This tale of crime and punishment begins the second time before dawn on Friday, 27 March, 2009, in the tiny village of Stokestown, County Roscommon, in Ireland’s western midlands. At about 4 A.M., while the honest world slept, thirty-five year old Anthony Dowling, a father of three, used his shoulder to crack open the back door of Sheehan’s Pharmacy. He then stood lookout while twenty-nine year old Robert Dempsey ransacked the establishment. They took some drugs and cosmetics, and a small safe, which they loaded into their van before driving the two hours back to Dublin.
During the drive, the duo discovered their efforts with the safe had earned them some family papers, a few photographs and an envelope, marked “1947”, which they never bothered to open. Disgusted, they dumped the safe into a canal and its contents were tossed into a trash bin in front of apartments on Reuben Street in Dublin. The thieves then split up, returning to their beds before the sun shed light on their sins. But what the two miscreants did not know, was that their crime had now tied them to another crime, six thousand years earlier.
Humans first discovered Ireland when they walked across a land bridge from Wales about 4,000 B.C.. Like Greenland, the ancient name of “Eire” was a sales pitch. In Gaelic it means “land of plenty”. Six thousand years ago, as the glaciers retreated back to Scotland from whence they had come, the melting ice left Ireland dotted with lakes, much as upper Minnesota is today. These Irish lakes became choked with decaying leaves, which turned the waters acidic and consumed the oxygen. Without oxygen new vegetation falling into the lakes could not decompose, and began to pile up until they filled the lakes. The lakes became bogs which became fields. The compressed vegetation became peat.
One of those early Irishmen is known to history only as Clonycavan Man. He about five feet two inches tall, and favored a spiked “Mohawk “hair style, accentuated with a thick gel imported from France. And one soft summer day, this twenty-something debonair was waylaid in a peat bog by an enemy armed with an axe. The first blow split the victim’s skull wide open. The second, probably delivered as he fell, sliced open his face, from his nose to just under his right eye. Maybe it was the murder of an intruder, and or maybe a squaring a love triangle, or maybe it was a simple robbery. But in the intervening 6,000 years the passions which fueled this assault have long since cooled. But the tendency to robbery and violence remains remain common today, in Ireland and everywhere humans breed.
The bogs of Europe are pockmarked with similar corpses, some sacrifices to forgotten gods, and a few, like Clonycaven man, crime victims. And all that remains of their humanity good and bad is a tannin stained body, as empty proof of passion spent and left undigested, until, usually, a farmer harvesting the peat for fuel, uncovers the crime scene.
In March of 1945, a farmer named Hurbert Lannon, of the village of Fourmilehouse, in County Rosscommon, struck tannin stained metal while harvesting peat from his bog near Coggalbeg. He did not think much of the three pieces of metal he had uncovered. But, being a practical man Mr. Lannon held onto them. Then, on Saturday, 22 March, 1947, probably to pay a bill, he handed them over to the new pharmacist, Patrick Sheehan, who had just moved into the village of Stokestown, a mile and a half away.
Patrick Sheehan had a exciting youth. He had won a few road rallies, driving a red Triumph. His eldest daughter described him as “very into education”. He dragged his wife and seven daughters down to the local dump on the Friday night of 4 October, 1957 to watch the tiny light that was Sputnik race across the night sky. In 1965, Patrick showed his eldest daughter Sunniva, the pieces of metal he had kept for twenty years his pharmacy safe. He had cleaned them up, of course, and described them to the girl as a “collar and two buttons”. “It came out of the bog” he told her. Sunniva didn’t find the story very interesting. “It was a flat piece of gold colored metal and I didn't think anything of it. It wasn't something you could wear or make use of,” So the jewelry went back into the safe and Sunniva forgot all about it.
Patrick (Paddy) Sheehan died of cancer in the late nineteen sixties. “The business was nearly non-existent because he had been in bad health,” says Sunniva. Luckily she had graduated with a 3 year bachelor’s degree, which was all that was needed at the time in Ireland to dispense medication. So she took over her father’s shop. “I had a mother to support and six sisters younger than me. So it was hard keeping things together, never mind thinking about a gold necklace in the safe.” Then, forty years later, came the robbery.
