Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Jan. 22, 1960
January 22, 2010 | 2:00 pm
'Dead' Bill Howard Now Living New Life
The night of Nov. 16, 1958, I never quite made it to bed.
The reason was William K. Howard, a man whose obituary three months before included the vital statistics that he had been a buddy of Mickey Cohen and had drowned rather mysteriously at Newport Beach the day before he was to appear in San Bernardino Superior Court to face charges of bilking a widow of $11,000.
About 10 o'clock that night, I received a long distance call from San Francisco. The caller identified himself as the "late" Bill Howard.
"I'm at the airport," he told me. "In a few minutes I'll be taking off for Los Angeles. You'll do me a big favor if you're there to meet me.
"I've got some matters I'd like to talk over with you," he added, "and I'd like you to drive me to San Bernardino and surrender me to the sheriffs."
I drove to International Airport. And I met the "late" Mr. Howard who was very much alive. He was 40 pounds lighter than when he jumped $2,500 bail three months before, and he was disguised with a red beard and dark glasses.
On our trip to San Bernardino he told me the grim story of his life. He was a two-time loser who had spent a lifetime working his way up the ranks of the underworld. The rungs included orphanages, industrial schools, reformatories and penitentiaries.
"My 'drowning' at Newport Beach," he explained, "wasn't completely phony. What happened, the surf was rough and I was having trouble in the water. I was being swept under the pilings.
"I fought my way to the other side of the pier and when I walked back up the beach there was a crowd of women around my wife. On of them turned to me and said, 'That woman's husband just drowned.'
"The situation was made to order," the 40-year-old Howard added. "I went to a public bath house, found a shirt and a pair of pants with $5 in the pocket, and took off."
He made it to Canada, he said, where he took a job in a sawmill until the futility of his existence began to weigh heavy on him.
"I went to San Francisco, talked to Billy Graham, and then I called you. If they give me 30 years, I'll take it. I'm through running. I'm through with men like Cohen."
"I found God," he added, almost too dramatically.
I'd been a newspaperman long enough to know that, while confession is good for the soul, public confession is also a good way to try to impress the court which passes sentence on you.
My belief on Howard's sincerity when I left him at San Bernardino Sheriff's station wasn't without at least a few reservations.
But an article which ran in San Bernardino paper last week began chiseling away at my cynicism. It started:
"The 'Man Who Returned From the Dead' will be the subject of a public testimonial from William K. Howard, Sunday at First Assembly of God Church, it was announced by the Rev. Louis H. Hauff, pastor . . . "
Yesterday I called Howard.
He told me that the court had been very kind to him, that he'd done a year, and had been out on parole for a couple of months.
"I've been talking to lots of groups here," he said. "Churches, businessmen, fellowship organizations. I'm working with the local Christian Businessmen's Committee and one of our pet projects is with the Verdemont Boys Ranch.
"I can talk to them on their level," he said.
All This Takes Time
I asked him how the community had accepted him.
"The business world hasn't quite accepted me yet," he answered. "But it takes time. I take part-time jobs as I can get them -- house painting, manual labor,whatever's available. My wife -- she waited for me -- is carrying the load, selling cosmetics."
"And your plans for the future?"
"I'm going to study for the ministry. That's the goal," answered the man whose obituary a year and a half ago wasn't the final chapter in his life, after all.