The continuing saga of the beast with two soles

Darryl Strawberry out-torques Torquemada; the Great Buddha of crime reporting catches a cab.


Douglas Cruickshank
April 22, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

What's to say about a week in which convicts at a British slammer
complained because they were being treated too well, and an innocent man
was sentenced to two years in jail due to a cough? At the new Wolds
Remand Prison in Hull, England, some inmates are requesting transfer to
facilities with more surly guards. Apparently they find the chummy
atmosphere between the keepers and the kept unnerving. "Hard bitten
criminals experienced 'culture shock' at the prison," Reuters reported,
"where the reception process was described as 'no more threatening than
checking in at the airport.'" And if the preceding doesn't make any
sense to you, it's because you've recently checked in at an airport.

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Also last week, a few hundred miles southwest of Wolds, in Cardiff,
Wales, the foreman of a jury faced Alan Rashid, accused of making a
threat to kill, and read the verdict: "not guilty." Unfortunately for
Rashid, another juror coughed while the verdict was being delivered --
just as the foreman said "not." The judge -- influenced, perhaps, by the
Trial of Alice -- then sentenced the perplexed Rashid to two years in
prison and off he went. It was only when a brave juror wondered aloud
why an innocent man was going to jail that the judge realized his error.
In a laudable show of fair play, he immediately freed Rashid, who was
"very relieved."

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As for luckless blokes, after being arrested last week, New York
Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who can definitely think on his
feet, explained that the cocaine found wrapped in a $20 bill in his
wallet didn't belong to him. OK, we'll accept that. And it belongs
to ...? His wife's uncle, who must have left it in Strawberry's car's
glove box the night before, said the ballplayer (amazingly enough, his wife's uncle denies it). The next day,
Strawberry removed the folded 20 from the glove box and, without
unfolding it, tucked it in his wallet. Right, if you say so. And now
would all earthlings who would first unfold the 20 please raise
their hands. That's not to suggest that events unfolded differently than
the way Strawberry tells it, but you've got to admit that when it comes
to tortured logic, he out-torques Torquemada.

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Strawberry, however, has time to put his problems behind him, unlike
Brose Gearhart. "I got nothing to say, I guess," was the best Gearhart
could do last week before being sentenced to up to four years for
selling crack cocaine out of his Saugerties, N.Y., home. Gearhart was
first busted for crack possession in 1997, and was popped again in March
1998 for felony possession with intent to sell -- the rap that's just
put him in storage. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, 43-year-old Debra Bailey,
also snagged for coke vending, is now counting down four and a half to nine years
in state prison. Saugerties police say that Gearhart was selling
$1,000 worth of crack a week and often traded the stuff for sex with
prostitutes. Maybe a stretch in the joint will give him some time to
mature. The bummer is that last Friday was the ex-dealer's birthday --
his 90th.

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I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of Chuck and Marla. If
the days of our lives flow like sand through the hourglass, then we've
got the entire Gobi coming our way at the New York trial of Chuck
Jones, the man who loved Marla Maples' shoes just a little too much. For the past week, Jones, Maples' former publicist, has been acting as his
own lawyer in a retrial that could net him four years in stir if
convicted. At his 1994 trial (conviction overturned on a technicality),
he acknowledged that his profound feelings for Maples' footwear
compelled him to bonk her Birkenstocks, which is better than to never
have loved at all. But then the heel didn't have the decency to walk
them home (we're talking 70 pairs!), and that's a felony.

According to a report in the New York Post, last Friday, Maples' mother,
Ann, broke down under Jones' cross-examination. Described
sympathetically in the Post as a "50-something Sophia Loren lookalike,"
testifying "tearily in her Georgia drawl," Ann Maples denied that she
took home the papaya-sized engagement ring that Donald Trump gave her
daughter in order to show it off to friends. "I didn't show it!" she
said. "And didn't your husband ... check its authenticity by scraping it
across a mirror?" asked the cheeky Jones. But Ann Maples didn't get a
chance to respond before the prosecutor objected, the judge sustained
and decency was restored. The miniseries, I mean trial, could go on for
weeks.

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Even though he once ran with crime's Alpha males, the tawdriness of the
Jones case would probably have amused Los Angeles Times reporter Nieson
Himmel, but we'll never get a chance to ask him. Himmel was on a first-name basis with everyone from Raymond Chandler and Mickey Cohen to
Bugsy Siegel (who you can be sure he didn't call "Bugsy"). And he'd
covered every L.A. crime story of any significance since World War II, including the "Black Dahlia," but on March 13, the last of the
old-school crime reporters caught a cab for the next world. In the Times
obituary, staff writer Miles Corwin described Himmel, 77, as " a
Buddha-like figure who stood 5 feet 7 and weighed nearly 300
pounds ... During the late 1940s, [he] cruised the city, from dusk to dawn,
with a 500-pound photographer everyone called 'Tiny,' listening to the
police dispatchers on his dashboard scanner and often arriving at crime
scenes before detectives."

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Better known around the Times for his eccentricities than his writing,
Himmel never owned a car: He was a serial renter. He'd pay the daily car
rental rate and proceed to fill the vehicle with what Corwin described
as "an odorous melange of partly eaten hamburgers, chicken bones,
fast-food wrappers, French fries and stacks of newspapers." When he
could no longer see out the rear window, he'd turn in the car and rent
another.

Among a vast array of unusual acquaintances, Himmel had counted Church
of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, with whom he shared a Pasadena
mansion in the late 1940s. "He was a guy on the make," Himmel once said.
"I couldn't stand him." Another reporter, Dick Turpin, worked with
Himmel decades ago at the Times. In an interview last week with the
Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Turpin, who now heads up a club of
retired L.A. journalists called the Old Farts Society, told how the
Great Buddha of crime reporting was honored by his friends. "We had a
silent moment for Nieson," Turpin recalled, "and because he's so big we
had two empty chairs at the bar for him."

Grab your camera, Tiny, you and Himmel are going cruising again.

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Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

MORE FROM Douglas Cruickshank

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