Sunniva Sheehan called in the Gardia, the “Guardians of Ireland” as the police are titled, to report the robbery and list the stolen items. The Gardia asked the locals and a few remembered two strangers in a red van who had been acting suspiciously. The Gadia went so far as to check the surveillance video from a nearby highway toll booth. That video produced a photo of red van and a license plate number. This led them to the master criminals Mr. Dempsy and Mr. Dowling, back in Dublin. Meanwhile, one of Sunniva's sisters reminded her about the envelope containing gold jewelry which had also been in the safe. So she called and added those three pieces to the list of stolen items. And it was at this point that bureaucratic tenacity entered the story.
When Sunniva had added the three gold items to her list of items lost, one of the police officers bothered to call the National Museum in Dublin, on the off chance they might be valuable.. He described the jewelry, and the museum immediately dispatched two curators to Stokestown, to show Sunniva some photos. What she identified was a photo of a lunnula.
It is Latin for “little moon”, and is applied to any number of crescent shapes, from the white arc at the base of your thumb nail, to the gold necklace worn by Bronze Age kings of Ireland. There are only 21 similar gold necklaces known to have survived over the last 4,000 years, and they were all the work of a few Irish bronze age master craftsmen. And when the police explained to Robert Dempsey, now in custody, what he had thrown away, he was motivated to identify the trash bins on Reuben Street.
The police collected all the bins just before they were about to be emptied. In the parking lot of a police station Sergeant John Costello waded through tons of garbage and trash to recover the lunnula and two small gold pins. And that was the final discovery of a four thousand year old collection of gold, now called the “Coggalbeg hoard”, from the hands of an ancient artist to the throat of a king, to the hands of two thieves separated by 4,00 years, to a police officer, to the modern day National Museum in Dublin.
All of which leaves a few unanswered questions. How did a King’s jewelry come to be lying, abandoned in a bog? It may be it was not abandoned. It may be that Hurbert Lannon also found a body in the bog, but decided not to deal with the attention such a discovery would have brought him. The manner in which he disposed of the gold certainly hints at a man protective of his privacy. And it may be that the lunnula and pins were the booty of a Bronze Age robbery, not unlike the twenty-first century one that brought them to modern day attention. As for Mr. Lannon, he had died three weeks before the break in at the Sheehan Pharmacy, at the age of 93, and so never knew what he had given away in exchange for a vial of medicine.
Anthony Dowling pleaded guilty to breaking and entering, and Robert Dempsey pleaded guilty to receiving stolen goods. They both received suspended sentences. Anthony Dowling was even free to visit the Museum and view the booty he had thrown away. But it seems the booty was not yet finished with Anthony Dowling.
The press attention caused by the gold threw a light on Mr. Dowling, when he probably would have preferred to remain in the shadows. The light revealed that this was not his first conviction. It was in fact his 33rd. And it was not even his first suspended sentence.
On 13 January, 2008, Anthony was involved in a serious altercation in the Deputy Mayor’s Pub, in Dublin. He and a friend, Charlie Russell, attacked one Peter Rogers, because they thought Rogers had insulted Russell’s mother-in-law. In fact he had not.
But, drunk and bent on revenge, Anthony, armed with a claw hammer, and Charlie, who was carrying a samurai sword, assaulted Mr. Rogers without warning, and severed Mr. Rogers’ left hand. Mr. Rogers, who was so drunk he was temporarily unaware of his injuries, punched Charlie Russell in the face with his bloody stump. Twelve hours of surgery were required to reattach his hand, but Mr. Rogers, who had been a carpenter, will never regain its full use.
Charlie Russell received eight years (not suspended) for his part in the attack. And as was said, Anthony Dowling’s sentence was suspended. However,...
....the attendant publicity of this latest theft and the publicity about the pub assault, has made Anthony Dowling unlikely to receive another suspended sentence, as he is now the most famous criminal in Irish history, even more famous than the mysterious murderer of Clonycavan Man. The Irish government has now even banned the sale or ownership of samurai swords.
Meanwhile, Mary Hanafin, Irish Cultural Minister, has called the “Coggalbeg Hoard” an “an amazing find…because it is Irish and part of who we are.” Yes, Minister, and a part of who we all are.
