6/18/1984 - In a negation of the playground rhyme against fighting over mere words, 50-year-old Jewish talk show host, Alan Harrison Berg, is gunned down outside his Denver, Colorado home for airing his outspoken opinions and viewpoints to listeners of KOA radio.
Berg is born on January 1, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, he is surrounded by put upon Jews, and blacks, and learns to abhor bigotry in any form ... including that of his father, a Jew who passes himself off as a gentile to benefit his dental practice. Extremely smart, he leaves Illinois for Colorado to hone his intellectual abilities at first the University of Colorado, and then Denver University ... and as men young men often do, he also chases skirts and gets wasted partying (at 17 he marries a nurse, a marriage that is annulled thirty days later). Deciding to try the law, he returns to Illinois, and in 1957, graduates from DePaul University, passes the bar, marries again, and begins his legal career earning $100 a month clerking at a Chicago law firm. He is 22-years-old.
DePaul University - 1950s
Combining his intellect with relating to his jury audience, and willing to take on clients others wouldn't, and get them off, Berg becomes the choice of Mafia types in trouble with the law, and the rate for his services is soon thousands of dollars ... thousands of dollars which go into drinking (he turns a Porsche into a leaky Lake Michigan motorboat), chasing women (his second marriage goes up in flames over his cheating), and more drinking (conditions exacerbated by a brain tumor causing neuromuscular seizures that is successfully removed ... he will cover the scars of the operation for the rest of his life with hippie length hair). Rock bottom looming and seen, he quits practicing law, moves to his second wife's (Judith Lee hometown of Denver who convinces him to seek help in battling his demons), and voluntarily checks himself into a rehabilitation program. Alcohol free for the first time in years (he never drinks again after coming out of rehab), Berg works in a shoe store, then in a clothing store, where one of his customers, Denver radio talk show host Laurence Gross, is taken by his gift for gab, and starts putting him on as guest ... a role that morphs into his successor when Gross leaves for another station in San Diego.
Niche found, while remaining in Denver, Berg operates out of an alphabet soup of radio stations ... KGMC, KWBZ, KHOW, KWBZ again, and finally, KOA, where he will work until his death. His program heard in more than 30 states (his show debuts on 2/23/1981), Berg becomes a celebrity ... an acerbic combination of Groucho, Don Rickles, Mort Sahl, and Lenny Bruce ... promoting his social and political views, and calling out those he thinks need a good spanking ... which depending on the topic, pretty much becomes EVERYONE. Some of the everyone don't get it though, and he is hated by some of his audience as much as he is loved ... and some of the haters are dangerous thugs who believe in taking direct action to silence Berg's voice.
Returning to his home after a dinner date with his ex-wife Judith, Berg dies instantly as he leaves his black VW bug, hit by 12 rounds from a burst of bullets sent his way from a Ingram MAC-10 illegally converted to automatic firing. Two slugs hit Berg in the head near his left eye, two more hit the left side of his head and exit through his neck, and another bullet goes out the back of his head.
Adams Street Townhouse Driveway
Treated as a priority homicide immediately by the Denver Police Department, 47 officers are assigned full-time to the case, KOA offers $10,000 for information leading to an arrest ... and the bureaucratic weight of the FBI soon becomes involved and a form of justice is found. Four months after the killing, while maintaining surveillance on the home of Gary Lee Yarbrough (authorities are searching for Gary's brother, Steve), FBI agents are shot upon. Forcing entry into the home Gary has fled, authorities discover a cache of ammunition, arms, and explosive (multiple shotguns, rifles, pistols, 100 sticks of dynamite, over a pound of C4 plastic explosives, silencers, night scopes, bandoleers and boxes of ammo, police scanners, and four loaded crossbows ... also found, surrounded by candles, is a three-foot portrait of Adolf Hitler) ... and the gun that has murdered Berg. Targets now identified as members of a white racist group calling itself The Order (that has a death list of people it finds offensive, including All In The Family producer Norman Lear), arrests swiftly follow, but because the critical link between the list, weapons, and the assassination, 31-year-old Robert Jay Mathews (leader of the group and thought to have been a lookout during the murder), is killed in a gun battle on rural Whidbey Island in Washington with over 100 FBI agents (he dies firing a machine gun as the fired cabin comes down on his head), no one is prosecuted on state charges for Berg's death.
