Helen Brach: Lost Candy Heiress Leaves a Fortune

Last week we examined the mysterious disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa’s is one of the more famous disappearing acts but there are many others. This week, we travel to the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Illinois for the case of Helen Brach. A genuine heiress, Helen vanished into thin air in 1977 following a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Helen Brach

Helen was born Helen Marie Voorhees in 1911 in the tiny town of Hopedale, Ohio, not far from Steubenville. She married her high school sweetheart in 1928 when she was 16 or 17. The marriage didn’t last, though; the couple divorced by the time she was 21.

Helen Voorhees Brach
Helen Voorhees Brach

Leaving Ohio, Helen found work in a country club in Palm Beach, Florida. There she met Frank Brach, son of Brach Candy Company founder Emil J. Brach and heir to the candy fortune. They married soon after. It was Helen’s second marriage and Frank’s third.

Frank Victor Brach
Frank Victor Brach

Soon after their marriage, the couple built a home near Miami in Fisher Island, Florida. They also bought a second home in Glenview, Illinois to be near the Brach candy factory in Chicago. However, the couple spent most of their time in South Florida. Frank died in 1970, leaving Helen a wealthy widow.

Helen Disappears

In February 1977, Helen checked into the Mayo Clinic for a routine medical checkup. On Friday, February 17, she left the clinic, ostensibly to catch a flight to Chicago. An employ of a gift shop near the clinic was the last independent witness to see Helen Brach. The crew on the commercial flight from Rochester to O’Hare did not recall seeing her on the plane.

The Brach Company building at LaSalle and Illinois in Chicago
The Brach Company building at LaSalle and Illinois in Chicago

In Chicago, however, Brach’s houseman and chauffer, Jack Matlick claimed he picked her up at O’Hare airport and drover her home. Matlick said he spent the next four days doing repairs and odd jobs around the mansion. He then took her back to O’Hare for a flight to Florida.

Jack Matlick
Jack Matlick

The problem with Matlick’s story is that nobody else saw or talked to Helen Brach. Although a focus of police investigation, authorities never charged Matlick with a crime.

Helen Brach’ and the Horse Connection

At the same time Helen Brach disappeared, the FBI was investigating a fraud ring involving thoroughbred horses. Two of the people purportedly involved were Richard Bailey and Silas Jayne. The fraud involved insuring (or over-insuring) horses and then causing their deaths. In all, 36 people were arrested and 35 of them convicted.

Richard Bailey
Richard Bailey

What did this have to do with Helen Brach? Another part of the fraud was bilking wealthy widows by encouraging them to invest in horses. Invariably, they purchasers paid too much, and the horses failed to perform as expected. If the widows suspected they’d overpaid, the fraud ring would kill the horse and assuage the widow with part of the insurance proceeds.

Silas Jayne
Silas Jayne

Helen Brach was a target of the ring. But she eventually figured out what was going on and threatened to report the fraud to the authorities. The conspirators had her killed instead.

Epilogue

Richard Bailey was charged with conspiring to kill Helen. He was acquitted of that charge but convicted of defrauding her and received a 30-year sentence. He was released from prison on July 25, 2019.

Helen Brach
Helen Brach

The horse fraud ring almost certainly caused Helen Brach’s death. Jack Matlick, her houseman/chauffeur probably had some involvement as well. However, authorities never developed sufficient evidence to charge anyone other than Bailey.

The Helen Brach case has been the subject of several books. One of these is Ken Englade’s Hot Blood. Another take on the case, Who Killed the Candy Lady? is by James Ylisela.

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Jimmy Hoffa: Famous Union Boss’s Strange Vanishing Act

Last week, we met the “Son of Sam,” serial killer David Berkowitz. This week, we look at a different kind of case, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. The case was probably a murder, but nobody could ever prove that.

