Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One Flew Under The Cuckoo's Nest

It was commonplace for patients and inmates at the Eloise Asylum to be criminally orientated and subject to random violent or illegal acts but when a regaled psychiatrist from the same institution became embroiled in a murder-for-hire plot in 1957 it was highly scandalous. The fact that the intended victim was the man himself attempting to commit suicide by proxy made it that much more troubling and eerie.

To his colleagues and associates Dr. C. L. R. (Charles) Pearman was an outstanding psychiatrist with an impeccable character. Even the judge who would release him on bail after his failed experiment with death attested to his upstanding character. But something was bubbling under the surface of the doctor's professional veneer and on Tuesday April 23, 1957 it overflowed.

While at a Detroit night club Pearman discussed hiring a hitman with a porter named Walter Jones. The porter listened intently as the doctor told him that the man must be "an ex-convict, a Negro, and must know his business." Jones agreed but instead of finding a thug to do the job he contacted the Detroit police. Henry Jason, a black officer, was assigned to arrange a meeting with Pearman. Two days later the men convened in a staged environment with concealed cameras which filmed the entire exchange of money and the murder plot.

Jason was to come to Pearman's office the following evening and shoot the doctor clean through the heart. To Pearman it was the perfect scenario because you "could fire a cannon in my office and not be heard." In preparation for the supposed assault Pearman would ransack his own office to make it appear that he had walked in on a burglar. He then gave the plainclothes officer $50 as a down payment and would relinquish another $450 after the job was completed.

When police arrived the next evening they found a sign on his office door blankly stating, "Back Monday." Pearman had reconsidered his bizarre plan and instead went to a party at the nearby Grosse Ile naval air station where police later arrested him. Under interrogation Pearman admitted to being "despondent" and feeling that he had "nothing to live for". The reason he had chosen to hire his own assassin was so that a "lady friend" could collect on his life insurance policy which the doctor had altered the week before the plot to benefit the unnamed woman. Police interviewed the married woman, who was accompanied to the station by her spouse, and determined that she was an innocent cog in the ploy.

Pearman was detained and brought before Recorder's Court Judge John P. Scallen, who, after listening to defense remarks stating that the doctor's mind "had slipped a little" from overworking, released him into the care of the court psychiatrist Dr. Albert E.Waller, stating that having known and worked with Pearman for years that he was "a man of exceptionally fine reputation."

Wayne County Prosecutor Ralph Garber recommended charges against Pearman for conspiring to commit murder, a potential five year prison term, but Judge W. McKay Skillman refused to sign the warrant issued by Assistant Prosecutor Sam Brezner. After a "technical legal argument" between Skillman, Brezner and defense attorneys Albert Summers and Ernest Ostro, the judge denied the warrant citing a 1943 state attorney general ruling that committing suicide wasn't a crime.

In a bizarre postscript, which in hindsight might have foreshadowed the events of April 1957, the following year Dr. Pearman sued two black Detroit policemen for $25,000. In the suit he claimed that during a 1955 drunk driving incident he was falsely arrested, imprisoned and beaten, causing permanent injuries to his right hand and upper left arm that hampered his golf game. While he was later found innocent of the impaired driving charges his golf game suffered a nearly 20 stroke decline which demanded that he should be justly compensated for the loss of skills. He was awarded $2,250 in a settlement suit. Apparently, the doctor was quite a golfer!

Detroit Free Press, October 15, 1958


FURTHER READING

1948

Doctor Pearman To Address PTA; The Grosse Pointe News, December 2, 1948


1957

Insurance Plot Fizzles; The Windsor Daily Star, April 27, 1957

Quiz Psychiatrist After Try To Hire Pseudo-Gunman To Kill; The Times-News, April 27, 1957

Wanted To Die, Hired A Killer; The Owosso Argus-Press, April 27, 1957

Psychiatrist Plotted Own Slaying; The Miami News, April 28, 1957

No Crime In Mich. To Attempt Suicide; The Lewiston Daily Sun, May 6, 1957

No Warrant Issued In Death Plot; The St. Joseph News-Press, May 7, 1957

Attempted Suicide Not A Crime In Michigan; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 8, 1957

Doctor Is Freed; Plotted His Killing; The Milwaukee Journal, May 8, 1957


1958

His Golf Game Suffers Now; The Beaver Valley Times, October 6, 1958

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Henry Shorr's Utopia

Violence and the prelude to the act always has a jarring effect on the human psyche despite the frequency of its occurrences throughout history. When a child is at the forefront of episodic upheaval it's all the more pronounced. Such was the case with Henry Shorr and the hijacking of a Pan-American jetliner en route from Mexico City to Miami on October 21, 1969. Although the flight would end with no peril to the plane, passengers or crew, Shorr, the son of a Detroit radio legend and grandson of an infamous mobster of the same name, would meet his fate with tragic consequences.

In hindsight many who knew him would say that the act wasn't unexpected but for a rebellious teen to go from a vocal, if not sometimes rabid, high school protester to skyjacking a plane was a considerable leap in logic and acceleration of a growing radicalism. Having graduated from North Farmington High School just four months beforehand, his classmates portrayed Shorr as a politically radical loner who tried too hard to get his socialist message across. A view which earned him derision among fellow students who jokingly stumped to organize a campaign to send him to his beloved socialist paradise in Cuba.

