for booze distributors, his opponents, called the Committee of Fifty, had collected thousands of signatures for the recall—but two months before the ballot, their office was burglarized and their petitions stolen. Eking out a narrow victory in the election, Baker served out the remainder of his term, but ultimately—and wisely—decided not to seek reelection afterwards.

Formal investigations into corruption during an election year, tied to mysterious break-ins pilfering sensitive material? It’s almost like Richard Nixon read the Baker playbook.


Razor-thin margins are all the rage in electoral mischief, as our next two stops on the tour provide. The first one is a classic hit-‘em-and-quit-‘em tale of tampering from Connecticut, courtesy of historian Rob Sullivan (Political Corruption in Bridgeport: Scandal in the Park City). In November 1957, the day of an election between a longtime socialist incumbent named Jasper McLevy and a Democratic challenger named Samuel Tedesco, a polling place at the Barnum School fell prey to a silent intruder. Tampering with one of the machines, this anonymous thief (still unidentified to this day) rigged up an extra two hundred votes for Tedesco, who unseated McLevy later that day by—wait for it—an astonishing margin of 161 votes. Who was behind the scheme? Sullivan, a seasoned chronicler of Bridgeport politics, has unearthed the full scoop.

 “Jasper McLevy finished up a roofing job on his first day in office. When he was ousted twenty-four years later, McLevy quipped, ‘I can always go back to roofing.’ Courtesy of the Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport Public Library.”
“Jasper McLevy finished up a roofing job on his first day in office. When he was ousted twenty-four years later, McLevy quipped, ‘I can always go back to roofing.’ Courtesy of the Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport Public Library.”


Our second tale of suspect machines hails from Florida by way of Montana, where the most famous knife-edge election in recent history—George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000—was decided partly due to the influence of a Republican governor from the Mountain State. Journalist Mike Dennison (Inside Montana Politics: A Reporter’s View from the Trenches) how Montana political wunderkind Marc Racicot was one of the key voices arguing for the suspension of electoral protocol in that strangest of national scenarios. If you’ve ever wondered who was behind the infamous hanging-chad debacle, and how George W. Bush came out on top, wonder no more: Dennison, who followed Racicot’s career perhaps more closely than any other journalist of the time, has an angle on the story you may have never heard.

“The author interviewing Racicot during his second term as governor. Author’s collection.”
“The author interviewing Racicot during his second term as governor. Author’s collection.”


Last but not least—having crossed the country in search of electoral mischief, traveling from east to west, early to late, sneaky to blatant—we end in the great state of Virginia, which many founding fathers our democracy called home. For this we turn to Jeff Thomas (Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century: The Price of Power), who offers an exhaustive, learned, illuminating, and occasionally terrifying look at contemporary elections in the Old Dominion. Charting what he calls ‘The Virginia Way,’ Thomas shows how proximity to the halls of power in nearby Washington, DC has led to practices that would make certain scurrilous American forebears—here’s looking at you, George Baker—proud.

Consider, for instance, how Thomas organizes his account of the Virginia Way, with sections variously entitled “Hiding Votes,” “Unlimited Personal Use of Campaign Funds,” “Gerrymandering: A Sin Against Democracy,” “Keeping Voters Away From the Polls,” “Eliminating Voting Rights,” “Electing Judges and Getting Paid to Bring Cases Before Them,” “Self-Dealing,” and our favorite, “Archaic Page Labor.” And that’s just the first chapter. Enjoy!

So—we hope we haven’t caused you any undue despair, dear reader, but we here at Crime Capsule are firm believers in the good old ounce of prevention. You know what happens to those who fail to study history; we hope that in the coming weeks and months, as you examine the candidates and issues and make your choice, that reading these accounts will better equip you to spot irregularities, inconsistencies, and misdeeds should they arise. Thankfully, our election commissions are there to prevent this kind of malfeasance, and should you see any signs thereof, we urge you to reach out and help preserve the integrity of our national franchise.

Also, cobbing? If you see any of that going on, call the police. Just call them. And tell them to hurry. Please.

Looking for more to read during quarantine? Check out our quaran-reads here. Finding us for the first time, and want to learn more about what we do? Visit our welcome page and sign up for the Crime Capsule email newsletter. See you behind bars!

