Maud Crawford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
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, March 2, 1957. She is presumed dead. Crawford was a partner in a law firm investigating Mafia influence over labor unions. She is believed to have been kidnapped by the mob.

In 1986 the Arkansas Gazette published a 15-article investigative series by reporter Beth Brickell, who alleged that one of Crawford's clients had been defrauded of extensive timber and oil holdings by the late Henry Myar "Mike" Berg (1909-1975), a successful businessman in Camden and former state police commissioner. The newspaper speculated that Crawford had confronted Berg. The newspaper reported that the detective who discovered this connection was removed from the case, and the relevant files disappeared from police station. Bill McLean, the prosecuting attorney in El Dorado in Union County, reopened the case, but was unable to prosecute. The case remains officially unsolved.

Background[edit]

Born in 1891 in Greenville, east of Dallas, Texas, Maud Robinson was the oldest of four children of John W. "Jack" Robinson and the former Ida Louise Faucett. Because her mother died when Crawford was nine years of age, she was reared by her maternal grandmother, Mary Louise Faucett Ritchey, in Warren, Arkansas in Bradley County in the southern part of the state. Ritchey operated a boarding house with her second husband, Thomas Ritchey. Robinson went to local schools and was the valedictorian of her 1911 Warren High School graduating class. She attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for the 1911–1912 academic year.[1]

In 1916, Robinson began work as a stenographer at the Gaughan law firm in Camden, the county seat of 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.

Having learned the principles of law while working at the Gaughan firm, in 1927, Crawford took the bar exam at the University of Arkansas School of Law. She passed the exam, ranking first in her class. Crawford's field of expertise was estate management and title work, important to an area with considerable petroleum drilling. She was admitted to the bar 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.[1]

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 had joined her former law firm, which was later named Gaughan, McClellan and Laney. 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, as there was speculation 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.[3] At 8:30 p.m. Maud spoke by telephone with a cousin. When Clyde returned home about 11:30 p.m., he said that the house was fully lit inside and outside, and the television set was on in the living room.[4] 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. That year 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 reporter Beth Brickell. She had been reared in Camden during the 1950s.[3] Brickell's work was published by the former Arkansas Gazette, now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, owned since 1991 by Walter E. Hussman, Jr.. Also a longtime Camden resident, he is the official publisher of The Camden News.

The Arkansas Gazette series implicated Mike Berg in Crawford's disappearance because of evidence of a strong financial motive related to transactions affecting the estate of his late aunt Rose Berg. Mike Berg was a wealthy Camden businessman and a former state police commissioner, who had been appointed by then Governor Orval E. Faubus. Berg's widow, Helen Berg, threatened to sue the Arkansas Gazette over the series, but the newspaper continued to publish the articles over a five-month period. Mrs. Berg 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 disappearance and presumed murder. Henley told Brickell that he had been quickly removed from the case after discussing the evidence, and all of his files vanished from police headquarters.

The Gazette series identified a new financial motive for the alleged murder of Crawford. Mike Berg had an elderly aunt, Rose Newman Berg, who had been declared incompetent in 1955 by the Ouachita County Court. (Her symptoms appear to have been of Alzheimer's disease.) Maud Crawford was her lawyer and appointed as her personal legal guardian.

Brickell reported that a deed filed in this period of the 1950s in the nearby Hempstead County Courthouse in Hope, Arkansas, transferred timber assets belonging to Rose Newman Berg 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. Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker said the deeds appeared to be "powerful evidence" that Mike Berg had sought to defraud his aunt. (Tucker later was elected as a U.S. Representative and then governor of Arkansas.)[1]

Henley, the state police detective, believed that in 1957 Crawford confronted Berg over the transfer of timber assets. Crawford had drawn up a will for Rose Berg, who in 1957 was a patient in a nursing home, diagnosed with what would now be called Alzheimer's disease. She bequeathed more than $20 million to three nieces, daughters of sisters, who lived in other states: Jeannette Newman Simpson, Marian Newman Peltason (1908–1979) of Santa Barbara, California,[2] and Lucille Newman Glazer. Rose Berg did not refer to Mike Berg at all in her will; he was a nephew by marriage.

According to the nieces, Crawford had informed them before her disappearance that she intended to file a lawsuit against Mike Berg to expose the fraudulent deeds. Brickell found other timber deeds in the Ouachita County Courthouse that transferred additional assets over a period of years from Rose Berg to Mike Berg. One deed, noted as having a questionable signature of Rose Berg, conveyed a large acreage of timber in fifteen counties to Mike Berg, as well as properties in Camden, and an estimated 150 active oil royalties. When Crawford disappeared, Rose Berg's will also vanished. Mike Berg ultimately secured all of his aunt's estate. 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]

Based on the Arkansas Gazette articles, in 1986 Bill McLean, the prosecuting attorney in El Dorado in Union County in southern Arkansas, where some of the land in question was located, reopened the case of Maud Crawford and these associated Berg deeds. McLean traveled to Ouachita County, against the wishes of Sheriff Jack Dews, to interview Jack Dorris (1915–1986),[2] who had been a bodyguard of Mike Berg. Dorris was dying of cancer and did not survive long enough for McLean to question him.[1][5] Despite the evidence from Brickell's investigation, no one was prosecuted in the case, and Crawford's disappearance and likely murder were never solved.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "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. ^ a b "The Maud Crawford Mystery". luminousfilms.net. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  4. ^ "Maud Crawford". charleyproject.org. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  5. ^ The Encyclopedia of Arkansas bases part of its biographical sketch of Maud Crawford on Beth Brickell's 18-part series in the Arkansas Gazette, published under 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 published on page one.