He was described as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type by some due to a seemingly split persona. Not that he was a loud-mouth or rabble-rouser, he was remembered as both reserved and quiet, but because he would only become radically possessed when the subject turned to politics, as many times it did in the social revolution of the late 1960s. Others were not so blunt in their estimations of the young man and a local clergyman, Rev. Carl Kaltreider, pegged him as a "rebellious" type but by no means a "way out there kind of a kid". That rebelliousness had gotten him suspended twice from school but for nothing of great consequence. His transgressions included participation in a walkout along with nearly 200 other students over dress and grooming policies and was suspended for 5 days. The other incident involved a youth who had tired of Shorr's boorish insistence in trying to pass him a copy of the school's underground newspaper and struck him causing some injuries. Shorr's parents sued for medical payments and won, though Shorr was reprimanded by the prosecutor for his part in the skirmish. Despite the incidents Henry managed to graduate with a C average though he had considerably underachieved.

Now free to pursue his dream of social justice Shorr headed to Mexico City sometime later that summer to request a visa from the Cuban Embassy there. Unable to procure one he had phoned home once during the six weeks he was in Mexico and informed his father, former Detroit deejay and car audio businessman Mickey Shorr, that he was having difficulties obtaining his entrance into Havana. Having heard from Henry only once in a month and a half, the elder Shorr filed a missing persons report and even tried to pull some strings by contacting Bob Talbert at the Detroit Free Press in hopes of tracking down his son. Talbert commented that Shorr was sick with worry for Henry's well-being, which would contrast with statements the young man would make concerning his home life during the hijacking. Although the events leading up to the hijacking are uncertain, Shorr boarded Pan-Am flight 551 from Mexico City to Miami on October 21, 1969 and commandeered the jet near Mérida on the northwest coast of the Yucatán state in eastern Mexico, some 850 miles from Havana. The flight had 36 people aboard with 26 passengers and an infant included among the flight crew.

Shorr (he was listed as Henry Shorn on the manifest) approached flight attendant Maria Lobo from his seat in the tourist class compartment and told the Argentinian that he had "a gun pointing at you. Open the cockpit and tell the captain I want to go to Cuba." The pilot, Capt. Hudson Gillis, thought the stewardess was playing a prank and didn't emerge from the cockpit for a tense five minutes. The nervousness of the crew was matched by Shorr who was said to be shaking as he chatted with the pilot and a few passengers, among them Florida state Senator Tom Slade and his fiance Corlis Mullins, a former reporter for the Fort Pierce News Tribune. He discussed politics and philosophy with the couple stating that Cuba would be the catalyst for world revolution and "a better way" for all people. He also spoke of his own physical flaws, producing pictures of himself with a beard and long hair that he had groomed to "ugly himself up" a few days before the flight, as well as his oppressive upbringing. When asked if he was worried about his fate should he be returned to the United States he said it would be like "going from a Mussolini to a Hitler." A comment which those involved construed as the rhetoric of a mixed up kid.

Once disembarked from the flight in Havana, and facing a federal warrant and up to 20 years in a US prison, Shorr's whereabouts and status became unknown. As with many hijackers of the era -- there were 29 attempted skyjackings to Cuba prior to Shorr's in 1969 alone -- he most likely spent time in a Cuban prison attempting to prove that he wasn't a CIA operative, as was often the case with many erstwhile hijackers who forcefully entered the communist country. In the early 1970s two Washington reporters, Martin Schram and John Wallach, went to Cuba to interview former hijackers and learned of their deplorable mental and physical conditions while behind bars. Expecting to be received as heroes of the revolution they were treated like common criminals and subjected to abuse and torture, and once released were frequently subject to further arrests and harassment. Of the nearly hundred or so hijackers who made it to Havana only a few were able to pursue normal citizenship while the great majority remained jailed, escaped or were exiled. Shorr himself, mentioned in the report as "Jeff," committed suicide on September 28, 1970 at the age of 18 years old, apparently dispirited by his lost Utopia.


FURTHER READING



1969

Gunman Forces Airliner To Cuba; The Dispatch, October 20, 1969

Farmington Teen Hijacked Jetliner; The Owosso Argus-Press, October 21, 1969

Flight To Tampa Hijacked To Cuba; The Evening Independent, October 21, 1969

Return Trip Means Trouble; The Owosso Argus-Press, October 21, 1969

Hijacker 'Very Unusual'; The Beaver County Times, October 22, 1969

Latest Airplane Hijacker 17-Year-Old from Detroit; The Rome News-Tribune, October 22, 1969

'Shaking' 17-Year-Old Hijacks Plane To Havana; The Reading Eagle, October 22, 1969

Skyjacker Forces TWA Plane To Cuba; The Bulletin, October 22, 1969

Plane Hijacker; The Youngstown Vindicator, October 23, 1969

Before The Trip: A Portriat Of 'Extremism'; The Farmington Observer, October 26, 1969

Shorr Accused Of Skyjacking; The Farmington Observer, October 26, 1969


1970

Hijacker Died In Cuba; The Owosso Argus-Press, October 2, 1970


1973

Hijackers Go Throuh Hell In Cuban 'Paradise'; The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 30, 1973

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Prince Lazuli: A Footnote to Sensationalism

The murderous and seedy culture in Detroit of the 1920s demanded that every underhanded thug or charlatan have an alias or an alibi, sometimes two. Having a criminal record necessitated such an existence especially when one made his living billed as the "World's Master Mind" as did Prince Lazuli.

Lazuli, known to police and court transcribers as William F. Jones, was foremost a clairvoyant but added Vaudeville actor to his billing in the early 1920s while setting up shop on the eastern seaboard.

