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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, January 1, 1959

January 1, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

Looking Back at '58; Looking Ahead to '59

Paul_coates_2 In this business, all years go by fast. But '58, somehow, seemed to be out to break records.

It just doesn't seem like a year ago this week that I sat down with Tim Moore, TV's fabulous Kingfish, after his famous shotgun feud with his in-laws.

He told me then: "A man who's got three score and 10 years behind him ought to retire, and that's what I'm going to do.

"I'm going to go home to Rock Island," the veteran showman said. "I'm going to sit down on the porch. And I'm going to loaf.

"And," he added, "I'm going to do it slowly."

But Kingfish never quite made it home.  He died in General Hospital just before Christmas. 

In the months between, I met a lot of people, wrote a lot of stories. 

Remember Tom Garrett? Or Chauncey J. Pellow?

Garrett hit the headlines last February when he, his mother, brother and sister were held captive by a pair of desperadoes for 24 hours. 

A few days later a friend of the transplanted Kansas farm boy called and told me that Tom had recently been laid off of his job, but was refused his unemployment check for the week in which he had been held captive because technically, he was "unavailable" for any work offers during the 24-hour period he was a hostage. 

The story was printed. Gov. Knight personally forked over the $40 check to Garrett.  And, as a result of the publicity, he got a good job. (Garrett, that is, not Knight.)

It was April when Chauncey J. Pellow broke into the news--in a villain's role. The mild-mannered attorney was obligated by the will of a client to shoot an 18-year-old horse named Tom Boy.

He didn't like the job, but he felt he had an ethical obligation to fulfill. It was his client's horse.

The result of that story was a happy one, too. Atty. Pellow found a legal loophole and today Tom Boy is living in luxury.

Hunted Men in Surrender

1958_0319_briceNo reporter can honestly deny that he gets a personal thrill out of being instrumental in the capture of a criminal or wanted man. 

The year 1958 gave me a couple of those experiences. 

Six weeks ago I met William K. Howard, a two-time loser and associate of Mickey Cohen wanted for jumping $2,500 bail, at International Airport--at his request.  He agreed to let me surrender him to the San Bernardino sheriff.

Earlier in the year I held a meeting in a downtown bar with another ex-con named Berl Biggs. He confessed stealing $3,000 from the U.S. mails, cried on my shoulder a while and then let me call the cops.

But, for me, the most rewarding story involved a convicted killer named Remmel Wayne Brice. He was due to die in San Quentin's gas chamber for the murder of a liquor store owner when a stranger walked into my office with a set of facts that started me wondering. I began an investigation of my own and the further I progressed, the more I wondered if we'd be sending an innocent man to his death. I found new witnesses who swore that Brice couldn't have been near the murder scene at the time the crime was committed. 

The result was a substantial public clamor to get Brice out of death row, to give his family a chance to prove his possible innocence. 

Finally, a few months ago, Gov. Knight gave me the news: He was commuting Brice's sentence to life imprisonment, leaving the door open for a new investigation.

Now, 1959.