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The Ghosts of the Tsunami

Illustration by Dadu Shin

Richard Lloyd Parry | Ghosts of the Tsunami | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | October 2017 | 19 minutes (5,224 words)

I met a priest in northern Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until autumn of that year, but Reverend Kaneta’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was the chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on March 11 was the most violent that he or anyone he knew had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water, and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Reverend Kaneta’s temple with corpses to bury.

More than eighteen thousand people had died at a stroke. In the space of a month, Reverend Kaneta performed funeral services for two hundred of them. More appalling than the scale of death was the spectacle of the bereaved survivors. “They cry,” Kaneta said. “There was no emotion at all. The loss was so profound, and death had come so suddenly. They understood the facts of their situation individually — that they had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, and lost their families. They understood each piece, but they couldn’t see it as a whole, and they couldn’t understand what they should do, or sometimes even where they were. I couldn’t really talk to them, to be honest. All I could do was stay with them, and read the sutras and conduct the ceremonies. That was the thing I could do.”

Amid this numbness and horror, Reverend Kaneta received a visit from a man he knew, a local builder whom I will call Takeshi Ono.

***

Ono was ashamed of what had happened, and didn’t want his real name to be published. It was difficult at first to understand the reason for this shame. He was a strong, stocky man in his late thirties, the kind of man most comfortable in blue overalls, with a head of youthfully dense and tousled hair. “He’s such an innocent person,” Reverend Kaneta said to me. “He takes everything at face value. You’re from England, aren’t you? He’s like your Mr. Bean.” I wouldn’t have gone so far because there was nothing ridiculous about Ono. But there was a dreamy ingenuousness about him, which made the story he told all the more believable.

He had been at work on a house when the earthquake struck. He clung to the ground for as long as it lasted; even his truck shook as if it was about to topple over. The drive home, along roads without traffic lights, was alarming, but the physical damage was remarkably slight: a few telegraph poles lolling at an angle, toppled garden walls. As the owner of a small building firm, he was perfectly equipped to deal with the practical inconveniences inflicted by the earthquake. Ono spent the next few days busying himself with camping stoves, generators, and jerrycans, and paying little attention to the news.

But once television was restored, it was impossible to be unaware of what had happened. Ono watched the endlessly replayed image of the explosive plume above the nuclear reactor, and the mobile-phone films of the black wave crunching up ports, houses, shopping centers, cars, and human figures. These were places he had known all his life, fishing towns and beaches just over the hills, an hour’s drive away. And the spectacle of their destruction produced in Ono a sensation of glassy detachment, a feeling common at that time, even among those most directly stricken by displacement and bereavement.

“My life had returned to normal,” he told me. “I had gasoline, I had an electricity generator, no one I knew was dead or hurt. I hadn’t seen the tsunami myself, not with my own eyes, so I felt as if I was in a kind of dream.”

Ten days after the disaster, Ono, his wife, and his widowed mother drove over the mountains to see for themselves.

They left in the morning in good spirits, stopped on the way to go shopping, and reached the coast in time for lunch. For most of the way, the scene was familiar: brown rice fields, villages of wood and tile, bridges over wide, slow rivers. Once they had climbed into the hills, they passed more and more emergency vehicles, not only those of the police and fire services, but the green trucks of the Self-Defense Forces. As the road descended towards the coast, their jaunty mood began to evaporate. Suddenly, before they understood where they were, they had entered the tsunami zone.

There was no advance warning, no marginal area of incremental damage. The wave had come in with full force, spent itself, and stopped at a point as clearly defined as the reach of a high tide. Above it, nothing had been touched; below it, everything was changed.

This was the point at which shame entered Ono’s narrative, and he became reluctant to describe in detail what he did or where he went. “I saw the rubble, I saw the sea,” he said. “I saw buildings damaged by the tsunami. It wasn’t just the things themselves, but the atmosphere. It was a place I used to go so often. It was such a shock to see it. And all the police and soldiers there. It’s difficult to describe. It felt dangerous. My first thought was that this is terrible. My next feeling was ‘Is it real?’”

***

Ono, his wife, and his mother sat down for dinner as usual that evening. He remembered that he drank two small cans of beer with the meal. Afterward, and for no obvious reason, he began calling friends on his mobile phone. “I’d just ring and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ — that kind of thing,” he told me. “It wasn’t that I had much to say. I don’t know why, but I was starting to feel very lonely.”

His wife had already left the house when he woke the next morning. Ono had no particular work of his own and passed an idle day at home. His mother bustled in and out, but she seemed mysteriously upset, even angry. When his wife returned from her office, she was similarly tense.

“Is something wrong?” Ono asked.

“I’m divorcing you!” she replied.

“Divorce? But why? Why?”

And so his wife and mother described the events of the night before, after the round of needy phone calls. How Ono had jumped down onto all fours and begun licking the tatami mats and futon and squirmed on them like a beast. How at first they had nervously laughed at his tomfoolery, but had been silenced when he began snarling, “You must die. You must die. Everyone must die. Everything must die and be lost.” In front of the house was an unsown field, and Ono had run out into it and rolled over and over in the mud, as if he was being tumbled by a wave, shouting, “There, over there! They’re all over there — look!” Then he had stood up and walked out into the field, calling, “I’m coming to you. I’m coming over to that side,” before his wife physically wrestled him back into the house. The writhing and bellowing went on all night until, around five in the morning, Ono cried out, “There’s something on top of me,” collapsed, and fell asleep.

“My wife and my mother were so anxious and upset,” he said. “Of course, I told them how sorry I was. But I had no memory of what I did or why.”

It went on for three nights.

The next evening, as darkness fell, he saw figures walking past the house: parents and children, a group of young friends, a grandfather and a child. “The people were covered in mud,” he said. “They were no more than twenty feet away, and they stared at me, but I wasn’t afraid. I just thought, ‘Why are they in those muddy things? Why don’t they change their clothes? Perhaps their washing machine’s broken.’ They were like people I might have known once or seen before somewhere. The scene was flickering, like a film. But I felt perfectly normal, and I thought that they were just ordinary people.”

The next day, Ono was lethargic and inert. At night, he would lie down, sleep heavily for ten minutes, then wake up as lively and refreshed as if eight hours had passed. He staggered when he walked, glared at his wife and mother, and even waved a knife. “Drop dead!” he would snarl. “Everyone else is dead, so die!”

After three days of pleading by his family, he went to Reverend Kaneta at the temple. “His eyes were dull,” Kaneta said. “Like a person with depression after taking their medication. I knew at a glance that something was wrong.” Ono recounted the visit to the coast, and his wife and mother described his behavior in the days since. “The Reverend was looking hard at me as I spoke,” Ono said, “and in part of my mind, I was saying, ‘Don’t look at me like that, you bastard. I hate your guts! Why are you looking at me?’”

Kaneta took Ono by the hand and led him, tottering, into the main hall of the temple. “He told me to sit down. I was not myself. I still remember that strong feeling of resistance. But part of me was also relieved — I wanted to be helped and to believe in the priest. The part of me that was still me wanted to be saved.”

Kaneta beat the temple drum as he chanted the Heart Sutra:

There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue,
no body, mind; no color, sound, or smell;
no taste, no touch, no thing; no realm of sight,
no realm of thoughts; no ignorance, no end
to ignorance; no old age and no death;
no end to age and death; no suffering,
nor any cause of suffering, nor end
to suffering, no path, no wisdom
and no fulfillment.

Ono’s wife told him later how he pressed his hands together in prayer and how, as the priest’s recitation continued, they rose high above his head as if being pulled from above.

gone gone gone beyond
gone altogether beyond
O what an awakening
— all hail!

The priest splashed him with holy water, and then abruptly Ono returned to his senses and found himself with wet hair and shirt, filled with a sensation of tranquility and release. “My head was light,” he said. “In a moment, the thing that had been there had gone. I felt fine physically, but my nose was blocked as if I’d come down with a heavy cold.”

Kaneta spoke sternly to him; both understood what had happened. “Ono told me that he’d walked along the beach in that devastated area, eating an ice cream,” the priest said. “He even put up a sign in the car against the windshield saying disaster relief, so that no one would stop him. He went there flippantly, without giving it any thought at all. I told him, ‘You fool. If you go to a place like that where many people have died, you must go with a feeling of respect. That’s common sense. You have suffered a kind of punishment for what you did. Something got hold of you, perhaps the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead. They have been trying to express their regret and their resentment through you.’” Kaneta suddenly smiled as he remembered it. “Mr. Bean!” he said indulgently. “He’s so innocent and open. That’s another reason why they were able to possess him.”

Ono recognized all of this and more. It was not just the spirits of men and women that had possessed him, he saw now, but also animals — cats and dogs and other beasts that had drowned with their masters.

He thanked the priest and drove home. His nose was streaming as if with catarrh, but what came out was not mucus, but a pink jelly-like nothing he had seen before.

The wave penetrated no more than a few miles inland, but over the hills in Kurihara it transformed the life of Reverend Taio Kaneta. He had inherited the temple from his father, and the task of dealing with the survivors of the tsunami tested him in ways for which he was unprepared. It had been the greatest disaster of postwar Japan. And yet the pain did not announce itself; it dug underground and burrowed deep. Once the immediate emergency had abated, once the bodies were cremated, the memorial services held, and the homeless sheltered, Reverend Kaneta set about trying to gain entry into the dungeon of silence in which he saw so many of the survivors languishing.