In 1922 during a stint with a small theatrical troupe on the East coast he crossed paths with the modern day Adam and Eve, a husband and wife team that not so ironically performed the hackneyed side show act of a cocksure funnyman shooting an apple off the head of an underwhelmed and surly bint. As with all playacting there is a modicum of truth which belies  fictional humor and lends to it gravitas. In this instance Adam might as well have been firing off a tommy gun at his beloved Eve because the salvo of bullets she was shooting back with her eyes were meant to kill.

Mr. and Mrs. Carl A. Sutter, as they were known to the public at large, concocted their vision of Eden to coincide with the summer of 1922. In their estimation they would prove to the world that a man and wife could blissfully subsist on the naturally granted gifts of the Earth without the modern contrivances and luxury of a home or occupation. So they set off for the northern woods of Maine with merely the clothes they wore, which they would also shed at their entrance into the forest, and of course, a Boston Globe reporter to document the sojourn in daily increments which oozed with drama and sensationalism.


After a month of hardship, both public (they were arrested, jailed and fined for poaching partridge and deer out of season) and private, they left the woods to join the aforementioned theatrical troupe of which Prince Lazuli was a member. After a few months on the Vaudeville circuit Eve -- her real name being Margaret Sutter -- turned up missing as did the group's bankroll and one suspicious Prince Lazuli.

Not to be outdone Adam followed the pair back to Houlton, Maine and had Lazuli arrested for suspicion of larceny, misconduct and alienation of the feelings of Eve, among other things. He was brought before a magistrate and whether he served time or probation is not known but he disappeared from the eagle eye of the newspapers for several years until he turned up in Detroit attempting to aid police in solving the Benny Evangelista murder case.

Meanwhile, the Sutters had a very public spat in the newspapers with Carl crying abandonment by his wife in favor of the affections of the Prince. She shot back that there was no clandestine affair between her and Lazuli and furthermore that she left the traveling show because he couldn't shoot an arrow straight, not to mention a rift stemming back to the days of their Eden affair. Apparently their marital bond had come unraveled while in the woods as "Eve" stated, "I'd dare storms and hunger, but not Adam's supercruelty [sic]." Which was a departure from their sunnier days as a married couple in the modern world but so it was the ending of their marriage as Margaret sued for divorce in early 1923 having sworn off all men, Prince Lazuli included.

Having failed to make a name for himself in Vaudeville, the Prince, along with his bride Princess Lazuli, craved to solve the Evangelista murder. With police stumped by the savage slaying of the cult leader and his family in July of 1929 -- they were hacked to death with an ax and Benny was beheaded -- they sought help from all avenues of thought. When Lazuli offered his services the befuddled and blundering police department eagerly obliged. His wife performed a "seance" of sorts as she assumed Evangelista's posture in the same chair that he was murdered in, admonishing the dead Italian immigrant to explain the details of his demise in English because she couldn't understand Italian. By his own admission Lazuli called the seance a failure and nothing new was uncovered about the slaying which still remains unsolved to this day.

In August of the same year the police department wracked with several so-called unsolved "witch killings" and "voodoo murders" began a crackdown on crystal gazers, astrologers and practitioners of occult sciences, who they felt contributed to the culture of ritual murders. Aided by famed magician Harry Blackstone they raided some two dozens establishments seizing paraphernalia and questioned the suspected evil-doers. Whether Lazuli was one of the investigated is not known but he did appear in Detroit's Recorder Court before Judge Donald Van Zile on a count of "pretending to predict future events" which he was found guilty of by a jury on August 12, 1929.

The courtroom erupted in laughter several times during the three day trial as Lazuli explained that "the air is filled with thought waves and that a sensitive intellect may pick them up, just as music circulating through the air is picked up by radio instruments." This was a common belief held by many mystics and still is. The good witch Gundella, a columnist and local celebrity in the Detroit area from the 1970s until her death in 1993, believed just such a thing and was beloved for it. Unluckily for Lazuli he held the belief in an age of radical change where technology had advanced the human mind beyond it's previous constrictions though religious and political traditions were slow to lose their firm grasp on the public's psyche. In that age of gangsterism, prohibition and religiosity, all affronts to public morality were dealt with a harsh reality check via the judicial system with fines and incarceration. Astrologers and mystics were no exception despite the sideshow amusement aspect of the profession. At worst William F. Jones would be punished with 60 days in jail or a $100 fine and a minimum of 10 days and $10. For Prince Lazuli the penalty was seemingly steeper as he faded deeper into obscurity and never earned the national attention he seemingly strived for.


FURTHER READING

1922

Couple To Live Cave-Man Life; The Schenectady Gazette, May 19, 1922

New Adam And Eve To Summer In Woods; The Buffalo Express, May 19, 1922

Like Adam And Eve; The Buffalo Express, May 23, 1922

Imitating Adam And Eve; The Easton Free Press, May 25, 1922

Playing At Adam And Eve; The Evening Telegram, May 25, 1922

The Once Over; The Binghamton Press, June 1, 1922

'Adam And Eve' Face Jail; The New York Times, June 8, 1922

'Adam And Eve' Arrested; The New York Times, June 9, 1922

"Adam And Eve" Arrested; The Reading Eagle, June 9, 1922

'Adam And Eve' Arrested In The Woods Of Northern Maine; The Providence News, June 9, 1922

'Adam' And 'Eve' Are Fined; The New York Times, June 10, 1922

'Adam And Eve' Strike A Snag; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 9, 1922

The Fall Of Adam And Eve; The Evening Tribune, June 10, 1922

Eden A La 1922; The Evening Leader, June 20, 1922

Adam's Advantages; The Albany Evening Journal, June 22, 1922

Man And Wife Lead Adam And Eve Existence; The Woodville Republican, June 24, 1922