Taking French Leave: Jailbreak in Cape Cod

Quarantine. Self-isolation. Social distancing. Whatever you like to call it, as people across the country adjust to new guidelines to combat the coronavirus, the core message from medical authorities remains to stay at home, away from large groups of people. At times, such measures can lead us to feel like our homes have become like temporary prisons, prisons from which—no matter how comfortable they are—we now long to escape.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Americans have harbored such feelings—nor the first time they would have acted on them. Allow us, then, to introduce you to Harold Tracy, who undertook one of the great jailbreaks in Massachusetts history, becoming the first escapee from the Barnstable House of Correction on Cape Cod.

Tracy didn’t end up in jail by accident. In June 1940, while war raged overseas in Europe, a lady named Clara Smith was found brutally murdered at a local acting and elocution school on Martha’s Vineyard. Violently attacked in the middle of the night while asleep in her dormitory, Smith was only the sixth murder victim in the island’s 300-year history. At first, suspicion fell on one of the staff members of the college, Ralph Huntingdon Rice, who was arrested and tried in a riveting courtroom drama featuring many members of the Vineyard’s close-knit island community.

A photo of the front page paper of the Vineyard Gazette
The Gazette morgue was a maze of newspapers, but has since been organized, with 150 years of Gazettes neatly boxed. Photo by the author. Image sourced from Mystery on the Vineyard.

Though prosecutors sought valiantly to tie Rice to the crime, their case suffered from numerous holes and inconsistencies, and ultimately he was acquitted—rightly, historian Tom Dresser argues in his book Mystery on the Vineyard: Politics, Passion, and Scandal on East Chop. Throughout the trial, however, another name kept popping up: Jan Thomas, known as an electrician calling himself Harold Tracy, a name he had adopted while fleeing a jail sentence back in Kentucky. Tracy, a former ex-con and now fugitive, was tall, handsome, and a raging alcoholic, and his aggressive advances on local women had upset many on the Vineyard. When the case against Rice fell apart, the only viable suspect remaining was Tracy: he had no alibi for the night of the murder, was known to be drunk that evening, and harbored personal vendettas against the women of the college who had sought to curtail his flings. Clara Smith, it seemed, had become the tragic victim of his violent revenge.

A portrait of Clara Smith
On her first and only trip to Martha’s Vineyard, dowager Clara Smith met an untimely demise in Sumner Hall. Courtesy of the New Bedford Standard Times. Image sourced from Mystery on the Vineyard.

With no immediate evidence against Tracy, however, Rice’s acquittal ended the matter for a time. The following spring, in March 1941, police interest in Tracy renewed, thanks to a campaign by the editor of The Vineyard Gazette, Henry Hough. In those intervening months, Tracy had finally been apprehended on his prior charge and was serving time at the Barnstable jail. With news of his indictment coming from the island, however, as Dresser puts it, Tracy wasn’t going to stick around:

“Between four and five in the afternoon of Saturday, April 19, 1941, Harold Tracy climbed a ladder in a hallway of the jail, picked a lock in a ceiling hatch and pushed through to freedom. He hurried across the roof, dropped a dozen feet to another roof—where he bruised his ribs—and shimmied down a chimney to the ground.

Initial reports in the Cape Cod Standard Times indicated footprints were found nearby. Tracy scurried along railroad tracks to avoid detection. … Tracy managed to dye his clothes to look like a railroad worker and made a sledgehammer out of cardboard to perfect the disguise. Earlier, he had been asked to perform electrical work that required a key to the scuttle, which he never returned. It was two hours before he was discovered missing.”

Learn how criminal Harold Tracy evaded authorities for eighteen months

Tracy stayed on the lam for a year and a half, until an FBI agent recognized him from a wanted poster in Chicago, and brought him in. Within a few months he was remanded to Massachusetts to face sentencing for his (now several) crimes, the jailbreak high on the list. Ever the dapper gentleman, Tracy had even apologized to his jailer back in Barnstable after the event, writing him a letter that said, “I hate to run out on you like this, but after all it is the only thing I can do.”

What happened to Tracy next, why the case remains unsolved, and what happened on the Vineyard in the aftermath are all found in full in Dresser’s book, and far be it from us to spoil the whole story here. But as you’re contemplating your own unexpected confinement this season, we here at Crime Capsule encourage you to consider just how good you have it, to stock up on great books to get you through the long weeks, and most of all, be kind to your jailer, whoever they may be. After all, they’re suffering through it too.

