Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Murder of Sheriff Pat Garrett

On February 29, 1908, legendary lawman Pat Garrett died. He was born on June 5, 1850 in Cusseta, Alabama. He was Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico and best known for killing Billy the Kid.

 On November 7, 1880, the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, George Kimbell, resigned with two months left in his term. As Kimbell's successor, the county appointed Garrett, who had reputation as a gunman and promised to restore law and order. Garrett was charged with tracking down and arresting an alleged friend from his saloon keeping days, Henry McCarty, a jail escapee and Lincoln County War participant who often went by the aliases Henry Antrim and William Harrison Bonney, but is better known as Billy the Kid. McCarty was an alleged murderer who had participated in the Lincoln County War. He was said to have killed 21 men, one for every year of his life, but the actual total was probably closer to nine. New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace had personally put a US$500 reward on McCarty's capture.

On December 19, 1880, Garrett killed Tom O’Folliard, a member of McCarty's gang, in a shootout on the outskirts of Fort Sumner. On December 23, the sheriff's posse killed Charlie Bowdre, and captured the Kid and his companions at Stinking Springs. Garrett transported the captives to Mesilla, New Mexico, for trial. Though he was convicted, the Kid managed to escape from the Lincoln County jail on April 28, 1881, after killing his guards. On July 14, 1881, Garrett visited Fort Sumner to question a friend of the Kid's about the Whereabouts of the outlaw. He learned the Kid was staying with a mutual friend, Pete Maxwell. Around midnight, Garrett went to Maxwell's house. The Kid was asleep in another part of the house, but woke up hungry in the middle of the night and entered Maxwell's bedroom, where Garrett was standing in the shadows. The Kid did not recognize the man standing in dark. Garrett shot him twice, the first shot hitting him above the heart, although the second one missed and struck the mantle behind him. (Some historians have questioned Garrett's account of the shooting, alleging the incident happened differently. They claim Garrett went into Paulita Maxwell's room and tied her up. The Kid walked into her room, and Garrett ambushed him with a single blast from his rifle.

Billy the Kid's Grave

There has been much dispute over the details of the Kid's death that night. The way Garrett allegedly killed McCarty without warning eventually sullied the lawman's reputation. Garrett claimed Billy the Kid had entered the room armed with a pistol, but no gun was found on his body. Other accounts claim he entered carrying a kitchen knife, but no hard evidence supported this. Garrett's reputation was also hurt by popular stories that he and Billy had once been friends, and that the shooting was a kind of betrayal, but historians have found no evidence of such a friendship. Still, at the time, the shooting solidified Garrett's fame as a lawman and gunman, and led to numerous appointments to law enforcement positions, as well as requests that he pursue outlaws in other parts of New Mexico.

His law enforcement career never achieved any great success following the Lincoln County War, and he mostly used that era in his life as his stepping-stone to higher positions. After finishing out his term as sheriff, Garrett became a rancher and released a book in 1882 titled, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, which was a first-hand account about his experiences with McCarty, which helped raise the Kid to the level of historical figure, was in large part ghost written by his friend Ash Upson. Garrett lost the next election for Lincoln County sheriff and was never paid the $500 reward for McCarty's capture, since he had killed him. In 1882, he ran for the position of Sheriff of Grant County, but was defeated. In 1884, he lost an election for the New Mexico State Senate. Later that year, he left New Mexico and helped found and captain a company of Texas Rangers. 

On December 20, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, who became a personal friend of Garrett, appointed him customs collector in El Paso, Texas. Garrett served for five years. He then retired to his ranch in New Mexico but was suffering financial difficulties. He owed a large amount in taxes and was found liable for an unpaid loan he had cosigned for a friend. Garrett borrowed heavily to make these payments and started drinking and gambling. By this time, questions surrounding the manner in which Garrett had killed Billy the Kid and his general demeanor had led to his becoming quite unpopular. He no longer had any local political support, his support from President Roosevelt had been withdrawn, and he had few friends with power. 