1923

1922 Eve, Of Maine Eden Fame, Takes French Leave From Her 'Adam'; The St. Petersburg Times, January 9, 1923

Adam And Eve Seek A Divorce - And It's Over An Apple, Of Course; The Evening Leader, January 18, 1923

The Adam And Eve Experiment That Ended In Court; The Sunday Morning Star, February 25, 1923


1924

Sutter Couple Again On Page One; The Batavia Times, November 15, 1924


1929

War On Crystal Gazers; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 7, 1929

'Helpful' Seer Found Guilty; The Border Cities Star, August 13, 1929

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Cockney Bandit

Although the self-sustaining town within the sprawling medical complex at Eloise was often perceived as merely a mental asylum, it also functioned as both an infirmary and poorhouse, as well it served as a general hospital. Many of the cemetery plots on the grounds are testament to this fact and are occupied by destitute patients who died there naturally, without proper means for burial and not, as some are prone to believe, because of ghoulish botched psychiatric experiments and maltreatment.

Of the many patients housed in the facility, a few were of notorious merit, including the aforementioned music "maestros," along with the industrial inventor, Elijah McCoy, who devised a lubricator for the steam engine, among other patents, and was the source of the phrase "the real McCoy" in the English lexicon.

Of lesser note, but newsworthy just the same, was the infamous Morris Greeson. He was better known as the "Cockney Bandit" (or Thug) and served a stint of four years in Eloise recovering from a debilitating spinal injury he sustained during a robbery that left him paralyzed from the waist down. His story delves deeper than that of a bum luck petty criminal though and involves calculated murder, familial intrigue and finally, unwarranted redemption.

Morris Greeson (He was oft referred to as Maurice -- which may be his birth name -- and perhaps due to a misspelling he was called Maurice Gresser as well. He also went by the alias Harry Lewis.) came to Detroit from London, England after being bought out of his British military service by his parents at the age of 16. Having run off to join the army he was none too pleased by their intrusion into his manhood and set off for America, landing in Detroit in 1916. When the United States became involved in World War I he enlisted once more and served honorably, having seen combat in France. His promising enterprise as an upstanding citizen and expatriate would end there and serve as the apex for the rest of his life.

His downfall began with the arrival of a brother named Michael and his new bride 19 year old Lillian Greeson. Childhood sweethearts, the couple had married in London in the spring of 1920 against the protestations of her family and later boarded a ship to Detroit, arriving sometime in June of that year. Just a few weeks later on July 19th the expectant mother was murdered in her room at the house the newlyweds were boarding. With Michael missing from the residence and supposedly tending to his brother Morris's recent "illness" across town he became the main suspect in the crime. When several witnesses placed the two brothers nearby the crime scene at the time of the murder and it became known that Michael had bought a $5,000 insurance policy on his deceased wife they were arrested on suspicion and held pending charges. Both were eventually charged with murder though a confession by Morris, which he later retracted, all but sealed Michael's fate and though his first trial ended in a hung jury, a retrial sent him to prison for life at the Marquette Prison Branch. The murder charge against Morris was dropped but his contrary testimony during the trial gave the Detroit Police cause to charge him with perjury though he was exonerated on that charge as well.


Whether because of his notoriety -- the trials were the sensation of the town -- or a downturn in his prospects he ventured into a series of robberies which would gain him the sobriquet of the "Cockney bandit" because of his distinct English accent born in the East End of London. In the next few years he robbed several drug stores in the North Woodword district and though he was fingered and tagged as the culprit, he beat the state's charges in two successive trials, which only added to his legend.

All legends great and small have their foibles and missteps and Morris Greeson's came in the form of a bullet lodged at the base of his spine from a robbery gone awry. On April 11, 1923 while climbing through a window at a drug store he intended to burglarize, a shop clerk shot him in the back rendering him paralyzed. When he was brought before the court his notoriety as much as his frail, pathetic condition allowed him a reprieve to Eloise Hospital where he was expected to die within a year from his injuries. After four years of defiant rehabilitation he regained use of his hand and arms (from the looks of his stride in the pictures above, his legs as well! though it seems that wasn't the case at all.) and this brought his old irascible tendencies to surface and he made the headlines again. This time in 1927 by "muscling" into the business of fellow inmate Gordon Stanley, who worked in the tailor shop on the hospital grounds, and in the process shooting him in the stomach, though the wound proved to be non-fatal, whereby Stanley identified Greeson as the perpetrator.

Somehow the semi-invalid managed to get bonded and during this time managed to pull off another armed robbery along with two accomplices, brothers Peter and William Arsenault. Having let Greeson out of the car before the stickup the brothers robbed Fred Gnekow at gunpoint inside the drug store at Mack and Gray avenues. When fleeing they failed to pick up the hobbled bandit and left there to flee on crutches he was easily identified by both Gnekow and a schoolgirl, 17, named Margaret Neuman.

During the trial that followed he wasn't shown the same compassion or leniency by the jury or the judge and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years at Jackson Prison. While he was settling into his long sentence his brother Michael received a reprieve in 1930 when his lawyer finagled a deal that would get his client released, pending deportation back to England, having served 10 years of hard labor.

