Murder of a City, Tacoma: Introduction and Preface

My Plan to Chronicle Murder of a City, Tacoma

I’ve been trying to figure the best way to cover Murder of a City, Tacoma. The book is long out of print. As of this moment, I can’t find any copies for sale online. Thus, it appears I was highly fortunate to snap a copy of this weird slice of Tacoma history, and I want to share its contents with the public in the best manner possible.

Covering the book is no easy task, however. This wild little tale is packed full of information.

I fear that too broad an overview will be too shallow. Likewise, I fear that too detailed of a reading will bore readers back to their television screens. I’m a fan of “long form reading” (which I used to just call “reading”), but I’m a realist, and I understand that most readers these days want things in small chunks.

So, in that spirit, I’ll be covering one chapter of Murder of a City at a time, keeping each post under 1,500 words. This first post is slightly different, as the Introduction and Preface are short enough to cram into one story.

Disclaimer

I intend to write about Murder of a City, Tacoma, as it stands on its own two feet. Later I will dig into other historical accounts and test the veracity of Crisman’s story, but here, I’m just sharing what’s inside this rare book.

Murder of a City, Tacoma, is about a political war that took place in the late 1960s. It was written by one of the information soldiers in that war. As such, it’s full of mud-slinging and accusation.

Most, if not all, of the central characters are dead now. I’m not concerned about law suits. However, I want to make clear out of respect for the dead and out of the desire to preserve my own credibility, that I do not endorse any of Crisman’s claims (nor do I disavow them).

I’ll research and present what I find later. For now, I’m just covering what’s inside this book.

So, with no further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Murder of a City, Tacoma.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Introduction

Dedication in Murder of a City, Tacoma. It reads "To Fred Crisman, Jr., who gave up his summer for "The Murder of a City." JGMurder of a City, Tacoma opens with Crisman’s dedication to his son. Here, you can see it signed “JG,” which refers to the author-name on the book’s cover: Jon Gold.

Jon Gold was a pseudonym used by Crisman, not only for this book but during the time written of in the took. The reason why he chose to go this pseudonymous route is explained in the Preface section below.

The book’s Introduction is one page written by Virginia Shackelford in August 1970. I’m not exactly sure who Shackelford was, but I did find someone with her name as a 1983 recipient of a Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award. If this is the same woman, I can’t be sure. I’ll dig more into this later.

Shackelford’s description of Gold/Crisman can only be described as “epic,” in the truest sense of the word.

“He burst like a bombshell upon the political scene,” Shackelford wrote. “Fast talking, abrasive, highly opinionated, aggressive…JON GOLD! He was a new radio commentator with an evening talk show, and he stirred immediate interest and aroused even more immediate support and opposition.”

She describes Gold’s talk show as having “fire and a drive that fascinated all who listened, whether they disagreed or agreed with his political stance.”

Shackelford then contrasts this description of a larger-than-life Gold against a much more pedestrian one of Crisman.

“Then…there is the man Fred L. Crisman. Quiet, soft-spoken, diffident by nature, he is totally different from his alter-ego, but, it is as Jon Gold that he will be remembered in Tacoma.”

Shackelford finishes her introduction by saying that Crisman gave her and the city of Tacoma hope.

“For those of us who had long fought to bring a more representative form of government to our torn city, and who had waged an almost impossible battle against a monopoly in the news media, Jon Gold became a fulcrum which helped us upset the balance of power and to give us some hope that we might triumph at long last.”

(To put these statements into context, one has to understand that Tacoma was to the 60s–90s what Detroit, Michigan, is to 2018…a corrupt, violent, economically depressed wasteland.)

Into this scene of ruin and despair charged one Fred L. Crisman, riding under an alter ego, as any good superhero should.

Dramatic stuff.

Trust me, though, the book only gets wilder.

Preface

The preface is written by Crisman himself, under the name Jon Gold. It’s his condemnation not only of the corruption of Tacoma specifically, but also about the inherent corruption of any form of “City Management.”

