Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: The Story of a Little Black Lamb

Thousand-Dollar Bill Makes Staid Mill Valley Sit Up And See Things. That was the front page headline on the March 8, 1922, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. Clerk Shot By Bandit, $2,250 Taken proclaimed the San Francisco Examiner on the same day. Both articles told the story of the robbery of Harold L. Craig, a 22-year-old clerk in the San Francisco office of Standard Oil. Craig was returning to his Mill Valley home in Marin County when he was accosted by an armed robber and shot when he confronted that robber. After shooting Craig in the chest, the robber searched him, stealing a $750 diamond ring he had just purchased for his bride of four months and the $1500 in cash Craig was carrying to purchase a car. Craig's cries for help alerted his neighbors. He was taken to San Rafael hospital, while the sheriff organized a posse to search for the bandit. Adding to the hullabaloo, a fire broke out in Mill Valley, so half the posse members returned to fight the fire, while the remainder continued their search in the direction of Sausalito. The posse did not find the bandit, and William Salley, Mill Valley town clerk and a member of the posse, lost his home in the fire.

Harold Craig was reported to have inherited $20,000 from an uncle. His wife, the former Louise Gilliam Nye, was hinting strongly that some of that inheritance should be used for her benefit. Craig had promised her a diamond ring and an automobile before they were married, and she thought she had waited long enough. Craig, therefore, withdrew some of his inheritance and went to a San Francisco jewelry store where he purchased the ring with a thousand-dollar bill. He assumed that the robber had seen him at the bank or the jewelry store and followed him home. Craig's story was questioned, however, when two boys told Sheriff J. J. Keating they had seen Craig go home from the train depot without being accosted by anyone.

The next day's papers proclaimed the hoax: Victim of 'Robbery' Confesses He Shot Himself to Deceive Bride. Craig admitted to the sheriff that both his bride and his creditors were pressing him, and so he framed the story to account for his lack of money. Further investigation showed that he had not bought a diamond ring in the jewelry store, but had left one of his wife's rings there to be reset. He had not withdrawn any money, and he was not employed by Standard Oil, but he "declined to say where he works."

The story is not over. On day three, both papers reported another reversal. Craig Denies His Confession is the Examiner headline, while the Chronicle reports Craig Returns to Claim That Thug Shot Him. Harold told his family and his doctor that he confessed to the shooting under duress. "[T]hat was what the police seemed to want and I was tired of being questioned." The police never found the pistol, and Craig's doctor said, "If he deliberately shot himself in the shoulder without suicidal intent, it was a phenomenal demonstration of nerve."

What is the truth of my little black lamb's story? The only follow-up I've found was a small blurb a few days later about Craig's "true blue" wife, but I haven't searched Marin County court records for any trial resulting from this event. Harold and Louise (Nye) Craig had two children and continued to live in Mill Valley for at least twenty more years. It appears that the couple had separated by 1944, however, when Louise is still living in Mill Valley, but Craig, a telephone installer, had moved to San Francisco. He probably met Lorna (Goss) Lambert, a Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operator, on his job. Harold and Lorna married, probably before 1949, and moved to San Rafael in 1951. Harold Craig died in 1975 and Louise (Nye) Craig died in 1984. My interest in this story, however, derives from my research on Lorna (Goss) (Lambert) Craig. She was my father's oldest sibling, a half-sister he didn't know existed. His older siblings did, and they had tried to locate her, without success. My daughter found her in 1997 - in Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California. She had died in 1993.

1 comment:

dustbunny8 said...

Ah!Family drama!Not a 21st century invention by any means!Interesting family story you have sad that your father did not get to meet his sister before she died,thank you for sharing this.