Monday, August 21, 2017

A MONTH OF UNDERHILL MAYHEM

8/14/1931 - Demonstrating the reason he has been nicknamed "The Tri-State Terrror," outlaw Wilbur Underhill, Jr. completes a month that began with an escape from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, by engaging in a running gun battle with the police on the streets of Wichita, Kansas.
A mugshot of criminal Wilbur Underhill - headstuff.org
Underhill

Already a felon with robbery, murder, and jail escapes on his criminal resume (stealing silverware from a neighbor's home is his first bust), Underhill is put behind the bars of the Oklahoma State Prison on 6/7/1927 for life after being convicted of the murder of 18-year-old George Fee (the youth is killed when thinking a prank is being played, he refuses to put his arms in the air when the pair of hoodlums announce a robbery is taking place) during the 1926 robbery of a Phillips Drug Store in the oil town of Okmulgee that nets Underhill and his partner, outlaw Ike "Skeet" Akins, a paltry $26. Watching for any opportunity to bust out from the moment he enters the prison, it takes four years for Underhill to find his chance.  Part of a group of 150 inmates, marching in a long four abreast line to the prison's brickyard, just outside the facility's gates, on the morning of 7/14/1931, Underhill steps off a small footbridge crossing a creek, silently lays flat in a foot of water until the column of prisoners march on by, then crosses to the opposite side of the creek, hides in growth of canes where he strips out of his prison uniform, and with civilian clothes underneath now exposed, simply walks away from his life sentence (he will not be missed until the mid-day roll call). 
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The Oklahoma State Pen

Loose, Underhill swims several streams and walks his way east into the forests of the Ouachita Mountain Range (during which, bloodhounds come within feet of discovering the outlaw hiding in a small cave).  Hungry and exhausted, he finally arrives at the small community of Wister, where planning for a future that has now arrived, he digs up a bag of emergency money he buried in 1927 for the need he is now experiencing. Traveling cash in hand, the bandit then boards a train for Joplin, Missouri (upon arriving, he treats a handful of hobos he has befriended on the train to a full meal at local cafe), where he visits with his sister, Mrs. Anna Lewis.  By 7/21, Underhill is in Cherryvale, Kansas, where he sets up a base of operations in a local hotel under the name of Ralph Caraway ... there, he acquires a new partner for his crimes, his 19-year-old nephew, Frank Vance Underhill (bribed to come along on his uncle's criminal adventures as wheelman for any driving that needs to be done), marries a woman named (not real bright moves for someone in need of keeping a very low profile) Ethel from the nearby town of Independence, and carries on an affair with a 36-year-old waitress named Margaret Smith who is also a boarder at the hotel the outlaw has checked himself into.
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Frank Vance Underhill

Base established, Underhill attempts to break a friend out of the Sedgwick County Jail of Wichita, Kansas, but thinks better of it seeing the number of armed guards that are roaming about inside ... the next night, as long as he is in the neighborhood, he and Frank rob the local Skaggs drugstore of a couple hundred dollars in cash.  Several days later, they venture to the town of Coffeyville (where the Dalton Gang was wiped out trying to rob two banks at the same time in 1892), where they hit the ticket window of the Midland Theater, robbing 20-year-old Rhea Payne of the Saturday night's proceeds, roughly $220 in cash (though not planned, the target is the perfect target ... the cash box is full from another screening of the Universal blockbuster, Dracula ... and because the movie is Dracula, thinking it is just another frightened movie-goer, Payne's screams from out from at the ticket window are ignored).  Back in business, the pair next hit the Wichita gas station of 57-year-old William E. Neely, a businessman who has twice beaten bandits to a pulp that have tried to rob his establishment.  Trying for a third K.O., Neely is instead shot to death by Underhill.
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Downtown Wichita

Fleeing his latest killing, with some of his ill gotten gains burning a hole in his pockets, as Ralph Caraway, on 8/7, Underhill purchases an almost new Ford Roadster, and motors it to Kansas City, Missouri, where he visits his mother and youngest sister, who are living in an apartment complex as Almira and Dorothy Dean (did I mention that the Underhill Clan is full of crooks, including Underhill's three older brothers).  One reunion over, the bandit then drives to Joplin, Missouri again, where he meets with his sister Anna, and picks up his nephew for driving duties once more.  On the evening of 8/13, the pair is back in Wichita, ready to take down another filling station. 

