Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mystery History -- Solved

In the photo above (left to right) Pasadena firefighter Jim Branch, vice detective Clinton Wright and firefighter Leif Brandin examine a refrigeration container filled with sulphur dioxide gas that was hurled by a bookmaker who managed to escape during a raid.

Here's an excerpt from the Nov. 30, 1951, Pasadena Star-News:

A bookmaking suspect who was "definitely" identified as an ex-police vice squad officer escaped from a raiding party of police and sheriff's deputies here yesterday under cover of a bomb barrage of deadly sulphur dioxide gas.

Tabbed as the suspect was Robert T. Wiseman Jr., 26, who quit the force suddenly on Aug. 31, 1950.

The bizarre raid took place at the expensive two-story home of Wiseman's father. . . in the shadow of Caltech.

Amid dense clouds of gas from the bombs, Wiseman Jr. fought furiously with the officers for several minutes inside the house but finally broke away from them and fled.

The elder Wiseman was away when the raid occurred but returned before officers left.

He said he'd left the house shortly before noon after setting off the gas cylinders to kill termites "and varmints."

During the [struggle] the officers wrested a black notebook from Wiseman [Jr.]. The book contains numerous "owe" sheets.
Handwriting experts were brought in to try and crack the "Case of the Gassed Bookie Raiders" by determining whether Wiseman, according to the Pasadena Independent, "wrote the notes in a 'little black book' which was wrested from him before he vanished in a cloud of deadly sulphur dioxide gas fumes. If he did, he'll probably have to face a bookie rap. If and when police catch up with him."

There are no follow-up articles stating that Wiseman was caught.

Many thanks to Pasadena Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library.


Margaret said...

Well, I was way off. That's a great story.

Jean Spitzer said...

This news excerpt omits so much. What made the police raid the place? What's the elder Wiseman's part in all this? The whole thing sounds like material for a Raymond Chandler story.

Anonymous said...

Media is great at the drama end of the story but follow ups make the back page.

If my father were alive today he'd be in the know. He was attending Cal Tech at the time and I recall the boys at tech loved this sort of thing. Probably where young Wiseman learned to make his bomb.

Petrea said...

I win! I was the closest!! I said the Cuban Missile Crisis but what I really meant was the Caltech Missile Crisis.

Petrea said...

Or maybe the Caltech Missive Crisis?

Kevin at Time River Productions said...

That was a good one!

Heather Rae said...

Great story - I wish we could get even more of the details!

pasadenapio said...

Margaret and Kevin, it is a great story. We don't have any good raids on bookies these days!

Jean, Liz and Heather Rae, I do have more information to a point, which I'll provide. The newspaper articles about this were many and long.

Petrea, your enthusiastic belief that you won almost won me over.