I don’t know exactly what, if any, classification Crisman would give his political belief system, but he’s clearly and unambiguously suspicious of government power. I suspect he’d call himself a Libertarian today, but I can’t be sure about that. His hatred for government seems so deep that for all I know he would have called himself a full-blown anarchist.

Crisman explains that the story told in Murder of a City happened between 1967 and 1970. He wastes little time before going on the attack.

“I have stated on radio, television, and in print that City Manager government is the most wasteful, inefficient, bumbling, and dishonest form of government ever devised by men for the grabbing of a dishonest dollar,” Crisman wrote.

“It is a pure dictatorship, and it is based on corruption,” he went on. “That may seem to be a strong statement, however, for a City Manager form of government to operate at all, it must have a compatibility between the controlling majority of the city council and the man picked as Manager of the city. Any city manager, worth his title, is aware that he must please that Majority to keep his job, and there is usually one thing in their mind that pleases them most of all and that is money!”

(To me, Crisman has an endearing habit of using exclamation marks quite profusely. Others may be put off by the style.)

The rest of the Preface continues much like the quoted portion above. Many, I think, would call it a rant. Far as I can tell, though, one man’s “rant” is another man’s righteous monologue against injustice, and until I know more about the veracity of his claims I won’t label it one way or the other.

Crisman explains an aspect of Tacoma corruption that will figure importantly into the story: “One of the best weapons that City Management has is the ‘false charge’ and that usually takes the form of making an all out attack upon its critics by branding them as criminals. That was a favorite tactic of the Tacoma City Management and it has a record of character assassination that is a horrible thing to examine.”

It is because of that City Management track record for criminal accusation, I presume, that Crisman changed his name to Gold.

Crisman’s Fight Was Personal

Crisman was born in Tacoma, but he’d been gone for a long time before returning to live out the events described in this book. He’d left for the east coast after serving as a fighter pilot in WWII (this is the claim, anyway, and again I haven’t verified his military record…just going by the book and general mythology).

In the Preface for Murder of a City, Tacoma, Crisman explains that he came home to find “what had happened to my home town in the many years I had been gone. It turned out to be a mounting story of terror tactics, graft, dishonest and political police, blackmail, and crimes for almost every description committed in the name of ‘clean government.'”

Crisman concludes, “There was little doubt that Tacoma had fallen into the hands of the Far Left and it was to be a well kept secret for many years and it is a matter that is being argued at this very hour…It turns out to be a close and political life of the city. It turns out to be a close knit small band of conspirators against he common good! All of them in the far, far Left of Liberal politics.”

Crisman gives a respectful account of Tacoma’s first City Manager, one Fred Backstrom. Crisman describes him as a man “who seems to have made a sincere effort to make the city manager form of government work.”

According to Crisman, Backstrom was unfairly criticized for his “conservative views on public finance and the attitude towards large federal grants of tax money for the city!”

After Backstrom left, Crisman says, David Rowlands of Eur Claire, Wisconsin, moved in. This is where we meet our primary villain.

“Rowlands is a cruel, vain man with an icy coldness that freezes one’s ability to speak directly to him,” Crsiman writes. “Fond of referring to himself in the third person, his ego and his temperament were not suited to the needs of the city or to those who had been at work in Tacoma to make it a better town.”

The above description is consistent with the remainder of Crsiman’s presentation of Rowlands—a man the author gives no quarter.

Tacoma News-Tribune

Crisman then fingers the Tacoma News-Tribune as the propaganda arm of Rowlands’ establishment.

“Directly from the handbook of the International City Managers Association comes the direct planning of Rowlands. It directs all city manager thinking. Part of that thinking is to supply the local press with advantages that will lead them into total support. The Tribune was given every tax-break possible, it was given a direct re-zoning in the middle of a proper residential district to erect a 200 foot steel tower of the instillation of a TV station and radio broadcast area…The Tribune prospered and Rowlands was painted to the citizens as a White Knight on a White Horse.”

Crisman, it’s safe to say, disagrees with the Tribune‘s presentation of Rowlands (to put it euphemistically).