At 9:45 in the evening, Underhill accosts twenty-three Cecil Honick who is working the counter of a Texaco gas station. "The dough, or I'll kill you," the outlaw demands, and for his efforts he is rewarded with the grand sum of $18.24.  Fleeing into a darkened alley where is partner is waiting, the pair drive off.  Looking for another caper, an hour later their evening comes to an abrupt end when a car driven by J. A. Walker of Fairview, Kansas runs a stop sign and smashes into the bandits, who act like they are normal citizens and have the car towed away for repairs and agree to meet with Walker the next morning to discuss damages ... they even allow a good Samaritan named Harold Siegel to drive them to the Wichita hospital where they are treated for bumps and bruises.  A long day and evening, at about two in the morning they check into the Iris Hotel, near their where their wrecked ride has been taken for repairs.

Still groggy the next morning, they are in Room #15 when a knock on the door begins their day ... a knock from forty-eight-year-old Wichita Police Officer Merle R. Colver, who daily checks out recent arrivals staying downtown.  Boom, boom, boom, one shot misses Colver as he enters the room, but two hit ... one in the shoulder and one to Colver's neck and head, the fatal hit (he is survived by his 77-year-old mother, wife, a daughter and a son ... and horribly, his sixteen year old daughter finds out about the murder when she jumps off the streetcar she is riding to ask what is going on to the crowd of people she sees gathering in front of the Iris Hotel).  The pair flee the hotel, pausing only long enough for a shirtless Underhill to steal Colver's pistol, as the town comes alive with law enforcement agents swarming the town looking for the cop killer.
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Colver 
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The Crime Scene
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The Body Is Removed

After ten hours of searching, the pair is discovered lying under a tree near a baseball diamond in the town's Linwood Park. Ordered to surrender, Vance complies, but Underhill goes to his guns (he fails to fire Colver's revolver when it's hammer snags on his pocket) ... an act that causes ex-Wichita cop Jack Myler to tragically wildly fire at the outlaw, with one miss fatally hitting one-year-old John George Colliate in the stomach as he sits on his mother's lap on a nearby swing.  Trying to pull his other pistol, another Myler round hits Underhill in the neck, causing the outlaw to drop his weapon.  Instead of surrendering though, Underhill runs off.  Myler pursues him for five blocks and finally discovers the outlaw curled up in a ball in a patch of weeds.  It has been exactly one month since Underhill broke out of the Oklahoma State Prison.
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Underhill Caught

Sadly, his month long crime spree is not the end of Underhill's criminal career and before his death from law enforcement bullets on 1/6/1934 at the age of 32, there will be another prison break (Underhill is kept from killing the warden by master robber, Harvey Bailey), bank robberies, kidnap hostage taking, shoot outs with police ... and even a marriage that does Underhill in (he foolishly uses his own name to get hitched, which the FBI discovers)!
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The Tri-State Terror

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

TRAGEDY OFF NANTUCKET

7/25/1956 - One of the most infamous maritime disasters takes place in the cold and foggy Atlantic waters off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, when the Italian liner SS Andrea Doria, bound for New York City, collides with the eastbound Swedish liner MS Stockholm.
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SS Andrea Doria Listing After The
Collision 

An object of national affection after Italy's disastrous participation at the side of Nazi Germany during WWII, named after a 16th-century Genoese admiral, the ocean liner upon build completion has a gross register tonnage of 29,100, has a length of 697 feet, a beam of 90 feet, and steam turbine engine speed that can have the vessel moving at a up to 26 knots.  Designed for travel comfort, the craft can carry 1,200 passengers (watched over by a crew of 563), and has three different class areas, each with its own outdoor swimming pool, dining room, lounges, deck space, and rooms ... there are accommodations for 218 travelers in first class, 320 in cabin class, and 703 in tourist class.  The liner is launched in 1951, takes its maiden voyage 1953, and is considered one of the safest ocean liners ever built by way of being double-hulled, having 11 watertight compartments, and life boat occupancy for all passengers and crew.  She is captained by veteran naval officer, 59-year-old Piero Calamai, and by 1956 has made over 100 Atlantic crossings.
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SS Andrea Dora
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Captain Piero Calamia
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Booking Poster
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One Of The Ships Many Bars

A smaller vessel than the SS Andrea Doria, the MS Stockholm is launched in 1946.  It goes to sea at a length of 525 feet, has a gross tonnage of 12,165, and after a refit in 1953, can carry 548 passengers ... and it's bow is reinforced and shaped for cleaving through ice filled seas.  She is captained by a veteran of almost 46 years at sea, 63-year-old Harry Gunnar Nordenson.  In July of 1956, she is making her 103rd eastbound crossing of the Atlantic with 534 passengers and a crew of 208
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Still Afloat - Formerly MS Stockholm - The Vessel In 2016 -
Now Known As MV Astoria
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Inside The MS Stockholm
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Nordenson

