I’m avoiding the pandemic coverage. Once you understand what you can/should do, it seems needlessly depressing to continue to watch the coverage. But earlier today, I heard part of a radio interview with an epidemiologist, i.e., a person who studies disease. She said that most people in her field believe that there is a devastating pandemic about every 100 years and gave some frightening numbers that represent the worst case scenario.
She talked a little about the Spanish flu, and how the scale could be about the same with COVID-19. And it’s right on time: the Spanish Flu ravaged the earth from 1918-1920. It made me wonder about the parallels between then and now. I’d like to figure out a few categories (like socializing, working, etc.) and compare human behavior between then and now. There must be something we could reach back and seize to use today. Or some mistake that was made that we could examine and avoid.
This is a little outside of Old Spirituals’ usual scope, but I thought you might enjoy the stories of two career petty criminals in Montana.
Looking over the changes from one mugshot to the next reminded me somewhat of the Faces of Meth photo collages that float around on the Internet. If you haven’t seen those, each collage depicts one person’s mugshots over a very short period of time– a few months or a year. They’re very sad because the people look decades older, their teeth fall out, they lose most of their hair, and are intended to be a visual warning to people. The two subjects here were arrested repeatedly and incarcerated, but the multiple mugshots are the only similarity to Faces of Meth: these stories aren’t tragic.
We’ll start with Mr. Hall Williams, the less prolific of the two. Officially, the dark-haired, blue-eyed young man did dry-cleaning work for a living, but what Hall really enjoyed was stealing cars in Montana. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t very good at it. Between 1929 and 1937, he was arrested at least three times for grand larceny.
Sadly, during his life of crime, both his personal life and his looks suffered. He got married and divorced between 1929 and 1931. Even worse, the condition of his teeth deteriorated from Good in 1929 to Poor in 1937. Hall Williams was possibly a roughhouser, as evidenced by his proliferation of scars. He also had an infinity for tattoos. However, his record of petty crime cannot even compare to our second criminal.
Richard West’s path is almost the opposite of that of Hall Williams. He seemed to become more prolific, more successful, more daring, and better-looking over time, so his life of petty crime really agreed with him.
Richard’s origins are misty; he lists his background as Scots-Irish. He joined the Army in 1925 and got a dishonorable discharge a few years later. Details unknown! He became a baker and a chef to support himself, but who knows if he had any time to dedicate to his craft. Richard’s crimes and arrests must have taken up most of his time. The same year he got the dishonorable discharge, he was arrested in California for passing bad checks. This was just the first in a string of 22 arrests for minor and petty crimes ranging from vagrancy to public drunkenness to car theft.
Richard had a taste for variety. He was arrested in Yakima, Washington for forgery, in Indianapolis for public drunkenness. Illinois swore out two separate warrants in the 1940s. We pick up his trail in Montana when he was arrested in 1948 for passing a bad check for $25. That would be worth about $269 dollars today, so the state of Montana very reasonably sentenced him to 18 months in the penitentiary.
He was released early though, and in 1949, he was arrested again– for passing another bad check. This time he was sentenced to two years. However, he escaped! I couldn’t find how he had done it exactly but apparently he purchased some supplies for his jailbreak with a bad check. He was incorrigible.
In 1953, we find Richard in prison again on separate charges in Indiana, but this time, he wasn’t going to wait it out. Richard escaped from the prison, and he wasn’t tracked down until 1958, when he was arrested in Montana for the jailbreak in 1953.
It would be remiss to fail to point out that Richard West underwent a change for the better. He started out in 1948, listing his marital status as divorced and his weight at 170 lbs. The following year he was single and his weight was around 180 lbs. But by 1958, he was 155 lbs and married. Plus, he is one of those people who looks good with gray hair. The moral of the story is that crime pays!
I leave you with Richard West’s rap sheet, preserved here for posterity:
I’m experimenting with a new style I’m calling From the End. I’ll tell you the end of the story first, and then give you the background. If it goes well, I’ll write more posts like this.
There is a prison at the base of the mountains near Tehachapi that was constructed in 1932 to rehabilitate women. Today, the facility is a supermax all-male prison known as the California Correctional Institution.
In February of 1941, the cells were still filled with female prisoners. Through the grim passages passed a tall slender woman in her late 40s, following a matron.
Eva Rablen had been paroled by the board of directors at the California Institute for Women at Tehachapi, over numerous protests and against the recommendations of the Tuolumne County Superior Court and officials. She had been a prisoner longer than most other inmates: 11 years, 8 months, and 8 days. Eva was one of the original prisoners who was transferred from San Quentin to Tehachapi, as the new prison was typically called.
She had been infamous but it was a forgotten woman who emerged from behind Tehachapi prison walls. No one appeared to be waiting to greet her when she stepped outside, but she dunked into a waiting car that spirited her away.