Just because they're kidnappers doesn't mean they're bad people.
This FBI wanted poster was issued for Clarence Vernon Stevens today in 1937, in connection with a kidnapping case dating back to 1933. Clearly, the FBI were having no luck finding their target. In May 1933 Stevens and three accomplices had kidnapped Kansas City rich girl Mary McElroy right out of her bathtub one night and demanded a hefty $60,000 ransom from her father for her safe return. In the end they got $30,000, but they also got caught—all except for Stevens. While his accomplices were tried and sentenced to, respectively death, life, and eight years, police scoured the state for Stevens. Eventually they decided he might have hidden himself somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The FBI got involved in the search, resulting in the above poster.
Mary McElroy had developed a bond with her kidnappers and lobboed for more lenient sentences for the three that had been caught on the grounds that they had treated her decently. She successfully petitioned Missouri governor Guy Brasfield Park to have the death penalty handed one of her captors commuted to life, explaining in a letter, “Through punishing a guilty man, his victim will be made to suffer equally. [snip] In pleading for Walter McGee's life I am pleading for my own peace of mind.” She was very likely being truthful about her mental state—after the event she suffered from all sorts of mental disorders, problems she attributed to concern for the imprisoned men she now considered friends. We're sure a modern headshrinker would have a more in-depth explanation, something along the lines of PTSD.
Whether McElroy's problems originated from the kidnapping itself or from subsequent anxiety concerning the state punishing them on her behalf, the rest of her life did not go well. She had several nervous breakdowns—as such incidents were called back then—never moved out of her father's house, and became addicted to opium. In January 1949 she committed suicide at age thirty-two by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a note that read, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary.” But her death brought about no change in her kidnappers' status. One had already been paroled as scheduled, but the other two remained in prison. As for Clarence Vernon Stevens, he was never caught.
An American crime story.
Written by The Gordons, who were the tandem of spouses Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, FBI Story follows Agent John Ripley as he investigates the disappearance of a woman named Genie. She's wanted for theft by the FBI, and by the Los Angeles police as a person of interest in a murder case. Ripley finds that he and the missing woman have a lot in common, a fact revealed by his perusal of her bookshelf and diary. Is she really a criminal or just a desperate woman in deep trouble? As the investigation unfolds and the search spans the entire United States, we learn that other people are after her, including a millionaire American fascist who looks like Hitler and rants about the master race. Eventually Ripley uncovers jewel thievery, treason, and the mysterious Genie herself.
Originally published in hardback on the heels of World War II in 1950, FBI Story delves deeply into the weariness and cynicism of combat vets, of which Ripley is one, yet all the agents are unswervingly dutiful and honest. Considering the fact that the novel is dedicated to J. Edgar Hoover, one could be excused for branding it propaganda. In fact, Gordon Gordon was an ex-FBI agent and had J. Edgar Hoover approve his work. Even so, FBI Story is generally considered a good read. It was later turned into a movie starring James Stewart and Vera Miles. The Bantam edition of the book is from 1955 with uncredited art, and the Corgi one appeared in 1957 with Mitchell Hooks on the cover chores.
You can't hide from the FBI.
Talk about a shitty day. The artful above photo shows Eleanor Kindig, who was arrested for giving false information to the FBI. The Compton, California native disappeared, and after being found in New Mexico, spun a fanciful tale about being abducted. She had run away to avoid legal troubles back in California. Thanks to her fib, her troubles were just starting. That was today in 1952, and the photo is from the Los Angeles Examiner collection held at the University of Southern California.
Just when you thought you’d heard the worst about J. Edgar Hoover.
Yale University historian Beverly Gage has found an uncensored version of a threatening letter sent to civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover personally engineered. The letter, which she found as part of research into an upcoming Hoover biography and which has been confirmed as his handiwork, features a fake disgruntled supporter taunting and chastising King, and later urging him to commit suicide. The suicide part is unspoken, but the letter states:
King there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. [snip] You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal self is bared to the nation.
Hoover’s brainstorm was that King would be so afraid of having his marital infidelity exposed that he’d rather die than see his reputation ruined. When King publicly declared that the FBI and Hoover were after him, the cackles of laughter from the mainstream press and general masses reached the mountaintops. And yet, as so often happens in history, it turns out the government had, in fact, acted far beyond its legal mandate, or even everyday sanity. We now know that under Hoover the FBI harassed not only King, but other political figures, various activist groups, and even harmless Hollywood performers. But this letter represents an incredible new low. More tidbits:
King, like all frauds your end is approaching.
Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you.
Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness.
There’s more, but you get the gist. The word “evil” is used six times in the one page screed. To imagine the FBI reduced to such an act of impotent cowardice astonishes, but desperate times call for desperate measures—as one of only a few official apartheid nations left in the world at that time, the U.S. was taking a beating in international circles. Scenes of unarmed protesters attacked by German shepherds had played on television sets around the planet. A change had begun that some of the most powerful entities in America wanted stopped. But no smears, no threats, and not even the murder of numerous civil rights activists, including King, could stem the tide.
That swell reached a high water mark. But unhealed wounds, social polarization, regressive lunacy, and political opportunism eventually rolled it back. Today, pundits tell credulous audiences numbering in the tens of millions that the bestowing of equal rights to African Americans wasa mistake. Worse, in just the few minutes we spent looking around the internet for a bit of material to write this post we ran into so many defenses of Hoover’s actions that it made us wonder if it was 1965 again. J. Edgar would have liked that. But what he wouldn’t have liked is that his enemy is a global icon while he's a historical embarrassment.
Our civilization has avoided nuclear destruction so far, but has it been by design or chance?
This debris cloud was generated yesterday in 1952 by the nuclear blast codenamed Dog, which was part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper, a series of tests that occurred at the Nevada Test Site that year. The people you see in the image are just a few of the 2,100 marines who observed the explosion. Last month Chatham House released a sobering nuclear study showing that there have been thirteen incidents since 1962 that qualify as “near use” of nuclear weapons. In two of those—the famed Oleg Penkovsky incident and the less famous but more serious Stanislaw Petrov incident—nuclear holocaust may have been averted only because individuals disobeyed orders. Chatham House also details many instances of “sloppy practice.” Two examples: President Jimmy Carter once left the U.S. nuclear launch codes in a suit that was taken to the dry cleaners, and in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot, his bloody pants containing the launch codes ended up in the hands of FBI agents who had no authorization to possess them. There are instances of sloppy practice from as recently as 2013. If you’re in the mood for some sobering reading, the report is here.
Thirty-eight years later the FBI still can’t get him Hoffa their list of troublesome unsolved cases.
One of the most famous missing persons in American history is back in the news. The FBI is searching a field in suburban Detroit where they've been informed long missing and presumably murdered Teamsters labor union president Jimmy Hoffa was buried. Hoffa disappeared in July 1975 from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant and was never seen again.
The new search is occurring because an ex-Mafia underboss named Tony Zerilli told the Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. Zerilli says Hoffa was bound, gagged, smacked on the head with a shovel and buried alive. Why did he come forward now? You guessed it—he’s promoting a book. Did he actually see Hoffa get the brutal treatment he descibes? No, he was told about it—if he’d been there personally that would constitute a crime, right?
Will Hoffa actually turn up? Hard to say. The FBI is making noises that Zerilli is a credible source, but we think two other factors are just as important in triggering this search—Hoffa’s place in American cold case lore is a longtime thorn in the FBI’s side, and, probably of more importance, the Hoffa family remains prominent even today, with one of his sons serving as the current Teamsters president and one of his daughters a former circuit judge. Zerilli says he was told Hoffa was buried beneath a concrete slab inside a barn. The barn has since been razed but the FBI are bringing in heavy equipment to dig up the area. Zerilli’s report is believable in at least one sense—Hoffa has been reported to be buried everywhere from the Florida Everglades to the New Jersey Meadowlands, but the field where the FBI is searching is just a short distance from where he was last seen alive.
Sleazy tabloid exposes the nationwide trade in even sleazier Tijuana bibles.
