Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Gary Cieradkowski has designed and illustrated a baseball card for Dave Brown, which he has graciously allowed me to post. He is a fantastic artist—check out his site, where you can see more of his baseball-related work, including a Camden Yards logo and Orioles season tickets. He’s also writing a book on the Baltimore Elite Giants. (I am guessing he is from Baltimore.)
I have some news about the case of Dave Brown, the great lefthander for Rube Foster’s American Giants in the early 1920s who dropped out of sight after the murder of Benjamin Adair in New York City in 1925. As I reported a few months ago, the New York Amsterdam News carried a front page article on July 30, 1938, that announced the apprehension of Brown in Greensboro, North Carolina, and his impending extradition to New York to face murder charges:
It turns out that the case received a fair amount of coverage in the Greensboro papers. On July 16, 1938, the Greensboro Daily News carried a small item about the arrest of 30-year-old David Brown for assault:
(Greensboro Daily News, July 16, 1938, p. 4)
A week later (July 23) the Daily News reported that Brown’s “fingerprints and record” had been forwarded to the FBI, whereupon it was learned that Brown was wanted in New York City for murder:
(Greensboro Daily News, July 23, 1938, p. 16)
The city’s other daily, the Greensboro Record, weighed in with a lengthier (and somewhat different) story. You have to read it to believe it, especially the third paragraph from the end:
(Greensboro Record, July 23, 1938, p. 10)
In every other article in both newspapers (including several short items not reproduced here), the man’s name is given as Dave or David Brown, so I think the “George” here is just a reporter’s mistake. Anyway: an unusual “glossy green shirt” that Brown was wearing led detectives to connect him to the wanted poster for Dave Brown (showing him in a baseball uniform) that had circulated back in 1925. Amazingly, they seemed to think that a fugitive who had played baseball years before would still be using his own name and walking around in a baseball jersey. And it was deemed significant that this Brown “admitted” to having played ball himself.
The story evidently went out on wire services, and by July 30 the Amsterdam News had picked it up. But on July 31 the Greensboro papers reported that New York City was declining to press charges against Brown, as there was “no evidence” to justify extraditing him after thirteen years. (Greensboro Daily News, July 31, 1938, p. D10)
The papers were quite vague on the decision not to extradite and charge Brown. Were the New York police saying that they could not establish that this was in fact the right man? Or that there was not enough evidence to bring anyone to trial for the 1925 murder?
It’s possible that the files on this case still exist in Greensboro, and I think I will make some effort to get a look at them. If nothing else, I’d love to see the wanted poster for Dave Brown.
Here’s a Halloween story. You probably know about the notorious case of Dave Brown, one of the best pitchers in black baseball during the early 1920s, who apparently murdered a man in New York in 1925 and became a fugitive. Here is the original story in the New York Amsterdam News, published the day after the murder (April 29, 1925), before the identity of the assailant was known:
It turned out that Brown, who evidently pulled the trigger, was accompanied by Oliver Marcell and Frank Wickware. Here’s an item from the column “Sport Pickups,” written by the pseudonymous “Expert,” in the Pittsburgh Courier a week and a half later (May 9, 1925):
Brown, it is said, played in the west under false names in ensuing years. According to James Riley, “Unverified reports also persist that he died in Denver, Colorado, under mysterious circumstances” (Biographical Encyclopedia, p. 118).
Well, I recently ran across this item, on the front page of the Amsterdam News on July 30, 1938:
That is certainly the murder that Dave Brown was supposed to have committed. I have so far not been able to find any follow up in the Amsterdam News, or mentions in other papers. Could this have been a case of mistaken identity? It’s worth noting that nowhere in this item is Brown identified as a ballplayer. Perhaps the Amsterdam News editor who pulled this from a wire service (or wherever he got it) simply didn’t make the connection, and the baseball world never realized that Brown had been captured?
It seems to me that this should be relatively easy to check in police and court records, especially in New York. If someone was tried for the murder of Benjamin Adair, we should be able to find it.
UPDATE 11/2/2008 In the comments Scott Simkus reminds me about this article (which I’d linked to a while back) on the Pipestone (Minnesota) Black Sox, a black team that in 1926 featured “Lefty Wilson,” who was supposed to have been the fugitive Dave Brown.
UPDATE 3/14/2009 See the latest research on the supposed apprehension of Dave Brown in Greensboro.
Check out this article about the Pipestone Black Sox of Minnesota, an independent African-American team that played in 1926. The big story here is that the authors believe that Dave Brown, the brilliant pitcher who went on the lam after killing a man in a bar fight in 1925, played for the Black Sox under the name “Lefty Wilson.” They also identify a couple of other black big leaguers on the team, including “Lightner.” I’m not sure whether they have independent evidence that this Lightner was the same guy who pitched with the Monarchs in 1920, or if they just looked up his name in Riley’s encyclopedia (which they cite).