He began traveling around the coast with a group of fellow priests, organizing a mobile event that he called “Café de Monku” — a bilingual pun. As well as being the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “monk,” monku means “complaint.” “We think it will take a long time to get back to a calm, quiet, ordinary life,” read the flyer that he distributed. “Why don’t you come and join us — take a break and have a little moan? The monks will listen to your complaint — and have a monku of their own too.”

Under this pretext — a casual cup of tea and a friendly chat — people came to the temples and community centers where Café de Monku was held. Many were living in “temporary residences,” the grim prefabricated huts, freezing in winter and sweltering in summer, where those who could afford nothing better ended up. The priests listened sympathetically and made a point of not asking too many questions. “People don’t like to cry,” said Kaneta. “They see it as selfish. Among those who are living in the temporary homes, there’s hardly anyone who has not lost a member of their family. Everyone’s in the same boat, so they don’t like to seem self-indulgent. But when they start talking, and when you listen to them, and sense their gritted teeth and their suffering, all the suffering they can’t and won’t express, in time the tears come, and they flow without end.”

Haltingly, apologetically, then with increasing fluency, the survivors spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement, and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural.

They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbors, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. The experiences ranged from eerie dreams and feelings of vague unease to cases, like that of Takeshi Ono, of outright possession.

It was not just the spirits of men and women that had possessed him, but also animals — cats and dogs and other beasts that had drowned with their masters.

A young man complained of pressure on his chest at night, as if some creature was straddling him as he slept. A teenage girl spoke of a fearful figure who squatted in her house. A middle-aged man hated to go out in the rain, because of the eyes of the dead, which stared out at him from puddles.

A civil servant in Soma visited a devastated stretch of coast and saw a solitary woman in a scarlet dress far from the nearest road or house, with no means of transport in sight. When he looked for her again, she had disappeared.

A fire station in Tagajo received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway, prayed for the spirits of those who had died — and the ghostly calls ceased.

A taxi in the city of Sendai picked up a sad-faced man who asked to be taken to an address that no longer existed. Halfway through the journey, the driver looked into his mirror to see that the rear seat was empty. He drove on anyway, stopped in front of the leveled foundations of a destroyed house, and politely opened the door to allow the invisible passenger out at his former home.

At a refugee community in Onagawa, an old neighbor would appear in the living rooms of the temporary houses and sit down for a cup of tea with their startled occupants. No one had the heart to tell her that she was dead; the cushion on which she had sat was wet with seawater.

Such stories came from all over the devastated area. Priests — Christian and Shinto, as well as Buddhist — found themselves called on repeatedly to quell unhappy spirits. A Buddhist monk wrote an article in a learned journal about “the ghost problem,” and academics at Tohoku University began to catalog the stories. In Kyoto, the matter was debated at a scholarly symposium.

“Religious people all argue about whether these are really the spirits of the dead,” Kaneta told me. “I don’t get into it, because what matters is that people are seeing them, and in these circumstances, after this disaster, it is perfectly natural. So many died, and all at once. At home, at work, at school — the wave came in and they were gone. The dead had no time to prepare themselves. The people left behind had no time to say goodbye. Those who lost their families, and those who died — they have strong feelings of attachment. The dead are attached to the living, and those who have lost them are attached to the dead. It’s inevitable that there are ghosts.”

He said: “So many people are having these experiences. It’s impossible to identify who and where they all are. But there are countless such people, and their number is going to increase. And all we do is treat the symptoms.”

When opinion polls put the question “How religious are you?,” Japanese rank among the most ungodly people in the world. It took a catastrophe for me to understand how misleading this self-assessment is. It is true that the organized religions, Buddhism and Shinto, have little influence on private or national life. But over the centuries both have been pressed into the service of the true faith of Japan: the cult of the ancestors.

I knew about the household altars, or butsudan, which are still seen in most homes and on which the memorial tablets of dead ancestors — the ihai — are displayed. The butsudan are cabinets of lacquer and gilt, with openwork carvings of flowers and trees; the ihai are upright tablets of black lacquered wood, vertically inscribed in gold. Offerings of flowers, incense, food, fruit, and drinks are placed before them; at the summer Festival of the Dead, families light lanterns to welcome home the ancestral spirits. I had taken these picturesque practices to be matters of symbolism and custom, attended to in the same way that people in the West will participate in a Christian funeral without any literal belief in the words of the liturgy. But in Japan spiritual beliefs are regarded less as expressions of faith than as simple common sense, so lightly and casually worn that it is easy to miss them altogether. “The dead are not as dead there as they are in our own society,” wrote the religious scholar Herman Ooms. “It has always made perfect sense in Japan as far back as history goes to treat the dead as more alive than we do . . . even to the extent that death becomes a variant, not a negation of life.”

At the heart of ancestor worship is a contract. The food, drink, prayers, and rituals offered by their descendants gratify the dead, who in turn bestow good fortune on the living. Families vary in how seriously they take these ceremonies, but even for the unobservant, the dead play a continuing part in domestic life. For much of the time, their status is something like that of beloved, deaf, and slightly batty old folk who cannot expect to be at the center of the family, but who are made to feel included on important occasions. Young people who have passed important entrance examinations, gotten a job, or made a good marriage kneel before the butsudan to report their success. Victory or defeat in an important legal case, for example, is shared with the ancestors in the same way.

When grief is raw, the presence of the deceased is overwhelming. In households that had lost children in the tsunami, it became routine, after half an hour of tea and chat, to be asked if I would like to “meet” the dead sons and daughters. I would be led to a shrine covered with framed photographs, with toys, favorite drinks and snacks, letters, drawings, and school exercise books. One mother commissioned carefully Photoshopped portraits of her children, showing them as they would have been had they lived — a boy who died in elementary school smiling proudly in high-school uniform, an eighteen-year-old girl as she should have looked in kimono at her coming-of-age ceremony. Another decked the altar with makeup and acrylic fingernails that her daughter would have worn if she had lived to become a teenager. Here, every morning, they began the day by talking to their dead children, weeping love and apology, as unselfconsciously as if they were speaking over a long-distance telephone line.

The tsunami did appalling violence to the religion of the ancestors.

Along with walls, roofs, and people, the water carried away household altars, memorial tablets, and family photographs. Cemetery vaults were ripped open by the wave, and the bones of the dead scattered. Temples were destroyed, along with memorial books, listing the names of ancestors over generations. “The memorial tablets — it’s difficult to exaggerate their importance,” Yozo Taniyama, a priest friend of Kaneta’s, told me. “When there’s a fire or an earthquake, the ihai are the first thing that many people will save, before money or documents. I think that people died in the tsunami because they went home for the ihai. It’s life, the life of the ancestors. It’s like saving your late father’s life.”

When people die violently or prematurely, in anger or anguish, they are at risk of becoming gaki: “hungry ghosts,” who wander between worlds, propagating curses and mischief. There are rituals for placating unhappy spirits, but in the aftermath of the disaster, few families were in a position to perform these. And then there were those ancestors who lost all their living descendants to the wave. Their well-being in the afterlife depended entirely on the reverence of living families, which was permanently and irrevocably cut off: their situation was as helpless as that of orphaned children.

Tsunamis anywhere destroy property and kill the living, but in Japan they inflict a third kind of injury, unique and invisible, on the dead. At a stroke, thousands of spirits had passed from life to death; countless others were cut loose from their moorings in the afterlife. How could they all be cared for? Who was to honor the compact between the living and the dead? In such circumstances, how could there fail to be a swarm of ghosts?

It was in the summer after the tsunami that Naomi Hiratsuka began to speak to her dead daughter, Koharu. At first, and unlike most people she knew, she had hesitated. Shamanism, and varieties of mediumship, were deeply established in Tohoku, and many of the bereaved were turning to those who practiced them. Naomi had her doubts about the existence of such gifts, but above all she detested the way in which some people, especially in the media, treated the subject, in an effort to squeeze spooky entertainment out of tragedy. She had been especially sickened by an article in a Japanese magazine about teenagers daring one another to make nighttime visits to the site of Okawa Elementary School, in the hope of encountering its ghosts.

But the search for Koharu and the other missing children was going so badly, bogged down both in the literal mud and in a morass of bureaucratic complication. Naomi was in close touch with the police unit, which was carrying out its own search, and got to know its commanders. One day they made a suggestion that surprised her at the time — that if she knew of any mediums or psychics who had advice to offer, particularly about specific places to direct the search, she should pass it on.

A friend introduced her to a young man in his twenties who was known to have the ability to see and hear the dead. Recently, people said, he had heard a voice in a dense bamboo thicket by the Fuji lake — and when it was searched, bones were indeed found, and identified as the remains of a missing woman. Naomi arranged to meet the young psychic late one evening at the ruin of the school. It was the summer festival of Tanabata, the star festival, when people hang trees with handwritten poems and prayers, and with delicate paper decorations: streamers, purses, birds, dolls. They walked side by side in the humid darkness, between the shell of the school and the hill behind it. At a small shrine on the hill, Naomi tied decorations of her own around the bamboo and prayed for Koharu’s return. It was a hot, windless night, but the colored paper danced and shivered strangely in the motionless air. “It is the children who are moving the decorations,” the psychic said. “They are delighted with them.”

They walked past a long line of rubble, roughly heaped up into great mounds. Hundreds of people had died in this small area. It was possible that bodies were still contained within the heaps. The psychic said, “I can hear a voice. I think it is the voice of a woman, not a child.” And Naomi, straining, also heard it, although too faintly for the words to be distinguishable. “It was just an ordinary voice,” she said. “It sounded as if she was having an ordinary conversation. But when I looked around, there was nobody there.”