It’s been a while since we’ve featured Hush-Hush, but it’s one of our favorite high-end mid-century tabloids, so today we have a newly scanned issue from this month 1957. We learn that Ingrid Bergman called Ed Sullivan a liar for falsely claiming she was booked on his show, and that Phil Silvers was terrified that he would lose his fame, and that Eartha Kitt was destined to forever be lonely because she was interested only in white men. But the fun story here is the one headed: “Movie Stars Victimized By Smut, Inc.” The article is about Tijuana bibles, and the many celebs who had been unknowingly featured in them. We’ve already posted a few bibles, thus you probably already know that they’re pornographic eight-page comic booklets sold clandestinely in drug stores and soda fountains. Their makers felt free to borrow the likenesses of public figures of the day, and Hush-Hush offers up examples starring Bob Hope, Marie Wilson, Robert Mitchum and others. The article describes them as “unbelievably filthy booklets showing the basest sexual acts and perversions.” Well, true enough. Their distribution was so worrisome that the FBI got involved, and while the feds did manage to make some arrests, the flow of booklets remained pretty much uninterrupted. We can only assume that Hush-Hush’s exposé made them even more popular, which is kind of how it works with porn, right? Someone gets on their soapbox about it and people walk away thinking, Hmm, I better see one of these with my own eyes. Of course, Hush-Hush didn’t dare reprint the interior pages, but we have no such inhibitions here at Pulp Intl. See the next post, and see here.
Smiling to keep from crying.
Above is a lovely image of American actress Jean Seberg, who streaked across the cinematic firmament at the end of the 1950s in movies like Lilith and Breathless, but once famous quickly learned that freedom of association was a right that was guaranteed only if one didn’t actually exercise it. When her political support for civil rights groups became known to federal authorities, they made her a target of the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO, which was a covert, illegal spying program aimed at American citizens whose political activities were deemed a threat to the status quo. The FBI harassed and discredited Seberg, and surveilled her both in the U.S. and abroad, all while hiding its involvement, and that of high ranking government officials, including U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. Seberg ended her turbulent life by committing suicide in Paris in August 1979, and her family as well as numerous fans blamed the FBI and U.S. government for pushing her over the edge. The above image was made many years before, in 1963.
Albert Nussbaum was good at almost everything—but what he really enjoyed was crime.
Above is an Inside Detective published February 1963, containing a feature on Albert Nussbaum and Bobby Wilcoxson, a pair of armed robbers who were among the most sought after fugitives of their time. Nussbaum was the brains of the operation, and was adept at chess and photography, and was a locksmith, gunsmith, pilot, airplane mechanic, welder, and draftsman. With his spatial and mechanical aptitude, many careers would have been available to him, but he chose instead to become a bank robber. Predictably, he was good at that too.
Nussbaum and Wilcoxson knocked over eight banks between 1960 and 1962, taking in more than $250,000, which back then was the equivalent of more than two million. During a December 1961 Brooklyn robbery, Wilcoxson got an itchy trigger finger and machine-gunned a bank guard. The killing landed him on the FBI’s most wanted list. But even after the Feds distributed more than a million wanted posters and involved upwards of 600 agents in the case, they could locate neither him nor the elusive Nussbaum. The pair were just too smart.
But brains are not the same as intuition. Nussbaum was clever enough to arrange a meeting with his estranged wife right under the authorities’ noses, but apparently had no clue his mother-in-law was capable of dropping a dime on him. What followed was a 100 mph chase through the streets of Buffalo that ended only after a civilian rammed Nussbaum’s car.Wilcoxson was arrested soon afterward in Maryland, and both robbers were convicted of murder. But where Wilcoxson got the chair (a sentence which was commuted to life upon appeal), Nussbaum got forty years, which made him eligible for parole.
Before being arrested Nussbaum had begun corresponding with mystery author Dan Marlowe, who encouraged him to put his experiences into fiction. He suddenly had plenty of time on his hands, so he wrote some short stories, and of course, he had an aptitude for that, too. With Marlowe’s help, he scored a gig writing film reviews for the Montreal magazine Take One, and after being paroled years later, wrote fiction that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery Magazine, and other places. He and Marlowe eventually lived together, with Nussbaum acting as a sort of caretaker for his mentor, who was in failing health and suffering from amnesia. Marlowe died in 1987 and Nussbaum continued to write, as well as host workshops, and get himself elected president of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writer’s Association.
Truly, Albert Nussbaum’s story is one of the most interesting you’ll ever run across, and there’s much more to it than we covered here. Perhaps a suitable summation would be to say that before there was such a term as “street cred” Nussbaum had it in spades. His crimes resulted in a man’s death, and his later fame traded on the very experiences that led to that tragic event—unforgivable, on some level. But still, he proved that, given a second chance, some people are capable of making the most of it. Albert Nussbaum died in 1996, aged 62.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
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