Interested in more unsolved cases from America’s past? Check out our archive of stories here. Love a good jailbreak or escape? Read about gangster Alvin Karpis or fugitive James Dunham. Or visiting us for the first time, and want to learn more about what we do? Check out our welcome page and sign up for the Crime Capsule email newsletter. See you behind bars!

Murder Ballads: Love, Lust, and Legend in the Blue Ridge Mountains


Perhaps the only thing Americans love more than the story of a murder is a song about one. Many of our readers know the beloved tune “Mack the Knife,” a tale of a murderous thief passed down in song for generations, and longtime favorite of Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong. But what about another killer, old Tom Dooley, whose story begins promptly with his end, with Dooley swinging by the neck from an old oak tree?

Though modern ears might strain to recognize it now, a mere fifty years ago “Tom Dooley” was one of the most popular tunes on the airwaves, thanks to a rendition recorded in 1958 by folk ensemble The Kingston Trio. Every good legend has a seed of truth at its heart, and this one is no exception: who was Tom, who did he kill, and how did he end up dead?

“Edith Carter’s illustration of Confederate soldier Thomas C. Dula. Courtesy of the Whippoorwill Academy, Tom Dula Museum, Ferguson, North Carolina.”
“Edith Carter’s illustration of Confederate soldier Thomas C. Dula. Courtesy of the Whippoorwill Academy, Tom Dula Museum, Ferguson, North Carolina.”

In his book The True Story of Tom Dooley: From Western North Carolina Mystery to Folk Legend, author and scientist John Edward Fletcher explores the origins of the Dooley saga, set in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Wilkes County, North Carolina. A tale of Civil War-era love, lust, deceit, and murder, Dooley’s story has captivated storytellers and songwriters for over 150 years—in more modern times, even the Carolina Chocolate Drops have paid tribute in song (their version called “Tom Dula” uses the birth spelling of his name).

"Thoroughly researched! Five stars." - Reader Review.

The nutshell version of the story is this: Dooley, a young Confederate veteran from Wilkes County was engaged in an illicit love triangle first with his teenage paramour Ann Foster Melton, then later with Melton’s cousin Laura Foster. Foster had recently moved to the area, but had brought with her more than just petticoats in her valise: unbeknownst to her new lover, she also carried the disease of syphilis, for which she was seeking treatment in town.

 “An illustration of Laura Foster, painted by Edith F. Carter. Courtesy of WV/TDM.”
“An illustration of Laura Foster, painted by Edith F. Carter. Courtesy of WV/TDM.”

When Dooley became the recipient of ‘the gift that keeps on giving,’ he became enraged and, allegedly with Melton’s urging, sought to dispatch the woman who had become the source of his plight. One day in May 1866, Foster had arranged to meet Dooley at an abandoned blacksmith shop on the side of the mountain—potentially to elope—but once she left home, she never returned. Small world as Wilkes County was, it was not long before her absence was discovered, and with his liaisons an open secret, and lacking any reasonable alibi for his movements, Dooley was caught, tried, convicted, and in short order, hung. (Melton was charged as a conspirator, but acquitted.)

Did syphilis convict a killer? Find out.

Dooley’s exit from this world only hastened his entrance into local folklore, however, and even while descendants of the family were still alive, poems, songs and ballads began to form recounting the torrid affair. Fascinating to observe, however, is how much the songs got wrong: not only did some of them claim Foster was pregnant (no evidence exists that she was), but in some cases, they even invented characters that had no basis in fact, such as an alleged sheriff named Bob Greyson who (depending on the account) either caught Dooley as a fugitive or instigated the whole thing altogether.

We’ve looked before at how crime legend can congeal into crime fact, both with Mad Madame LaLaurie in New Orleans and Maria Hallett in Cape Cod. Until Fletcher’s account, much of the Dooley story was consigned to rumor, hearsay, recollection, and gossip. Yet his careful examination of the sources—including direct transcripts from the trial and one of the most compelling narrative accounts of the symptoms of syphilis in print—lifts the facts straight into the light.

But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the songs—there’s a reason they’re as catchy as can be. Take a listen to the Kingston Trio here, and for the full story of Dooley’s crime, told for the first time in print, pick up Fletcher’s book as well. Happy reading—and watch out for those love triangles!