Jimmy Hoffa

Jimmy Hoffa was born James Riddle Hoffa in Brazil, Indiana in 1913. His father died when Hoffa was only seven and his mother moved the family to Detroit in 1924. He lived in Detroit for the rest of his life. Young Jimmy quit school at 14, working manual labor jobs to help support his family.

James riddle Hoffa (NY Daily News)
James riddle Hoffa (NY Daily News)

As a teenager, Hoffa worked for a grocery store chain. The job paid poorly, working conditions were terrible, and there was virtually no job security. This inspired him to begin working as a union organizer. In 1932, he left the grocery chain, partly because of his union activities. He then became an organizer for Local 299 in Detroit of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (7347466a) HOFFA James R. Hoffa and his wife Josephine pose in this Jan. 29, 1961 photo, location unknown. Nearly 28 years after ex-Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, law enforcement officials dug into the ground outside a home in Hampton Township, Mich., to search for evidence, a prosecutor said. Hoffa, father of current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, disappeared from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Oakland County's Bloomfield Township in July 1975 HOFFA INVESTIGATION
James R. Hoffa and his wife Josephine pose in January 29, 1961 (AP)

Hoffa and the Teamsters

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hoffa was instrumental in the growth of the Teamsters in membership and power. But another factor in the Teamsters’ growth was organized crime. Organized crime often influenced or controlled the trucking unions brought into the Teamsters to grow the union. Hoffa had to accommodate and plan with many gangsters, beginning in the Detroit area.

In 1952, Jimmy Hoffa became a Teamsters vice president after helping Dave Beck win the union’s presidency. By 1957, Beck was under indictment for fraud. Hoffa won the presidency at the Teamsters’ convention in Miami Beach, Florida.

Hoffa in front of Teamsters Headquarters
Hoffa in front of Teamsters Headquarters

Jimmy Hoffa on Trial and In Prison

Hoffa’s first major brush with the law occurred in 1957. He allegedly tried to bribe an aide to the McClellan Committee, which was investigating organized crime. Hoffa denied the charge (and eventually won an acquittal) but the incident sparked a closer look at him. More arrests and indictments followed over the next few weeks.

On March 4, 1964, a Tennessee jury convicted Jimmy Hoffa of jury tampering related to a 1962 conspiracy charge. He received an eight-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. While on bail appealing that conviction, a Chicago court convicted him of conspiracy and three counts of mail fraud. This conviction resulted in an additional sentence of five years.

Hoffa spent the next three years appealing his convictions but was unsuccessful. On March 7, 1967, he entered the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. While in prison, Frank Fitzsimmons became acting president of the Teamsters. Hoffa submitted his resignation as president on June 19, 1971; Fitzsimmons formally won the presidency a month later.

Frank Fitzsimmons testifies before Senate Investigations Subcommittee in 1977
Frank Fitzsimmons testifies before Senate Investigations Subcommittee in 1977

Jimmy Hoffa Vanishes

Less than five years into his 13-year sentence, President Richard Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence to time served. He walked out of Lewisburg on December 23, 1971. But the commutation came with a joker. Hoffa couldn’t engage in any union activity until 1980. Nevertheless, he made plans to regain control of the union.

Not everyone wanted Hoffa back. Fitzsimmons, for one, liked being in control of the union. Some of Hoffa’s former Mafia supporters now opposed his return to power. With tensions rising, a “peace meeting” was set up.

The peace meeting was to be at 2:00 p.m. on July 30, 1975. The venue was the Machus Red Fox restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. Hoffa was to meet Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and brothers Anthony “Tony Jack” and Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone. Hoffa left for the Red Fox at 1:15 p.m. Between 2:15 and 2:30, he called his wife, Josephine, to complain that he’d been “stood up.” She never saw or heard from him again.

The Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Today another restaurant occupies the building.
The Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Today another restaurant occupies the building.

When Hoffa didn’t come home that night, his family raised the alarm the next morning. Hoffa associate Louis Linteau found his unlocked car in the Red Fox parking lot. There was no sign of the car’s owner. Jimmy Hoffa had disappeared.