Naomi said, “I didn’t used to believe in such things, and I’d never had an experience like that before. But having lived through the disaster, having been through what I had, perhaps it’s quite natural that I would hear such a voice.”

She spent a lot of time with the young man. They walked together for hours through the wide environs of the school — around the Fuji lake, and as far in the other direction as the Nagatsuura lagoon. He gave Naomi a crystal on a length of cord, which she would hold suspended over a large-scale map in the hope of divining Koharu’s whereabouts. She told the police about the voice she had heard at the rubble mounds, and they were thoroughly sifted. But no human remains were found.

During their long walks, the young psychic would describe to Naomi the invisible scene surrounding them. One might have expected a consoling picture of life after death, but the vision he described was appalling. Naomi compared it to a famous Japanese horror film, Ring, which itself drew on the hell imagery of medieval art. “He said that there were pale figures like the ghosts in that film, many, many of them crawling on the ground. Some of them were stuck in the water, covered in mud, and swallowing the dirty water in terrible suffering. Some of them were trapped and trying to get out. But he couldn’t tell which of them were the spirits of people who had already been found, and which of them were those like my daughter, who were still missing.”

Naomi began to seek out other means of reaching the dead. The introductions were easily made — many of the Okawa mothers were consulting one psychic or another. Having started out a skeptic, she found herself holding conversations with Koharu herself.

The medium, whose name was Sumi, ran a small coffee shop in the city. Sometimes Naomi and Shinichiro went to see her in person; sometimes Koharu’s utterances were conveyed over the telephone, and even by e-mail and text message. But Naomi was quickly persuaded of their authenticity. Sumi conveyed so perfectly the tone and character of the Koharu that her family remembered — the chattiness, bossiness, and sweetness of a girl about to become a teenager. Through Sumi, Koharu dictated a detailed list of presents that were to be given in her name to members of the family — a particular kind of drawing pad and pencils for her brother, a pink bag for her little sister. She instructed Naomi to serve the family with powdered green-tea sweets, which she had always loved. But apart from the convincing childishness, there was an unexpected maturity in much of what she said, which might have been that of the medium, but which seemed at times to be the authority acquired by those, even in their young years, who have passed through death.

Koharu asked in detail about the well-being of her family, especially her siblings, and showed great concern about her mother’s career. “She seemed to think that Sae, the baby, would be okay,” Naomi said. “But she wanted me to give a lot more attention to Toma, who was older. And she told me to finish my maternity leave and go back to work. All of this helped, it helped us so much to carry on with an ordinary life, even after death. It was so welcome.”

What neither the medium nor the spirit ever seemed able to say was the thing Naomi most wanted to know: the resting place of Koharu, or her bodily remnant. “Sumi told us that finding the remains is not everything. She said, ‘You might think that the kids want their parents to find them, that they are desperate to go back home. But they are already home. They are already in a very good place. And the more you bury yourselves in the search, the more desperate you will become.’”

Naomi’s friend Miho visited another medium and drew the deepest consolation from her conversations with her missing daughter, Hana. “It was just like talking to her,” Miho said. “It was just as if Hana was standing there, at my side. She said that she was in heaven and that she was very happy. The woman knew all about our daily life, how Hana talked, the kinds of expressions she used. If she said that she was suffering, if she’d been crying for help, and saying, ‘Mum, get me out of here!’ I wouldn’t have been able to bear it. But the words I heard always made me feel calmer.”

Sometimes the messages from the dead contradicted one another. One of the first things Hana told her mother, Miho, was that she should not harbor any blame or resentment towards the teachers at the school. “The teachers are crying in heaven, and that is hard for us,” she said through the medium. “They are suffering, and watching them makes us children feel sad.” But another psychic, at another time, told Miho the opposite: that the children were bitter and angry towards the teachers for letting them die so needlessly, for failing to lead them to the obvious places of safety and survival.

* * *

From Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry. Published by MCD / Farrar, Straus and Giroux. © 2017 by Richard Lloyd Parry. 

The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty

The wooden bridge where the abandoned car of Adolf Coors III, millionaire brewer, was found in Golden, Colorado, Feb. 10, 1960. (AP Photo)
  Philip Jett | The Death of an Heir | St. Martin’s Press | September 2017 | 27 minutes (7,489 words)

Below is an excerpt from The Death of an HeirPhilip Jett’s absorbing new book of true crime, about the botched kidnapping of Adolph Coors III, the Coors brewery CEO, which launched one of the largest manhunts in US history and seems to have taken its cues from the Hollywood playbook. Our thanks to Jett and St. Martin’s Press for letting us share this story with the Longreads community.

* * *

At barely half a rod wide and three hands deep, Turkey Creek was not unlike hundreds of tributaries snaking their way through Colorado canyons. That would soon change. The creek flowed only a few miles, spanned here and there by rough-hewn lumber bridges like the one in Turkey Creek Canyon, with its crude railings and two wooden tracks burrowed in gravel, wide enough for a single car to cross. Fewer than half a dozen vehicles crossed Turkey Creek Bridge each morning. That included the local school bus and a milk delivery truck—and for the last month, the white-over-turquoise International Harvester Travelall driven by Adolph Herman Joseph Coors III.

The name fit for a crown prince belonged to the forty-four-year-old chairman of the board and CEO of the multimillion-dollar Adolph Coors Company in Golden, Colorado, and first-born grandson of the brewery’s founder. Known simply as “Ad” to most who knew him, he was well-liked by associates and employees for his friendliness and reserve. And despite being the eldest successor to the giant Colorado beer empire and an accomplished man, Ad preferred the simple life on his horse ranch southwest of Denver, where he lived contently with his wife, Mary, and their four young children.

On the crisp, windy morning of Tuesday, February 9, 1960, Ad rose before sunrise and began his daily exercise regime. After showering, he dressed for work and joined Mary at the kitchen table for coffee. They talked as they did every morning.

Before leaving for the brewery, Ad headed outside to check his horses, pitching hay and breaking ice in their troughs. He soon returned to kiss Mary and his children goodbye, but his children had boarded a school bus minutes earlier. Grabbing a tan baseball cap and slipping on his favorite navy-blue nylon jacket, he stepped out onto the carport, started his Travelall, and headed down the driveway. He waved to his ranch manager as he passed. It was 7:55 a.m.

Ad’s normal route to the brewery, twelve miles away, would have carried him less than a mile to paved US Highway 285, but a section of the highway had been closed for construction since January. The closure forced him to detour along a winding, lonely stretch of gravel road for four miles to Turkey Creek Canyon, where it connected to a state road that led back to Highway 285.

As Ad drove along the secluded road that morning, his Travelall rambled around the last bend before reaching Turkey Creek Bridge, just out of view. Waiting on the bridge was thirty-one-year-old Joseph Corbett Jr., who had stalked Ad for many months awaiting the chance to carry out his scheme. The road closure and detour across Turkey Creek Bridge gave him that chance.

Corbett backed his canary-yellow Mercury sedan onto the one-lane bridge just minutes before Ad’s arrival. Handcuffs and leg irons lay on the back seat. A ransom note in an envelope ready for mailing later that day lay in the glove box. Concealing a pistol in his coat pocket, he exited the four-door car, leaving the driver’s door open. He opened a rear door and raised the hood, signaling engine trouble, and stood by the car, waiting for his victim. All he had to do was lure Ad away from his Travelall. Then the Coors CEO and heir wouldn’t be so rich and powerful. Instead, he’d be a hostage worth many times his weight in gold and, if all went according to plan, would make Corbett a very rich man by week’s end.


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As Ad drove around that last bend, he spotted the yellow Mercury stranded on the narrow bridge. It was 8:00 a.m. Just as Corbett had planned, Ad pulled onto the bridge behind the Mercury. He shouted through a rolled-down window, asking if he could help. Corbett shouted back his rehearsed reply. Eager to get going, Ad stepped out of the Travelall and shut the door, leaving the engine running and radio playing. He didn’t expect to be long. He figured he’d help push the stranded car out of the way and give its driver a ride to the nearest filling station.

But as Ad approached, Corbett stepped forward and drew his pistol, taking the beer magnate by surprise. Ad was an intelligent but stubborn man, not the kind to don shackles and meekly slide into an assailant’s car. As Corbett drew nearer, the six-foot-one, 185-pound Ad Coors seized his abductor’s hand that gripped the gun. The two, almost identical in height and weight, struggled. Ad shoved his younger assailant backward, and they slammed against the crude bridge railing. Ad’s baseball cap along with Corbett’s fedora flew into the creek. Ad’s eyeglasses fell, too, cracking the left lens on impact. Ad pushed his antagonist away and made a break for the Travelall. But Corbett, seeing his ransom trying to escape, extended the pistol and fired. The sound of shots echoed up the canyon.

Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping.

“It was about eight o’clock,” Rosemary Stitt would later testify in the First District Court of Colorado. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a crackling noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothing. So it was then I got to thinking it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”

Those two shots set off the largest US manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping. State and local authorities, along with the FBI, burst into action, attempting to locate Ad Coors and arrest his kidnapper. Ad’s influential father demanded that the perpetrator be caught and his son returned, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover gave assurances that he would make it his top priority domestically. Once the evidence pointed to Corbett, Hoover backed up his promises by placing Corbett on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, describing him as the most hunted suspect since John Dillinger. The manhunt would span the continent and involve hundreds of law enforcement officers. Yet as months passed with little success, Ad’s tormented wife and children clutched tenuously to their hopes. Like them, everyone wondered where Colorado’s favorite son and his abductor could be.

