George Wallace: A Daring Attack, Devastating Threat to Life

After an unplanned hiatus, I am back to present a new crime. This blog post examines the shooting of politician George Wallace. Wallace gained fame, or perhaps infamy, from his posture as a staunch segregationist in the early 1960s. By 1972, he was campaigning for President of the United States when a would-be assassin shot him at a political rally.

George Wallace, Segregationist

George Wallace was born in 1919 in Clio, a tiny town in southeast Alabama. After receiving a law degree from the University of Alabama and serving in World War II, he began dabbling in politics. In 1946, he won election to the Alabama House of Representatives. At that time, public opinion considered him a moderate on racial issues.

George Corley Wallace, official portrait ca. 1970 (State of Alabama)
George Corley Wallace, official portrait ca. 1970 (State of Alabama)

Wallace ran for Alabama governor in 1858 but lost in the primary to John John M. Patterson. Patterson was Attorney General of Alabama and had the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, while the NAACP endorsed the relatively unknown Wallace. Wallace lost the primary by over 34,000 votes. Afterward, he told an aide that he lost because Patterson “out-segregationed” him (the exact language is uncertain).

By 1962, Wallace had morphed into a hard-line segregationist. He ran for governor again and won handily. His inaugural address included the line, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

George Wallace Stands in the Schoolhouse Door

In 1963, Wallace made a vain attempt to prevent two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling in the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. On June 11, 1963, he stood in front of the university’s Foster Auditorium, symbolically blocking the students. President John F. Kennedy had the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division on standby, ready to enforce integration, and the students’ registration proceeded.

U.S. Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Katzenbach confronts Governor George Wallace "standing in the schoolhouse door" at the University of Alabama in 1963 (Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine)
U.S. Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Katzenbach confronts Governor George Wallace “standing in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama in 1963 (Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine)

A second attempt to keep four Black students from enrolling in four separate Huntsville elementary schools in September 1963 also failed.

George Wallace Runs for President

In early November 1963, Wallace announced in Dallas, Texas, that he planned to challenge President John F. Kennedy for the 1964 Democratic presidential nomination. Days later, and also in Dallas, Kennedy was assassinated, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson became President. Nevertheless, Wallace entered the 1964 primaries, garnering a sizeable percentage of the vote in several states.

In 1968, Wallace ran for President again, this time as the candidate of the newly-created American Independent Party. His 1968 platform strongly echoed what he espoused in 1964. In November, he won three states and 45 electoral votes (a faithless elector in North Carolina added one more electoral vote).

George Wallace announces his bid for the presidency in 1968 (Matthew McMullin)
George Wallace announces his bid for the presidency in 1968 (Matthew McMullin)

1972, George Wallace returned to the Democratic Party for a third Presidential campaign. By then, he had reinvented his political self once again. He announced that he no longer supported segregation and rebranded himself as more of a populist.

George Wallace Shot

By May of 1972, Wallace was receiving high ratings in national opinion polls. On May 15, he attended a campaign event at the Laurel Shopping Center in Laurel, Maryland. There, a man named Arthur Bremer shot him four times with a Charter Arms snub-nosed .38 caliber revolver.

Arthur Herman Bremer
Arthur Herman Bremer

Bremer was a 21-year-old neer-do-well who had tried earlier to assassinate President Richard Nixon as he campaigned for reelection. Failing to get close enough to Nixon to carry out his plan, he turned his attention to Wallace instead.

On May 13, Bremer stalked Wallace to a rally in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Photographs of the rally show he had a clear opportunity to shoot but hesitated for fear of injuring some nearby teenagers.

The candidate speaks at a rally at the Laural Shopping Center moments before being shot by Arthur Bremer (Mabel Hobart)
The candidate speaks at a rally at the Laural Shopping Center moments before being shot by Arthur Bremer (Mabel Hobart)

Bremer followed the candidate to a shopping center rally in Wheaton, Maryland, two days later. However, the audience in Wheaton was predominantly hostile to Wallace, so he skipped shaking hands with the crowd.

The crowd was more friendly at the next rally in Laurel, Maryland. After finishing his speech, Wallace shook hands with some of the people present against the advice of his Secret Service guards. Bremer pushed his way forward, pointed his gun at Wallace’s abdomen, and fired five times, emptying the revolver. Television news cameras captured the shooting.

Bremer hit Wallace four times, causing severe abdominal injuries. One bullet lodged in Wallace’s spinal cord, while others struck him in the chest and abdomen. Three people nearby were also wounded, two seriously.

George Wallace lies wounded on the ground after being shot four times
George Wallace lies wounded on the ground after being shot four times

Bremer’s diary, published after his arrest, showed he wanted fame and notoriety and that his motives were not political.

Epilogue

George Wallace spent several weeks recovering from his wounds but was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. With the assassination attempt, his run for president in 1972 was effectively over. He ran poorly in a fourth presidential campaign in 1976, mainly because of voter concern over his health.