Epilogue

Intensive investigations by law enforcement, including the FBI, failed to turn up any trace of Jimmy Hoffa. The presumption is he was murdered shortly after the supposed “peace meeting.” But who killed him and where are open to speculation. Several claims and theories have emerged and been debunked.

Perhaps the most bizarre claim was that Hoffa’s body rested in Giants Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. But the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters used ground-penetrating radar to examine the stadium. They found no anomalies in scans of section 107 of the stands, the end zone or on the 10-yard line. No human remains turned up when the stadium was demolished in 2010.

The Machus Red Fox is no more, but the building is still an operating restaurant.

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Dan Hogan — New Attack Kills “Irish Godfather”

Last week’s blog met Judge Joseph Force Crater who disappeared without a trace in 1930. This week’s blog introduces “Dapper” Dan Hogan, the so-called “Irish Godfather” of St. Paul, Minnesota. Like the judge, Hogan’s case remains unsolved.

St. Paul the Gangland Haven

St. Paul in the early twentieth century was one of the most corrupt cities in America. When John O’Connor became Chief of Police in 1900, he instituted what became known as the O’Connor Layover Agreement. The system was straightforward. Criminals could hide out in St. Paul if they followed three simple rules. First, they had to check in with O’Connor’s representative when they got into town. Second, they had to pay a small bribe. And third, they were not to commit major crimes within the city during their stay.

St. Paul police chief John O'Connor ca. 1912. Dan Hogan was O'Connor's "ambassador" to visiting criminals
St. Paul police chief John O’Connor ca. 1912

O’Connor’s first contact man was William “Reddy” Griffin. When criminals came to town, they would “check in” with Griffin at the Savoy Hotel and pay the required bribe. Griffin was O’Connor’s “ambassador” until he died suddenly of a stroke in 1913.

The Layover Agreement made St. Paul one of the most crime-free cities in America—for a while. But surrounding cities and towns suffered as crooks committed the crimes the planned in St. Paul there.

Dan Hogan Arrives on the Scene

Dan Hogan arrived in St. Paul around 1908. He began organizing crimes under the auspices of O’Connor’s system and became politically connected. He operated the Green Lantern, a saloon on Wabasha Street. The saloon catered to the underworld element and laundered their stolen money. It also had a casino and, during Prohibition, was a speakeasy.

"Dapper" Dan Hogan
“Dapper” Dan Hogan

Hogan took advantage of William Griffin’s death to become O’Connor’s “ambassador” to the criminals seeking shelter in St. Paul. However, O’Connor retired from the police force in 1920. The O’Connor Layover Agreement persisted for several more years, but it began to change in ominous ways. St. Paul’s crime rate, which had been low while O’Connor was active, began to climb.

A Car Bomb Kills Dan Hogan

On December 4, 1928, Dan Hogan got into his Paige coupe and stepped on the starter. A nitroglycerine bomb wired to the starter circuit exploded. Men both respectable and disreputable lined up at the hospital to donate blood, but Hogan slipped into a coma and died about 9:00 p.m.

A St. Paul newspaper reports Dan Hogan's death
A St. Paul newspaper reports Dan Hogan’s death

Hogan’s death marked the beginning of the end for the O’Connor Layover Agreement. The repeal of prohibition at the end of 1933 accelerated its decline. With prohibition gone, so were the profits from illegal liquor sales. Bootleggers turned to kidnapping for ransom. Once known for its lack of serious crime, St. Paul became infamous for its criminal activity. Thanks to a recently energized FBI and a crusading newspaper man, the O’Connor Layover Agreement finally ended in 1935.

Epilogue

The murder of Dan Hogan was an early instance of assassination by car bomb, a technique perfected in New York. Police never arrested anyone for the murder, and it remains officially unsolved. However, recently declassified FBI files reveal that the likely killer was Hogan’s underboss, Harry Sawyer.