The ranch home of Adolph Coors III (AP Photo)

Snow swirled past the windows outside Ad’s barn at eight o’clock on the night of Monday, February 8. Ad wanted to confer with his ranch manager about when they would auction the cattle. They decided to wait a bit, when the market was up. He also asked if his manager could accompany him Saturday to size up some horses in La Junta, and he agreed.

Mary called Ad to dinner. Afterward, Ad sat at the kitchen table near sweat-streaked windows, reviewing some of the ranch accounts. He was bushed and hoped to turn in soon. He’d been back from Miami for forty-eight hours, and his first day at the brewery had been a busy one, with more meetings and telephone conferences scheduled for Tuesday. At least his father was on vacation in Hawaii with his mother and wouldn’t return for another two weeks. Things wouldn’t be as tense with Mr. Coors away.

Cecily was seated across the kitchen table from her father with Spike seated beside her, both doing homework. The youngest of the Coors children, Jim, lay on the den floor in front of the fireplace with a toy truck and horse trailer he’d gotten for Christmas. Mary sat watching television with the volume low so not to disturb those at the table. She’d finished putting the dishes away earlier with the help of Brooke, who now stretched out in the hallway floor with the telephone.

Mary couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be home with the kids and Ad and her fireplace and her favorite chair and everything feeling like it should. She wished she could freeze the moment and keep things just the way they were forever. She knew things at home were changing and the kids were growing up. What Mary didn’t realize was that night would be the best it would be, forever more.

“Three dollars—regular,” Corbett told gas attendant Lynn Westerbuhr at the Conoco Service Station on East Fourteenth Avenue, around the corner from Corbett’s apartment.

It was a cold night, and the young attendant inserted the hose nozzle into the automobile and turned the pump lever. He stomped his feet on the icy concrete and cupped his gloved hands, blowing on them to provide a little warmth.

“He stopped by regularly, usually once a week. He asked for three dollars’ worth of gas every time,” said Westerbuhr. “Never told me his name. Always paid cash.”

The attendant removed the hose and hooked it on the side of the pump. “That’s three dollars,” said Westerbuhr, waiting for Corbett to slip three bills through the sliver of open window. “Whatcha got back there? Moving?”

“A sleeping bag and tent.”

“You going camping in this weather?” asked the attendant, just like the clerk had at the Sears department store.

“Here’s your money,” said Corbett. He detested snoops.

“He was driving a dark maroon Dodge, ’tween a ’46 to ’49 year model, I think,” Westerbuhr soon would tell authorities. “Around Christmas, I seen him in a bright-yellow Mercury and again in January, ’bout through the second week of January, I’d say. I seen him in several cars over the last year, though—a light blue Ford wagon, gray-and-white Ford sedan. He liked cars. Most times, he was by himself. Sometimes with another man. A big fella, about thirty-five, usually in dirty work clothes, might ’ave been an Indian or an Italian, I don’t know.”

After leaving the station that Monday night, Corbett returned to his Perlmor apartment. Soon, metallic sounds filled the air. Gun chambers snapped, shackles clanked, and handcuffs clattered eerily in the sparse room. Corbett was making ready for the following day. He brushed his coat and spit-shined his shoes, like preparing for a job interview, a compulsion he’d picked up in prison. He’d gotten a haircut earlier in the day. A freshly dry-cleaned suit hung on a doorknob.

Later that evening, Corbett hurried down the back stairs to the first-floor hallway and out the back door. A pistol, a rifle, cuffs, and leg irons draped in a blanket filled his arms. A sedan waited for him across the alley behind his apartment with its trunk raised and front-and rear-passenger doors open on the passenger side. He’d already loaded blankets, canned food, water in glass jugs, and his Coleman stove, lantern, and other camping equipment in the trunk. He checked for anyone who might be watching him before stretching out the blanket and removing the pistol and placing it in the glove compartment.

“He seemed like he was in a hurry,” said Terrence Smith, a tenant in room 106. “I saw blankets on the back seat, two rifle cases, a telescopic case, and a pistol case, all zipped up along the side.”

Corbett slammed the trunk closed, removed his hat, and wiped his forehead, running his fingers through his hair that was soaked with sweat despite the cold night’s sleet pelting down. Scaling flights of stairs half a dozen times made him perspire, but he was also suffering from nervousness, anxiety, and fear of detection. He was afraid, all right, even though he’d spent months, almost thirty of them, planning this job. Despite being proud of his intellect (he’d been tested as having an IQ of 148) and his methodical, almost obsessive analytical approach to things, he knew he wasn’t infallible. After all, he had been captured for shooting a man and imprisoned in California a decade earlier.

To calm himself, he sat in his apartment and turned on the television to Peter Gunn. Soon, he pulled open a drawer and stuffed the letter he’d perfected into the pocket of his coat hanging in the closet. He planned to mail it the next day.

Corbett hadn’t seen his family for ages, and if the letter procured him what he expected, he doubted he’d have a chance to see them for a long time to come. He didn’t have a family of his own, not yet, only a father, stepmother, and stepbrother.

“It says here that he’s got a wife—name’s Marion,” said one of Corbett’s former bosses reviewing his unemployment records with an FBI agent later. “Some of the boys said Walt told ’em he was married. But later he said he was married to ‘Anne’ and listed her as his wife on his company health insurance policy. Seems to me a man should know the name of his wife, and polygamy is frowned on in Colorado.”

His female neighbors, however, never saw a wife or a girlfriend or any woman visiting, for that matter. If any woman said hello, she was lucky to receive eye contact from Corbett, much less a response. Many of his female neighbors who’d been rebuffed by Corbett’s shyness and abrupt exits referred to him as “Mystery Boy.”

“When we’d go to the city café to eat, which we did a lot, he’d never talk to the waitresses,” said one of Corbett’s coworkers. “Some were interested, but he’d never say as much as a how-do-you-do. He’d just order his food.”

“Women aren’t to be trusted,” Corbett would say. “They’re dirty, disagreeable, expensive, and worst of all, can’t keep confidential information to themselves.”

Corbett clicked off the television set. He had things to do tomorrow—confidential things. He stretched out on his sleeper sofa. It was dark, but trails of light passing through the metal venetian blinds laid stripes across a portion of the ceiling and one wall. He stared at the faint luminescent strands above him. It was late. His preparations had taken longer than he’d planned. But he wasn’t sleepy. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. Soon, his mind raced through the details of his plan. It was a good plan.

* * *

Golden is located on the Colorado Front Range, the first upwelling of the Rocky Mountains from the Great Plains. Founded in 1859 as part of the Colorado gold rush, the mining town became the first capital of the Colorado Territory and the seat of Jefferson County. After the gold panned out, German, Swedish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants stayed to make Golden their home. From 1860 to the 1950s, the population seesawed between 1,000 and 2,500 before swelling to more than 8,000 residents by 1960.

Residents of Golden enjoyed a traditional Western way of life. Men and women in boots and cowboys hats walked along sidewalks shared by those in suits and fashionable dresses. On Washington Avenue, the main thoroughfare, automobiles shared the road with horses and an electric trolley. Few communities can boast the picturesque scenery that surrounds the valley town—a river rushing through the middle called Clear Creek. Lookout Mountain to the southwest (where Buffalo Bill is buried), North Table Mountain on the north side, and to the south, South Table Mountain with its Castle Rock casting a crown above the Coors brewing and porcelain companies. And if its citizens wanted a change of pace from the serenity, Denver awaited only fifteen miles to the east.

On the morning of Wednesday, February 10, the citizens of Golden awoke to headlines on the front page of Rocky Mountain NewsADOLPH COORS III FEARED KIDNAPED! and The Denver PostADOLPH COORS III DISAPPEARS; FBI ENTERS SEARCH. They were stunned. It seemed unfathomable to them. The outpouring of concern and kindhearted remarks by the townspeople filled the airwaves and print.

“I don’t know of anybody who didn’t like Ad Coors,” said Walter G. Brown, Golden city manager.

Kriss Barnes, assistant vice president of Golden’s First National Bank, told reporters, “I can’t understand how anybody in the world would have anything against Ad Coors. He’s reassuring, mild-mannered, and considerate.”

“Ad is kind and generous,” said Pete Puck, who worked at the Coors Porcelain plant and helped out on Ad’s ranch. “This disappearance is a terrible thing, a terrible thing.”

Ad’s ranch manager, Bill Hosler, agreed. “He’s just as nice as can be.”

Many people in town knew Ad. They’d gone to school with him, hunted, skied, or transacted business with him. Many had a genuine affinity for the eldest Coors brother.

“He’d always smile and call me by my first name. Just a real nice guy,” said Louis Kubat, who played softball with Ad in the Arvada League when Ad played first base for Golden years earlier.

Almost anyone asked would say he was a good man. Good, despite the fact he was rich. But Goldenites couldn’t begrudge him that. He wore his wealth humbly. That was one of the things people liked most about the Coors family: their humility.

“Nicest guy you’d ever meet,” said Arthur Jensen, the chief brewer in the Coors kettle room. “Always wore a smile and said hello and called you by your first name, and let you call him Ad, not Mr. Coors or whatever. He always seemed interested in what I was doing, and I liked that about him.”