On February 29, 1908, Garrett and Carl Adamson, who was in the process of talks with Garrett to purchase land, rode together, heading from Las Cruces. Jesse Brazel showed up on horseback along the way. Garrett and Brazel began to argue about the goats grazing on Garrett's land. Garrett is alleged to have leaned forward to pick up a shotgun on the floorboard. Brazel shot him once in the stomach, and then once more in the head as Garrett fell from the wagon. Brazel and Adamson left the body by the side of the road and returned to Las Cruces, alerting Sheriff Felipe Lucero of the killing. 

There has occasionally been disagreement about the identity of Pat Garrett's killer. Today, most historians believe Jesse Brazel, who confessed to the shooting and was tried for first degree murder, did in fact commit the crime. Brazel claimed self defense, claiming Garrett was armed with a shotgun and was threatening him. Adamson backed up Brazel's story. The jury took less than a half-hour to return a not guilty verdict. Cox hosted a barbecue in celebration of the verdict. To date, the common belief is the death happened as Brazel said it did. Garrett was known to have carried a double-barreled shotgun when he traveled, and he had a fiery temper. Garrett could have reacted violently during his argument with Brazel. Garrett's body was too tall for any finished coffins available, so a special one had to be shipped in from El Paso. His funeral service was held March 5, 1908, and he was laid to rest at the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces, next to his daughter, Ida.

Garrett family plot at the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel & Dorothy Stratten

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was born on February 28, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York. He was an American gangster who was involved with the Genovese crime family. He was a major driving force behind large-scale development of Las Vegas. On the night of June 20, 1947, as Siegel sat with his associate Allen Smiley in Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills home reading the LA Times, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window hitting him many times, including twice in the head. No one was charged with the murder, and the crime remains officially unsolved. Siegel is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

 Dorothy Stratten was born on February 28, 1960 in Vancouver, Canada. She was 1980 Playboy Playmate of the year. She was murdered at age twenty by her estranged husband/manager Paul Snider, who committed suicide the same day. Her death inspired two motion pictures. Shortly after noon on August 14, 1980, Snider and Stratten met at Snider's house, where the two had once lived as a couple, and in which Snider was by then sharing with its owner, their mutual friend, Dr. Stephen Cushner. She had come to talk about an amicable divorce and brought along $1,000 to give to Snider. At about 11:00PM Snider's private investigator called Cushner on his private line, saying he had been trying to telephone Snider for several hours, but Snider would not answer his phone. Cushner broke into Snider's room and found them both dead from shotgun blasts. Stratten is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Murder of Philip Barton Key II

Philip Barton Key II was born on April 5, 1818 in Georgetown, Washington, DC and was the son of Francis Scott Key and the great-nephew of Philip Barton Key. He was also a nephew of Chief Justice Roger Taney. He married Ellen Swan, the daughter of a Baltimore attorney, on November 18, 1845. Allegedly the handsomest man in Washington, Key was known to be flirtatious with many women.

In 1859, Congressman Daniel Sickles shot and killed Phillip Barton Key, for having conducted a public affair with his wife Teresa Sickles. Sometime in the spring of 1858, Teresa Sickles began an affair with Key. Sickles had accused his much-younger wife several times during their five-year marriage of adultery, but she had repeatedly denied it. But then Sickles received an anonymous note on February 26, 1859, informing him of his wife's liaison with Key. He confronted his wife, who confessed to the affair. Sickles then made his wife write out her confession on paper. Sickles saw Key sitting on a bench outside the Sickles home on February 27, 1859, signaling to Teresa, and confronted him. Sickles rushed outside into Lafayette Square, cried "Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die", and with a pistol repeatedly shot the unarmed Key. Key was taken into a nearby house, where he died some time later. At the time of his death, Key was the US States Attorney for the District of Columbia. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington.