“A roadside plaque about Laura Foster on the west side of Highway 268 across from the Laura Foster grave site in Caldwell County. The grave site is on private property and is not accessible to the public. Author’s collection.”
“A roadside plaque about Laura Foster on the west side of Highway 268 across from the Laura Foster grave site in Caldwell County. The grave site is on private property and is not accessible to the public. Author’s collection.”

You might also like: The Magnificent Moonshine Stills of North Carolina

Behind the Scenes: Atlanta’s Missing, Murdered & Lost Children and the story of Wayne Williams

On Sunday, April 5, HBO premiered a new documentary series on the Atlanta Child Murders: a terrifying period between 1979 and 1981 when at least 30 African-American children and young men disappeared without a trace or were found murdered in Atlanta. (The case was also the feature story of the last season of Netflix’s Mindhunter). So what happened during that troubling time, and what do you need to know as you watch the show?

Read the full story & other true crime essays in Corinna Underwoods’ Murder and Mystery in Atlanta

The Atlanta Youth Murders

In 1979, MARTA (Atlanta’s metro rail service) launched the initial stage of its rapid transit system after more than two decades of planning. That same year saw the beginning of a series of murders that changed the lives of many Atlanta families forever. The wave of killings began with the disappearance of fourteen-year-old Edward Hope Smith. On July 21, 1979, Edward left his home in the Cape Street housing project in south Atlanta to go and meet friends at a local skating rink. After spending the evening there with his girlfriend, he left about midnight. He was never seen again.

A few days later, Edward’s friend, fourteen-year-old Alfred Evans, went to see a movie at a cinema in downtown Atlanta. He never made it to the movie. The bodies of both boys were found on July 28 in a small patch of woods close to Niskey Lake Road.

Over the next two years, at least 30 African American children went missing or were found murdered throughout Atlanta. During the first cases, police maintained the cases were unconnected, and that many of the missing children were just runaways.

With no arrests or convictions to speak of, tension mounted between the black community and city officials. Mothers whose sons were found dead in fields took matters into their own hands, forming STOP, the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders, designed to pressure authorities and politicians to stop dragging their feet and take further action to prevent the murder of more children.

Though more and more cases had obvious similarities, police took months to state they were related. Many in the community believed the KKK was responsible. Others assumed gangs or a drug feud. Only one thing was certain: something evil was killing Atlanta’s black children.

Naming the problem

At the outset of the crisis, the investigative task force struggled to make sense of the connection between the victims on the list. Eventually, the number of cases grew so large and so quickly that the pattern practically hit them in the face. A year into the rash of Atlanta Child murders, they’d finally admitted they had a serial killer on their hands–though the term had yet to be coined.

Related: “Seattle’s Lost Serial Killer Gary Gene Grant” >>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>

Though the causes of death varied if they were known at all, there will striking similarities between the cases. All of the victims were black, mostly boys and all of small build and similar physical characteristics. Each victim’s body had been left at locations where they would be easily found. Several, including Lubie Geter and Earl Terrell, had connections with local male pedophiles, and further evidence revealed that a number of them had had homosexual relationships .

Protest against the child murders at the Dutch embassy, April 1981.
Protest against the child murders at the Dutch embassy, April 1981.

Despite these connections, due to the constantly changing parameters of the victims list, it began to seem as though the police were befuddling themselves. Police files contained inconsistencies and errors, and some reports remain missing to this day. According to Chet Dettlinger—ex–police officer, public safety commissioner and consultant for the U.S. Justice Department—many more victims should have made the list. After offering his services to the Atlanta Police and being refused, Dettlinger initiated a voluntary investigation into the Atlanta murders.

Working alongside STOP, Dettlinger assembled a team including private investigators Mile Edwards, Bill Taylor, and ex-crime analyst Dick Arena, an expert at criminal pattern identification. Dettlinger and his team diligently mapped out the killings and went door to door through the neighborhoods to track down leads to the murders. He discovered that all of the victims had a connection to Atlanta’s Memorial Drive and eleven other streets in the near vicinity, directed in an easterly direction. The team discovered not just a clear pattern, but at least sixty more victims hadn’t made the original APD list.

Dettlinger pointed out a distinct social and geographic pattern between the victims, to the degree that he was able to estimate with accuracy where victims would vanish and where their bodies would be found. To the frustration of his team and STOP, the Atlanta Police and the FBI task force were still reluctant to make any connection between the cases, let alone more than sixty other cases that shared the same pattern. At one point they even suspected that Dettlinger had something to do with the murders.

