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.
When she’s angry she’s a real pain in the neck.
Above, a great cover from Chaz Rubino for Official Detective Stories, August 1936. We’d tell you more about Rubino, but this is the only piece we’ve seen by him, and there’s no info on the internet at all. As for the magazine, Official Detective Stories ran for several decades beginning in the 1930s, and during the 1950s Desilu Productions—i.e. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball—even used the magazine as the basis for a television series, but the show didn't catch on and ran for a mere forty episodes. The magazine lasted longer—into the 1990s. Visit our entire true crime magazine collection here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage
, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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