Aware of the other by radar as they move into a heavily traveled area around the Nantucket Lightship, the two ships approach either head-on at a combined speed of 40 knots and begin maneuvering to give each other a wider berth in a standard starboard-to-starboard passing (aboard the Andrea Doria, due to the fog, Captain Calamai has ordered all watertight doors closed and a reduction in speed), but by each turning as they do (taking a break from the heavy responsibilities of leaving New York Harbor earlier in the day, Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstans-Johannsen has the bridge of the Stockholm), the two ships actually come closer ... and by the time the liners are able to see each other through the fog, it is too late.
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Location Of The Collision
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Nordenson & Carstans-Johannsen

Slow-motion moments before impact, the Stockholm turns hard to starboard and reverses its engines to try to come to a stop, while the Andrea Doria remains at a cruising speed of about 22 knots and makes a hard turn to port to try to outrun the coming collision.  At 11:10 in the evening, the two ships come together with the Stockholm hitting the Andrea Doria starboard side at almost a 90-degree angle, about a third of the way down from her bow ... a penetration of 40 feet that rips open five fuel tanks and causes a mortal wound when combined with the ship's empty tanks on the port side, causes a list beyond the 15-degrees the ship has been designed to survive ... a list that causes water to reach areas beyond the protection of the watertight bulkheads, and a list that prevents half the life boats aboard the Andrea Doria from being able to launch.  The Stockholm is gravely wounded too, but her damage is able to be controlled by her crew (back in port, it will take over $1,000,000 to repair her bow), and she actually assists in the rescue of the Andrea Doria's passengers (she will take 545 survivors on board). 
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Turning Into Each Other
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Penetration
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Ouch!

A Titanic style tragedy in the offing (it takes Captain Calamai less than thirty minutes to make the "abandon ship" call), the quick reaction of ships in the area coming to the aid of the Andrea Doria, the participation of the United States Coast Guard and Navy, the design of the Andrea Doria that keeps her afloat for hours despite her damage, and the outstanding performance of the wounded ship's crew allow her to survive her being opened to the sea for almost 11 hours ... enough time for rescue ships (the 390-foot freighter Cape Ann rescues 129 survivors. the United States Navy transport USNS Private William H. Thomas rescues 159, the United States Navy destroyer escort USS Edward H. Allen rescues 77, the ocean liner SS Ile de France rescues 753, and the tanker Robert E. Hopkins takes aboard a solo survivor ... an American crewman of the Andrea that sleeps through the collision and wakes the next day to find himself the only occupant on a rapidly sinking ship), helicopters, and the press to make their way to the area, and unlike the Titanic's sinking, in which over 1,000 people lose their lives, almost everyone, 1,663 souls survive the crash.  Almost everyone ...
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The Stockholm After
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Listing The Next Morning
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SS Ile De France
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Survivors On The Ille De France Promenade Deck

In coming together, the collision eventually kills 46 people (one survivor with a broken back lingers six months in a New York City hospital).  Survival seemingly a mere whim of fate, along with the tragedies, there are miracles too.  Brushing his teeth in his cabin's bedroom, Colonel Walter Carlin survives, while his wife, only feet away, is crushed to death in the couple's bed. The circulation director of the San Francisco Chronicle and his wife are killed in their first class suite, while a short distance down a hallway, their 13-year-son survives in his cabin.  Perhaps most tragic is the calamity that befalls the Sergio Family ... traveling to meet her husband and 17-year-old son in South Bend, Indiana to begin a new life in America, Maria Sergio, her 13-year-old son Giuseppe, her 10-year-old daughter Anna Maria, her 7-year-old daughter Domenica, and her 4-year-old son Rocco are all killed instantly in the collision.
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Carlin

The biggest celebrity to go through the collision ordeal aboard the Andrea Doria is Hollywood actress Ruth Roman (the love interest of Farley Granger in Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train").  Returning from a European vacation with her 3-year-old son Richard, Roman is in the Belvedere Lounge when the two ships collides.  Disgarding her high heels, the actress runs to the stateroom her son is sleeping in and gets the boy ready to abandon ship.  Lowered into one of the first lifeboats provided by the Stockholm, Roman is horrified when the boat pulls away before she can be lowered into it and she will have to wait hours before catching a ride to the Ile de France.  To the glee of press photographers, in a heart tugging scene, mother and son will finally be reunited in New York City.
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Roman
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Reunited