“Everyone in town knew my father,” Spike recounted as an adult. “He was just like Grandpa and Great-Grandpa, a complete workaholic, a financial success, active in the town, and respected by everyone.”

That’s why townspeople were in disbelief. At gas stations, taverns, and beauty and barbershops all around town, everyone was talking about the disappearance. To many, an attack on a Coors was an attack on Golden and everyone in it. Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.

Who would do such a thing? That was the question of the day at establishments all around town. Anyone who dared denounce a Coors now did so at his peril. Even a person who had no beef with a Coors could become a suspect just because he was peculiar. For instance, Jack Peters, in charge of Coors plant security, heard from a guard that a man named Robert Everhart should be checked out. Peters telephoned Captain Bray and told him that although he couldn’t put his finger on anything specific, there were “suspicious and odd circumstances surrounding Everhart, too numerable to mention.” He was investigated and eliminated as a suspect.

Others were more specific in their charges. Anyone who’d ever harbored ill feelings toward a Coors was suspected. Anyone in a dispute over property rights years earlier, or someone Ad may have cut off in traffic, or an employee that had been fired by a Coors, any kind of run-in was enough to raise suspicion. The theories and suspects abounded that morning and throughout the day. One possibility in particular made everyone in town a bit nervous: could it be a union man?

“Both major Coors industries have been embroiled in labor strife during the past few years,” reported Rocky Mountain News that day. “Colorado unions, in recent months, have placed an unofficial boycott on Coors products because of what they term unfair labor practices at Coors. . . . Bill Coors, however, did say Tuesday night that he discounted any beliefs his brother’s disappearance stemmed from labor difficulties at the Coors firms.”

“Ad was never a part of the difficulty at the brewery,” Walter Brown said.

Union leaders especially hoped a member hadn’t committed this crime. If he had, the news would drive a stake through Local 366 once and for all.

When asked about the possibility, Joe Coors scoffed. “All we want, all the whole family wants, is Ad’s safe return.” When pressed by a reporter, Joe said, “Ad’s received no threats from anyone, particularly labor. We are completely baffled. Bill and I are very strong in the feeling, however, that this has nothing to do with the labor movement.”

That same morning, a motorcade of four dark, unmarked sedans drove down Washington Avenue, passing beneath the famous banner that stretched across the street:

Howdy Folks!

WELCOME TO GOLDEN

WHERE THE WEST REMAINS

The FBI was officially on the case. Code name: COORNAP. Each sedan carried FBI field agents as unmarked as their cars—dark suits, ties, starched white shirts, fedoras, trench coats, trimmed hair, shaven faces, and sunglasses or eyeglasses. That was the directive from J. Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C., the agency’s director since 1924. Another fifty officers of the FBI Western Kidnap Squad were combing a thirty-mile radius. Hoover stamped the case top priority. He’d given Mr. Coors his private assurances. A quick resolution of the high-profile case would also give the agency a gold star just as the motion picture The FBI Story was playing in theaters around the country.

One of the bureau-issued sedans dropped two agents at Mr. Coors’s house and Joe’s home to man the telephone surveillance and recording devices that had been set up by Denver undersheriff A. S. Reider and Denver Police chief Walter Nelson, with the help of Golden Telephone Company employee Carl Horblett. Other agents stopped in Golden to question persons in town. The remaining agents stopped at the Adolph Coors Company to question anyone who might have useful information, particularly Bill and Joe Coors, who had returned to work that day.

Similar cars with agents headed to Bill Coors’s house in Denver to operate the telephone recorder and to Ad’s home near Morrison to question Mary and relieve the county deputies who were conducting surveillance inside and outside her home, watching for kidnappers who might be staking out the ranch to drop off a ransom note. One agent joined deputies standing on the road in front of Ad and Mary’s house, stopping all passing cars and trucks and questioning their occupants. Other agents drove to the sheriff’s office to question deputies and investigators, and to Turkey Creek Bridge to question anyone who lived nearby who might have seen or heard anything Tuesday morning.

Agents arriving at the bridge site were met by newsmen from Denver, Golden, and other Colorado towns, and by correspondents from national news services who’d flown into Denver the night before. Reporters in turn were met with a curt “No comment.” All questions were referred to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the FBI office in Denver. “The FBI will maintain complete silence until the release of the victim,” said FBI special agent Edward Kemper. “Our interest is the safe return of Mr. Coors.” The FBI also instructed members of the Coors family not to speak to reporters.

County investigators had completed their collection of evidence at the bridge the day before the FBI’s arrival. The remaining task for the sheriff’s office at Turkey Creek Canyon was to find Ad Coors. Volunteers arrived early that morning and set up tables near the bridge with pots of hot coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches, and water for those men in the mounted posse and jeep patrol who had spent the entire night searching and for those who’d arrived at sunup to join or relieve them.

An H-19 helicopter sent from Lowry Air Force Base outside Denver hovered above the lifting fog, trying to spot a man stranded or hurt, or anything that appeared out of the ordinary among the rocky hills and ravines. US Air Force C-45 and C-47 airplanes and Civil Air Patrol Piper Super Cubs were standing by to take off if needed.

Despite all the manpower, horses, jeeps, and aircraft, there was no sign of Ad Coors. “We haven’t been able to find a thing,” said Captain Morris of the sheriff’s office. “We’re as baffled now as we were yesterday.”

Coors was Golden, and Golden was Coors.

The FBI took a different tactic. Agents, along with some county investigators, visited all houses in the Turkey Creek Canyon area and interviewed their residents.

“It was about eight o’clock,” Mrs. Rosemary Stitt said. “Right after I sent my kids off to school, about twenty minutes after. The bus picks them up around twenty till every morning. First, it sounded like somebody hollered down at the bridge. I can hear people talkin’ down there pretty plain most times. Hear their cars crossing over. I live only ’bout a quarter mile away. But yesterday the wind was blowing really hard so I couldn’t hear so plain. I was sittin’ in front of my sewing machine by the window. It sounded like one or two words is all. It was two different people, I think. Then I heard a cracklin’ noise like lightnin’ striking a tree. As a little girl, I heard lightnin’ split a tree in half right next to the house. That’s what it sounded like. I looked out the kitchen window to see if a tree fell down out back but didn’t see nothin’. So it was then I got to thinkin’ it might be a gunshot. Just one shot. Or, it coulda been two really close together.”

“What type of shot was it? Pistol, rifle, shotgun? Any idea of caliber?” an agent asked Mrs. Stitt.

“I talked to Bill about it last night, that’s my husband, and he asked if it sounded like a .22 that him and my son shoot at rabbits or like a .38 they shoot ever once in a while at targets they set up in the hills. I said it sounded more like the .38 ’cause it sounded like lightnin’. The shot came about a minute or two after I heard the hollerin’. I thought it might be poachers shootin’ game on the preserve. We’ve had some trouble with hunters up here. Or maybe some surveyors I seen workin’. I didn’t hear nothin’ else, so I went back to doin’ housework. . . . Later on in the mornin’, though, about ten thirty, eleven o’clock, I heard summore hollerin’ and a horn honkin’. About fifteen, twenty minutes after that, the milkman showed up and told me about a car blockin’ the bridge down yonder. He asked to use the telephone, but we ain’t got one. So he left and said he’d telephone the police at his next stop.”

Mrs. Pauline Moore, who lived with her husband, Cloyce, two and a half miles from Turkey Creek Bridge, told the FBI a similar story:

Right around eight o’clock yesterdee, I was hangin’ the wash on a clothesline out back. The wind was blowin’ real hard. I could barely get a clothespin on ’em. Then I heard a shot in the canyon real clear. I usually work on Tuesdays cleanin’ folks’ houses in Denver, but my boss called the night before and told me not to come in. The shot I heard was a far-off shot, not a close up, but a far off-shot, towards the bridge.

After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge. No one could tell how many kidnappers there were. No one reported seeing a struggle or a shooting. No one saw the abductors’ car leaving the scene. Several did, however, report seeing suspicious vehicles at or near the bridge during the days before the disappearance. There was only one problem. They saw too many.

Mrs. Stitt told the FBI, “My husband said he seen a 1954 blue-green Ford parked on the bridge the week before, once with the doors open and lights on, but nobody around. Coulda been a 1955 or ’56, he said.”

Ranch hand Bill Hosler and Mary Coors’s maid told the FBI they’d seen a late-model green Dodge with red-and-white license plates parked near the ranch on Monday. Both said they saw at least two men in the car that appeared to be watching the ranch for at least an hour. One was tall and thin, and the other was short and stocky with a dark complexion. Hosler said the same car had been there the week before. They also stated he’d seen a yellow car there on more than one occasion.

Hilton Pace, who leased and worked a uranium mine near Turkey Creek Bridge, said he’d seen a man driving a white-over-gray Ford in the area a few times. He’d even spoken with him one day.

Janette Erickson, who lived less than a mile and a half from the bridge, said she’d seen a yellow car near the bridge on that Sunday. Charlotte Carter and Viola Ranch said the same thing. Other witnesses said they saw a car resembling a 1951 Mercury in the vicinity. Three said it was yellow; one said cream. Two said it was a solid color; two said it had a black top. Viola Ranch said it had a green cloth top.

Former Morrison town constable James Cable, a caretaker at the uranium mine leased by Hilton Pace, said he and his wife, Margaret, saw a yellow 1951 or ’52 Mercury near the bridge several times, including at eight o’clock Monday, the morning before the disappearance, about a hundred feet from the bridge. That was the morning Ad took a different route, driving to Denver before going to the brewery.