Wallace served his final term as Alabama governor between 1983 and 1987. By this time, he had come full circle, apologizing to the African American community for his earlier segregationist stance. In this term, he appointed more Blacks to state positions, including two cabinet members, than any previous Alabama governor.

Arthur Bremer stood trial beginning on July 31, 1972. On August 4, the jury of six men and six women took only 95 minutes to reject his insanity plea and convicted him of attempted murder. An appeals court reduced his 63-year sentence to 53 years on September 28, 1972.

Bremer was released on November 9, 2007, after serving 35 years. He remains on supervised release until 2025.

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You can read more about George Wallace in his autobiography, George Wallace: From Segregation to Salvation.

Sam Cooke: What Was the Truth About His Death?

Sam Cooke was a famous singer in the early 1960s. His 29 top 40 hits included “Cupid,” “You Send Me,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and “Another Saturday Night.” But a bullet ended his life and his career in December 1964 under circumstances that remain murky to this day.

Sam Cooke

The singer the world knew as Sam Cooke was born Samuel Cook on January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Perhaps his association with Clarksdale and its rich blues tradition led him to become a musician. Then again, maybe it didn’t. After all, the Cook family moved to Chicago in 1933 when young Sam was only two years old. Instead, it might have been singing in his minister father’s church choir that propelled him into a musical career.

Sam Cooke (Billboard)
Sam Cooke (Billboard)

Regardless of how he got into the business, by the early 1960s, Sam Cooke had established a track record as a reliable producer of top 40 songs.

Death of Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke met a tragic end in the early hours of December 11, 1964. The official story goes like this. The evening before, Cooke had dinner and drinks at Martoni’s Restaurant in Hollywood. At the restaurant, he met a young woman, Elisa Boyer, and the two hit it off. According to Boyer’s story to police, she spent the evening in his company. Upon leaving, she asked to be taken home. Instead, an apparently intoxicated Cooke drove down the Harbor Freeway, stopping at the Hacienda Motel in south central Los Angeles. Once inside one of the motel’s rooms, Boyer said Cooke removed most of her clothing. She believed he was about to rape her.

The Hacienda Motel where Sam Cooke died
The Hacienda Motel where Sam Cooke died

While Cooke was in the room’s bathroom, Boyer grabbed up her clothing (and, by mistake, most of Cooke’s as well) and fled. Unable to get a quick response from the hotel manager, she left the motel. She dressed, hid Cooke’s clothes, found a telephone booth, and called police.

Elisa Boyer (thevintagenews.com)
Elisa Boyer (thevintagenews.com)

Meanwhile, motel manager Bertha Franklin claimed Cooke repeatedly hammered on her office door, demanding, “Where’s the girl?” an apparent reference to Boyer. When Franklin responded that she was alone, Cooke, naked except for one shoe and a sports jacket, forced his way into the office. He grabbed her, and the two struggled, eventually falling to the floor. Franklin retrieved a gun and shot Cooke once in the torso. Franklin stated that Cooke exclaimed, “Lady, you shot me,” in a perplexed tone before coming after her again. She said she struck him on the head with a broomstick, and he fell to the floor dead.

Bertha Franklin (samepassage.org)
Bertha Franklin (samepassage.org)

Did Sam Cooke Die That Way?

Motel owner Evelyn Carr confirmed Franklin’s account of events, saying the two were conversing on the telephone when the struggle and shooting occurred.

Cooke’s friends and associates immediately disputed these accounts of the incident and believed his killing occurred in a completely different manner. Employees at Martoni’s reported that Cooke had been carrying a large amount of cash that night. However, a search of his Ferrari found only $108 in a money clip and some loose change. Boyer had a $20 bill in her purse.

Singer Etta James saw Cooke’s body before his funeral and noted that the injuries he suffered didn’t match the “official” version. She later wrote that he appeared to have been badly beaten. His hands were broken and crushed, and his nose mangled.

Epilogue

Carr’s testimony supported Franklin’s, and both Franklin and Boyer passed polygraph tests. Lacking any concrete evidence to the contrary, the coroner’s jury had little option but to accept Franklin’s version and return a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Bertha Franklin quit her job at the Hacienda Motel after receiving—she claimed—multiple death threats. She later sued Cooke’s estate for physical injuries and mental anguish suffered as a result of Cooke’s attack. Barbara Womack countersued on behalf of the estate, seeking $7,000 to cover funeral expenses. In 1967, a jury ruled in Franklin’s favor in both cases and awarded her $30,000 (over $280,000 in 2024) in damages.

A month after Cooke died, Elisa Boyer was arrested for prostitution. Years later, she was convicted of second-degree murder in an unrelated incident.

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Marvin Gaye: Murder of a Popular Soul Singer

Marvin Gaye was once known as the “Prince of Motown.” For almost a quarter-century, his music entertained millions, evolving as the times changed. Then, his career and life ended abruptly.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. was born on April 2, 1939, in Washington, D.C. His father was a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church. A strict disciplinarian, he enforced his moral code on his four children (two boys and two girls) and stepson with physical brutality. For a man of the cloth, the senior Gay embraced an odd moral code, as he was a hard-drinking cross-dresser. It seemed everyone in their D.C. neighborhood knew about the cross-dressing, which subjected young Marvin to bullying at school.