Sickles was acquitted on the basis of temporary insanity, a crime of passion, in one of the most controversial trials of the 19th century. Sickles' attorney, Edwin Stanton, later became the Secretary of War. Sickles became one of the most prominent political generals of the Civil War. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he insubordinately moved his Corp to a position in which it was virtually destroyed, an action that continues to generate controversy. His combat career ended at Gettysburg when his leg was struck by cannon fire. After the war, Sickles commanded military districts during Reconstruction, served as US Minister to Spain, and eventually returned to the US Congress. He died on May 3, 1914 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The remainder of their marriage Teresa and Daniel Sickles were estranged, she died in 1867 from tuberculosis ay age thirty-one.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Albert Anastasia

Umberto Anastasio was born on February 26, 1902 in Tropea, Calabria, Italy. He later changed his name to Albert Anastasia. He was often referred to as "Mad Hatter" and "Lord High Executioner." Around the age of 15, Anastasia illegally entered the United States. He became a naturalized citizen in 1943 while serving in the United States Army. In 1920, Anastasia was working as a longshoreman in New York and got into an argument over ship assignments with a fellow longshoreman named Joe Torino. Anastasia stabbed and strangled Torino to death. Anastasia was convicted and sentenced to death but after spending only 18 months at Sing Sing prison, his conviction was overturned. The four most important witnesses against him for his re-trial all ended up missing, while other witnesses changed their testimony. Albert Anastasia allegedly controlled racket businesses and ran strong arm activities on the New York City waterfront and was a strike buster. He rose to a position of power in the International Longshoremen's Association.

In 1928, conflicts between mob leaders led to the Castellammarese War. In 1930, Lucky Luciano went to Anastasia with a plan that would put Luciano on top of the east coast crime world. Luciano would kill mob bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. On April 15, 1931, Luciano invited Masseria to a sit-down at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant. After Luciano excused himself to the bathroom, Anastasia, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel entered the restaurant and killed Masseria. A few months later, men disguised as Treasury Department agents entered Salvatore Maranzano's office, disarmed his body guards and killed Maranzano.

At the end of the Castellammarese War, a more peaceful existence between the crime bosses was sought. Luciano co-founded a crime cooperative that became known as the National Crime Syndicate, or the "Commission," made up of major crime bosses from across the country and the Five Families of New York. The Syndicate divided and regulated the illicit markets. Each gang in the syndicate had its own franchise, such as gambling, drugs, or prostitution. One section of the Syndicate enforced the Syndicate's business and performed murders for hire and was known as "Murder, Inc." For decades the FBI denied the existence of such an organization as the "Syndicate." Anastasia was a leading figure in the Brooklyn, New York based "Murder, Incorporated". Luciano gave this authority to Anastasia as a reward for his assistance during the Castellammarese War. Murder, Incorporated also featured the talents of labor racketeer Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Murder, Incorporated operated out of a candy store called Midnight Rose's, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. At the time, Anastasia carried a business card saying he was a "sales representative" for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn. Crime researchers believe Murder Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 800 murders.

Murder Inc. dissolved in the 1940's, after hit man Abe Reles was arrested. Reles cooperated with the legal authorities to receive immunity instead of the electric hair. The information he gave facilitated the conviction of several Murder Incorporated's hit men, including Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, who died in Sing Sing's electric chair. It is believed that Anastasia put out a $100,000 contract on Reles. On November 12, 1941, while in the protection of six police officers, Reles mysteriously fell to his death from a window of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island.

After Luciano went to prison on a pandering conviction, it is believed that Anastasia carried out a plan to get him released from prison, seeking to win him a pardon for assistance in the war effort. Anastasia sought to create havoc on the New York waterfront to disrupt the U.S. Navy's activities. Anastasia convinced the Navy that Luciano could see that things would be in order on the Waterfront. Anastasia lobbied that Luciano's contacts in Sicily could help with advance work for an anticipated U.S. invasion of Italy. A deal was worked-out that in exchange for his cooperation, Luciano would receive favored treatment while in prison and would receive parole after the war. After the war, Luciano was deported to Italy.

Vincent Mangano, the boss of the Mangano crime family, later known as the Gambino family, had a long running feud with Anastasia. In 1951, after Vincent Mangano went missing, and his brother Phil Mangano was murdered, Anastasia claimed control of the Mangano Family. At a meeting of the "Commission," Frank Costello backed Anastasia's claim that Mangano was out to kill him, and that Anastasia was acting in self-defense. The Commission bosses accepted Anastasia's claim to the role of boss.