Miss Nadene Carder said she’d seen a yellow car parked near the bridge three consecutive days when she was on her way to work at the Colorado School of Mines the week before the disappearance. That was while Ad was in Miami.

Jim Massey said he often saw a yellow Mercury near the bridge. He told the FBI he’d seen it around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, with a man standing beside it wearing a brown hat and eyeglasses. His wife said she’d seen the car around 1:00 p.m. on Monday, a mere nineteen hours before the disappearance.

The one thing all eyewitnesses did agree on was that none had seen any of the cars since the disappearance.

But James Cable saw something no one else had. When interviewed, he gave the FBI a clue so important that without it the case may never have been solved. He had a partial license plate number. “It was a 1960 Colorado-style plate. Read AT-62,” he said. “It may have been AT-6205. I’m not a hundred percent sure about the last two numbers.” A was the county designation for Denver.

Agents hoped the plates weren’t stolen.

When newspapermen asked about rumors of car sightings the evening after Ad’s disappearance, FBI agents said, “Refer all questions to Special Agent in Charge Scott Werner at the Denver office.” When Bill was asked what he knew, he replied, “The FBI has requested that we make no further statements.” Sheriff Wermuth, however, was happy to oblige.

“We’re looking for two, possibly three assailants in a green Dodge that’s been seen parked near Ad Coors’s home,” the sheriff said to reporters. “That’s the strongest lead we’ve got in the case at the present time. . . . I believe we’ll have a break in the case by noon Saturday. . . . I’m basing that on studies of other kidnap cases. The crucial time in other reported cases is thirty-six hours to four and a half days after the abduction is made. . . . Yes, it’s my belief that Ad Coors is alive and held somewhere in the state. . . . According to a witness, the green Dodge had red-and-white license plates, which means it’s an out-of-state car, possibly Utah, Florida, or Ohio. . . . We believe they’ve split up. One of the three men is a good suspect centered around Denver. We’re anxious to check his movements. . . . I can’t tell you that right now. The other two are believed to be somewhere southeast of Golden.”

Reporters continued barking out their questions to the sheriff.

“No, I haven’t positively identified the blood yet. Lew Hawley telephoned me from Washington to tell me the blood found on the bridge is group A, but we haven’t located any medical records that show Ad Coors’s blood type. . . . No, the blood on Kipling Street was canine. That’s right, just a dog hit by a car. No connection there. . . . The tan cap and eyeglasses have been identified as belonging to Ad Coors. . . . No, we’ll keep the mounted posse and jeep patrol out there through tomorrow and then I’ll decide whether to suspend the search depending on the snowstorm they’re calling for late Thursday. . . . Yes, group A. Okay, that’s all I got for now, fellas.”

Amid the barrage of questions, Wermuth told reporters that Mr. and Mrs. Coors were due to land at Denver’s Stapleton Airfield that night. They had boarded a plane very early that morning to make the long flight home. Despite the earliness, reporters were waiting for them as they boarded.

“Mr. Coors! A few words about your son, sir! Please!” one of the correspondents asked, holding a pad and pencil.

The Hawaiian sun beamed on the tarmac at the Honolulu airport. Mr. Coors had telephoned FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who assured Mr. Coors he would personally oversee the investigation into catching the kidnappers and bringing Ad home safely.

“I am dealing with crooks who are in business,” Mr. Coors replied. A hot gust of wind almost blew the gray fedora from his head. “They have something I want to buy—my son. The price is secondary.”

“So you’ve been told your son’s definitely kidnapped?”

“No, but logic tells me he has been kidnapped. It’s a matter of now waiting for an offer. It’s like any other business transaction at this point.”

“You’re treating the kidnapping of your son like a business deal?”

“That’s what it is. Besides, I cannot be emotional about this.”

“Any idea who’d want to kidnap your son?” asked a different reporter.

“The union?” asked another.

“I don’t know. No, we don’t have any enemies in Golden. Excuse us, we have to board now.”

“Good luck, sir!”

FBI agents assigned to coordinate the exchange of evidence with local law enforcement were about to finish up around the bridge site. They’d walked the creek bank on both sides and in the middle. They’d scoped the typography and investigated a pit silo and a cave directly across the state road from the bridge. They dusted for prints, including inside and outside the Travelall, took additional soil samples and bridge scrapings, and reviewed the deputies’ reports. Dale Ryder had shown the agents where the Travelall was found by the milkman and where the cap and hat, eyeglasses, and blood had been discovered. He showed them sketches that county detectives had etched out using precise measurements that revealed the exact locations of the cap, hat, blood, scuff marks, and tire tracks. The last thing was to view the crime-scene photos. The two agents leaned on the hood of their sedan and observed as Dale Ryder flipped through the crisp black-and-white photos he’d taken the day before, one by one.

“The splash pattern was in that direction? Toward the southeast?” The agent nodded in a southeasterly direction as he asked about the blood spray.

“That’s correct,” said Ryder.

“I don’t know. That’s a—” The agent stopped as he spotted Bill walking up to the bridge. He was on his way back to Mary’s after work and saw the officers standing round and decided to stop.

“Go ahead,” said Bill. “Go ahead with what you were saying. I don’t want to interrupt.”

The agent introduced himself. “Now this is just my opinion, you understand, not the official FBI position.” The agent paused.

“Go on,” said Bill.

 

Mary held a ransom note in her hands. She put on her glasses, fearful of what the letter might say, but grateful to have it at all. She began to read:

Mrs. Coors:

Your husband has been kidnaped. His car is by Turkey Creek.

Call the police or F.B.I.: he dies.

Cooperate: he lives.

Ransom: $200,000 in tens and $300,000 in twenties.

There will be no negotiating.

Bills: used / non-consecutive / unrecorded / unmarked.

Warning: we will know if you call the police or record the serial numbers.

Directions: Place money & this letter & envelope in one suitcase

or bag.

Have two men with a car ready to make the delivery.

When all set, advertise a tractor for sale in Denver Post section 69. Sign ad King Ranch, Fort Lupton.

Wait at NA 9-4455 for instructions after ad appears.

Deliver immediately after receiving call. Any delay will be regarded as a stall to set up a stake-out.

Understand this: Adolph’s life is in your hands. We have no desire

to commit murder. All we want is that money. If you follow the instructions, he will be released unharmed within 48 hours after

the money is received.

Sitting in her chair in the den she enjoyed so much, Mary rested the letter in her lap, removed her glasses, and looked up at the FBI agents standing round. Her eyes were weak from lack of sleep and the dulling effects of sedatives. “Ad’s still alive,” Mary said. “He’s alive. All they want’s the money.”

FBI agents in their dark suits and ties said nothing. It was Wednesday. Ad had been missing almost two days.

Mary didn’t appreciate their silence. “It says right here,” she said forcefully, holding up the note. “‘We have no desire to commit murder.’”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Bill spoke up. “Sure he’s alive. That’s the only way the lousy kidnappers collect.”

“Of course he is,” said Gerald Phipps, who’d joined Mary with his wife, Janet, to provide comfort and support on that terrible day. Gerald and Janet were close friends with Ad and Mary. They had hosted a wedding shower for Ad and Mary twenty years earlier, and they traveled in the same elevated circle of affluent Coloradans. Gerald Phipps’s father had been a US senator and an executive at Carnegie Steel. Janet’s father was the head of US Rubber. Also visiting were the elder Mrs. Coors’s brother, Erle Kistler, and the well-to-do Kenneth and Sheilagh Malo.

After hours of exhaustive interviews, the FBI learned that no one in the area had actually seen Ad Coors or his abductors on the bridge.

Mary reached for her gin and tonic on the side table and rose from her chair. “We’ve got to get the money ready. Bill? Joe? How do we do that?” Mary said, ignoring the agents. “Will you two deliver it?”

Special Agent Donald Hostetter, special agent in charge of the Detroit field office and head of the Western Kidnap Squad, interrupted. “May I please have the letter, Mrs. Coors? Thank you.” He handed it to another agent. It was a copy. The original was on its way to the FBI Laboratory. “You’re correct, Mrs. Coors. Your family should begin making arrangements to obtain the money immediately. We will assist you and your bank in coordinating the selection of denominations and recording the serial numbers. I’ll have two agents make the delivery. We don’t want anyone else in harm’s way.”

“But the letter,” said Mary. “It says if we call the police or FBI, or if you mark the money, they’ll hurt Ad. I’m sure we can find some friends or someone at the brewery to deliver the ransom.”

“The kidnappers already know the sheriff and FBI are involved,” Joe said. “It was in the papers this morning.”

“But . . .” Mary placed her drink on the table. “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” She lowered her head and shielded her face with one hand.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Coors. That’s why we’re here. We do know what to do,” said Hostetter. “All kidnappers say don’t contact the authorities. Most victims’ families do because it’s the proper thing to do. The kidnappers had to have known that by leaving your husband’s car on the bridge, law enforcement would become involved. And there’s no way they’ll know we’ve recorded the serial numbers. It’s scare tactics.”

“That’s right,” said Joe. “How would they know something like that?”

“Not possible,” replied Hostetter. “Now, when the time comes, my agents will handle the drop-off. We’ll dress them like ranchers or choose men who resemble your husband’s brothers. I haven’t exactly decided yet, but believe me, we’ll do whatever it takes to procure your husband’s safe return. That’s priority number one. Apprehension is always secondary in these cases.”