The authorities released him when they finally realized that it was their own mismanagement of information that was letting them down. When the FBI realized that the ex–police officer had collected more information than their task force, they invited him to join their team.

The team discovered not just a clear pattern, but at least sixty more victims hadn’t made the original APD list.

A New Year, an Old Case

1981 found the community chilled by growing fear and despair for their children and a police force that seemed powerless to stop the tragic slayings. Two days later, fourteen-year-old Lubie Geter became the seventeenth victim to be added to the list. Lubie was abducted from close to his home and his body was found, strangled, on February 5.

By the end of March, the victim count was up to 20, with several being found in the Chattahoochee River. Residents of housing project Techwood Homes united in protest on the streets, claiming that the Atlanta Police were not doing all they could to protect Atlanta’s children, even forming a vigilante group, which they called the “bat patrol.”

Camille Bell, the mother of one of the first victims, Yusaf Bell, summed up the feeling of vulnerability when she told Newsweek, “There are actually people who can walk into your neighborhood, in broad daylight, steal your children, murder them and throw them back in your face.”

Eleven members of New York’s unarmed citizen crime patrol team, the Guardian Angels, joined the Atlanta group in its day and night search for missing children and to protect those still alive.

View from Techwood apartments downtown. Image from the Library of Congress.

In March 1981, the New York Times reported that Mayor Jackson’s response to the residents’ concern was to urge them to “lower their voices” about the possibility that the murders were racially motivated. Jackson was still confident that the Atlanta task force, which now numbered forty investigators, would crack the case. Members of the task force were working from a converted building on West Peachtree Street. They had a sophisticated computer system at their fingertips and numerous volunteers manning the telephone tip lines.

They even brought in renowned psychic Dorothy Allison, who had previously participated in other high-profile cases. To offset the cost of the $230,000 investigation, the Reagan administration presented Atlanta with $1.5 million in federal funds, and both black and white citizens pitched in with a $100,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Despite this and the use of air patrols and expert criminal profilers, neither the task force nor the volunteers was able to prevent another murder.

Related: “The Curse of Corpsewood, and the Corpsewood Murders” >>>>>>>>

On March 20, 1981, twenty-one-year-old Eddie Duncan disappeared. Eddie became the first adult to make the list of “Atlanta child murders.” His body was found on April 8; he had also been dumped in the Chattahoochee River. Prior to Eddie’s murder, older victims had been kept off the list because they did not fit the age group parameters, despite other connections. Perhaps Eddie was added due to the fact that he had a number of physical and mental disabilities. Like many of the other victims, his cause of death was thought to be asphyxia.

The stakes were getting higher, and tensions grew by the day. Statekouts and community tiplines went into overdrive. And though it seemed like there was often no end to this chaos in sight, two months later the Atlanta Police Department caught a lead.

An arrest is made, but the story far from over

File:FACING SOUTHWEST FROM EAST RIVERBANK OF NORTH SIDE OF BRIDGE - Fourteenth Street Bridge, Spanning Chattahoochee River, Columbus, Muscogee County, GA HAER GA-61-1.tif
Fourteenth Street Bridge over the Chattahoochee River. via LOC.

With such a large number of the victims being found in the Chattahoochee, the APD ran nightly stakeouts of bridges and low-entry points.

In the early hours of May 22, 1981, Atlanta police officer Bob Campbell was on surveillance beneath the James Jackson Parkway Bridge when he heard a loud splash in the water not far from his position. He described the splash as being louder than any caused by a diving animal. He also reported seeing a series of large ripples after the splash. At the time, a car was parked on the bridge with its headlights shining over the area where Campbell had seen the ripples.

Officer Freddie Jacobs was stationed on the southern part of the bridge. At this time, Jacobs saw a white Chevy station wagon approaching from the southern end of the bridge. He watched the car drive over the bridge into Fulton County and then turn around and recross the bridge. Campbell radioed FBI agent Greg Gilliland, who pulled the car over about a half mile from the bridge. The vehicle was being driven by Wayne Bertram Williams, a twenty three-year-old African American from Atlanta.

