Monday, March 2, 2015

Charlie Chaplin's Body was Stolen - March 2, 1978

This week (March 2 – 8) in crime history – Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen (March 2, 1978); Congress banned sending obscene material through the mail (March 3, 1873); LAPD officers are videotaped beating Rodney King (March 3, 1991); Louis “Lepke” Buchalter was executed (March 4, 1944); Martha Stewart was released from prison (March 4, 2005); Jim Morrison was charged with lewd conduct in Miami (March 5, 1969;); Trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg began (March 6, 1951); Defense rested in the trial of Andrea Yates (March 7, 2002); Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez “The Lonely Hearts Killers” were executed (March 8, 1951); Old west outlaw and bank robber, Emmett Dalton was sentenced to life in prison (March 8, 1893)

Highlighted Story of the Week -

On March 2, 1978, two men steal the corpse of silent film actor Charlie Chaplin from a cemetery in the Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, located in the hills above Lake Geneva, near Lausanne, Switzerland. A comic actor who was perhaps most famous for his alter ego, the Little Tramp, Chaplin was also a respected filmmaker whose career spanned Hollywood’s silent film era and the momentous transition to “talkies” in the late 1920s.

After Chaplin’s widow, Oona, received a ransom demand of some $600,000, police began monitoring her phone and watching 200 phone kiosks in the region. Oona had refused to pay the ransom, saying that her husband would have thought the demand was preposterous. The callers later made threats against her two youngest children. Oona Chaplin was Charlie’s fourth wife and the daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill. She and Chaplin were married in 1943, when she was 18 and he was 54; they had eight children together. The family had settled in Switzerland in 1952 after Chaplin was accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

After a five-week investigation, police arrested two auto mechanics, Roman Wardas, of Poland, and Gantscho Ganev, of Bulgaria. On May 17 they led authorities to Chaplin’s body, which they had buried in a cornfield about one mile from the Chaplin family’s home in Corsier. Political refugees from Eastern Europe, Wardas and Ganev apparently stole Chaplin’s body in an attempt to solve their financial problems. Wardas, identified as the mastermind of the plot, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years of hard labor. As he told it, he was inspired by a similar crime that he had read about in an Italian newspaper. Ganev was given an 18-month suspended sentence, as he was believed to have limited responsibility for the crime. As for Chaplin, his family reburied his body in a concrete grave to prevent future theft attempts.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of six nonfiction books that includes Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Theodor Seuss Geisel was Born - March 2, 1904

This week (February 27 – March 5) in literary history – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published “The Valley of Fear” (February 27, 1915); Novelist Ben Hecht was born (February 28, 1894); E.M. Forster travelled to India for second time (March 1, 1921); Theodor Geisel was born (March 2, 1904); Poet James Merrill was born (March 3, 1926); Ernest Hemingway completed “The Old Man and The Sea” (March 4, 1952); Khaled Hosseini was born (March 4, 1965); Charlotte Bronte refused to marry Henry Nussey (march 5, 1839)

Highlighted story of the week -
On March 2, 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Geisel, who used his middle name (which was also his mother's maiden name) as his pen name, wrote 48 books, including some for adults which have sold well over 200 million copies and been translated into multiple languages. Dr. Seuss books are known for their whimsical rhymes and quirky characters. Geisel graduated from Dartmouth College, where he was editor of the school's humor magazine, and studied at Oxford University. There he met Helen Palmer, his first wife and she encouraged him to become a professional illustrator. Back in America, Geisel worked as a cartoonist for a variety of magazines.
The first children's book that Geisel wrote and illustrated, "And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," was rejected by over two dozen publishers before making it into print in 1937. Geisel's first bestseller, "The Cat in the Hat," was published in 1957. The story of a mischievous cat in a tall striped hat came about after his publisher asked him to produce a book using 220 new-reader vocabulary words that could serve as an entertaining alternative to the school reading primers children found boring. Other Dr. Seuss classics include "Yertle the Turtle," "If I Ran the Circus," "Fox in Socks" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." Some of his tackled serious themes. "The Butter Battle Book" (1984) was about the arms buildup and nuclear war threat during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. "Lorax" (1971) dealt with the environment. Many Dr. Seuss books have been adapted for television and film, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and "Horton Hears a Who!" In 1990, Geisel published a book for adults titled "Oh, the Places You'll Go" that became a hugely popular graduation gift for high school and college students. Geisel, who lived and worked in an old observatory in La Jolla, California, known as "The Tower," died September 24, 1991, at age 87. His remains were cremated and the disposition is unknown.
Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in Literary History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and recently released America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shirley Temple Received New Contract from Studio - February 27, 1936

