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A rambling man

September 6, 2007 |  8:32 am



Sept. 6, 1957
Los Angeles

1957_0906_speedie_pix Kindly, mild-mannered and quiet, The Traveler, 51, was the last person anyone would suspect of a crime. He seemed more like a Sunday school teacher, which he had been, or perhaps an itinerant newsman. In fact, he  had worked at newspapers throughout the West, including jobs as a reporter, rewrite man and copy editor in Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City.

But beneath that disarming facade, The Traveler was a bitter, vindictive man. Wrongly accused of writing a bad check in 1942, "he determined to revenge himself by becoming a forger," The Times said. For the next 15 years, The Traveler crisscrossed the nation, writing half a million dollars in bad checks in nearly every state before being arrested in Middleburg Heights, Ohio.

A search of his 1949 auto revealed a printing press, photo equipment, a tape recorder and a detailed list of his forgeries. At his base of operations in Los Angeles, police found $100,000 in loot neatly stored in five locked sheds behind the home of Bernie and Fay Branch, 15416 Monte St., Sylmar.

"Why, he didn't look like he had that much intelligence," Fay Branch told detectives.  "I thought he was a real nice guy but a complete failure in life."

Being nondescript worked to The Traveler's advantage and he used a simple but effective method: He always stayed 20 miles from where he committed his crimes and earned a victim's trust by paying cash for a few minor items before making a larger purchase with a bad check for $65 to $85 ($465.74-$609.05 USD 2006).

A success at crime, The Traveler was hopeless in the business world. At times, he tried to go straight and ran a hamburger stand and prospected for uranium, but when those efforts failed, he returned to easy money. "I was well aware of what I was doing, but it was a conflict between my conscience and expediency," he said.

"I wasn't particularly smart. It was just that merchants are so careless. Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley are among the toughest places in the country to cash phony checks. Cooperation between police and merchants is very close," he said.

The Traveler perhaps got careless in Oregon, where Lane County sheriff's investigators noticed him staying in a motel about the time a number of bad checks were reported. Oregon investigators sent his license plate number to the LAPD for further inquiry.

Although The Traveler wasn't home, information led Sgt. D.R. Sheldon of the Valley Division to The Traveler's storage sheds in Sylmar. In a cache that eventually measured 6 feet high, 6 feet wide and 100 feet long, police found photo equipment, canned good, appliances, record albums, electric guitars and scores of road maps, The Times said, along with a copy of "How to Use Your Imagination to Make Money." The LAPD also found information indicating that The Traveler was in Ohio.

The Traveler was convicted in Los Angeles and sentenced to one to 14 years in prison. Although he used 350 aliases, police said, his real name was Charles Robert Speedie.

We don't know what happened after that. The Social Security Death Index shows that Speedie died June 4, 1988, in Jessup, Ga. But I wonder: Did he retire or was he at the federal prison there?

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