The officers stopped Williams and questioned him. What was he doing on the bridge at three, four-o’clock in the morning? An amateur record producer , Williams said that he was looking for the address of a female singer he wanted to audition. The officers were dubious, but had nothing to hold Williams on.

Two days later, the naked body of Nathaniel Cater was recovered from the river, downstream from where the police officers had heard the infamous splash. Nathaniel Cater, the final victim to be added to the list, had lived in the same apartment building as another victim, LaTonya Wilson. Police arrested Williams for his murder.

But Williams’ arrest prompted more questions than it answered, and is contested even to this day.

image via wikipedia

Read the full story, including details about the trial, conspiracy theories, and the full investigation in Corinna Underwoods’ Murder and Mystery in Atlanta

Murder and Mystery in Atlanta

About the book:

Atlanta, the largest city in the Southeast, hides a dark and violent past. Join local author Corinna Underwood as she investigates some of Atlanta’s most notorious crimes, many of which are unsolved, from the city’s first homicide to the murder of Lance Herndon. Who really killed young Mary Phagan in an Atlanta pencil factory? Was there really an Atlanta Ripper, or just a series of copycat killings? After reading these chilling accounts, you’ll be sure to lock your door.

Our Favorite True Crime Podcasts

There’s nothing better than putting down your work, turning on a true crime podcast and doing…..anything, really. In alphabetical order (no favoritism here!) we’re gathering our favorite true crime podcast episodes for you, our lovely readers. Check back often as we update with new shows and new episodes!

Crawlspace – True Crime Podcast

Crawlspace is a true crime podcast from the people behind Missing Maura Murray.

Episode to listen to: “Serial Killer Gary Gene Grant w/ Cloyd Steiger”

The story of Gary Gene Grant may ring a bell–we covered the crazy case this year when Steiger’s book came out. Listen below and check out the book here.

Crime Junkie / RedBall – True Crime & Mystery

From the creative minds behind Crime Junkie and with participation from the Indiana State Police, Ashley Flowers takes you alongside the re-investigation into one of Indianapolis’ most infamous unsolved cases.

Favorite Series: “Red Ball is Here: So Many Rabbit Holes”

The Burger Chef murders are so crazy, we’ve actually covered them not once but twice. One of her references is the same book we covered in the articles linked above. You can pick up a copy here.

You can grab your own copy of the book she references and uses for the majority of the story here.

Minnesota’s Most Notorious: Where Blood Runs Cold

Historical true crime podcast about Minnesota.

Episode to listen to: : “Interview: The 1933 Johnson Family Murders w/ Brian Johnson – A True Crime History Podcast”

This may also ring a bell to seasoned Crime Capsule Readers–we featured a chapter from Johnson’s book on the site in 2019. This interview with the veteran journalist (and nephew of the victim!) is making us want to pick up our copy again…(you can get your own copy here).

My Favorite Murder -True Crime & Comedy

My Favorite Murder is the hit true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.

Favorite Episodes:

Episode 212 – Hot Money

Crime Capsule readers will enjoy listening to this recap and some hot takes on a crazy store we’ve covered: the Curse of Corpsewood Manor . Most of Karen’s sources are articles, but if you’re looking for a meatier dive into this case, pick up a copy of Corpsewood Manor Murders of North Georgia.

Episode 196 – The Baddest of the Them All

If Crime Junkie / Red Ball wasn’t enough Burger Chef for you, check out this MFM episode. Georgia recounts this Indiana saga in episode 196. You can grab your own copy of the book she references and uses for the majority of the story here.

Southern Fried True Crime – True Crime

A true crime podcast exploring the underbelly of the Deep South.

Favorite Episodes:

“Lavinia Fisher: Charleston’s Woman in White”

The tale of Lavinia Fisher and the deaths at her Charleston outpost are lowcountry legend. In this episode of Southern Fried True Crime, host Erica Kelly unravels the myth to reveal a supremely shocking, infuriating miscarriage of justice. The paperback version of the book is backordered, but you can buy a hardcover version (so fancy!) here if you don’t want to wait.

Listen to “74: Lavinia Fisher: Charleston’s Woman in White” on Spreaker.

“Serial Killer Larry Gene Grant” Parts 1 and 2

Truly a treat for those looking for a detailed, insiders’ look at the criminal justice system. Kelly uses the book of the forensic photographer on the case, Lieutenant Rita Y. Shuler, to deliver a deep dive into a truly terrifying case from South Carolina. This case has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s FBI Files, episode “Cat and Mouse,” and in the CBS movie Nightmare in Columbia County, which can still be seen on Lifetime TV. It currently runs as the episode “Last Will” on Court TV’s Forensic Files.