The same deal would come for Morris some 6 years later aided by the international urging of politicians, celebrities and his beloved sister Dora, who had moved to Detroit during the murder trial in 1920 and had testified to their character and given support to her brothers during their legal ordeals. When it was time for Morris to be transported back to England along with fellow deportees George Owen (England) and Frank Filip (Italy), it was billed by the state as both a cost saving measure and a means of dignity granted to a dying man, though there is no evidence that Greeson was at death's door despite his decrepit state. In fact, in an op-ed piece in the May 29, 1936 edition of The Herald-Journal concerning differences in the American-British psyche concerning crime and capital punishment, his case was mentioned and he was quoted as saying (as Maurice Gresser!) that "he would live." In the meantime he elated just to be going home, exclaiming, "Blimey, but it's great to be 'omeward bound and it 'ardly seems possible I'll be in London in a fortnight." But so it was on March 27, 1936 as he waited in the deportation office for his next connection en route to his freedom.

Though it's uncertain just how long he did live afterwards, Greeson was surprisingly given an almost heroes welcome back in his homeland, being granted a personal reporter by Lord Rothermere that greeted his ship some 300 miles away at its docking in Ireland. A throng of reporters also monitored the occasion and were shocked and dismayed with the treatment the former bandit was given. From special ship privileges to a private gangplank at departure so that he could leave the ship incognito, it was an alarming spectacle usually reserved for only royalty and high celebrity. Of which he seemingly now belonged despite the ignominious hair-shirt he shouldered along with that elevated title.


FURTHER READING


1920

To Face Charge Of Slaying Bride; The Border Cities Star, July 23, 1920

Bride Slain By Husband; Charge; The Pittsburgh Press, July 24, 1920

'Not Guilty' On Charge Of Murdering His Wife; The Ludington Daily News, July 26, 1920

Greeson Tells Of Early Courtship; Abused In Cells; The Border Cities Star, November 19, 1920

Greeson Charges Ill-Treatment By Police Officials; The Border Cities Star, November 20, 1920

Surgeons Disagree At Greeson Trial; The Border Cities Star, November 25, 1920

Jury Fail To Reach Verdict In Greeson Trial In Detroit; The Boder Cities Star, November 29, 1920


1921

Greeson Trial Draws Crowd; The Border Cities Star, February 8, 1921

Claims Hearing Death Threat By Greeson; The Border Cities Star, February 11, 1921

Raps Police; Break In Greeson Trial; The Border Cities Star, February 25, 1921

Morris Greeson Pleads Not Guilty; The Border Cities Star, March 16, 1921

Judge Reserves Decision; The Border Cities Star, May 4, 1921


1923

Alibi Supported; The Border Cities Star, January 5, 1923

Jurors Fail To Agree On Greeson Case; The Border Cities Star, January 8, 1923

Panel Exhausted; The Border Cities Star, January 22, 1923


1928

'Cockney Bandit' Is In Toils Again; The Border Cities Star, March 20, 1928

Greeson Denies He Made Confession; The Border Cities Star, March 20, 1928

One Brother Freed; The Border Cities Star, March 28, 1928

Untitled; The Owosso Argus-Press, March 28, 1928

Pal Of Greeson Is To Give State Aid; The Border Cities Star, May 3, 1928

Witnesses Assail  Alibi Of Greeson; The Border Cities Star, May 10, 1928


1930

Pleas For Inmates Come Before Green; The Owosso Argus-Press, December 26, 1930


1935

Gandhi Aide In Mercy Plea; The Border Cities Star, August 7, 1935


1936

Greeson To Be Deported; The Border Cities Star, March 3, 1936

Oust Bandit; The Border Cities Star, March 25, 1936

'Cockney Bandit' Waits Trip Home; The Rochester Journal, March 27, 1936

Has Paid For His Crimes; The Border Cities Star, March 27, 1936

The 'Cockney Bandit,' His Crime Career Over, Goes Back To Homeland To Die; The Milwaukee Journal, April 6, 1936

Execution Of Hauptmann Brought Scathing Blasts From Critics In England; The Herald-Journal, May 29, 1936


1952

Case Of The Honeymoon Slaying; The Binghamton Press, June 15, 1952

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Harmonious Discord of Ira Altshuler and His Musical Therapy Program at Eloise


 Music Master X

In 1938 the diminutive Swiss born psychiatrist Ira Altshuler became a pioneer in the use of music therapy as a successful treatment for the mentally ill. While monitoring his patients at Eloise State Hospital outside of Detroit, Michigan he noticed that erstwhile mentally hibernating patients would suddenly jerk into movement and began to dance, sing and coquettishly preen to certain songs while more violent subjects would be soothed into purposeful activities, quietude and even lulled to sleep, with, of course, many variations in between. He found that group therapy worked best as all patients had different reactions to certain styles and that many responded favorably to music within their own ethnic persuasion. Furthermore, live music had the most outwardly positive effect and trios playing instrumentals were effective due to their mutability between genres.

The doctor, a musician himself, accompanied by upwards of 35 hospital pianos (mostly privately donated), his assistants and an assembly of 500-800 patients per day would go through an hourly routine with each group first practicing rhythm sets to pique their interest in the therapy and then a period of melodious song to encourage interaction and participation. Sometimes patients would ask for certain tunes and even join in on the sessions, transforming their madness into a temporal but workable and interested mundanity.

While still advocating the use of more traditional rehabilitation and psychiatric practices such as shock treatment, drugs and medical procedures, Altshuler believed that the success rate for "recovery" -- his word for completion of the institutional program sufficient for a discharge -- was 4 times as high (15% opposed to 60% respectively) when musical therapy was used in accompaniment with standard procedures. He believed alternative methods such as the one he employed to be the difference between running a modern psychiatric hospital as opposed to merely an insane asylum.