This is the historical backdrop Crisman paints for us: Tacoma, a city dying in the clutches of a corrupt political machine as blindly and unremittingly evil as a fantasy novel monster.

“All of this leads up to late 1966 and my return to my home town, a broken, beaten, desert of rubble that resembled a bombed out area in Eastern Europe.”

Crisman came home to find his city in shambles, and he decided to do something about that. That “something” is accounted for in the remainder of Murder of a City.

Crisman’s Sign-Off

In regards to the final paragraph in the Preface, I can’t resist from adding a little commentary for those unfamiliar with Tacoma history.

I live in Tacoma right now (2018), at a time when we’re experiencing a continual renewal that’s been going for over a decade.

Sunset Magazine declared Tacoma the best place to move to in the Pacific Northwest in 2018. Our art scene is thriving. Our job market is strengthening. It’s a good place. I love living here.

But, back there in 1970, Crisman ended his Preface with the statement:

“I have called this story: The Murder of a City, and I am sure that you will agree that if the city ever recovers from the heavy damages that wounded it, it will be so close a call, so narrow a margin of escape, that it will not change the title. For the Tacoma that I knew died under the crushing heel of a 13 year dictatorship every bit as cruel, heartless, and bitter as any that has ever existed!”

And with that, I’ll close this first post. Chapter 1 coming soon…

Northwest Nuggets: Fred Crisman’s Murder of a City, Tacoma

Fred Crisman, UFOs, and the Murder of a City

The Maury Island Incident is a well-known (though perhaps not as well-known as it should be) Washington state UFO event. Whether you consider the event to be a legitimate UFO contact or just a hoax, it’s a story that lives on to this day, and Fred Crisman played an important role in it.

Less well-known than the “Incident” is that Crisman was also involved in a weird aspect of the John F. Kennedy assassination, being fingered as one of the “Three Tramps.”

Even LESS well-known than that is that Crisman spent years raising hell around the city of Tacoma under the pseudonym “Jon Gold.”

As “Jon Gold,” Crisman ran a radio show spreading what some call “conspiracy theory” and others call “investigative journalism.” Much like the UFO stuff, it really depends on which side of the aisle you choose to stand.

Out of those Gold radio shows was spawned a book titled Murder of a City, Tacoma, published in 1970. The Northwest Nomad recently got his hands on a copy of that fascinating slice of weird history.

Murder of a City, Tacoma was written off in its day as a “rant” and basically a bunch of paranoid conspiratorial lunacy. I’m partway through the book, and it doesn’t seem that way to me.

I need to research and verify the stuff he’s saying, of course, but so far, the book reads more like an expose of the political corruption Crisman says afflicted Tacoma in that time.

Whether there was any meat to Crisman’s claims remains to be seen, but we do know that Tacoma was a city in dire straits in the 1970s and all the way up to the 2000s, when the city’s famously successful revitalization effort began to take hold. It doesn’t seem (to me, anyway) to be a major stretch that there may indeed have been a lot of corruption in the city at that time.

The Northwest Nuggets series is designed for little slices of Northwest history and travel, so I’ll be doing a full examination of the book in another post. Here, I just wanted to bring The Murder of a City, Tacoma to light.

(UPDATE: I’ve started covering Murder of a City, Tacoma in earnest here.)

New Maury Island Incident Film Sheds New Light on an Old Legend

For me, one of the highlights of the UFO/Paranormal Conference at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino was their showing of The Maury Island Incident.

The film, now being shown on select dates around the Pacific Northwest, dramatizes one of the most fascinating events in Washington state history, and one of the most significant UFO events (or hoaxes, depending on where you stand on the issue) ever.

That event is known as the Maury Island Incident, and it just happened to be the event that spawned the “Men in Black” myth.

The event took place on June 21, 1947, just off the shore of Maury Island (same location as Point Robinson Lighthouse), which is just off Vashon Island, which itself is a short ferry ride from Tacoma‘s shore.

During the event that would come to be called the Maury Island Incident, Fred Crisman and Harold Dahl were working on a harbor patrol boat when six UFOs appeared in the sky.