As Marvin entered his teenage years, his relationship with his father worsened, who often kicked him out of the house. In 1956, when he was seventeen, Marvin dropped out of high school and joined the United States Air Force. Military service didn’t suit him, mainly because his superiors gave him, like many of his peers, only menial tasks. He received a “General Discharge” in 1957.

Marvin Gaye in 1966 (Public Domain)
Marvin Gaye in 1966 (Public Domain)

Gaye began working in music after his brief stint in the Air Force, adding the ‘e’ to the end of his family name. It took several years, but he began to find success in 1962 as co-writer of “Beechwood 4-5789,” a hit for the Marvelettes. He recorded several successful duets with Tammy Terrell and sang the National Anthem during Game 4 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. He had his first number-one hit in 1968 with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

The Murder of Marvin Gaye

Success had a dark side for Marvin Gaye. Like many others before and after, he had trouble dealing with the fame he sought and developed a drug habit. He managed to get sober while sojourning in Europe as a tax exile. But he returned to the United States in 1983 for what would be his final concert tour. Under the stress of touring, he returned to abusing cocaine as a coping mechanism. When the tour ended in August 1983, Gaye moved into his parents’ home to nurse his mother, who had undergone kidney surgery.

Marvin Gaye in 1973 (Billboard)
Marvin Gaye in 1973 (Billboard)

By March 1984, Gaye and his father clashed constantly. Everything boiled over on Sunday, April 1. Marvin Sr. began berating his wife, Alberta, because he was upset about a missing insurance policy. Gaye intervened, ordering his father out of his mother’s room. When that didn’t work, he physically attacked his father. Alberta separated the two men, and Gaye returned to his room.

Minutes later, however, Marvin Sr. entered Gaye’s bedroom with a .38-caliber pistol, pointed it at Gaye, and shot him twice, one bullet piercing his right lung, heart, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and left kidney. Hearing the shots and screams, Gaye’s brother, Frankie, who lived in a guest house on the property, ran to the house and carefully walked the hallway to his brother’s bedroom. He held Gaye as he rapidly bled to death. Frankie said Marvin made a disturbing statement in a voice barely above a whisper. “I got what I wanted…I couldn’t do it myself, so I had him do it…it’s good, I ran my race, there’s no more left in me.”

Marvin Gaye's death certificate (State of California)
Marvin Gaye’s death certificate (State of California)

Epilogue

On September 20, 1984, Marvin Gay, Sr. pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Judge Ronald M. George agreed to the plea bargain based on the injuries Marvin Sr. sustained in the altercation and the levels of cocaine and PCP in Gaye’s system revealed by the autopsy. On November 2, Judge Gordon Ringer sentenced Marvin Gay, Sr., to a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. He died on October 10, 1998, at age 84.

Marvin Gay, Sr., in court (The Palms Weekend)
Marvin Gay, Sr., in court (The Palms Weekend)

You can read more about the life of Marvin Gaye in Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz and Mercy, Mercy Me by Michael Eric Dyson.

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Jean Shrader: Victim in a Weird Murder Case

This week, I present the unusual case of the murder of Jean Shrader. The case is remarkable not for the murder but for its legal resolution.

The Murder of Jean Shrader

On the night of October 22, 1981, a man saw an unusual sight in a downtown Columbus, Ohio, parking garage. He watched in horror as another man dragged a woman’s body from her car into a fifth-floor stairwell. By the time police arrived, the man had disappeared, and they found the body of 25-year-old Jean Shrader in the stairwell.

An autopsy revealed that Jean Shrader had been strangled with a thin rope or perhaps a wire.

Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)
Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)

Jean’s husband, John J. Shrader, came under suspicion almost immediately. He had slender red marks on his hands that investigators—and Jean’s parents, Dale and Carol Wolford— believed he received while murdering his wife. Despite suspicions, authorities never obtained enough evidence to charge him with murder.

In 1983, John Shrader sued Equitable Life Assurance Society for more than $100,000 in insurance benefits. Jean’s parents countersued, claiming he shouldn’t collect the money because he was the killer. Thus, the stage was set for what the press called Shrader’s “civil murder trial.”

The “Civil Murder Trial” for the Death of Jean Shrader

John Shrader’s job was cleaning airplanes. He claimed he got the suspicious marks when he burned himself on an electrical cord while buffing a plane. He even had a witness who had seen the injuries the day before the murder.

Shrader’s case came apart like a cheap suit when his witness recanted and said Shrader had offered him $50,000 to testify. Shrader clammed up and refused to answer any more questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The court ruled for Jean’s parents, determining that John Shrader had “unlawfully terminated the life of his wife.”

Epilogue

The Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office said after the ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Mr. Shrader.

In May 1985, John Shrader was convicted of perjury and bribery and sentenced to six years in prison.

Robin Yokum, a former police reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, includes a chapter on the Shrader case in his book, Dead Before Deadline.

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