I don't believe in curses, but the hard luck existence of Alfred James Brady may yet cause me to reconsider this conviction. Alfred was born on 25 October, 1910 in the isolated crossroads of Kentland, atop the flatlands of northwest Indiana - four miles from the Illinois border and just about forever from anywhere else. Curse number two was delivered when Alfred was just two years old and his father, Roy Brady, died in a farming accident. His mother Clara eventually remarried, to Mr. John Biddle . He moved her and the boy 140 miles south on the Monon Railroad to New Salem, northwest of Indianapolis. At the age of sixteen Alfred suffered yet another loss, when Clara died in December of 1926. She was just 37. And in 1928 Alfred's stepfather also died. That was four strikes before Alfred was twenty.
It might be well to pause here to discuss the differences between Alfred Brady and that other Hoosier handful, John Herbert Dillinger (above), who grew up forty-one miles south of North Salem in Mooresville, Indiana. Dillinger – or Public Enemy Number One as the FBI liked to refer to him - was seven years older than Alfred, and John's mother had died when he was three. But perhaps the most interesting thing these two men had in common was that Dillinger's Prussian born father ran a grocery store, and four months after his own stepfather's death, Alfred Brady sought his fortune by walking into a grocery store. He pretended to have a gun in his pocket and demanded all the money in the till. The clerk pulled his real gun and opened fire. Alfred got shot three times, and was arrested – strike number five.
Alfred served six months on the Indiana State Prison Farm, learning how to shovel horse manure, and upon his release tried to go straight. Despite the depression Alfred (above) found work as a delivery boy for a hot tamale stand, a stock boy in a men's clothing store, a welder in an automobile factory, and later, in a mattress factory. Alfred's dissatisfaction with entry level jobs reached a crescendo on 10 July, 1934, when he was arrested for vagrancy. Alfred was adrift and looking for a career.
The next turning point in Alfred's life came when he met James Dalhover. James was a five foot four inch tall career criminal, four years older and two inches shorter than Alfred. James' skill set was mostly at making moonshine, which financed his purchase of a farm outside of Hanover, Indiana - strategically located along the distribution route between Louisville and Cincinnati. But revenue agents had recently shut down this home industry and James had just been released from the State Farm. This setback, plus his time in jails in New Mexico, Kentucky and Ohio, tempted James to team up with Alfred.
Their first joint venture was robbing a movie theater 50 miles south of Indianapolis, in Crothersville, Indiana. Unfortunately they chose a Monday night for their holdup, and the cash register contained just $18. The two crooks marked this up to a learning curve, and did better on the following Saturday night, October 19th , when they robbed a grocery in Sellersburg, Indiana, about ten miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. This time they walked out with $190 dollars (the equivalent of $3,000 today). The Brady Gang, as it would later be referred to, was in business.
The boys brought in twenty year old Clarence Shaffer, who stood five feet five inches tall. And the new gang began a regular Saturday night robbery routine around southern Indiana and Ohio. James would later boast that by the spring of 1936 they had successfully robbed about 150 gas stations and groceries, and they began to aim higher. On Wednesday, 4 March, 1936 they hit a jewelry store in Lima, Ohio for $8,000. So on Monday, 27 April, 1936, they returned to the scene of that crime and robed the same store again, this time making off with $27,000 in jewelry. And then, the next morning, fifty miles away, outside of the little town of Geneva, Indiana, Alfred's curse struck again.
In a farmer's field, Geneva Police retrieved one of the numbered boxes taken from the Ohio jewelry store. This meant the proceeds of the felony had crossed state lines. And J.Edgar Hoover, the bureaucrat running the FBI, used that slim opening to label Alfred Brady as the new Public Enemy Number One. You see, 1936 was a presidential election year, and under pressure, Roosevelt had pulled back on New Deal spending. To ward off those budget cuts, Hoover needed a replacement for his very successful John Dillenger, Public Enemy Number One campaign. And Dillenger's “neighbor” Alfred Brady looked like the perfect fit. Hoover's F.B.I. issued wanted posters and held press conferences, and on Wednesday, 11 May , the Indianapolis Police arrested Alfred and Clarence Shaffer. Four days later James Dalhover was arrested in Chicago, where he had gone to fence the jewelry.
