|The Naked City||Nov 5 2012|
If ever anyone was born under a bad sign it was surely him.
Crime always raises difficult social questions, and it seems to be the belief of each generation that the crimes are ever worse. But this issue of Official Detective Stories from fifty-one years ago details crimes, a criminal, and an entire set of circumstances that could have appeared on today’s front pages. It was the case of Michael Andrew Olds, a troubled Walla Walla, Washington youth who caused all of America to wonder, at least briefly, what had happened to the country they thought they knew.
Michael Olds was conceived via rape. His mother was fourteen when it happened, fifteen when she gave birth. Disowned by her relatives, she and her infant son lived wherever they could, and she fed him by stealing milk from front porches. By the time Michael was six months old he was suffering from profound malnourishment. Eventually he was wrested from the girl by state authorities, who placed him in foster care. He was shuttled from home to home, and constantly ran away to search for his mother. He would track her down occasionally, but she had her own difficulties—a series of failed relationships, and three failed marriages—and mother and son were never together for long.
Over the years, Michael developed dangerously violent tendencies. Once, when he was sixteen, he choked a four-year-old girl into unconsciousness. One of the psychologists who profiled him summed him up this way: “I am doubtful that Mike will ever make more than a marginal adjustment, for he has been damaged more than the human personality can stand without permanent scarring.” Nevertheless, he was released from foster care at age eighteen. Months later, on the night of March 28, 1961, he robbed a grocery in Seattle, Washington. On the way out the door he fired two shots, both of which struck a woman named Blossom Braham, who died at the scene. One week later he robbed and held hostage a cab driver. He was arrested later that night, and confessed to Braham’s killing.
Olds was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His mother was in court the day of sentencing, at right, and while she sounded a note of regret that her and her son’s lives had turned out so badly, Michael was philosophical. He blamed only himself for his predicament. But the American public, as well as many behavioral experts, felt there was blame to go around. One of Michael Olds’ state-appointed psychiatrists said: “In a day when we are thinking about shooting rockets to the moon, we should not allow conditions to exist where a child is starved emotionally and shuttled about.” A local juvenile authority said: “The boy pulled the trigger, but the background of the whole sordid mess began the moment he was brought into the world.”
Sixteen years later Michael Olds was released into the world again. Newly paroled, he went on a violent nationwide rampage, and when it was all done he’d kidnapped five people and shot dead a seventy-five-year-old woman and a cab driver. It was the late 1970s now, and this time through the courts there was not much sympathy for him, yet none of the questions surrounding this murderous child of rape had changed. What hadchanged was that most Americans had hardened toward crime to the extent that they considered the questions immaterial. All that mattered was to make sure Michael Olds preyed on no more innocent people. And that’s exactly what happened. He received two life sentences with no possibility of parole.
WashingtonWalla WallaSeattleOfficial Detective StoriesMichael Andrew OldsBlossom Brahamtrue crime magazinemurdertrial