Maud Crawford

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Maud Robinson Crawford
Born (1891-06-22)June 22, 1891
Greenville, Hunt County
Texas, USA
Disappeared March 2, 1957 (aged 65)
Camden, Arkansas
Status Unsolved
Died ca. March 2, 1957(1957-03-02) (aged 65)
Probably Camden
Ouachita County, Arkansas
Alma mater University of Arkansas
Occupation

First woman attorney in Camden, Arkansas

Camden city council member (1940-1948)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Clyde Falwell Crawford (m. 1925)
Children No children

Maud Robinson Crawford (June 22, 1891 – March 2, 1957) was an American attorney in Camden, Arkansas, who disappeared without a trace on a Saturday night in the winter of 1957. Crawford was a partner in a law firm investigating Mafia influence over labor unions. She is believed to have been kidnapped by the mob. A local newspaper report in 1986 alleged that one of her clients had been defrauded by a corrupt businessman and police commissioner, Henry Myar "Mike" Berg (1909-1975), whom Crawford had confronted. The newspaper noted that the detective who discovered this connection was removed from the case, and the relevant files disappeared. The case hence remains officially unsolved.

Background[edit]

Crawford was born in Greenville, east of Dallas, Texas, the oldest of four children of John W. "Jack" Robinson and the former Ida Louise Faucett. Because her mother died when Crawford was only nine years of age, she was reared in Warren in Bradley County in southern Arkansas, by her maternal grandmother, Mary Louise Faucett Ritchey, who operated a boarding house with a second husband, Thomas Ritchey. Maud Crawford was the valedictorian of her 1911 Warren High School graduating class. She then attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for the 1911–1912 academic year.[1]

In 1916, she began work as a stenographer at the Gaughan law firm in Camden in Ouachita County, also in southern Arkansas. In 1925, she married Clyde Falwell Crawford (1894–1969),[2] a scion of a pioneer Camden family. The couple had no children. In 1927, Crawford took the bar exam at the University of Arkansas School of Law, having learned the principles of law while she was employed in the Gaughan firm. She passed the exam and ranked first in her class. Crawford's field of expertise was estate management and title work, important to an area with considerable petroleum drilling. Her admission to the bar took place only ten years after women were first permitted to practice law in Arkansas.[1]

Community leadership[edit]

A community leader, Crawford was the first woman elected to the Camden City Council, serving from 1940 to 1948. In 1942, she was among the founders of Arkansas Girls State, a counterpart to Boys State, which permits high schoolers to spend a week at the state capital in Little Rock to learn the mechanics of state government. Crawford was elected president of each women's civic organization in Camden of which she was a member, including the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, the American Legion Auxiliary, and Pilot Club International, sister organization of Rotary International before Rotary admitted women. In 1954, the Pilot Club designated her "Camden Woman of the Year". In 1955, when Camden won an achievement award for "Outstanding Community Improvement", Crawford was named to go to Little Rock to speak and accept the honor on behalf of the community.[1]

Crawford's law firm was later named Gaughan, McClellan and Laney.[3] The McClellan in the firm was a then inactive partner, Democratic U.S. Senator John L. McClellan, formerly of Camden.[1]

The Richie-Crawford House, located at 430 Clifton Street in Camden; from here Crawford disappeared on the night of March 2, 1957.

Disappearance[edit]

Crawford disappeared from her home on March 2, 1957, sometime between 8:30 and 11 p.m. CST. At the time of her disappearance, McClellan chaired a high-profile Senate investigation into alleged mobster ties to organized labor. The case was international news for a time when it was speculated that Crawford had been kidnapped by the Mafia to intimidate McClellan. No ransom note was ever delivered, no body was ever found and the police have never solved the case.[1]

The night that Crawford disappeared, her husband went to the Malco Theater and thereafter a liquor store, a routine which he followed nearly every evening.[4] At 8:30 p.m. Maud spoke by telephone with a cousin. When Clyde returned home about 11:30 p.m. the house was fully lit inside and outside, and the television set in the living room was on.[5] Maud's car was in the driveway with the keys. Her purse, with $142 in cash, was on a chair. When Maud did not return home by 1 a.m., Clyde drove around Camden to search for her. At 1 a.m. on March 3, he stopped two police officers to ask if there had been an automobile accident that might explain her absence. An hour later, he drove to the police station to report his wife missing. An extensive hunt for Crawford followed.[1]