Police identification card for Harry Sawyer
Police identification card for Harry Sawyer

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Judge Crater: An Odd Disappearance and Possible Murder

Last week, I told you about the disappearance and reappearance of evangelist “Sister Aimee,” Aimee Semple McPherson. This week we meet Judge Crater, once described as “the missingest man in New York.”

Joseph Force Crater

In the summer of 1930, Joseph Force Crater could look on his legal career with satisfaction. In April of that year, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court for New York County. At age 41, Crater was relatively young for this position, even if in New York, the Supreme Court is a trial court and not the appellate “Supreme Court” of most states. Some were bold enough to hint that he bought his appointment, pointing to the $20,000 he withdrew from his bank around that time. Crater’s fondness for showgirls did nothing to remove the whiff of scandal that surrounded him.

Judge Crater, the "Missingest Man in New York"
Judge Crater, the “Missingest Man in New York”

On Thursday, August 3, 1930, Judge Crater interrupted a Maine, vacation leaving his wife, Stella behind. He returned to New York, he said, to attend to some unspecified business. Instead, he took one of his mistresses, showgirl Sally Lou Ritzi, to Atlantic City. After returning from the seashore, he spent the morning of August 6 in his chambers at the Foley Square courthouse. People saw him going through documents, possibly destroying several. He then had his law clerk cash two checks for him totaling $5,150. At noon, Crater and the clerk took two locked briefcases to the judge’s apartment. He then told the clerk to take off the rest of the day.

A modern photograph of 40 Fifth Avenue, where Judge Crater and Stella lived
A modern photograph of 40 Fifth Avenue, where Judge Crater and Stella lived

Judge Crater Vanishes Without a Trace

Thursday evening, Crater dined with a lawyer friend, William Klein, and Sally Ritzi at Billy Haas’s Chophouse. The restaurant in the heart of the theater district at 332 West 45th Street. Earlier Crater had purchased a single ticket for that evening to see the comedy Dancing Partner at the Belasco Theater. The three enjoyed appetizers of cool lobster cocktails and had cold chicken for dinner.

Sally Ritzi with an unnamed actor
Sally Ritzi with an unnamed actor

Klein and Ritzi initially told authorities that after dinner, Crater took a cab in front of the restaurant. They assumed he was on his way to the theater, even though this left his dining companions on the sidewalk. They later changed their story, saying that they had taken the cab leaving Crater on the sidewalk. It was the last time anyone reported seeing the judge.

The Belasco Theater, Judge Crater's destination the night he disappeared
The Belasco Theater, Judge Crater’s destination the night he disappeared

Judge Crater’s disappearance merited only a muted response at first. Several days after he failed to return to Maine, his wife started calling friends in New York. Fellow justices also instituted a quiet search after he didn’t appear for the opening of the courts on August 25. Finally, they notified the police on September 3. The case immediately became front-page news.

What Happened Next

Investigators followed several leads that looked promising, but they turned out to be dead ends. A Grand Jury meeting in October found insufficient evidence to determine whether Judge Crater disappeared voluntarily or was the victim of a crime.

Crater’s wife, Stella, petitioned to have him declared legally dead in July 1937. The courts granted her request in 1939. She remarried to Carl Kunz in 1938 but they separated in 1950. Stella always believed her husband had been murdered. She presented that theory in her 1965 ghostwritten book, The Empty Robe. She died in 1969 at the age of 70.

Judge Crater and wife Stella shortly before he disappeared
Judge Crater and wife Stella shortly before he disappeared

Epilogue

Judge Crater quickly became part of the American lexicon. Although not in common usage today, 90 years ago “to pull a Crater” meant to disappear. Nightclub acts often included “Judge Crater, call your office” as a throwaway gag. Crater was, at least until the advent of Jimmy Hoffa, the most famous missing man in America. Like Hoffa, he never reappeared alive or dead.

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