This week (February 25 – March 3) in Hollywood history – Zeppo Marx was born (February 25, 1901); Jack Haley married Florence McFadden ( February 25, 1921); Mary Astor married Kenneth Hawks (February 26, 1928); Shirley Temple singed contract with 20th Century Fox studios (February 27, 1936);  Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert win Oscars (February 27, 1935); Ruby Keeler died (February 28, 1993); Gene Tierney divorced Oleg Cassini (February 28, 1952); David Niven was born (March 1, 1910); Gloria Swanson divorced Wallace Beery (March 1, 1919); Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen (March 2, 1978); D.W. Griffith married Evelyn Baldwin (March 2, 1936); Birth of a Nation premiered in New York City (March 3, 1915); Lou Costello died (March 3, 1959)

Highlighted Story of the Week –

On February 27, 1936, Shirley Temple receives a new contract from 20th Century Fox that will pay the seven-year-old actress $50,000 per film. Temple was born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, and began appearing in a series of short films spoofing current movies, called Baby Burlesks, at the age of four. At six, she attracted attention with her complex song-and-dance number "Baby Take a Bow," performed with James Dunn, in the 1934 movie Stand Up and Cheer. Based on the film's success, 20th Century Fox signed Temple to a seven-year contract. She would appear in a string of films that year and the next, including Little Miss Marker, Change of Heart, Bright Eyes and Curly Top. By 1938, Temple was the number one box-office draw in America. The public loved her, and she routinely upstaged her adult counterparts on the big screen.

Temple's career began to fade in her teenage years and in 1950, she retired from movies. That same year she married naval officer Charles Black, changing her name to Shirley Temple Black. (She had been previously married to Jack Agar. In 1967, Temple Black launched a political career, running as the Republican candidate for a congressional seat in San Mateo, California but lost the election. The following year, President Richard Nixon appointed her an ambassador to the United Nations; she worked for the State Department for more than two decades. She was the first woman to ever serve as chief of protocol, a post she held for 11 years under President Gerald R. Ford, and President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989. She became a spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness after she discovered a malignant lump in her breast in 1972 and underwent a mastectomy. In 1999, Temple Black received a medal from the Kennedy Center for lifetime achievement to the United States and the world. On February 10, 2014, Temple died at her Woodside, California. Her remains were cremated and given to the family.

Check back every Wednesday for a new installment of “This Week in Hollywood History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Barnes and Noble through the following link:

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping - March 1, 1932

This week (February 23 – March 1) in crime history – Abraham Lincoln avoided assassination attempt (February 23, 1861); Jean Harris was convicted of murdering Dr. Herman Tarnower (February 24, 1981); Actor Robert Mitchum was released from jail after serving sentence for drug possession (February 25, 1949); World Trade Center in New York City was bombed for first time (February 26, 1993); Trayvon Martin was shot and killed (February 26, 2012); Federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound in Waco (February 28, 1993); Baby Lindbergh kidnapping (March 1, 1932); Salem Witch hunt began (March 1, 1692)

Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -

On March 1, 1932, the young son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from the family's home in Hopewell, New Jersey. Anne Lindbergh discovered a ransom note in their child's empty room. The kidnapper had used a ladder to climb up to the open second-floor window and had left muddy footprints in the room. The ransom note written in poor English, demanded $50,000. The crime captured the attention of the entire nation and the Lindbergh family was inundated by offers of assistance and false clues. For three days, investigators found nothing and there was no further word from the kidnappers. Then, a new letter arrived which demanded $70,000.

Dr. Condon, a retired teacher and coach from the Bronx who had volunteered, acted as the go-between. After Condon and Lindbergh delivered the ransom money on April 2, the kidnappers indicated that the child was on a boat off the coast of Massachusetts. However, after an exhaustive search of every port, there was no sign of either the boat or the child. Soon after, a renewed search of the area near the Lindbergh home turned up the baby's body. He had been killed the night of the kidnapping. The heartbroken Lindbergh’s eventually donated the home to charity and moved away.