Two weeks after Maud's disappearance, The Camden News reported that Police Chief G. B. Cole had declared the investigation "stalemated". The newspaper also quoted then Sheriff Grover Linebarier (1899–1986)[2] as having said, "We have not turned up a single clue." The Camden News declared the case "at a dead end".[1]

Clyde Crawford continued to live in the house on Clifton Street. He died in 1969, the same year that the Ouachita County Probate Court declared his wife dead: "It is the finding of the Court that Maud R. Crawford is deceased and has been dead since March 2, 1957, as a result of foul play perpetrated by person or persons unknown."[1]

Arkansas Gazette investigation[edit]

In 1986, the Crawford case was reopened in an 18-article investigative series by Beth Brickell, who was brought up in Camden during the 1950s.[4] Brickell's work was published by the former Arkansas Gazette, now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, owned since 1991 by Walter E. Hussman, Jr., who was also reared in Camden and is the official publisher of The Camden News. The Arkansas Gazette series implicated Mike Berg, a wealthy Camden businessman and a former state police commissioner who served under appointment of former Governor Orval E. Faubus. Berg's widow, Helen Berg, threatened to sue the Arkansas Gazette over the series, which was nevertheless published over a five-month period. Mrs. Berg, however, never filed suit.[1]

The series revealed that a state police detective, Odis A. Henley (1919–2001),[2] had found evidence linking Mike Berg to Crawford's murder. Henley claimed that he was quickly removed from the case, and all of his files vanished from police headquarters. The Gazette series uncovered for the first time a financial motive for the murder of Crawford. A deed filed in the nearby Hempstead County Courthouse in Hope, Arkansas, transferred timber assets belonging to Rose Newman Berg, Mike Berg's elderly aunt who had been declared incompetent in 1955 by the Ouachita County Court, to Hugh Moseley, a timber owner who worked for Mike Berg. A second deed with the same date transferred the identical timber holdings from Hugh Moseley to Mike Berg. Former Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker (later a U.S. Representative and then governor, considered the deeds "powerful evidence" that Mike Berg had sought to defraud his aunt.[1]

Henley claimed that Crawford confronted Berg over the timber assets. Crawford was Rose Berg's attorney and personal guardian. Maud had drawn up a will for Rose Berg, who in 1957 was a patient in a nursing home with what would now be called Alzheimer's disease. Rose Berg wished to leave more than $20 million to three nieces who lived in other states, Jeannette Newman Simpson, Marian Newman Peltason (1908–1979) of Santa Barbara, California,[2] and Lucille Newman Glazer. Mike Berg was not mentioned in his aunt's will. According to the nieces, Crawford had informed them before her death that she intended to bring a lawsuit against Mike Berg to expose the fraudulent deeds. Then, other timber deeds were found in the Ouachita County Courthouse that transferred additional assets over a period of years from Rose Berg to Mike Berg. One deed with a questionable signature of Rose Berg, conveyed to Mike Berg, large acreage of timber in fifteen counties, as well as properties in Camden and an estimated 150 active oil royalties. With the disappearance of Crawford, Rose Berg's will also vanished. Mike Berg ultimately secured all of his aunt's estate. Thereafter, he granted $187,000 to each of Rose Berg’s nieces in exchange for a relinquishment of all claims to their aunt's estate.[1]

The Arkansas Gazette articles led Bill McLean, the prosecuting attorney in El Dorado in Union County in southern Arkansas, to reopen the case in 1986. McLean came to Ouachita County, against the wishes of then Sheriff Jack Dews, to interview Jack Dorris (1915–1986),[2] who had been a Mike Berg bodyguard. Dorris, however, was dying of cancer and did not survive long enough for McLean to question him.[1][6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Maud Robinson Crawford (1891-1957)". encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  3. ^ The Laney in the firm was not Governor Benjamin T. Laney, who earlier served as mayor of Camden from 1935 to 1939, prior to Crawford's joining the city council.
  4. ^ a b "The Maud Crawford Mystery". luminousfilms.net. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Maud Crawford". charleyproject.org. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  6. ^ The Encyclopedia of Arkansas bases part of its biographical sketch of Maud Crawford on Beth Brickell's 18-part series in the Arkansas Gazette in the overall title "Mystery at Camden": July 25, 30, and 31, 1986; August 1, 3, 7, 11, 13, and 22, 1986; September 21, 1986; October 19, 1986; November 9, 12, and 23, 1986; December 21, 22, 23, and 24, 1986. All of the articles were placed on page-one.