Whether by necessity, curiosity, gimmick or as an earnest attempt to further the therapeutic reach of the musical approach, Altshuler brought forth two musical prodigies from the asylum for public perusal in the late 1940s. The first, "Maestro X" (Time Magazine referred to the man as "Horace F"; both names were pseudonyms for obvious reasons of confidentiality.) initially performed before a private group of 300 music teachers at a conference in Detroit who lauded the "mad pianist" as a genius and a virtuoso.

Then, on March 10, 1946, with his graying 70 year old mother in attendance, the 45-year-old mental patient, both incommunicado and detached from reality, competently fumbled through a strangely distorted Beethoven sonata (other accounts suggested that there were 3 pieces performed besides Moonlight Sonata, including a flawless rendering of the Cadenza from the Concerto in D Minor by Mozart) before playing a favorite Chopin Nocturne to round out the 2 1/2 minute program from inside the drab asylum. The concert aired over CBS radio's "We the People" program and reached millions of listeners. It was the perfect platform to display Altshuler's effectiveness as a psychiatric administrator though the accomplishment was tempered by the fact that "X" was an accomplished musician who had studied under the pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch while he was serving as conductor for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was the sudden death of his teacher in 1936 that effectively rendered him infantile and unable to care for himself thereafter.


The concert was hailed as a success and his doting mother, who had 9 years earlier brought him to the asylum, gushed, "Wasn't it wonderful?" to an eager throng of reporters. Even though his mannerisms that night were mostly mechanical and his blank stare rendered no feeling or acknowledgment, she hadn't seen him that relaxed in nearly a decade. The accolades didn't stop there as noted New York conductor, composer and less emotionally biased observer, Howard Hanson tagged him a "genius" and further explicated, "He is an extraordinary case. He would play long periods with perfect phrasing and tone quality and then would begin a series of curious lapses such as adding extra beats. This made the whole thing seem strange and spooky. Then he would return to normal training."

This success, however, didn't translate into improved mental health for the savant. While he made progress in choosing his own music, his later preference of Bach over Chopin was seen as a positive development from a perceived feminine disposition to a more masculine one, had more frequent interactions, spoke occasionally and seemed happier, his over all condition never traversed the recovery gulf. As of 1957 he was entering his 20th year of being institutionalized and in a therapeutic stalemate. He was 57 years old at the time and most likely never overcame his affliction, though I could uncover no evidence to tilt the final verdict in either direction.


The Skid Row Tchaikovsky

The case of Earnest Salisbury, while not as theatrical as Maestro X's, is notable just the same. His transformation took only two years between the walls of the asylum from skid row alcoholic ne'er-do-well to composer of a well-received symphony aptly titled, "Eloise" but served as a secondary beacon in the career of the noted psychiatrist.

Salisbury was a troubled youth who ran away from home and quit school when he was 14 years old. He frequented flophouses, saloons and the seedy part of life for the better portion of a "ten-year period of debauchery" while drinking anything he could get his hands on from nail polish to paint thinner to rubbing alcohol and cheap wine. He worked only as necessary to sustain his existence and stole when had to. When he finally collapsed in the street in 1947 from a cocktail of cheap alcohol and a box of aspirin, police dragged him to Eloise where doctors surprisingly discovered scraps of paper with notes written about Tchaikovsky's music on them. As if he were some kind of musical Bukowski expunged from the gutter, the staff at the hospital transformed him into a classical composer of sorts.

As with Maestro X, Salisbury's concert, which was performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the state fair, was played to a national audience via NBC radio on August 19, 1948. The 80 piece orchestra played the tempestuous and dissonant symphony before 15,000 spectators and drew a rousing ovation both from the audience and music critics alike. Afterwards, Salisbury, called to the stage by Conductor Walter Poole, spoke of "putting confidence in mental hospitals" because they did him "a lot of good". Dr. Altshuler said of the performance "This work is a tonal picture of Salisbury's return to reality through music." He was released from the asylum two weeks later and enrolled in the Detroit Conservatory of Music.


Harmonious Discord in Crescendo

If the symphony of the Skid Row Tchaikovsky expended a tempestuous flare then the personal life of Ira Altshuler at the time was a red hot comet in comparison. In October of 1946 his wife Ira Altshuler sued him for divorce. Stating that her husband was a genius she wryly exclaimed, "...you can't live with a genius." Noting their differences she also stated that though he was supporting her and their children that he likely didn't know about the proceedings, hinted that they were leading separate lives and the probability of extramarital affairs by the good doctor. With such tender phrasing as, "He's still living here, but this place is so large that he could be in one part of the house and I in another and we'd never see each other." and "You might ask the blond. Oh, blond is just a general term people use nowadays... It could be a brunette." it was obvious that she was being subtly coy for the sake of her children, his professional career and her stake in the melee.


If there was a remnant of suspicion left in Mrs. Altshuler's mind about infidelity it was probably assuaged in the days following the finalization of their divorce in the spring of 1949 when the doctor and his new bride, 23 year old Paula Drew, eloped and married. Miss Drew had minor success as both an actress and singer in Hollywood and on Broadway but had returned to her hometown to live with her parents and perform in a local production of a play. The former Tamara Dubin of Dearborn had known Altshuler from childhood, as he had served as the family physician, and they rekindled the acquaintance when the doctor phoned her and asked her to dinner. With both of their backgrounds rooted in music, and despite the gulf in age between them, it was a convenient excuse for their relationship. The pairing would be shorter than the run of any assorted one hit wonder singing sensations.

After only 43 days of marriage the doctor sought a divorce on grounds that his new bride was devoid of the talents that make a good housewife, was vulgar and kept his children from visiting them at their apartment. She countered that he tried to hypnotize her, shoot her with a hypodermic needle for experimental reasons, was jealous and controlling and threatened to throw acid in the young starlet's face to mar her good looks among other abuses. Altshuler decried all of the charges as "ridiculous" and a "publicity stunt."