Albert Anastasia detractors were concerned about whether he was killing too many people. In 1952, a 24-year-old Brooklyn clothes store salesman, Arnold Schuster, saw fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton on a subway car. He contacted the police and Sutton was apprehended. Schuster was interviewed on TV. After seeing this, Anastasia is believed to have ordered Schuster's death. One month later Schuster was found shot to death. Over the next ten years the crime was one of the most investigated murders in the history of the New York Police Department. However, the case was never solved. The murder of an outsider on non-mob business increased opposition to Anastasia from mob leaders such as Vito Genovese. Genovese sought to move support away from Anastasia. Genovese would eventually successfully move Anastasia's underboss, Carlo Gambino, to his side.

Albert Anastasia faced a deportation hearing in 1953 due to his criminal activity. In the mid 1950's Anastasia was facing an income tax evasion prosecution. The first trial ended in a hung jury. There was to be a second trial in 1955. Anastasia associate, Vincent Macri, was found shot to death, his body in the trunk of a car in the Bronx. A few days later, Macri's brother went missing and was never again seen. The key witness in the case was a Fort Lee, New Jersey, plumber named Charles Ferri. A month before the trail, Ferri and his wife went missing, leaving behind a blood splattered retirement house in Miami, Florida. At trial, Anastasia took a pleas bargain and was sentenced to one year in prison.

Meyer Lansky supported Anastasia because he did not want to see Genovese gain more power. When Anastasia put heat on Lansky for a larger contribution from Lansky's gambling operations, Lansky gave his support to Genovese. On October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia was killed by masked gunmen while sitting in a barber's chair at the Hotel Park Sheraton located at 7th Avenue and 55th Street in New York City. It is ironic that 35 years earlier he escaped the electric chair, and his life would end when he was fatally wounded in a barber's chair. The murder of Albert Anastasia was the inspiration for the scene in the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola movie "The Godfather," adapted from the Mario Puzo novel, where Moe Green, a Las Vegas casino proprietor, is gunned down on a massage table by two masked hit men.

Luciano and Costello learned of Genovese's desire to also have them rubbed out from Gambino. Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino conspired to set-up Vito Genovese with a narcotics conviction. In 1959 Vito Genovese was convicted and sentenced to 15 years. Genovese died of a heart attack in a federal correctional facility in 1969. Albert Anastasia is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

George "Bugs" Moran

On February 25, 1957, gangster George “Bugs” Moran died. He was born on August 21, 1891 in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is believed that Moran became a criminal as a teenager. When he was 19 years old, he moved to Chicago. Moran's fierce temper became generally known in the world of feuds and guns, and earned him the nickname "Bugs," gang slang for "completely crazy." One possibly apocryphal story relates that he first attained the name after arriving at a tailor shop to pick up a suit he had ordered. When told the price of the finished suit, he became enraged and assaulted the tailor.

He moved to the north side of Chicago when he was 19, where he became affiliated with several gangs. He was incarcerated three times before turning twenty-one. On February 14, 1929, in an event which has become known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, seven members of his gang were gunned down in a warehouse, supposedly on the orders of Moran's rival Al Capone. He has been credited with popularizing the drive-by-shooting.
SMC Cartage Company, scene of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Contrary to popular belief, Moran managed to keep control of his territory and what remained of his gang through the end of Prohibition and through the early 1930s. But with the repeal of Prohibition the North Side gang declined along with many other gangs and Moran decided to leave Chicago after a few years. However, Capone did not go unpunished either. After the massacre, the government and the public expressed a new level of outrage with gangland killings and shootouts. With the government coming at him from all sides, Capone himself started to decline. The government managed to convict Capone of tax evasion and sent him to prison in 1932.

