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
Join the Mailing List

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.

Join the Mailing List

Sister Aimee: A Famous Evangelist Suddenly Disappears

Last week, we met cold-blooded family annihilator John List, who came close to getting away with murdering five family members in 1971. This week, we look back at the disappearance of prominent Pentecostal minister Aimee Semple McPherson. After going for a dip at Ocean Park Beach, California on May 18, 1926, “Sister Aimee” vanished into the proverbial thin air.

Autographed photo of Sister Aimee signed "Yours In The King's Service, Aimee Semple McPherson
Autographed photo of Sister Aimee signed “Yours In The King’s Service, Aimee Semple McPherson

Sister Aimee Semple McPherson

Sister Aimee was a Canadian, born Aimee Elizabeth Kennedy in what is now South-West Oxford, Ontario in 1890. Apparently, ministry was in her blood because she played “Salvation Army” with her friends and preached sermons to her dolls. In 1907, she met and married Robert Semple, an Irish Pentecostal missionary and converted to Pentecostalism. On a 1910 trip to China, Semple contracted dysentery and died in Hong Kong. Sister Aimee also became ill but recovered.

Sister Aimee in her heyday
Sister Aimee in her heyday

In 1912, Sister Aimee met and married Harold McPherson. Two years later, she felt a call to go out and preach. She did, taking her children and leaving McPherson behind. He followed, ostensibly to bring her back. But after hearing her preach, he decided to join her in her evangelistic work. This didn’t last, though. He divorced her in 1918 citing abandonment.

Famous Evangelist and Minister

Building a ministry was hard work. At first, Sister Aimee toured the country using a megaphone to deliver sermons from the back seat of a convertible. She founded a magazine, Bridal Call, in 1917. In 1919, newspapers “discovered” her preaching in Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House. She also conducted faith healing demonstrations and began preaching on radio.

By 1918 Los Angeles became Sister Aimee’s permanent home and base of operations. She established a church, which eventually became its own denomination, the Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Foursquare Church retained many elements of Pentecostalism, however.

Angelus Temple in the 1920s
Angelus Temple in the 1920s

Perhaps the apex of her career came in 1923. On New Year’s Day, she dedicated domed Angelus Temple in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. Professing to have faith healing abilities and with no small talent for showmanship, she had no trouble drawing worshipers her new temple. She also had a considerable radio following.

Angelus Temple today
Angelus Temple today

The Lady Vanishes

On May 18, 1926, Sister Aimee went to Ocean Park Beach, north of Venice Beach, with her secretary. Shortly afterward, the secretary was unable to find her. By then, she was a very prominent minister with an immense following. Consequently, her disappearance was big news. The assumption was that she had drowned, and parishioners held vigils on the beach. One of them drowned while looking for her body and a diver succumbed to exposure.

Despite a series of questionable ransom notes sent to the Temple and sporadic sightings in a variety of cities, McPherson’s whereabouts remained a mystery—for a while.

McPherson's mother, Mildred Kennedy doing a radio interview diver R.C. Crawford during the search for Sister Aimee
McPherson’s mother, Mildred Kennedy doing a radio interview diver R.C. Crawford during the search for Sister Aimee

Sister Aimee Reappears

A little more than a month after disappearing, McPherson stumbled into the Mexican desert town of Agua Prieta, just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. She claimed she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom. However, some people contended that she was in exceptionally good condition for someone who had survived such an ordeal and hiked thirteen miles through the desert. Skeptics also pointed to Kenneth Ormiston. Ormiston was married, an engineer for radio station KFSG and formerly employed by the Temple. He had disappeared at about the same time as Sister Aimee. Investigation revealed that the married Ormiston had been in a cottage near Carmel-by-the-Sea with a woman. But he steadfastly maintained that the unnamed woman was not McPherson.

Sister Aimee convalescing in a Douglas, Arizona hospital after emerging from the desert
Sister Aimee convalescing in a Douglas, Arizona hospital after emerging from the desert

An extensive grand jury investigation was inconclusive. Despite much innuendo in the press, no definite evidence emerged to prove either that the kidnapping was genuine or faked. Much of the evidence supporting the hoax theory was eventually discredited. But the investigation and suspicions took their toll on Sister Aimee’s popularity. She continued to draw large audiences at the Temple but never regained her former influence.

Epilogue

Sister Aimee died of an apparent barbiturate overdose on September 27, 1944 at the age of 53. She had been taking strong sedatives for some time for various health problems. Despite speculation about suicide, most sources agree the overdose was accidental.

One footnote to Sister Aimee’s career: she baptized Marilyn Monroe (as Norma Jeane Baker) in 1926.

Join the Mailing List

John List — A Killer’s Secret Life Exposed by Art

The bombings I featured last week shock us because the random act of a stranger can cause such widespread damage. This week’s case is even more chilling. It’s the story of John List, a seemingly normal guy who murdered his entire family, then disappeared. He successfully eluded law enforcement for 18 years before television and an artist led to his arrest.