One of the doughnut-shaped objects emitted a lava-like substance onto the boat. The impact of the substance killed the dog on board and broke a man’s arm. The men initially spoke about the event, but eventually the official story became that it was all a simple hoax cooked up to win the pair a spot in Fantasy magazine.

The new Maury Island Incident film, however, uses newly declassified FBI documents to make the case that the hoax claim was a lie made out of fear after Dahl and Crisman were harassed by unidentified men wearing black suits.

These “men in black” appeared to be unrelated to the FBI or the Air Force personnel also sent to investigate the situation. No one’s really sure who they represented.

If they were real, though, they managed to frighten two hardy Pacific Northwesterners enough that they destroyed their own reputations and said they’d been hoaxing everyone the whole time.

My purpose in this post isn’t to give away the new information contained in the film nor to fully recap the whole Maury Island Incident story, but instead to encourage readers to check out the film and the rest of the story.

The film is half-an-hour long and very well made, so much so that it can be enjoyed purely as a fictional movie, if the reader is not a UFO believer at all.

In the short space of 30 minutes, the movies packs in a whole lot of intrigue and emotion. I felt connected to the characters despite the relative brevity of the film and the broad scope of the events packed into that short time frame.

It’s well worth checking out, whether you’re a devout believer, a devout non-believer, or just someone interested in one of the most fascinating, iconic events in Washington state history.

 

Northwest Nuggets Series: Nirvana’s Polly and the Creepy Story of Gerald Friend

The story of Gerald Friend, which inspired Nirvana’s “Polly,” isn’t a pleasant one. In fact, it’s downright disturbing.

In June of 1987, a 14-year-old girl was walking home from a concert at the Tacoma Dome when a stranger pulled his car over and offered her a ride. The girl accepted. There was no way for her to know she was getting into a car with a monster, but she would quickly find out.

The stranger’s name was Gerald Friend. He pulled a knife on the girl and took her to his mobile home. Once there, he tied her hands to a pulley attached to his ceiling. Over the course of the ensuing days, he raped and tortured her repeatedly.

Eventually the victim escaped. While Friend stopped at a gas station, she broke free from the vehicle and got help. The next day police pulled Friend over for a traffic violation. They recognized him and arrested him for the abduction.

Saddest of all in this story is that Gerald Friend shouldn’t have been on the streets to begin with. The 14-year-old girl hadn’t been his first victim.

The story of Gerald Friend and his debauchery had actually started 27 years before that Tacoma Dome attack, in July of 1960, in the town of Sumner a little ways outside of Tacoma. It was there that Gerald Friend kidnapped a 12-year-old girl while she was hitchhiking with her brother.

Friend assaulted the girl sexually, beat her, and cut her hair. The victim managed to escape and jumped into a river.

Friend hid in a field near his house. His father eventually discovered him. After a scuffle, Friend was injured and taken to a hospital, where he was arrested.

Gerald Friend was sentenced to 75 years in prison after his first attack, but he was paroled early in 1980, despite the violence of his first offense and despite two escapes. Seven years later, he took his second victim, a 14-year-old kid just trying to get home after a show.

After Friend’s second crime, he was sentenced to finish his original 75 year sentence, with another 75 year sentence on top of it. None of that helps his victims or changes the fact that Friend shouldn’t have been on the loose to begin with when he took that second victim. The girl later sued the state for the early parole.

Kurt Cobain read about Gerald Friend and his second victim in a local newspaper. From that story, he wrote the song “Polly.”

Cobain was no stranger to Tacoma, either. While he is primarily associated today with Aberdeen and Seattle, Cobain played quite a few gigs in Tacoma.

It was in Tacoma, in fact, that Nirvana first played under the name Nirvana. Previously they’d called themselves Ted Ed Fred, Skid Row, and Fecal Matter. They first used the name Nirvana in a place called the World Community Theater, which lasted only about a year but hosted many big acts of the era.

“Polly” makes no bones about what it’s meant to be. The song is catchy but also creepy and morose. Knowing that it narrates a true story only makes it more disturbing.