In April 1930, Frank Loesch, chairman of the Chicago Crime Commission had compiled a "Public Enemies" list of 28 people he designated as corrupting Chicago. Capone topped the list and Moran ranked sixth. The list was published widely and ensured Moran's notoriety. The majority of published researchers of the Chicago gangland era and those who have studied Moran's life have come to the conclusion that Moran's biggest liability as a gang boss was Moran himself. He was simply not very smart in the ways of long-term survival as a mob leader. While Capone was a master at planning out moves and feints several steps in advance, Moran's approach was more that of an ordinary street brawler. Having been gradually squeezed out of Chicago after the end of Prohibition, he reverted to his earlier life and resumed committing common crimes like mail fraud and robbery. By the 1940s, only 17 years after being one of the richest gangsters in Chicago, Moran was almost penniless.

In July 1946, Moran was arrested in Ohio for robbing a bank messenger of $10,000, a paltry sum compared to his lifestyle during the Prohibition days. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in the Ohio Penitentiary. Shortly after his release, Moran was again arrested for an earlier bank raid. Moran received another ten years and was sent to the Leavenworth Federal Prison. Only a matter of days after arriving there, most of which were spent in the prison hospital, Bugs Moran died of lung cancer on February 25, 1957. He was estimated to be worth about $100 at his death, and he received a pauper's burial in the prison cemetery, known as Peckerwood Hill Cemetery.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mabel Normand & the murder of director William Desmond Taylor

On February 23, 1930, actress Mabel Normand died. She was born on November 9, 1892 in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York. She was a silent film actress and popular star of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios. Throughout the 1920s her name was linked with scandal including the 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor, after which, her film career declined, possibly due to the scandal and a recurrence of tuberculosis in 1923. Director William Desmond Taylor shared her interest in books and the two formed a close relationship. Taylor was deeply in love with Normand, who had originally approached him for help in curing her cocaine dependency. Based upon Normand's subsequent statements to investigators, her repeated relapses were devastating for Taylor. According sources Taylor met with Federal prosecutors shortly before his death and offered to assist them in filing charges against Normand's cocaine suppliers. It is believed that Normand's suppliers learned of this meeting and hired a contract killer to murder the director. According to these same sources, Normand suspected the reasons for her lover's murder, but did not know the identity of the triggerman.  

On the night of Taylor’s murder, February 1, 1922, Normand left Taylor's bungalow at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had given her as a loan. They blew kisses to each other as her limousine drove away. Normand was the last person known to have seen Taylor alive. The LAPD subjected Normand to a grueling interrogation, but ruled her out as a suspect. No one was ever arrested in the murder and today it remains open and unsolved. 

By this time, Normand's career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished by revelations of her addiction, which was seen as a moral failing. In 1926 she married actor Lew Cody, however, her film career never recovered and health issues developed. After an extended stay in a sanitarium she died from tuberculosis on February 23, 1930 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles. Taylor is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Harry N. Morse

Harry Morse (1835-1912) Western lawman

It was October 1865, six months after the end of the Civil War. California was further west than what most thought of as the Wild West, but it was just as wild if not wilder than the Great Plains. The rush for gold in 1849 brought a flood of people, some good, but some bad. What attracted prospectors also attracted thieves. Vigilantes cleaned out many of the outlaw gangs but there continued to be others to replace them. Sheriff Harry Nicholson Morse was born on February 22, 1835 in New York City. He too found his way west in search of gold but soon found his true calling as Sheriff of Alameda County.

In 1865, Narrato Ponce was one of the worst of these outlaws. It was midnight on one October day when Sheriff Morse and his deputy caught up with Ponce. The outlaw was on his horse near a hideout. Morse called out for him to surrender. Ponce drew his gun and fired a fusillade of bullets. All Morse could make out in the darkness was the flashing light of the outlaw's gun as he fired toward them. But that was enough. Morse and his deputy fired at the light. They wounded Ponce and shot his horse. But the outlaw still escaped.

Six weeks later Morse had another chance. He and two assistants cornered Ponce in Contra Costa County, California. Ponce was holed up in an adobe house with a friend. Morse and his helpers were just about to break inside when someone ran out hightailing it for the hills. The lawmen weren't fooled into following this man, who was a decoy. A moment later Ponce leaped from the house running the opposite direction. Gunfire filled the air like it was the 4th of July in Fall. Morse followed Ponce. The moment of truth came when Morse and Ponce faced each other head to head, weapons drawn. Morse pulled the trigger on his rifle a moment before Ponce could fire. The bullet killed the outlaw instantly.