To their shock, the three crooks were charged with the murder of an Indianapolis Police Officer. Whether they actually committed this murder is questionable. They were prolific crooks, and they did carry guns, and sooner or later somebody was going to get shot. But if Alfred was so cold blooded, why didn't he shoot the would-be hero who interrupted the robbery by jumping on Alfred's back? In any case Alfred must have realized it was too late now. The F.B.I. had labeled the trio as “mad dog killers”. It was enough to make you think Alfred Brady was cursed.
On Sunday morning, 11 October, 1936 , a sheriff in the Hancock County Jail was delivering breakfast to the three prisoners when they hit him over the head with an iron bar, stole his .38 revolver and made their escape in his car. If anybody thought to ask, they might have wondered why the blood-thirsty Alfred Brady had left behind the living injured sheriff. But Hoover and the Indianapolis police made certain nobody gave that little conundrum more than a passing thought.
The trio, now permanently allied by circumstances and the police, fled to Baltimore, Maryland. Here they attempted to establish quiet, respectable lives under assumed names. James Dalhover and Clarence Shaffer even married a pair of nice Italian sisters (despite James still having a wife and two children back in Hanover). For his part, Alfred bought himself a bar. Oh, they periodically returned to Indiana to rob grocery stores and banks, but that was just “what” they did. It wasn't “who” they were. It became who they were on 27 May, 1937.
The original plan had been to rob a bank in Sheldon, Illinois, but that institution had failed in the 1937 economic downturn. So instead they robbed a bank in Goodland, Indiana, less than ten miles from Alfred's birthplace in Kentland. They walked out with all of $2,528. And in criss-crossing back roads making their getaway, the gang stumbled upon an intersection called Royal Center, where their careers collided with Indiana Highway Patrol Officer Paul Minneman (above) and Cass County Sheriff's Deputy Elmer Craig. In the ensuing fulsade of gunfire, Officer Minneman was killed and Deputy Craig was severely wounded. After the gunfire, Craig reported one of the gangsters approached the car, pointed a rifle at him and asked, “Shall I finish this guy too? ” Another gang member responded, “No, come on, let's get the hell out of here.” Trooper Minneman left behind a wife and an as yet unborn daughter.
Whatever the truth about Alfred Brady's responsibility in the previous killings attributed to the Brady Gang, there can be no doubt about this one. Even if he had not pulled the trigger, or had been the one telling the gunman not to shoot the wounded deputy, he was now legally responsible for the murder of a police officer. Time Magazine quoted Captain Matt Leach, head of Indiana's State Police, as saying that "because of their viciousness and the way they operate, the Brady mob is going to make Dillinger look like a neophyte.” Reading that, Alfred must have known how it was going to end. The only questions were “when” and "where".
In late September, the three men drove to Bangor, Maine, looking to purchase guns and ammunition, telling clerks in at least two sporting goods stores that they were hunters. But nobody in Maine could mistake these Indiana hoods for outdoors men. They returned to Bangor in early October to buy even more guns, and paid the owner of Dakin's Sporting Goods for additional ammunition that was not in stock. The store owner told the men to return in a week. And that was why, at 8:30 on the Tuesday morning of Columbus Day, 12 October , 1937, the “Brady Gang” pulled their black Buick sedan over to the curb in front of 25 Central Street, Bangor. Alfred was in the passenger seat. Clarence and James Dalhover got out, with James entering the store.
James Dalhover approached a clerk and asked, “Where's the stuff I ordered?” His answer came when F.B.I. agent Walter Walsh (above) poked a gun into the back of his head. Instinctively James turned, and Walsh hit him across the bridge of the nose with the pistol. Dalhover fell, and immediately struggled to regain his feet.
Outside, Clarence Shaffer saw the assault, and began firing through the store's windows. He hit agent Walsh in the shoulder. But as he did F.B.I. and Maine State Police “marksmen” stationed on the rooftops along Central Street, opened up.