You can pick up a copy of the book that Shuler wrote about her experience and the case here.

The Godfather of Organized Crime: Andrew J. Volstead

Who was the real godfather of organized crime? No, it’s not Al Capone or Bugsy Moran. Neither was it Alvin Karpis, the escape artist, or Tim Overton, one of the leaders of the Dixie mafia. It’s none of the gangsters you’ve ever heard of, or any of the ones we’ve featured before on Crime Capsule. We’ll give you one hint before spilling the beans: the man more responsible for the growth of organized crime in the United States was none other than a down-home Minnesota boy from Granite Falls.

Ready to give up? That’s right—it’s the author of Prohibition himself, Andrew J. Volstead.

In her book Twin Cities Prohibition: Minnesota’s Blind Pigs & Bootleggers, author Elizabeth Johanneck introduces readers to the Volstead that most of us have never known. As sponsor both of the Eighteenth Amendment (the “Great Mistake”) and the Act that bares his name, Volstead—Anglicized from his Norwegian-American parents, the Vraalstads—is typically held up as one of the great villains of the early twentieth century. But as is so often the case, there’s far more to the story than just that.  

“The historic Andrew Volstead House in Granite Falls, Minnesota.”
“The historic Andrew Volstead House in Granite Falls, Minnesota.”

Where It Started

A small-town lawyer by training, Volstead graduated from St. Olaf College and served as mayor of his hometown, Granite Falls, then county attorney for fourteen years before he was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1903. Having prosecuted bootleggers in dry counties in Minnesota during his legal practice, he was well-situated to sponsor his infamous legislation. As Johanneck explains,

“Though the terms are typically used interchangeably, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor, and the Volstead Act defined intoxicating liquor to that containing one-half of 1 percent alcohol, an amount considered by many to be an arbitrary figure.”

Discover the secret speakeasies and ‘blind pigs’ of Minnesota

Keep in mind that producing beer that barely met the legal threshold was how entrepreneurial Chicago brewer—and later gangster—Roger Touhy got his start ; it was Volstead’s law that had set those limits. As we know, of course, things didn’t quite work out as planned, and soon criminal outfits both established and new began to fight bitterly over the manufacture, sale, distribution, and overall control of the contraband hooch. In her account of the national overhaul, Johanneck notes drily that “the last thing organized crime wanted was for the Volstead Act to be done away with.”

The author of prohibition himself...Andrew J. Volstead.

Implementation wasn’t exactly smooth, with questions immediately arising about acceptable amounts of alcohol involved in medical settings (liberally interpreted, of course), or even how to regard liquor that was given as a bequest from one individual to another, as in a posthumous will. While it is true that Prohibition did result in some public health benefits for the country as a whole, the explosion in criminal activity that accompanied it, and that led to syndicates that lasted in some areas for decades longer than the Great Mistake (repealed in 1933), may well have undermined those gains.

“The ‘wets’ on the right are not happy about dumping booze, and the ‘drys’ on the left are laughing. Photo courtesy of Gary Revier, Redwood Falls, Minnesota.”
“The ‘wets’ on the right are not happy about dumping booze, and the ‘drys’ on the left are laughing. Photo courtesy of Gary Revier, Redwood Falls, Minnesota.”

Perhaps the greatest irony of those years? Again, a little-known historical fact: as Johanneck records, it came out in an interview with the New York Times that the Prohibitionist-in-Chief himself had been known to enjoy a tipple. Volstead was on the way to Germany to trumpet the success of the dry laws overseas, and yet the Grey Lady was able to pry this one admission out of him, claiming that “There is no harm in a man’s taking a drink if it is done in a proper way.”

Whether Volstead visited one of the famous German biergartens once he arrived, however, history does not record (or his aides scrupulously scrubbed from said record). But we at Crime Capsule like to think that even the best and most virtuous of us are—shall we say—complicated? Prost!

“Minnesota men enjoying a beer. Photo courtesy of Monica Fischer, Wabasso, Minnesota.”
“Minnesota men enjoying a beer. Photo courtesy of Monica Fischer, Wabasso, Minnesota.”