California towns in 1865 weren't like Abilene or Dodge City, Kansas in the 70's and 80's. This exchange between Morse and Ponce didn't give the lawman the reputation of a Wild Bill Hickok or Wyatt Earp. But fame was not Morse's concern. The New York City native simply took pride in doing his job as a California sheriff. Among lawmen he was becoming increasingly respected. By the 1870's his method of hunting down the lawless made him stand out. He rode alone into the hills and studied the areas where outlaws hid out. He made friends with ranchers and sheepherders in that area and corresponded with other lawmen to learn all he could about the outlaws' habits.

In 1871 Morse and several others with him found themselves in Sausalito Valley, California on the trail of Juan Soto, another exceptionally dangerous killer with the nickname of the "Human Wildcat." Back on January 10th, Soto, had robbed a store in Sunol, California. In the process, he and two partners shot and killed a clerk. In the months that followed Morse used all he had learned about the area to track down this "Human Wildcat." Now Morse had caught up with him. They were in the mountains in the Sausalito Valley. He and a deputy named Winchell entered an adobe building where they pretty well knew they would find Soto. They were right. But Soto was not alone. Inside were a dozen of his friends. Morse drew his gun and told Deputy Winchell to handcuff Soto. Suddenly several in the room drew their guns. Winchell ran for cover. Two of Soto's friends tried to hold Morse's hands as Soto drew his gun to finish off the lawman. Morse broke free and fired at Soto, sending a bullet through the outlaw's hat. Soto ran outside with Morse close behind. Soto turned and fired four bullets at Morse. The bullets missed. Then Soto rushed toward Morse. Morse rushed towards his horse for his Henry rifle. On the way he turned and fired his pistol at Soto. The bullet jammed Soto's gun. Soto ran inside the house, picked up three pistols and ran back outside for his horse and escape. The horse shied. Soto ran for the hills. Morse made it to the Henry rifle and followed Soto in his sights. Soto was about 150 feet away when Morse leveled the rifle and fired. The bullet pierced Soto's shoulder. Infuriated at Morse's persistence and efficiency, Soto madly ran toward him screaming at the top of his lungs. Morse took careful aim and shot the on rushing Soto, killing him instantly.

Several months later, in October 1871, Wild Bill Hickok shot and killed Phil Coe in Abilene, Kansas. That event continues to live in Wild West history. The Morse-Soto fight received little notice. A year later (summer 1872) Harry Morse again risked his life. This time his nemesis was Tiburcio Vasquez. Again, this was one of the most dangerous and wanted men of that time.

Tiburcio Vasquez

Morse was visiting the sheriff of San Benito County in Monterey when they were interrupted with news. Vasquez along with several other outlaws had just escaped from a double holdup. The two lawmen along with a constable scrambled to their horses and rushed toward the Arroyo Cantua. The lawmen knew the outlaws would be headed toward their hideout there. Soon the two groups confronted each other. Guns blasted away and Vasquez was wounded. Though Vasquez was shot through the chest he escaped and recovered from his wound. Some-time later, Morse's help tracked Vasquez down. The outlaw was eventually executed. Morse retired as sheriff in 1876. But his work did not end. He started a detective agency in San Francisco. He continued to do outstanding work hunting down outlaws. His most well-known case was stage robber Black Bart (Charles E. Boles). In 1883 Morse's detective work led to Black Bart's arrest. Through all his adventures Harry Morse escaped serious injury. Though he was often only a moment away from death when tracking the most dangerous outlaws, he never received as much attention as contemporaries Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, or Wild Bill Hickok. Yet he was perhaps more effective than any of them. Harry Morse died on January 11, 1912 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Assassination of Malcolm X

Malcolm X was assassinated on this date (February 21, 1965). He was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. Detractors accused him of preaching racism, black supremacy, anti-semitism, and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history.

In prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam and after his parole in 1952 he quickly rose to become one of its leaders. For a dozen years Malcolm X was the public face of the controversial group, but disillusionment with Nation of Islam head Elijah Muhammad led him to leave the Nation in March 1964. After a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, he returned to the United States, where he founded Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.  

On February 21, 1965, as Malcolm X prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, a disturbance broke out in the 400-person audience. As Malcolm X and his bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance, a man rushed forward and shot him in the chest. Two other men charged the stage and fired semi-automatic handguns, hitting Malcolm X several times. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm, shortly after he arrived at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.  According to the autopsy report, Malcolm X's body had 21 gunshot wounds, ten of them from the initial shotgun blast.  

One gunman, Nation of Islam member Talmadge Hayer (also known as Thomas Hagan) was seized and beaten by the crowd before the police arrived minutes later; witnesses identified the others as Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson, also Nation members. Hayer confessed at trial to have been one of the handgun shooters, but refused to identify the other assailants except to assert that they were not Butler and Johnson. All three were convicted. Butler, now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985 and became the head of the Nation's Harlem mosque in 1998. He continues to maintain his innocence. Johnson, who changed his name to Khalil Islam, rejected the Nation's teachings while in prison and converted to Sunni Islam. Released in 1987, he maintained his innocence until his death in August 2009. Hayer, now known as Mujahid Halim, was paroled in 2010.

Malcolm X is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Frank James

On February 18, 1915, outlaw, Frank James died. He was born Alexander Frank James on January 10, 1843 in Kearney, Missouri. He was the older brother of fellow outlaw Jesse James. In 1861, when James was eighteen years old, the Civil War began. Missouri remained in the Union although a minority favored secession (nearly three times more Missourians fought for the Union). The secessionists including Governor Jackson attempted to push the Union army out of the state but were eventually defeated. The James family was from the heavily Confederate western portion of the state. On September 13, 1861, the Missouri State Guard, including private Frank James, besieged Lexington, Missouri. James fell ill and was left behind when the Confederate forces later retreated. He surrendered to the Union troops, was paroled, and was allowed to return home. On his arrival, however, he was arrested by the local pro-Union militia and was forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union.

After the withdrawal of regular Confederate troops in the fall of 1864, a bitter guerrilla conflict soon began between bands of pro-Confederate irregulars and the Union home-guards. By early 1863, Frank, ignoring his parole and oath of allegiance, had joined the guerrilla band of Fernando Scott, a former saddler. He soon switched to the more active command led by William Clarke Quantrill.

During his years as a bandit, James was involved in at least four murders between 1868 and 1876, resulting in the deaths of bank employees or citizens. The most famous incident was the disastrous Northfield, Minnestoa raid on September 7, 1876, that ended with the death or capture of most of the gang. Five months after the killing of his brother Jesse in 1882, Frank James boarded a train to Jefferson City, Missouri, where he had an appointment with the governor in the state capitol. Placing his holster in Governor Crittenden’s 's hands, he explained,  

"I have been hunted for twenty-one years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil." He then ended his statement by saying, "Governor, I haven't let another man touch my gun since 1861." 

Accounts say that James surrendered with the understanding that he would not be extradited to Northfield, Minnesota. He was tried for only two of the robberies/murders, one in Gallatin, Missouri for the July 15, 1881 robbery of the Rock Island Line train at Winston, Missouri, in which the train engineer and a passenger were killed, and the other in Huntsville, Alabama for the March 11, 1881 robbery of a US Army Corps of Engineers payroll at Muscle Shoals, Alabama.. Among others, former Confederate General Joseph Shelby testified on James' behalf in the Missouri trial. He was acquitted in both Missouri and Alabama. Missouri accepted legal jurisdiction over him for other charges, but they never came to trial. He was never extradited to Minnesota for his connection with the Northfield Raid.  

In the last thirty years of his life, James worked a variety of jobs, including as a shoe salesman and then as a burlesque theater ticket taker in St. Louis. One of the theater's spins to attract patrons was their use of the phrase "Come get your ticket punched by the legendary Frank James." In his final years, James returned to the James Farm, giving tours for the sum of 25 cents. He died there on February 18, 1915, aged 72 years and is buried at Hill Park Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.