Instead, prosecutors decide to go after the members of The Order using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes usually used to put organized crime figures behind bars. The largest trial of white supremacist figures at the time, the defendants are escorted into and out of court in armed vehicles, watched over by 20 heavily armed United States Marshals. After four months of testimony (Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr. turns state witness to receive a lessor sentence), a 62-page booklet on how to interpret the case, and two weeks of deliberations, guilt sentences come crashing down on members of the group ... Gary Lee Yarbrough (alleged gunman, he dies in prison in 2018) gets 60 years, Bruce Pierce (the alleged triggerman, he dies in 2010 at the age of 56) receives a sentence of 252 years, David Lane (the alleged getaway driver, he dies in 2007 at the age of 68) gets 190 years, Randolph George Duey (killer of suspected informant Walter E. West) gets 100 years, Richard Kemp (assisted in the killing of West) receives 100 years, Andrew Barnhill (complicit in Order robberies that net the group over three million dollars) gets 40 years, and Richard Scutari (another alleged lookout) is sentenced to 60 years behind bars.
Even killing doesn't silence Berg however ... alive still in the memories of those that listened to his show, the crime that took him away is recalled in Steven Dietz's 1988 play, "God's Country," the 1988 film, "Betrayed," the 1999 movie, "Brotherhood of Murder," and the 1988 Oliver Stone adaption of Eric Bogosian's play, "Talk Radio" ... and in the true-crime telling of the life and death of Alan Berg, 1987's "Talked to Death" by Stephan Singular.
Friday, June 15, 2018
6/15/1859 - Showing history seems to always have room for a few more morons in its stories, Great Britain and the United States almost go to war in the San Juan Islands between Vancouver Island and the North American mainland ... OVER THE KILLING OF AN IRISHMAN'S LARGE BLACK PIG BY AN AMERICAN FARMER!
The Disputed Area
Peaceful neighbors previously living in the region, thirteen years after the Oregon Treaty is adopted and leaves the area possession in dispute, Lyman Cutlar finds the pig of Charles Griffin (on the island herding sheep for the Hudson Bay Company) eating tubers out of his garden, becomes incensed, and shoots the pig dead. Cutlar offers Griifin $10 for the pig, but Griffin puts a price tag of $100 on the creature ... and the men famously argue ... "It was eating my potatoes," claims Cutlar, to which Griffin responds, "It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig." BRILLIANT!
The Sheep Farm
Worth A War?
The Murder Weapon
In need of a People's Court, Cutlar takes his case to the authorities, with the British deciding to arrest Cutlar, while the Americans on the island call for military protection, and get it in the form of Brigadier General William S. Harney sending 66 soldiers to the island under the command of Captain George Pickett (he of the famous failed charge during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg and the infamous "shad bake" that helps lose the Battle of Five Forks ... pouring gasoline on the fire, Pickett will state that if the British want a fight, "We'll make a Bunker Hill of it!"). Escalation, by August of 1859, American Colonel Silas Casey has 461 soldiers and 14 cannons to defend the islands against five British warships mounting 70 guns, and 2,140 men ... a powder keg ready to blow!
Though the governor of Vancouver Island, James Douglas (who Queen Victoria makes Sir Douglas in 1864 and is now known as "The Father of British Columbia", orders British Rear Admiral Robert l. Baynes to attack, wiser heads prevail (chiefly that of the admiral, who states, that "two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig" is foolish and refuses to land his marines), and the Americans and British will eye each other warily (shouting animosities at each other the highest level of clashing), ready to defend themselves, but each side unwilling to be the first that fires a shot that starts a war.
Leadership in both countries finally aware of the state of affairs in the northwest, U.S. President James Buchanan sends General Winfield Scott to the area to negotiate with Governor Douglas ... and for a time, there is both a British flag and an American flag flying over the island as the forces on the island are reduced to 100 soldiers for each side. Finally, after twelve years, tired of the area's potential for disaster (and the United States still weary from the blood letting of its Civil War), both countries agree that a neutral outside party is needed to determine ownership of the area ... and so the job goes to Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany, he in turn refers the matter to a three-man arbitration commission which takes a year to examine evidence and documents, and take testimony, before deciding in favor of the United States.
On November 25, 1872, Great Britain withdraws its Royal Marines from the island, and no longer needed, the United States ends its military presence there in July of 1874. Pig War over, the circumstances are now commemorated annually at the San Juan Island National Historic Park ... and daily, at the "English Camp" on the north end of the island, American park rangers each morning and night, peacefully raise and lower the flag of another nation, the Union Jack of Great Britain.
Supplies Being Landed At "English Camp" - 1868
Union Jack Over "English Camp"
National Historic Park
San Juan Island - Today