Several stories under those snipers, 19 year old Poppy Valiades was sitting before the front window of her family's restaurant, the Paramount Cafe, typing up the day's menus. She saw Clarence staggering into the street. “ "I saw his clothes - oh, blood spilling out – bullets...he went into a kind of a coil as he moved into the street. I was probable 10 to 15 feet from him when he dropped.”
Inside the store, James Dalhover broke for the back door, and ran right into the arms of two Bangor city cops, who placed him under arrest. Meanwhile, two agents approached either side of the big Buick. They called for Al Brady to give himself up. Alfred put up his hands and responded, “Don't shoot, don't shoot, I'll get out." But he came out of the car firing and running.
He didn't hit anybody and he didn't get very far. The concentrated gunfire from the rest of the fifteen F.B.I. Agents, and 15 Indiana and Maine State Police Officers, dropped the newest Public Enemy Number One in the very middle of the busy street. Alfred had in his cold dead hand the .38 revolver taken from the holster of murdered Officer Minnemen.
Seventy-four years later, Andrew Taber, who had been on his way to the Dakin's when the shooting exploded on the street, remembered seeing Alfred Brady's body lifted into the wicker basket used to transport fatalities. He watched the silver coins glinting in the bright morning sunlight as they fell out of Alfred's pocket and onto the pavement. The two dead gang members had over sixty wounds in their bodies.
The second the shooting stopped people rushed from all over to have a look; Kalil Ayoob was having breakfast in Main Street that morning, and he remembered, “It looked like the running of the bulls in Spain.” The only surviving member of the “Brady Gang”, James Dalhover, was tried and convicted of the murder of Officer Minneman. And that was the only murder any member of the gang was ever convicted of. James had the dubious distinction of being the last of nine men executed in Indiana's electric chair in 1938, on 18 November , at the Indiana State Penitentiary, Michigan City.
Clarence Shaffer's family sent for his body, and had it brought home to Indiana. But Alfred Brady had no family. In the end, he was lowered into a charity unmarked grave in Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor. However his brain continued to reside in a jar at the Eastern Maine General Hospital, along the Penobscot River, where curious nursing students could wonder if its convolutions hid an explanation for the violence of its lifetime - until it finally disappeared. And with it, perhaps the Brady curse also evaporated. As the longtime caretaker for the Mount Hope cemetery often told author Stephen King, “In the end, there's always Hope”. Well, not for Alfred Brady.
I admit I smiled when it was revealed that Martin Eisenstadt, the McCain campaign staffer who admitted to being the source behind the “Sara Palin is an diva” leak during the 2008 Republican campaign, turned out to actually be the team of Dan Mirvish and Etan Gorlin. These two pranksters had actually taken the time to “Punk” the media by inventing Mr. Eisenstadt. And a lot of major media had swallowed their gag. But I smiled at the adolescence of the thing, not the inventiveness. Claiming to have fooled the news media is like claiming credit for inventing the “Get the Ball-Where’s the ball” game with your dog. It’s been done before; and a lot better.
In August of 1835 the “Penny Dreadful” New York Sun published a series of articles entitled “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel…” John Herschel was a famous astronomer who was the son of a famous astronomer. Using a new telescope he reported that he had observed on the moon “…nine species of mammalian …” including tail-less beavers that walked on two legs and lived in huts, unicorns, and four foot tall people with bat wings.
Of course Sir John Herschel had made no such report because he wasn’t nuts. But neither was Richard Adams Locke (above), who was the grandson of the philosopher and the actual author of the moon-beavers story. He was a one-time editor of the Sun, and an acquaintance of Edgar Allen Poe - who claimed he knew of “…no person possessing so fine a forehead as Mr. Locke”.
The story of the moon-beavers raised the Sun's circulation from 15,00 to more than 19,000, which gave it an advantage in its sales war with its rival the New York Herald. On 18 September, 1835, the paper admitted the joke, and the only people not laughing were the editors of the Herald, who felt they had been made to look foolish for not knowing it had been a gag. But it is helpful to remember that in our age with unlabeled Corporate Video News Releases (VNRs) padding out local news programming from sea to shinning sea it’s gotten easier to fool the fools, not harder. In Edgar Allen Poe’s day fake news had to be an inside job. Even Edgar himself did it.
Edgar had already written “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” but when he moved to Baltimore with a sick wife he had just $5 in his pocket. And myself , as a hungry writer, who has produced articles for such distinguished men’s publications as “Velvet” and “Velvet Talks”, (back in the 1980's they paid $125 for 1200 obscene words and $25 for three accompanying obscene “letters”) I sympathize with Edgar.
Now, Edgar Allen Poe was “odd”. Both his parents died when he was young. He was adopted by a wealthy manic-depressive patriarch who was alternately loving and vicious toward him. The result was that Edgar became an un-socialized morose alcoholic who as a college student confided to his roommate that he had “joked” that he was going to murder their landlord, and the landlord had believed him: ha, ha.
Edgar had gotten married when he was 25, to the sickly Miss Virginia Clemm, who was just 13 years old - Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with this guy. Faced with imminent starvation Edgar sought out Locke’s advice, and probably based on what Locke told him, Edgar wrote what would later would be called “The Great Balloon Hoax of 1844”, or as I like to call it, “72 Hours of Hot Air”.
The headlines in the Sun read, “Astounding News by Express, via Norfolk! The Atlantic Crossed in Three days!...in the Steering Balloon “Victoria”, after a passage of Seventy-five hours from Land to Land! Full Particulars of the Voyage!”
According to the 5,000 word front page story, the plan had been to cross the English Channel suspended beneath a silk dirigible filled with 40,000 cubic feet of coal tar gas. But once airborne above Wales, and impressed with their “Archimedean Screw” propeller, the decision was made “on the fly” to sail to North America instead. “We soon found ourselves driving out to sea at the rate of not less, certainly, than 50 or 60 miles an hour…as the shades of night have closed around us, we made a rough estimate of the distance traversed. It could not have been less than 500 miles…The wind was from the East all night…We suffered no little from cold and dampness…
"Sunday, the 7th, this morning the gale…had subsided to an eight or nine knot breeze, and bears us, perhaps, 30 miles an hour or more…at sundown, we are holding our course due West...Monday the 8th, the wind was blowing steadily and strongly from the North-East all day…Tuesday, the 9th. One P.M. We are in full view if the low coast of South Carolina. The great problem is accomplished. We have crossed the Atlantic – fairly and easily in a balloon! God be praised!”
According to Edgar’s unbiased reporting, on the day of publication the Sun’s offices were besieged. “As soon as the first copies made their way into the streets, they were bought up," wrote Edgar, "at almost any price. I saw a half a dollar given, in one instance, for a single paper…I tried, in vain, during the whole day, to get possession of a copy.” And Edgar was there in the crowd, telling anyone who would listen, that he was the author of the story, and…that it was a gag. Now why would he do that?
Poor old Edgar had a number of personality traits that confused even the people who liked him. For instance, he could not stop himself from maintaining contact with Elizabeth Ellet, a carnivorous little “pot-stirrer” and bad writer who made passes at Edgar in German. I mean, German has always been the language of love, hasn’t it? “Halten Sie mich schlieben, meine little Turtle Dove?” Doesn’t that make you feel all romantic? And then when Edgar cut off all contact with her, she told her brother that Edgar had insulted her. And he challenged Edgar to a duel. Luckily, since Edgar didn't own a gun the two fools ended up beating each other up, over a woman who clearly didn’t think much of either of them. Men. Sigh.
The point of all this, it seems to me, is that idiots who spend their time and energy perpetuating a hoax on the public are hoping the public will not be insulted. But even if the public is willing to laugh at themselves once, the chances are they will not trust the same source a second time, ever. Or, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, "...fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
The very day after the Sun published the balloon hoax there appeared on the back page of the paper the following notice; “…the mails from the south…not having brought confirmation of the balloon from England…we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous”. Well, that’s one way to maintain journalistic integrity: NOT!
Me, I’m willing to bet that Edgar was paid $25 for writing the back page mea culpa. The publishing business hasn’t changed much in 200 years. And neither has the life of writers. Edgar’s wife died of tuberculosis in New York, three years after the Balloon Hoax.
And two years later the New York Sun, which sold for a penny a copy, was bought for $250,000 (more than $6 million in today’s money). That was the same year Edgar Allen Poe died in Baltimore, flat broke as usual. Sigh.