Sean Connery

The Dastardly Past:  Sean Connery.

August 25, 1930 saw the arrival in this world of Sean Connery–international actor of mystery, suspense, and espionage and the quintessential James Bond.  Really, what more needs to be said?

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Clara Maass

The Dastardly Past:  Clara Maass.

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August 24 marks the death of Clara Maass in 1901.  She was an American nurse with the commission in Cuba led by Walter Reed.  Their purpose was to confirm the method of transmission for Yellow Fever, which had been theorized by Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay.  Maass volunteered as a human subject, allowing herself to be bitten by an infected mosquito.  It resulted in a mild case of yellow fever from which she recovered.  She volunteered a second time, however, and died of the disease as a result.

The Reed Commission succeeded in its mission, thus making way for further discoveries, including an effective vaccine.  Sadly, however, Yellow Fever remains a scourge in tropical climates.  It is responsible for between 30,000 and 60,000 death a year according to the World Health Organization.

William Wallace

The Dastardly Past:  William Wallace.

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On August 23, 1305, William Wallace, the Scottish chief and freedom fighter who led the War of Scottish Independence, was executed using several of the most gruesome methods every devised by Medieval minds.  The catalogue of tortures inflicted upon him at the hands of the English can be read on the webpage of the Society of William Wallace.  I’d list them here, but I’m eating my lunch.

 

The Front Page

The Dastardly Past:  The Front Page.

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On August 14, 1928, a new kind of play debuted at the Time Square Theatre in Manhattan.  Called The Front Page, it was a raucous comedy about unscrupulous pressmen and crooked politicians, set against the impending execution of a wrongly convicted criminal.  The playwrights, Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, drew from their own days as journalists in the Chicago of the 1910s and 1920s.  While some critics complained of the play’s coarseness and cynicism, it was nevertheless a smash hit.  It has been revived successfully on Broadway numerous times and made into successful films, including Howard Hawks’ deft adaptation entitled His Girl Friday (1940), with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in the lead roles.

The Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones

The Dastardly Past:  the Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones.

On Monday, August 31, 1931, in Houston, shots rang out in an upscale apartment building in Montrose, one of the prosperous new developments southwest of downtown.  An alarmed tenant reported the noise to C. C. Bell, the building’s owner.  He called the police.  When Bell let the officers into the apartment, they found the “Anvil Chorus” blaring on the radio and the apartment’s occupants dead from multiple bullet wounds.

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The victims were Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Jones, a young couple who had been married about five years.  Chester Jones, 35, was a rising oil executive with the firm of Martin, Drake, & Jones.  Jane Stackhouse Martin Jones, 25, was the daughter of Chester’s business partner, a respected oil and cattleman named W. F. Martin.  Chester was slumped in a chair in his pajamas, with a shot to the head, four to the chest, and one in the hip.  Jane, daringly dressed in pajamas as well, had been shot four times and had also been beaten.  Under her sprawled body they found a floor scarred by several more bullet holes.

The police concluded that there was more than one intruder:  they found two sets of footprints outside the apartment’s back door and two different kinds of bullets in the apartment.  As to suspects, they were baffled.  But not for long.  As detectives dug deeper into the case, they latched onto the end of a thread that at their touch, began to unravel a convoluted web of criminal activity.

Chester Jones, nicknamed “Keggy,” was not the promising businessman he appeared to be—news that stunned his senior partners W. F. Martin and Ed J. Drake.  Whether Jane Jones knew of her husband’s hidden life is a matter of conjecture; she certainly found out about it.  Through his fingerprints, police determined that Jones was actually a career felon with a number of aliases, who had served three terms in the state penitentiary and still moved in a wide circle of unsavory characters.  As the police rounded up some of Jones’ associates and persuaded them to talk, more of the story of the “Bayou Gangsters” as one journalist called them came out.

Jones headline

Chester “Keggy” Jones, along with his brother, Jack, had been involved in the armed robbery of the Union Planters National Bank in Memphis in May.  Those actually arrested for the crime were Herbert Scales, “a socially prominent young Dallas sportsman and clubman,” Ralph Arnold, and John “The Greek” Cherris.  Cherris was released from jail on a $7500 bail posted by Keggy, but Keggy and Cherris argued over the division of the Memphis loot.  Violently as it turned out, because Keggy, Jack Jones, and another crook named Barney McGanagel killed Cherris and dumped him in the Brazos River near East Columbia, Texas.

Within hours of the murder of her husband, Lola Cherris enlisted the aid of seasoned gangsters Del McCabe and Shiloh Scrivnor to do away with Keggy Jones.  At the end of September McCabe’s wife in St. Louis gave police the whole story from a hospital bed.  She was laid up with a broken leg that she sustained in a car accident that had killed Lola Cherris.  McCabe and Scrivnor entered the apartment to kill Jones, making him sit in a chair and firing point blank, as the powder burns on his clothing proved.  Jane had tried to fight off the killers but they beat her back, shot her, and fled.  Lola Cherris drove the getaway car.  McCabe and Scrivnor were now on the run.

By October 10th, authorities caught up with McCabe and Scrivnor in Des Moines, Iowa.  They had booked into a downtown hotel posing as machine-gun salesmen (seriously?).  As police approached his hotel room McCabe engaged them in a gun fight and was killed.  Scrivnor turned up at the hotel a few hours later, was arrested, and brought back to Texas to stand trial along with Jack Jones and Barry McGanegal.  And so the mystery of who killed the affluent young oilman and his wife was resolved.

Keggy Jones grave

As a postscript to the story, the apartment building where the bloodbath occurred was torn down.  According to the city of Houston web site, Mr. C. C. Bell eventually donated the land on which it stood to the city to be made into a park.  Bell Park, with its statue of Christopher Columbus, still exists on Montrose Blvd., just a few blocks away from Houston’s Museum District.

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Anthony Ernest Pratt

The Dastardly Past:  Anthony Ernest Pratt.

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Anthony Ernest Pratt was born in obscurity in England on August 10, 1903.  He died in obscurity ninety years later.  In between, Mr. Pratt undertook many occupations, including apprentice in a chemistry lab, professional musician, civil servant, and shopkeeper.  In World War II he worked in a factory making tank components and volunteered as a fired warden.  It was during the tedium of his wartime occupations that Pratt conceived his most remunerative idea.  He invented a board game called Clue (Cluedo in Great Britain), immortalizing the likes of Col. Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, and Prof. Plum.  The game went on the market in 1949 and has remained in the ranks of top-selling board games ever since.  In 1985 it was made into a movie with an all-star cast.  Adapting to the changing times, it is currently available in a variety of versions, including the Big Bang Theory, Dr. Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Golden Girls, Harry Potter, the Legend of Zelda, Scooby Doo, the Simpsons, Star Wars, and Twilight.

Robert Shaw

The Dastardly Past:  Robert Shaw.

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On August 9 in 1927, actor and writer Robert Shaw was born in Lancashire, England.  Known for playing tough guys, Shaw was a Bond villain opposite Sean Connery in From Russia with Love (1963).  My favorite of his roles, however, is Doyle Lonnegan, the gangster who menaces Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting (1973).  His character’s distinctive limp was an actual injury Shaw sustained a week before filming began.  He wore a leg brace throughout the movie’s production, which somehow made his character even more threatening.  Shaw went on to play several more distinctive parts until 1978 when his life was cut short by a heart attack at the age of 51.