Not only must it have been a professional embarrassment for the psychiatrist but the affair also interrupted the composition of the symphony he had been working on with his young patient Salisbury, though it was only a temporary setback as was shown earlier in the success of the musical venture. Altshuler would continue with his important psychiatric work at the Wayne County General Hospital until 1963 when he retired after 30 years of service. The author of many papers on music therapy and a short book entitled "Music Therapy: Retrospect and Perspective (1952)" died from injuries in a car accident in 1968 at the age of 74.


FURTHER READING

1943

Music Therapy; The Prescott Evening Courier, May 31, 1943


1944

Music Medicine In Regular Doses Helps Mental Patients; The Palm Beach Post; January 18, 1944


1946

Mad Pianist Enthralls 300 Music Masters; The Schenectady Gazette, February 23, 1946

Mad Pianist Enthralls 300 With Weird Concert; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 25, 1946

Mad Pianist Thrills 300 Music Teachers; The Deseret News, February 25, 1946

Mad Pianist Thrills Audience By Playing Difficulty Concert; The Southeast Missourian, February 25, 1946

Muscian Sane Only At Piano; The Spokesman-Review, March 6, 1946

Mad Pianist Is Present At Concert; The Deseret News, March 8, 1946

Mad Pianist Broadcasts At 11 P. M. Tomorrow; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 9, 1946

Mad Pianist To Make Radio Debut Sunday; The Meriden Record, March 9, 1946

Mad Pianist In Radio Debut From Hospital; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11, 1946

Mad Pianist's Radio Debut Is Successful; The Schenectady Gazette, March 11, 1946

Mother Elated By Radio Debut Of Mad Pianist; The Lewiston Daily Sun, March 11, 1946

Musician On Road To Mental Health; The Free Lance-Star, March 11, 1946

'The Man Known To The World...'; The Portsmouth Times, March 14, 1946

Psychiatrist Being Sued; The Windsor Daily Star, October 17, 1946


1947

Improvement Is Noted In Mental Case Patient; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 28, 1947

Musical Therapy Rescues Insane Alcoholic's Mind; The St. Joseph News-Press, November 2, 1947


1948

Mad Pianist Remains That Way Except In Music World; The Evening Independent, March 5, 1948

Music Of Mad Pianist Still Echoes Through Halls Of Hospital For Insane; The Meriden Daily Journal, March 5, 1948

Mad Pianist Still Playing Delicate Music In Asylum; The Free Lance-Star, March 6, 1948

Mad Pianist Who Startled Music World Still Confined; The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 10, 1948

Maestro X Still Patient; The Eugene Register-Guard , March 11, 1948

Maestro X's Delicate Music Has Failed To Cure Insanity; The Milwaukee Journal, March 5, 1948

Fights Off Insanity By Writing Symphony; The Telegraph-Herald, March 15, 1948

Young Man Wins Over Madness; The Tuscaloosa News, March 15, 1948

Writes Orchestra Symphony, The St. Petersburg Times, August 13, 1948

Audience Cheers Mental Patient's Eloise Symphony;  The Meriden Record, August 20, 1948

Ex-Alcoholic Elated As His Music Featured; The Lodi News-Sentinel, August 20, 1948

Mental Patient's Shymphony Gets Ovation From 15,000; The Pittsburgh Press, August 20, 1948

Skid Row Composer Acclaimed, The Binghamton Press, August 20, 1948

Symphony Composition Is Aid To Patient; The Youngstown Vindicator, August 20, 1948

Maestro X's Doctor Uses Music To Unlock The Minds Of The Mad; The Milwaukee Journal, September 8, 1948

Cured By Music, Insane Inmate Given Liberty; The Owosso Argus-Press, September 17, 1948


1949

Doctor Who Used Music On Patients Hits Discord;  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 13, 1949

Husband Accused Of Insanity Plot; The Pittsburgh Press, July 13, 1949

'Jealous' Psychiatrist's Wife Wants Divorce; The Milwaukee Journal, July 13, 1949

Actress Charges Husband Tried To Drive Her Crazy; The News and Courier, July 14, 1949

Files Cross Suit; The Beaver Valley Times, July 15, 1949

43 Days After His Marriage, The Psychiatrist, Who Thought Music Would Help, Wanted A Divorce; The Milwaukee Sentinel; August 7, 1949


1958

Mr. X, Brilliant Pianist, Is Still In Mental Hospital; The St. Joseph News-Press, October 23, 1958


1968

Twenty Die In Michigan Car Crashes; The Toledo Blade, March 18, 1968

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Slain By The Lord: Shirley Tapp's Awakening

Weathering the harsh winters in northern climes is as much a mental tribulation to the adaptability of the human spirit as it is a physical one. Detroit in January is an especially brutal, sunless affair fraught with swirling snow squalls and bitterly cold median temperatures in the 20s. The winter of 1935-36 was no exception. According to The Windsor Daily Star from February 3, 1936 the "automatic sunshine recorder at the airport" showed that the sun hadn't shone a full day since the previous November, so it was no wonder that 17 year old Shirley Tapp, a Dearborn high school girl, awoke having dreamed of being on a cloud hovering over fields full of flowers. Except this was no ordinary flight of fancy, unconscious or otherwise, but rather a return from a religiously induced auto-hypnotic trance.