The kidnapping looked like it would go unsolved until September 1934, when a marked bill from the ransom turned up. The gas station attendant who had accepted the bill wrote down the license plate number of the car. It was tracked back to a German immigrant, Bruno Hauptmann. When his home was searched, detectives found $14,000 of Lindbergh ransom money. Hauptmann claimed that a friend had given him the money to hold and that he had no connection to the crime. The resulting trial was a national sensation. The prosecution's case was not particularly strong and the main evidence, apart from the money, was handwriting experts and Hauptmann’s connection with the type of wood that was used to make the ladder. Still, the evidence and intense public pressure was enough to convict Hauptmann. In April 1936 he was executed in the electric chair. In the aftermath of the case kidnapping was made a federal offense.

Check back every Monday for a new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes - February 25, 1956

This week (February 20-26) in literary history – Poet Dylan Thomas arrived in New York for first U.S. readings (February 20, 1950); Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born (February 22, 1892); Johann von Goethe died (February 22, 1832); Poet John Keats died (February 23, 1821); Novelist James Herriot died (February 23, 1995); Wilhelm Grimm was born (February 24, 1786); John Milton married Elizabeth Mynshull (February 24, 1662); Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes (February 25, 1956); Tennessee Williams died (February 25, 1983); Christopher Marlowe was baptized (February 26, 1564); Victor Hugo was born (February 26, 1802).

Highlighted Story of the Week -

On February 25, 1956, Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes, at a party in Cambridge, England. The two poets fell in love at first sight and married four months later. Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Boston, her father was a professor at Boston University and was an expert on bumblebees. Plath's father died at home in October 1940 after a lingering illness that consumed the energy of the entire household and left the family penniless. Sylvia's mother went to work as a teacher and raised her two children alone.

Sylvia was an outstanding student and won a scholarship to Smith, published her first short story, "Sunday at the Mintons," in Mademoiselle while she was still in college, and then won a summer job as "guest managing editor" at the magazine. After the job ended, she suffered a nervous breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and was hospitalized. She returned to school to finish her senior year, won a Fulbright to England, and went to Cambridge after graduation, where she met Hughes. They married on June 12, 1956. The couple moved to Boston in 1958 and Plath attended poetry workshops with Robert Lowell, whose confessional approach to poetry deeply influenced her. Hughes won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1959, and the pair returned to England, where Plath had her first child.

Her first poetry collection, Colossus, was published in 1960 to favorable reviews. The couple bought a house in Devon and had a second child in 1962, the same year that Plath discovered that her husband was having an affair. He left the family to move in with his lover, and Plath desperately struggled against her own emotional turmoil and depression. She moved to London and wrote dozens of her best poems in the winter of 1962. Her only novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical account of a college girl who works at a magazine in New York and suffers a breakdown, was published in early 1963, but received mediocre reviews. With sick children, frozen pipes, and a severe case of depression, Plath took her own life in February 11, 1963, at age 30. Hughes edited several volumes of her poetry, which appeared after her death. Plath was buried at the Heptonstall Church cemetery in West Yorkshire, England.

Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in Literary History.”

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greta Garbo Made her U.S. Film Debut - February 21, 1926

This week (February 18-24) in Hollywood history – Winners of the first Academy Awards were announced (February 18, 1929); Lee Marvin was born (February 19, 1924); Bob Hope married Dolores Reade (February 19, 1934); Elizabeth Taylor married Michael Wilding (February 21, 1952); Ann Sheridan was born (February 21, 1915); Greta Garbo made her U.S. film debut (February 21, 1926); Drew Barrymore was born (February 22, 1975); Madel Normand died (February 23, 1930); Director Victor Fleing was born (February 23, 1889); Variety magazine announced that MGM had purchased the rights to the film version of The Wizard of Oz (February 24, 1938).

Highlighted Story of the Week - 

On February 21, 1926, Swedish actress Greta Garbo made her U.S. screen debut in The Torrent.
Born Greta Louisa Gustaffson in 1905, Garbo grew up in a poor family in Stockholm. At age 13, she started working as a lather girl at a barbershop and later moved to a department store, where she was asked to appear in a publicity film for the store. Later, she appeared in a publicity film for a bakery. Pleased with her success, she applied for and won a scholarship to the Royal Dramatic Theater’s acting school, where she was discovered by director Mauritz Stiller, one of the most powerful directors in Swedish cinema. He cast her as the Countess Elizabeth Dohna in his critically acclaimed 1924 film The Legend of Gosta Berling, which ran some four hours; he also gave her the now-famous stage name of Garbo. 