“I don’t know. I know you men are professionals at what you do,” began Mary, “but to tell you the truth, I don’t care about the money or if they’re caught. I just want Ad back. What do you think, Bill?”

“I think you have to trust the FBI,” replied Bill. “But I will say this: I agree with Mary that the main thing is getting Ad back. The family doesn’t want anyone, and that includes the FBI, doing anything that jeopardizes Ad’s safe return.”

“We don’t either,” said Hostetter.

Jefferson County investigator William Flint had intercepted the ransom note at the Morrison post office that Wednesday at 9:40 a.m. and immediately turned it over to the FBI, which dusted the envelope and letter for prints and made copies. Postal employee Joe Murphy said, “With the 3:00 p.m. Denver postmark on the envelope, the letter had to have been mailed in Denver on Tuesday, between 1:45 and 2:15 p.m.”

Agents were pleased to have the letter. It represented the first piece of physical evidence, other than the brown felt hat, belonging to the kidnappers. Agents in Denver would receive a report from the FBI Laboratory in Washington two days later detailing the lab’s findings:

In the lower left-hand corner of the envelope was typed the word “PERSONAL”; in the center of the envelope the words “Mrs. Adolph Coors III, Morrison, Colorado,” and on the upper right-hand corner of the envelope were typed the words “SPECIAL DELIVERY.” The envelope bore a postmark “Denver, Colo, 2 1960” on the outer circumference of the circular postmark and in the center of the postmark the letters and numbers “FE 9 3 PM” . . .

The envelope and note were treated for fingerprints by the use of triketohydrindene hydrate and silver nitrate. No latent impressions of value were found . . .

The typist is experienced and made no errors in punctuation or spelling; double spaces after a period, which is taught in typing schools; but does overuse colons and uses only one space after a colon rather than two as is the approved practice in typing.

The author is reasonably well educated; writes well . . .

The letter was typed with either a Hermes or Royalite portable typewriter; both are sold extensively in the United States. The Royalite has been on the market for less than three years. It is an inexpensive machine sold in large drug and department stores. Inquiry was made at the Royal McBee Corporation, manufacturer of Royalite typewriters, to determine retail outlets in the Denver area that sell the Royalite and the serial numbers of typewriters shipped. A representative of the manufacturer advised that two businesses sell the Royalite portable typewriter. They are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. . . . This particular machine has a defect. The letter “s” is defectively applied. It is struck lower than all other type in the letter. . . . The typewriting on the envelope and note were compared with those in the Anonymous Letter File and the National Fraudulent Checks File. No matches were realized . . .

The envelope measures 4.24 inches in width and 9.37 inches in length. The paper has a substance weight of 20, measures 8.42 inches in width and 10.94 inches in length. Both contain the watermark, “EATON’S DIAMOND WHITE BOND BERKSHIRE COTTON FIBER CONTENT,” and are sold by the Eaton Paper Corporation, 75 South Church Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A code mark under the first “E” in “BERKSHIRE” indicates the envelope and paper were manufactured in 1959. A representative from the manufacturer advised subject envelope and paper were shipped in reams and boxes after February 10, 1959, to five businesses in the metropolitan Denver area. Only two stores sell both the paper and the envelopes. These are the Denver Dry Goods Company, 16th & California Streets, and the May-D&F Company, 16th & Tremont. Dates and amounts of purchase have been recorded. Interviews of sales clerks at each store to follow.

As Agent Hostetter left Ad and Mary’s home, he instructed two of his agents to relieve those who’d manned the recorder the night before. “I want to remind everyone not to say anything to reporters. If pressed, tell them the FBI told you to remain silent. Not only do leaks about our evidence, suspects, and theories compromise the investigation, more importantly, they put Mr. Coors in added jeopardy.” He would relay the same message by telephone to the foremost offender, Sheriff Wermuth.

More than a year later, Mary testified in a crowded Jefferson County court, “I felt a little bit relieved because the ransom note gave us hope that Ad could still be alive.”

Joseph Corbett, Jr., the FBI’s most-wanted man in 1960 (AP Photo/Ed Johnson)

* * *

From The Death of an Heir by Philip Jett. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.

Whose Fault Was Dunkirk?

British soldiers fire at German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation. Via Wikimedia.

Lynne Olson | Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War | Random House | April 2017 | 15 minutes (3,983 words) 

Below is an excerpt from Last Hope Island, by Lynne Olson. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

In all the history of war, I have never known such mismanagement.

Winston Churchill arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Quai d’Orsay on the afternoon of May 16 and saw “utter dejection written on every face” of the officials with whom he met. In the gardens outside, clouds of smoke billowed up from bonfires stoked by official documents that government workers were heaping on the flames.

The French military leaders summarized for Churchill the disastrous news of the previous four days: the German breakthrough at the Meuse and the onrush of tanks and troops “at unheard-of speed” toward the northern French towns of Amiens and Arras. When Churchill asked about plans for a counterattack by reserve forces, General Gamelin shrugged and shook his head. “There are none,” he said. Churchill was speechless: no reserves and no counterattack? How could that be? Gamelin’s terse response, Churchill wrote later, was “one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

The British prime minister’s shock and confusion, his failure to grasp the speed and immensity of the German onslaught, were no different from the dazed reactions of French and British officers and troops in the field. Years later, General Alan Brooke would write dismissively, “Although there were plenty of Frenchmen ready to die for their country, their leaders had completely failed to prepare and organize them to resist the blitzkrieg.” Brooke didn’t mention that he and his fellow British commanders were as guilty as their French counterparts in that regard—a point repeatedly made by General Bernard Law Montgomery, a subordinate of Brooke’s in France. In his diary of the campaign, Montgomery, who commanded a British division in the battle, was scathingly critical of General John Gort, the British Expeditionary Force commander. Later Montgomery would write, “We had only ourselves to blame for the disasters which early overtook us in the field when fighting began in 1940.”

Trained for static defensive warfare, the Allied military simply did not know how to react when the blitzkrieg—“this inhuman monster which had already flattened half of Europe,” in the words of an American observer—burst upon them. Coordination and communication between the French and British armies broke down almost immediately; within a few days, most phone and supply lines had been cut, and the Allied command system had virtually ceased to function. The only way army commanders could communicate was through personal visits.

While French and British units functioned without information or orders, their tanks and aircraft were running out of fuel and ammunition. An RAF pilot called the situation “a complete and utter shambles”; a British Army officer wrote in his diary, “This is like some ridiculous nightmare.” Back in London, Churchill told one of his secretaries, “In all the history of war, I have never known such mismanagement.” Read more…

The Arsonist Was Like a Ghost

An abandoned house in Accomack County, Virginia. Beginning in 2012, dozens of fires were set in the area, where the poverty rate is around 20 percent. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Monica Hesse | American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land | LiverightAugust 2017 | 17 minutes (4,100 words) 

In the middle of the night on December 15, 2012, Lois Gomez sat up in bed. She thought she heard something. She listened. Nothing. Maybe she was wrong, maybe she hadn’t heard anything. She went to the kitchen for a drink of water. It was two or three in the morning, only a few hours before her shift at Perdue and her husband’s shift at Tyson. Now she definitely heard something. A banging on her front door — which in itself was odd; friends and family knew they always used the side entrance — and someone yelling: “Your garage is on fire! I’ve already called 911!”

She stood frozen in the kitchen trying to process the information. Christmas lights, she thought. Her outdoor Christmas lights were halfway up, but she and her husband had recently decided to visit his family in Texas for the holiday and she’d been trying to figure out whether to bother with the rest of the decorations, which were meanwhile stored in the family’s detached garage, which was now on fire. Christmas lights, along with the expensive music equipment for her son’s rock band.

It had been a rough couple of months. For one thing, she wasn’t getting along with her next-door neighbors. She’d been close with the woman who’d owned that house before, Susan Bundick. They brought each other dinner sometimes, or stood and chatted in their backyards. But one Sunday afternoon, Lois was outside emptying the aboveground backyard pool to close out the summer season, and she saw the police were at Susan’s house. They told Lois her neighbor had died. Now, Susan’s daughter lived in her mother’s old house and things weren’t as pleasant. Tonya was fine, kept to herself, but Lois had a few run-ins with Tonya’s new boyfriend, a squirrelly redheaded guy whose name she didn’t know. He’d done a few little things, like dumping a bunch of branches on their lawn instead of disposing of them like he was supposed to. Once he’d accused her of making racial slurs against Tonya’s kids. The accusation was ridiculous. Lois’s husband was from Mexico, and her four grandchildren were partly black.

She’d also been having nightmares about the arsonist. In one dream, she went into her kitchen late at night and saw someone racing through the yard, an intruder wearing dark-colored sweat pants and a hoodie. “What are you doing?” she called. The figure turned and looked at her but she still couldn’t see his face, and he eventually disappeared behind her detached garage. She woke up and realized it wasn’t real.

This night wasn’t a dream, though.

Read more…

Chasing the Harvest: ‘It Used to Be Only Men That Did This Job’

Illustration by José Cruz

Gabriel Thompson | Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture | Voice of Witness / Verso Press | May 2017 | 22 minutes (6,254 words)

The stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural work force—are rarely heard. The new book Chasing the Harvest compiles the oral histories of some of these farmworkers. Longreads is proud to publish this excerpt about Maricruz Ladino, who shared her story with journalist Gabriel Thompson.

