Monthly Archives: June 2014

Granny was a serial killer

Nannie Doss did not match anyone’s image of a serial killer. A plain and rather scatterbrained grandmother, she might have never been caught had she not voluntarily agreed to an autopsy of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss, who died in 1954 after eating a bowl of prunes.

The prunes, it turned out, were poisoned.

Tulsa police quickly delved into Doss’ tangled life history, and found that 11 people with ties to her had died under mysterious circumstances. Doss insisted she only killed four of them — all men she had met and married through lonely hearts clubs after divorcing her first husband.

Doss said all four dead husbands had been given rat poison in their food or drink. Her third victim’s last words were said to have been, “I shouldn’t have had that last cup of coffee.”

Doss pleaded guilty to murdering Samuel Doss and died in prison. While she benefited from small life insurance policies on her dead husbands, Doss seems to have killed them mostly because they annoyed her. Samuel Doss, she complained, wouldn’t let her listen to the radio programs she wanted.


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Henry Bellmon’s one-cent’s worth

One of the most important political debates in Oklahoma history occurred in Tulsa during the 1962 gubernatorial campaign.

The Democratic nominee, W.P. Atkinson, had survived a brutal primary and runoff in which he defeated former Gov. Raymond Gary by just 900 votes. Atkinson was a real estate developer who more or less built Midwest City after Tinker Field — now Tinker Air Force Base — was located on farmland east of downtown Oklahoma City in the run-up to U.S. entry into World War II. Atkinson was the mortal enemy of powerful Daily Oklahoman publisher E.K. Gaylord.

Gaylord found an ally in Republican candidate Henry Bellmon. Bellmon, a Noble County farmer, had revitalized the Oklahoma GOP. As state chairman, he pushed the party’s boundaries beyond the country club set that had dominated it for so long. He ventured into small towns and rural counties that had not had a Republican Party organization in decades, if ever.

A key component of Atkinson’s platform was a one-cent sales tax increase. During a highly-anticipated debate in Tulsa, Atkinson was asked by newsman Phil Dessauer what he would do if the Legislature refused to give him the increase. Atkinson replied that he supposed he would just have to go after waste, corruption and abuse.

Dryly, Bellmon wondered why Atkinson would not go after waste, corruption and abuse first.

Bellmon might have won the election anyway. Tax increases are never popular, and Atkinson was being hammered daily in The Oklahoman. And, as Bellmon had discerned, the state’s political foundations were shifting. But in political lore, that brief exchange in Tulsa is remembered as the turning point in an election that brought Oklahoma its first Republican governor.

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The governor who hated horse racing

Vice laws seem to have been more ignored than enforced in early twentieth century Tulsa. Liquor, prostitution and gambling all flourished. According to one account, an early Tulsa mayor owned an interest in a brothel. A former police chief went to prison for shooting a federal prohibition officer.

Oklahoma’s second governor, Lee Cruce, was very much agin sin. When gambling was reported at a horse racing meet in Tulsa in April 1914, Cruce declared martial law and sent the National Guard under Adjutant General Frank Canton to enforce it.

The injunction that race organizers obtained against the state did not impress Canton. He was a tough character who, under his real name, Joe Horner, had killed at least one man, robbed a bank and escaped from jail. Changing his identity, he signed on with the cattle barons’ Regulators in Wyoming, then became a deputy U.S. marshal.

Acting on Cruce’s orders, Canton ordered the races cancelled. He was ignored. Ten horses were hurried to the post and the starting gun sounded. As the horses thundered down the stretch, several Guardsman assembled on the track and fired into them. The horses rushed right past them to the finish line.

But that was the end of the meet. Gen. Canton ordered his men to shoot to kill any man or animal that got near the starting line, and everyone knew he meant it.

Tulsa World Editor Eugene Lorton took to the front page of his own paper to assail Cruce.

“You are making an ass of yourself,” Lorton wrote. “You are an egotistical, law-defying, self-centered bigot. It was only through the unfortunate circumstances of having a lieutenant governor who is even less trustworthy in .. mental capacity than yourself that you escaped impeachment.”

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How soccer is like a David Lynch movie, and other mysteries

I started writing about soccer in 1980. I was on the Tulsa World sports staff and, initially, wrote an occasional sidebar on the Tulsa Roughnecks of the North American Soccer League. Later, I became a more regular fixture on the soccer beat, and covered the Roughnecks during their strange run to the 1983 Soccer Bowl title.

A lot of sports writers brought up on balls and strikes and first downs didn’t like covering a sport in which a 1-1 draw was an exciting result, but I did. I can’t even say why, exactly. Maybe it was the foreignness of it. Soccer in those days was as exotic to most Americans as Dr. Who and sushi. The United States had not played in a World Cup in 30 years and wouldn’t for another 10.The North American Soccer League required each team to have at least three U.S. or Canadian players on the field at all times; a lot of those were goalkeepers and naturalized Europeans. American field players were miles behind the rest of the world, athletically and technically.

Soccer has certainly grown over the past 35 years. The U.S. has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. It’s best players now hold their own in the best leagues in the world. For the most part, though, I would have to say we still don’t get it.

My theory is that soccer is just too random and too unstructured for Americans to fully comprehend or appreciate. Soccer is a game with very few rules, and the ones it does have are often arbitrarily applied. It is officiated by a single referee responsible for a playing area larger than an American football field, with players scattered from one end to the the other and sideline to sideline. Yes, he has two assistants, and those assistants have been given more responsibility in recent years, but the referee is still in charge. What he says go. Unlike American timed sports, where an impersonal scoreboard clock ticks down the final seconds of a football or basketball game, the referee alone decides the moment a soccer match ends. His decisions carry enormous weight. By sending a player off or awarding a penalty kick, he alters the game in a way not even a baseball umpire or basketball referee can.

Every time a flag drops in an American football game, seven or eight guys in striped shirts get together to decide whether there was a penalty or not. In soccer, one man blows a whistle and that’s pretty much it.

Americans are bottom-line kind of people. They want results. All that dribbling and passing and juggling is swell but if it comes to naught 99 times out of 100, we figure we might as well go to the ballet. And about half the goals that are scored look like accidents. The ball gets blasted into a crowd, it ricochets off two or three players and goes in the net off a defender.

Every sport is a form of performance art, but soccer is more free-form than most, certainly more free-form than baseball or football and even more than professional basketball. It is a game of both structure and creativity, and we Americans seem to have trouble wrapping our minds around it.

For me, soccer is a little like a David Lynch movie. I don’t always understand it, but I can’t stop watching.

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Hard red winter wheat

Wheat harvest began on the family farm today. We are luckier than many Oklahoma wheat farmers; it has been dry this year, but not as dry as it’s been further north, west and south. We’ll have a crop. Maybe not a great crop, but a crop.

The hard red winter wheat grown in Oklahoma and the rest of the southern plains is descended from a tough strain, sometimes called Turkey red, brought to this country in the mid-19th century by Mennonite immigrants from the Crimea. According to tradition, the first kernels were smuggled into the United States inside two little girls’ dolls. From those two dolls, the story goes, came America’s amber waves of grain.

Hard red winter wheat is planted in the fall and used for grazing during the winter and early spring. Or was, before the prolonged drought and crop failures of recent years played havoc with the cattle business. The wheat grown in Oklahoma is used mostly for bread and baking.

Further north, wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, and generally used for pastas.

So there you have it. Nothing too exciting. But for the next several weeks farmers in the western half of the state, those lucky enough to have crop, will be working day and night to bring in their crops of what and barley so the rest of us can east toast every morning.


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