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.

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.

 

The Weirdest Damn Building in Tacoma, Washington

I have no idea what the place is.

I have no idea who built it.

I have no idea what purpose it serves, if any.

I only know that, just outside the south side of the Tacoma Dome parking lot, north side of Bull’s Eye Indoor Shooting Range, there stands a building advertising dentistry for 25 cents.

It is, in short, the most beautifully bizarre and weirdest thing in the city of Tacoma. The only possible competition I know of, in fact, is the mysterious suspended bike of Ruston.

As you can see in this photograph, there’s a blue door, a tooth promoting 25 cent dentistry, and a dental chair perched atop an overhang. I don’t know whether the dental work is done on that chair or whether it’s purely ornamental (I hope for the former).

I imagine an old man with a twisted spine and a lab coat two sizes too small for his body scrambling up to the chair at night and performing dental surgery by moonlight. For all ailments, the same solution: removal of every tooth in the mouth.

And yes, that is an enlarged toothbrush just above the door, as well. Let’s not forget that bizarre piece of evidence.

The door is always locked and, far as I can tell, gives no indication as to what is inside.

Also, on the broad side of this most bizarre of buildings is another strange sight, facing an alleyway with a crumbling warehouse on the other side.

Several “windows” are marked out with blue tape, but no actual windows are there. I would say that the tape had been put there as outlines for carpenters to cut actual windows into, but that doesn’t make sense. You don’t cut windows into a building from the outside, far as I know.

Besides, these tape-windows have been on this wall for at least three years. I recall first seeing them that long ago.

There’s no way this oddity is accidental. Somewhere out there is a beautifully mad surrealist who has turned this building into a work of psychotic art.

I’m throwing this story out into the Supreme World Net to see what kicks back. Someone out there, surely, knows the story behind this place.

Contact me. Tell the Northwest Nomad from where this strange place comes, and why. I’ll buy you a beer, and if I buy you one, it’ll probably become twelve.

Is 25 cent dentistry any good? I must know.

Until then, thank you, Weird Architect, Builder of the Strange, whoever thou art who made this mystery a reality. Tacoma owes you a debt of curiosity and wonder.