The biggest celebrity to come out of the tragedy however is a 14-year-old named Linda Morgan, the daughter of ABC Radio Network New York City news commentator Edward P. Morgan.  Sharing a two-bedroom cabin (first class #54, with the adults in first class #52) with her half-sister, 8-year-old Joan Cianfarra, in the bulls-eye of the Stockholm's bow, Joan is killed instantly, but Linda earns the name, "The Miracle Girl."  A guardian angel seemingly looking after the girl, instead of being obliterated like her half-sister, Linda is lifted out of her bed on the Andrea Doria and is violently deposited on the deck of the Stockholm.  Running forward to access the damage to the ship's bow, 36-year-old Stockholm crew member Bernabe Polanco Garcia hears a voice calling for her mother in Spanish, and discovers a confused Linda among the wreckage asking, "I was on the Andrea Doria.  Where am I now?"  Provided medical attention aboard the Stockholm, and then at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, Linda comes out of collision with only bumps, bruises, and a broken arm ... and a lifetime of survivor's guilt questioning why she survived, but her half-sister and step-father were killed, along with her mother being seriously injured (she currently lives in Texas, and is married to a former mayor of San Antonio.
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The Miracle Girl

Began the night before, the Andrea Doria's life as an viable Atlantic ocean liner begins its final chapter at 9:45 as the ship continues its list that by 10:00 has the vessel on its side at a right angle to the sea.  From there, it takes nine minutes for the wounded giant to slip below the waves ... as the starboard side dips into the ocean, the bow goes under, the stern rises and exposes the ships propeller system, and as the port side goes in, all the unused lifeboats break loose ... a death captured on film by parties of press that have come to the scene.
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To Under

Incident concluded, despite the Andrea Doria taking up its permanent residency under the Atlantic Ocean, it and the Stockholm's story continue being written to the present day. Limping back into port, the Stockholm eventually is repaired for a bag full of money (convinced that the Swedish ship did no wrong in the collision, Captain Nordensen is given the command of Swedish White Viking's newest flagship, 23,000 ton MS Gripsholm), sold to the East German government in 1960, transferred to a Panamanian interests in 1985, is used as a barracks ship in Oslo, Norway for individuals seeking asylum into the country, sold to Italian interests in 1989, is aquired by the Festival Cruise Line in 2002, in 2005 she is registered to Portugal, in 2008 she is attacked by pirates (but escapes) in the Gulf of Aden, in 2013 she sails for a Portuguese cruise company called Portuscale Cruises, and currently as the rechristened MV Astoria, the ship operates in the Caribbean for Cruise & Martime Voyages.  It is currently the oldest ocean liner still in service!
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The Ruined Bow

Both blaming the other for the event, the owners of the Andrea Doria sue the Stockholm for $30,000,000, the estimated cost of the lost ocean liner, while the Stockholm's board sues the Italian liner's owners for $2,000,000, the cost of the bow and assorted other repairs the ship requires.  Eventually, after much finger pointing, both sides settle out of court (both sides also contribute to a fund for the victims of the collision, whatever ship they might have been upon).  Though no fines or jail time are ever given for the crash, various hearings and investigations do determine that the Andrea Doria's bridge personnel did not follow proper radar procedures, the ship did not follow the "rules of the road" and instead of turning to starboard in the face of an oncoming ship, turned to port, Captain Calamai was speeding in fog, instead of filling empty fuel tanks with sea water ballast, the ship left them full of air, a contributing factor in the list becoming unrecoverable, a watertight door was not present in one of the engine room bulkheads, and the Stockholm's radar officer read his instrument wrong, thinking it is looking 15 miles out, it was actually identifying targets only 5 miles away.  Afraid of lawsuits and controversy, Captain Calamai is never given another command and soon retires, dying in Italy at the age of 75 in 1972.  Recalling the collision for friends, Calamai will state, "Before I used to love the sea.  Now I hate it."
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Escorted Off The Dock After Arriving In
New York City

And even that doesn't end the Andrea Doria's tale.  Not that far off the east coast of the United States, and sinking in 160 feet (the top of the wreck, now at 190 feet) of water, the wreck has become a magnet for deep sea divers ... and a death trap. Requiring the utmost from the best divers in the world, the site has come to be called the "Mount Everest of Scuba Diving" ... for the deadly currents that swirl about the ship, the poor visibility caused by the sediments on the ocean floor, the risking bends depth of the wreck, the wreck beginning to disintegrate (entrances seen a decade ago are now gone), and fishing nets that have caught on the ship now linger to catch divers like a spider's web.  As of 2012, sixteen men have died exploring the wreck from an assortment of reasons that include failed scuba gear, caught in fishing lines, decompression bends, and many unknowns.
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Artist Recreation Of The Wreck Site
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1968 Dive
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Barnacle Covered Andrea Doria Propeller

The SS Andrea Doria and the MS Stockholm collide ... 7/25/1956!
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Recreation - The Moment Before