On a cold, overcast Tuesday morning in February 1981, something caught the eye of a museum technician as he walked through the “We the People” exhibit on the second floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The silver pen of President McKinley’s Secretary of State John Hay was missing. The 7 ¼-inch Parker Jointless pen had been used to sign the 1898 Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War.
But now, to the technician’s horror, its case was empty -- and there were more alarming discoveries to come.
In 1976 D.C. police dressed as cartoon Mafiosos and bought millions in stolen goods from local thieves. They called it "Operation Sting," and soon police across the country were launching "sting operations" of their own. But not everyone was so enamored with the tactic, especially the communities it was being used to target.
While sifting through the virtual archives of some local publications, I came across an incident from 1947 that stood apart. Unlike most news, the event read like a Film Noir. This real-life tale was juicy enough to make headlines for days, suspenseful enough to make me wonder about motives, and hard-boiled enough to speak volumes to the disenchantment of the people involved. So, this article will look a little different from what we usually do at Boundary Stones. Rather than presenting the facts in a linear, scholarly manner, we have decided that this story shines best as a piece of narrative nonfiction. While every sentence is grounded in research, we held off on footnotes to let the story breathe, and took a few creative liberties to bring the characters to life. For variety, my dear reader, is the spice of life…
Washington has seen its fair share of crimes: mafia operations, drug networks, triple murder… But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the city’s most pervasive crimes was one we today might find difficult to imagine: chicken thievery. In today’s urban landscape, the phenomenon may seem difficult to imagine; but 150 years ago chicken robbery was widespread -- and serious business. The practice was dangerous and, at times, even fatal.
A mafioso walks into a restaurant in D.C. — and sets up an international crime syndicate in the FBI's backyard. Two arsons, a faked murder, and hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of cocaine later, the FBI got their man.
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 8:45 pm – 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.
At 10:30 a.m. 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 stole the uniforms and the van and 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.
When one thinks of the gambling scene in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the likes of Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel immediately spring to mind. However, the District had its own gambling godfather — Jimmy Lafontaine. He 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.”
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.