***

Maricruz Ladino

Age: 44

Occupation: Produce Truck Driver

Born in: Sonora, Mexico

Interviewed in: Salinas, Monterey County

Agricultural region: Salinas Valley

 

Sexual harassment and violence in agriculture is both widespread and underreported. For years, the everyday threats and assaults faced by female farmworkers was a story that mostly stayed in the fields. In the past decade, however, a number of investigations—made possible by the bravery of women who have come forward—have uncovered a human rights crisis. In 2010, UC Santa Cruz published a study based on interviews with 150 female farmworkers in California. Nearly 40 percent reported that they had experienced sexual harassment, often from their supervisors; this harassment ranged from unwanted verbal advances to rape. Two years later, Human Rights Watch published a report, “Cultivating Fear,” based on interviews with more than fifty farmworkers across the country, which concluded that the persistent harassment and violence faced by women in the fields was “fostered by a severe imbalance of power” between undocumented farmworkers and their supervisors.

Maricruz Ladino knows all about that imbalance of power. “A supervisor can get you fired with the snap of his fingers,” she tells me. And so she stayed quiet, putting up with her supervisor’s daily harassment—and later, violent sexual assault—in order to hang on to her job at a lettuce packing plant in Salinas. Then came the day she gathered the courage to walk into the company’s office and file a complaint. She feared the worst: she could lose her job, or be deported. Both came to pass. But she has never regretted her decision.

We meet at a vegetable cooling plant in early October, where Maricruz welcomes me aboard her truck, which is carrying pallets of iceberg lettuce eventually destined for Honolulu. While she waits for more produce to be loaded, she talks about growing up on the border, her intense drive to always keep moving forward, and why she eventually broke the silence about the abuse she suffered. Read more…

Getting Out the Message To Save Himself

Photograph by Grant Faint

Don Waters | The Saints of Rattlesnake Mountain: Stories | University of Nevada Press | May 2017 | 25 minutes (6954 words)

From altar boys to inmates, ranches to hotels, the characters in Don Waters’ new collection of short fiction struggle with faith and meaning as much as the landscape of the American Southwest. In this story, “Full of Days,” the protagonist’s antiabortion billboard and surrogate daughter force him to reexamine his controlling behavior and own deep loss, in a city known for sin. Our thanks to Waters and University of Nevada Press for letting us share this story with the Longreads community.

* * *

“So Job died, being old and full of days.”  —Book of Job 42:17

Marc Maldonado sensed the Kingdom of God within him on Sundays, driving sun-scorched trash-scattered freeways to his temple of worship, and he felt the emptiness of his own realm whenever he set the table for one, whenever he aligned his socks in the hollow dresser drawer. In this hot, high-voltage city, with its pulsing neon, with its armies of fingers slamming on video poker buttons, he felt the loving kindness, the light ache of breath in his nostrils, and he knew he was necessary.

On that day Marc drove the freeways, analyzing angles for the best possible exposure. The great desert opened to him as he cruised I-15 North-South, I-515 East-West, changing direction where the freeways intersected and formed a concrete cross. Read more…

Chasing the Harvest: ‘If You Want to Die, Stay at the Ranch’

Illustration by José Cruz

Gabriel Thompson | Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture | Voice of Witness / Verso Press | May 2017 | 17 minutes (4,736 words)

The stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural work force—are rarely heard. The new book Chasing the Harvest compiles the oral histories of some of these farmworkers. Longreads is proud to publish this excerpt about Heraclio Astete, who shared his story with journalist Gabriel Thompson.

***

Heraclio Astete

Age: 62

Occupation: Former sheepherder

Born in: Junín, Peru

Interviewed in: Bakersfield, Kern County

Agricultural Region: Central Valley

 

Along with fruit and vegetable crops, California’s agriculture also includes livestock, from dairy cows and egg-laying hens to hogs and even ostriches. Then there are sheep and lambs—and the unique challenges faced by the workers who care for them. These sheepherders are predominantly temporary guest workers, often called “H-2A workers” after the type of visa they hold.

Theirs is a lonely occupation. Living out of primitive trailers that are dozens of miles from the nearest town, sheepherders can go weeks without seeing another face. It is also the poorest paid job in the country, with some sheepherders still earning around $750 a month; with their long hours of work, that amounts to about a dollar an hour. In a 2000 report by Central California Legal Services, ninety percent of sheepherders reported that they weren’t given a day off over the entire year. When asked about their best experience as a sheepherder in the United States, many responded: “None.”

Like many sheepherders, Heraclio Astete came from Peru, where he grew up caring for flocks of sheep in his hometown. And like many of the workers who responded “None” to the survey, he had a lot of complaints about workplace exploitation. When he suffered a potentially life threatening work-related illness, he decided to do something about it. Read more…

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London

Lauren Elkin | Flâneuse | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | March 2017 | 26 minutes (6,613 words)

 

Below is the first chapter from Flâneuse, Lauren Elkin’s incisive hybrid book of memoir, cultural criticism, and social history about the female urban walker, the contemplative, observant, and untold counterpart to the masculine flâneur. Our thanks to Elkin and FSG for sharing it with the Longreads community.

* * *

Flâneuse-ing

Where did I first come across that word, flâneur, so singular, so elegant and French with its arched â and its curling eur? I know it was when I was studying in Paris at university, back in the 1990s, but I don’t think I found it in a book. I didn’t do much required reading, that year. I can’t say for sure, which is to say I became a flâneur before I knew what one was, wandering the streets around my school, located as American universities in Paris must be, on the Left Bank.

From the French verb flâner, the flâneur, or ‘one who wanders aimlessly,’ was born in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the glass-and-steel covered passages of Paris. When Haussmann started slicing his bright boulevards through the dark uneven crusts of houses like knives through a city of cindered chèvre, the flâneur wandered those too, taking in the urban spectacle. A figure of masculine privilege and leisure, with time and money and no immediate responsibilities to claim his attention, the flâneur understands the city as few of its inhabitants do, for he has memorised it with his feet. Every corner, alleyway and stairway, has the ability to plunge him into rêverie. What happened here? Who passed by here? What does this place mean? The flâneur, attuned to the chords that vibrate throughout his city, knows without knowing.

In my ignorance, I think I thought I invented flânerie. Coming from suburban America, where people drive from one place to another, walking for no particular reason was a bit of an eccentric thing to do. I could walk for hours in Paris and never ‘get’ anywhere, looking at the way the city was put together, glimpsing its unofficial history here and there, a bullet in the façade of an hôtel particulier, leftover stencilling way up on the side of a building for a flour company or a newspaper that no longer existed, which some inspired graffiti artist had used as an invitation to add his own work, a row of cobblestones revealed by roadworks, several layers below the crust of the current city, slowly rising ever upward. I was on the lookout for residue, for texture, for accidents and encounters and unexpected openings. My most meaningful experience with the city was not through its literature, its food, or its museums; not even through the soul-scarring affair I carried on in a garret near the Bourse; but through all that walking. Somewhere in the 6th arrondissement I realised I wanted to live in a city for the rest of my life, and specifically, in the city of Paris. It had something to do with the utter, total freedom unleashed from the act of putting one foot in front of the other.

I wore a groove into the Boulevard Montparnasse as I came and went between my flat on the Avenue de Saxe and school on the rue de Chevreuse. I learned non-textbook French from the names of the restaurants in between: Les Zazous (named for a kind of jazzy 1940s hepcat in a plaid blazer and a quiff), Restaurant Sud-Ouest & Cie, which taught me the French equivalent of ‘& co,’ and from a bakery called Pomme de pain I learned the word for ‘pinecone,’ pomme de pin, though I never learned why that was a pun worth making. I bought orange juice on the way to class every day at a pretzel shop called Duchesse Anne and wondered who she was and what was her relationship to pretzels. I pondered the distorted French conception of American geography that resulted in a TexMex restaurant called Indiana Café. I walked past all the great cafés lining the boulevard, La Rotonde, Le Sélect, Le Dôme, and La Coupole, watering holes to generations of American writers in Paris, whose ghosts hunched under café awnings, unimpressed with the way the twentieth century had turned out. I crossed over the rue Vavin, with its eponymous café, where all the cool lycéens went when they got out of school, assertive cigarette smokers with sleeves too long for their arms, shod in Converse sneakers, boys with dark curls and girls with no make-up. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2015: Our 10 Most Popular Exclusives of the Year

This year marked Longreads’ first full year producing original stories with many of our favorite writers. We also published exclusives in partnership with other publishers—and all of these stories were funded by Longreads Members, with a match from WordPress.com

We are thankful for Members’ continued support, which makes these stories possible. Join today. If you contribute $50 a year or more we’ll send you a special Longreads tote bag. 

Below are the 10 most popular exclusives we published this year. You can see all of our stories here Read more…

Werner Herzog Walks to Paris

Werner Herzog | Of Walking in Ice | University of Minnesota Press | April 2015 | 12 minutes (3,048 words)

 

Long out of print, then in print in only a difficult-to-find small press edition, Herzog’s brilliant, strange jewel of travel writing has been reissued this spring. It is excerpted here courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press in the U.S. and Vintage in the U.K.

* * *

At the end of November 1974, a friend from Paris called and told me that Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death. I took a jacket, a compass, and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself. What I wrote along the way was not intended for readers. Now, four years later, upon looking at the little notebook once again, I have been strangely touched, and the desire to show this text to others unknown to me outweighs the dread, the timidity to open the door so wide for unfamiliar eyes. Only a few private remarks have been omitted. Read more…