John List – Outwardly Normal

John Emil List was a native of Bay City, Michigan born in 1925. He joined the army in 1943 during World War II. After the war, he earned a degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting. In 1950, the Army recalled List to active duty in Korea (he was a reserve second lieutenant). While in the military, he met and married Helen Taylor, the widow of an officer killed in Korea.

After his discharge from the Army in 1952, John List took a job with an accounting firm in Detroit. Next, he worked as an audit supervisor for a Kalamazoo paper company. He and Helen had a daughter and two sons in Kalamazoo. After working at Xerox in Rochester, New York, he assumed a position as vice president and comptroller at a bank in Jersey City, New Jersey. He moved his family, including his mother into a Victorian mansion in Westfield, New Jersey.

The John List family in 1971. (L. to R.) John (46), Patricia (16), Helen (46), John Jr. (15), and Frederick (13)
The John List family in 1971. (L. to R.) John (46), Patricia (16), Helen (46), John Jr. (15), and Frederick (13)

To his friends and neighbors, John List was a successful professional with a typical American family.

Signs of Trouble

Despite their normal outward appearance, all was not well in the List household. For one thing, John List was a devout Lutheran and a Sunday school teacher. One might even call him a religious zealot. He convinced himself that his family members were leading unholy lives. Another problem was that Helen List was an alcoholic and was becoming increasingly unstable.

Breeze Knoll, the List home in Westfield, NJ. The house remained empty and burned down nine months after the murders.  Although authorities ruled the fire arson, it remained unsolved. A new house was built on the site in 1974.
Breeze Knoll, the List home in Westfield, NJ. The house remained empty after the murders and burned down nine months later. Although authorities ruled the fire arson, it remained unsolved. A new house was built on the site in 1974.

Then List lost his job and bills started to pile up. With debts mounting, List’s world was crashing in on him. He began to dissociate from reality. He pretended to commute to work each day. Instead, he sat in the Westfield train station and reading the paper. He also siphoned money out of his mother’s bank account to pay the mortgage on the mansion.

In this state of mind, List feared his family was straying from the paths of righteousness. He decided to “ensure their place in heaven” by killing them all. He expected to join them there later. At least that’s the story he told authorities after his arrest.

A Family Murdered

On November 9, 1971, John List put his plan into action. When the children left for school, he shot his wife and his mother to death. When his daughter and youngest son came home, he shot them in the back of the head. That left his oldest son. He watched John Jr. play soccer at school, then drove him home and killed him, too.

List left his mother’s body in her upstairs apartment. He laid out the bodies of his wife and children on sleeping bags in the mansion’s ballroom. He then turned on all the lights, tuned a radio to a station that played classical music and walked out.

John List planned his exit carefully. He closed his and his mother’s bank accounts. Next, he stopped the mail, milk, and newspaper deliveries. List even sent notes to the children’s schools and part-time jobs saying the family was taking an extended vacation. Consequently, no one knew anything was amiss for almost a month.

Neighbors noticed that the lights in the List house burned day and night, although they saw no activity. When the lights began to burn out one by one, they called police, who found nothing wrong and left. A few days later, police were again called to the mansion. They found daughter Patricia’s drama coach calling to her from the front of the house. He convinced officers to enter the home through an unlocked basement window. Once inside, they found the bodies.

John List had left behind a five-page letter to his pastor that was essentially a confession. But there was no sign of the man himself.

John List on the Lam

John List was in the wind. Police later learned that he had traveled to Michigan and then on the Denver, Colorado. He settled there as Robert “Bob” Clark (he “borrowed” the name from someone he knew in college). Like List, “Bob Clark” was a CPA. Also like List, he joined a Lutheran church, where he ran a carpool for shut-in church members. In 1985, he married an Army PX clerk named Delores Miller.

In May 1989, the television program America’s Most Wanted featured the List murders. By now it had been seventeen and a half years since John List disappeared and old photos would have been of little use. Instead of photos, the program commissioned forensic artist Frank Bender to create an age-progressed clay bust of List. The bust featured prominently in the broadcast.

Frank Bender's age-progressed bust of John List
Frank Bender’s age-progressed bust of John List

By this time, “Bob Clark” had moved with his new wife to Midlothian, Virginia. However, one of his former neighbors in Denver recognized the bust and notified authorities. They arrested List on June 1, 1989. Bender’s bust had been almost a dead ringer. Strangely, List continued to insist he was Robert Peter Clark. That is, until faced with a fingerprint match to John List’s military records.

Photos of Bender's bust of List (left) and of List  (right) taken after his arrest show the  uncanny resemblance between the two
Photos of Bender’s bust (left) and of List (right) taken after his arrest show the uncanny resemblance between the two

Trial and Conviction

At trial, John List claimed that financial stress and concern for his family’s spiritual well-being led to the murders. He was convicted anyway. The judge sentenced him to five consecutive life terms. During his appeals, List contended that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service. He also tried to claim that the letter left behind was a confidential communication to his pastor and therefore inadmissible. Not surprisingly, these arguments failed.

John List prison mugshot ca. 2005
John List prison mugshot ca. 2005

John List died in prison on March 21, 2008.

Join the Mailing List