The song’s horrific backstory seems somewhat odd, really, considering that Cobain was so outspoken about women’s rights and about compassion. Years later, Cobain was deeply disturbed to hear that two men raped a girl while singing “Polly” to her.

What, exactly, inspired Cobain to write a song about someone who must have disgusted him is unclear, but the creative mind is a multifaceted thing. Besides, there’s obviously something compelling enough to have kept people listening nearly 30 years later.

 

This is part of my Northwest Nuggets series.

Talking Ghosts at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma

Interesting Conversation

One of the great things about being the Northwest Nomad is that I have a permanent excuse to drink beer and chat with strangers at bars. It’s what I call “conducting research,” and I’ve found all kinds of interesting informational nuggets out there that way. A couple days ago I had such an encounter at Alfred’s Cafe in Tacoma.

I’ve been to Alfred’s Cafe a few times before. It’s one of my favorite breakfast spots in Tacoma, in fact. On this day, though, I heard something very intriguing — Alfred’s is haunted!

I’ve ordered some books to see what I can verify about the restaurant’s paranormal past, but for now I want to relate what I heard as I heard it, because it was an interesting conversation for sure.

Alfred’s Cafe: The Woman in the Corner

My conversation with the bartender and the patron turned to ghosts when the lights in the building started flickering. They did so in two clusters, roughly five flickers each, set about a minute apart. I didn’t think much of it, but the bartender and the patron smiled knowingly at each other.

I asked what they were smirking about, and they proceeded to tell me that it was probably the ghosts at it again.

The nuts and bolts of the tale are the standard pictures-falling-off-walls and mysterious-footsteps kind of stuff, but one particular aspect of the tale lent it more validity than the typical haunting story.

At least two Alfred’s Cafe employees have quit the restaurant after seeing the reflection of a woman sitting in the corner of the eating area. The sightings occurred on two separate occasions, while they employees were shutting down at night.

Quitting one’s place of employment isn’t the sort of thing people normally do for a hoax, especially not a hoax that brings them no fame or fortune.

The Little Girl in the Window

Alfred’s restaurant occupies the bottom floor of one of the oldest buildings in Tacoma. That bottom floor has been renovated for the modern age, but the upper two floors remain as they were when the building was built. There’s a massive grand staircase that connects the top two floors (the employees told me about this). The staircase used to run down to the ground-level floor, too, but it was taken out a few years ago.

The upper two floors are today used only for storage, giving plenty of time and space for the ghosts to scamper about at will.

One of the entities living up there, I am told, is a little girl who can occasionally be seen looking out of one of the top-story windows. But how did she get there in the first place? Well, the story behind that little bit is rather interesting.

Prostitutes and their Daughters

The reason why ghost is a young girl and the other is a grown woman lies in the history of the structure.

The building that now houses Alfred’s used to be a brothel. This much I was actually able to verify with some internet sleuthing.

Brothels were notoriously dark and violent places in early America, and the legend is that some ugly, ugly things went down in the building that now houses Alfred’s — things as ugly as murder. Does this mean the woman’s ghost is some ill-fated prostitute? We can’t be sure, of course, though evidence leans that way.

As for the little girl, the Bull’s Eye indoor shooting range across the parking lot from Alfred’s was supposedly once a school for little girls. The prostitutes working the brothel would send their daughters over there during the “work” day.

Well, according to legend, decades ago that school burned down, killing seven girls.

So, perhaps the woman and the little girl are mother and daughter?

Or, perhaps there’s a whole host of women and little-girl ghosts there, singing and crying to each other. Maybe the many sightings have actually been of multiple different people.

There’s no way to know for sure, but I do intend to find out.

Let the Paranormal Adventure Begin

The Alfred’s conversation has inspired me to add a new section to this blog and a new mission to my travels. I’m going to begin covering paranormal destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ll get to the bottom of this Alfred’s thing soon enough. I’ve got my books coming, and I’m going to do some gumshoeing.

So, stay tuned, friends. Also, please do let me know if you’ve got any tips on this or any other Pacific Northwest paranormal story.