In 1924, Louis B. Mayer of Hollywood’s powerful Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio hired Stiller on contract and brought him to the United States. Stiller only accepted the job on the condition that MGM contract Garbo as well. Mayer agreed, although he reportedly considered Garbo too full-figured to succeed as an actress in America at the time. In The Torrent, a silent film co-starring the Latin heartthrob Ricardo Cortez, Garbo played a Spanish peasant girl who becomes an opera star. Her charisma, beauty and acting talent made an immediate impact on the filmmakers, so much so that they raised her salary even before the movie was released. When it hit theaters, Garbo was an immediate sensation. For his part, Stiller had been prevented by Mayer from directing The Torrent, and clashed with the studio repeatedly during the filming of a follow-up picture, The Temptress. Fired mid-production, he had an unhappy stint at Paramount before being forced to return to Sweden, where he died in 1945; the loss reportedly left Garbo devastated. 

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Garbo successfully made the transition to sound after becoming a star during the silent film era. Her first talking picture was Anna Christie in 1930, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Romantically linked with numerous fellow celebrities, including her frequent co-star John Gilbert, Garbo never married. Reserved and withdrawn, she recoiled from publicity, cloaking herself in dark glasses and large hats when she traveled. “I want to be alone,” a line from her 1939 film Grand Hotel, has often been used to sum up her aversion to fame. Garbo’s reclusiveness only heightened her mystique. Although she retired from moviemaking in 1941, she was chosen by Variety in 1950 as the best actress of the first half of the 20th century. She became an American citizen in 1951, and was honored with a special Academy Award for her “unforgettable” work in 1954. Greta Garbo died on April 15, 1990 in New York City from pneumonia and her cremated remains were buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm Sweden. 

Check back every Wednesday for a new installment of “This Week in Hollywood History.” 

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books and includes the award winning Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was Released from Prison - February 16, 1894

This week (February 16-22) in crime history – Old west gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was released from prison (February 16, 1894); Union leaders are arrested in connection with the assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steuenberg (February 17, 1906); Arsonists sets fire to South Korean subway train killing nearly 200 (February 18, 2003); Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway pleaded guilty to killing his 49th victim (February 18, 2011); Murder of rancher John Tunstall ignited the Lincoln County War (February 18, 1878); Former U.S. Vice-President Aaron Burr was arrested for treason (February 19, 1807); Chicago Seven were sentenced for inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention (February 19, 1970); Reg Murphy, editor of The Atlanta Constitution was kidnapped (February 20, 1974); Malcolm X was assassinated (February 21, 1965); Double agent Aldrich Ames was arrested for leaking secrets to the Soviet Union (February 21, 1994); The Securitas Bank depot in Kent, England was robbed of 53 million pounds (February 22, 2006).
Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -
On February 16, 1894, old west gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was pardoned and released from a Texas prison after spending 15 years in custody for murder. Hardin, who was reputed to have shot and killed a man just for snoring, was 41 years old at the time of his release. During his lifetime, Hardin probably killed in excess of 40 people beginning in 1868. When he was only 15, he killed an ex-slave in a fight and became a wanted fugitive. Two years later, he was arrested for murder in Waco, Texas. Although it was actually one of the few he had not committed, Hardin did not want to run the risk of being convicted and fled to Abilene, Kansas. Luckily for him Abilene was run by a good friend, Wild Bill Hickok. However, one night Hardin was disturbed by the snoring in an adjacent hotel room and fired two shots through the wall, killing the man. Fearing that not even Wild Bill would stand for such a senseless crime, Hardin moved on again.
On May 26, 1874, Hardin was celebrating his 21st birthday when he got into an altercation with a man who fired the first shot. Hardin fired back and killed the man. A few years later, Hardin was tracked down in Florida and brought to trial. Because it was one of the more defensible shootings on Hardin's record, he was spared the gallows and given a life sentence. After his pardon, he moved to El Paso and became a successful attorney. But his past eventually caught up with him, and on the night of August 19, 1895 he was shot in the back of the head by former outlaw and Constable John Selman Sr., as revenge for a petty argument.
Check back every Monday for new installment of “This Week in Crime History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for and is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning true crime book, Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. Visit Michael’s website for more information. His book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: