crime

Convicted murderer Bernard Welch speaks with a reporter in Washington, March 29, 1981. Welch was convicted in the murder of Dr. Michael Halberstam of Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

Running Down the Ghost Burglar

Dr. Michael Halberstam and his wife, Elliott, had planned to go to a movie after leaving their friends’ cocktail party, but they decided to make a quick stop back at home first. Michael parked the car and went inside the couple’s Palisades D.C. home to let out their two dogs, Iris and Jake. Elliot headed around back to meet the pups. It was about 8:45pm – well after dark in the late fall. Moments later, the doctor was staring down the barrel of snub-nosed revolver in his own kitchen.

The odd chain of events that came next would uncover one of the largest — and strangest — crime operations in Washington, D.C. area history.

From Crystal City to Cuba: The Tullers' International Crime Spree

Bullet hole in the door of Arlington Trust Company bank in Crystal City, where the Tuller's crime spree began in 1972. (Reprinted with permission of DC Public Library, Star Collection © Washington Post)

At 10:30am on October 25, 1972, two workers stepped out of a C&P Telephone van and into the Crystal City branch of the Arlington Trust Company. The bank’s phones had been down for nearly half an hour and manager Henry “Bud” Candee was eager to resume normal business. He met the repairmen in the lobby and led them to a service panel at the back of the bank. Unbeknownst to Candee, the technicians were frauds. They had stolen the uniforms and the van and had themselves caused the phone outage by climbing down a nearby manhole and severing the bank’s phone lines. But what was meant to be a relatively simple robbery, turned out to be the first act in one of the most dramatic – and bizarre – crime sprees in U.S. history.

Jimmy Lafontaine: "The Gentleman Gambler"

Washington’s Godfather: “Gentleman Gambler” Jimmy Lafontaine

When one thinks of the gambling scene in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, the likes of Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel immediately spring to mind. However, the District had its own gambling godfather and Jimmy Lafontaine couldn’t have been further from the American gangster archetype. Though his extralegal line of work inevitably brought him unwelcome brushes with mobsters and the law, his story is not one of bootlegged booze or mysterious murders. Rather, he’s most often remembered for his charity and reputation as Washington’s “gentleman gambler.”

Stevie Wonder in 1973 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Human Kindness Day That Wasn't

Promote neighborly goodwill and the arts with a free concert on the National Mall? It sounded like a great idea to Stevie Wonder when he was approached by Compared to What, Inc. a non-profit D.C. arts education group in 1975. What could go wrong? As it turned out, a lot.

This composite sketch of the Shotgun Stalker suspect was plastered all over Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant in 1993. (Source: Washington Post)

The Shotgun Stalker Terrorizes Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, 1993

The year was 1993. Spring had come to Washington and the cherry blossoms were blooming, but residents of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights were on edge. For over a month, a gunman had been on the loose in their neighborhood, targeting pedestrians with a pump action shotgun. By the middle of April, the assailant – who was dubbed the “Shotgun Stalker” by local media outlets – had been linked to nine shootings, three of which were fatal.

Each incident was eerily similar: the stalker cruised the neighborhood in his car after dark, isolated a pedestrian and then fired at the person’s head. But yet it was all so… random. The victims varied in age, sex, ethnicity and occupation – there was no logic. After pulling the trigger the gunman would disappear, seemingly into thin air.

Al Capone in 1930 as photographed by the FBI's Chicago Bureau (Source: Wikipedia)

How Hoover--No, Not That Hoover!--Got Al Capone

Years after the 1931 federal conviction for tax evasion that put Al "Scarface" Capone in prison and ended his career as Chicago's most feared mobster, he was known to complain bitterly about the man whose vendetta, in Capone's view, had put him behind bars. "That bastard Hoover," Capone would rant. But he suprisingly, he wasn't talking about FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who, despite his heavily-hyped reputation as a gangster nemesis, had little to do with Capone's demise. 

Instead, Capone saw his true mortal enemy as President Herbert Hoover. And unlike most of the people who harbor grudges against Presidents, Capone actually was right.