For six days and nights she remained expressionless having first succumbed to the religious fervor at her church on Tireman Avenue the evening of January 8th where she collapsed. Trances weren't uncommon to the parishioners of the congregation and she was taken to the parsonage of Brother Harold DeMille at the Full Salvation Union Church and prayed loudly about her limp body until 4:30 AM. She was later moved to a davenport in the sitting room of her family's Dearborn home where members of the sect kept vigil and prayed. She was unable to talk or move unless prompted by her cohorts in the union to share in their exhortations by slowly raising her balled fists into the air for upwards of 45 minutes at a time. This feat of physical strength was proof enough to the flock that she was performing God's will to save the country from sin.

After several days of nonstop prayer and a small media invasion she was finally confined to her bedroom for peace and quiet on orders of Dr. Martin R. Hoffman, a noted psychiatrist at nearby Eloise State Hospital. He had recommended that the dark-haired schoolgirl be moved to a hospital to settle her "hysterical twilight state" but her parents Laverne, an auto-worker, and her mother Myrtle believed it divine will that she not be moved. They also believed, along with other church members, that the spell would last a week and on the seventh day she would reveal a message directly from the Lord. Hoffman concurred with the former part of that sentiment but only due to suggestive rationalization since she had more or less been hypnotized to believe that.

When she finally awakened from the heightened state of religiosity her first words, after greeting her mother and brother Richard, detailed that tranquil and serene paradise where she wafted above as if on a cloud overlooking a peaceful valley abundant with flowers. While disembodied she had met the deceased 6 year old son of Doss Kilgore -- a sect leader who had led many of the vigils during her stricken state -- and Brother Gotfried, another deceased parishioner. Kilgore wept as her sweet voice recounted the visitation with the boy who had died many years before.

The family, which compared the girl to Joan of Arc, pronounced complete salvation and that the inborn carnal nature which afflicts us all had fled her body. The Union believed that salvation came in two stages, the first being conversion (which she had accomplished at the age of 14), and now that the second phase was completed she was fully saved. While recovering she openly contemplated whether or not to continue her education or to work for the church to spread the word and vision of the gospel.

Unsure of which divergent path to tread the choice would later be made for her as she continued to serve as a vessel for the higher power. During the next year and a half she would slip into several more trances. Though more abbreviated than that initial revelation these religious quests heightened her spirituality and lead the young woman into the church mission as a Sunday school teacher.


Later that year she married her sweetheart Elmer Wood -- who had faithfully stood vigil with the throng of believers during her trance -- and while with child she went into a long period of silence which lasted from February of 1937 to late September of the same year (And possibly beyond. I can find no other record of her afterwards!). Her only means of communications were via writing and she "talked" to her family through means of "drawing characters on her hand." Her family commented that "The Lord has something in mind." He most certainly did.


FURTHER READING

1936

Claim Girl Slain By Power Of God;  The Telegraph-Herald, January 13, 1936

Detroit Religious Sect Prays Girl Into Deep Trance; The Ludington Daily News, January 13, 1936

Endless Prayer Fails To Awaken Young Girl; The News-Sentinel, January 13, 1936

Girl's Trance Inspires Michigan Sect's Fervor; The Milwaukee Journal, January 13, 1936

Unconscious Girl Remains In Trance; The Montreal Gazette, January 13, 1936

Worshippers Pray For Girl In Religious Trance For 5 Days; The Reading Eagle, January 13, 1936

Girl In 'Religious Trance'; The Reading Eagle, January 14, 1936

Girl In Trance Responds To Exhortations; The Youngstown Vindicator, January 14, 1936

Girl Is Still In Religious Sleep; The Meriden Daily Journal, January 14, 1936

Girl, 'Slain By The Lord,' Recovering From Trance; The Pittsburgh Press, January 14, 1936

Pray For Girl In 'Trance'; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 14, 1936

Religious Sect Continues Prayers At Bedside Of Girl Who Went Into Trance-like Sleep During Meeting; The Evening Independent, January 14, 1936

Religious Trance Stll Holds Girl; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 14, 1936

They Call It Religion; The Schenectady Gazette, April 1936

Detroit Girl Awakens From Coma After 6 Days; The Lawrence Journal-World, January 15, 1936

Girl Awakens After 6 Days In 'Trance'; The Meriden Daily Journal, January 15, 1936

Girl Awakens Fron Her Religious Trance; The Evening Independent, January 15, 1936

Girl Back from Trance, Describes Her Experiences; The Berkeley Daily Gazette, January 15, 1936

Girl Comes Out Of Coma; The Windsor Daily Star, January 15, 1936

Girl Finally Awakens From Autohypnosis; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 15, 1936

Girl In Trance Wakens, Reports 'Visions Of God'; The Miami News, January 15, 1936

Recovering From Trance, She Tells Of Happy World; The Reading Eagle, January 15, 1936

Religious 'Trance' Loses Hold On Girl; The Day, January 15, 1936

Dearborn Girl Out Of Trance; The Owosso Argus-Press, January 16, 1936

Shirley Tapp May Devote Life To Church; The Owosso Argus-Press, January 16, 1936

Trance Girl Comes Out Of Coma; The New York Post, January 17, 1936

Full Salvationists; Time Magazine, January, 27,1936

Where is Jimmie Kilgore Pt. 1; The Watchmen, August 1936

Where is Jimmie Kilgore Pt. 2; The Watchmen, August 1936

Shirley Tapp 'Slain' Again; The Windsor Daily Star, November 4, 1936

'Trance' Girl Case A Puzzle; The Telegraph-Herald, November 5, 1936


1937

Lord Said To Have 'Silenced' Woman; The News-Sentinel, September 22, 1937