By Iric Nathanson, Becketwood Member
This is Part 2 of a series. If you missed it, you may read Part 1 here.
Chapter 4 Undercover
When Jocko Delaney arrived at Sheltering Arms for his weekly update with Ethel Lings, a tall gangly man in a black T-shirt was with him.
“Miss Lings, this is Norbert Wordlinger. He is working undercover for us, infiltrating the Silver Shirts. Most of those guys who march up and down Lake Street are harmless, but we are getting reports that a small group of them may be involved in some very nasty business.
“Last week, there was a break-in at a gun shop in St. Louis Park. A half dozen assault rifles were stolen. We think the rifles may have ended up in the hands of the Silver Shirts. Norbert suspects that Jencks was involved in the break-in and that he may have hidden the rifles here at Sheltering Arms. I brought Norbert with me today, because you may see him around here checking out the rumors about the rifles.
Ethel Lings grimaced. “Lieutenant, your report is very disturbing. First, Jencks’s murder and now this. I do hope you and Detective Wordlinger can clear up this terrible business as soon as possible so we can get on with our work."
“Miss Lings. We are doing what we can. You’ll have to be patient,” Jocko told her. But Jocko could see that the stern orphanage director he remembered from his days at Sheltering Arms was not ready to be patient.
As the meeting was breaking up, Miss Lings noticed the tattoo on Wordlinger’s right arm, a clover leaf over a ship’s anchor. Probably a naval insignia, she thought to herself.
That next week, the Minneapolis papers were filled with news about Charles Lindbergh’s nation- wide radio address, broadcast from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The broadcast made national news at a time when the reports from Europe were increasingly grim. Germany had overrun Belgium and the Netherlands. Hitler’s next target was France. With the interventionists in the U.S. beating the war drums, Lindbergh’s American First group, which advocated strict American neutrality, was gaining support. In his widely publicized New York speech, Lindbergh warned about the “Jewish elements” that were trying to entangle this country in a European dispute, the famous aviator said, that did not concern the United States.
As Lindbergh was winding up his New York speech, men from the Aryan Militia were gathering in a dark corner of Glenwood Park, just beyond the Minneapolis city limits. That night they were not wearing their silver shirts. Just before 10 PM they left the park and started moving down Plymouth Avenue, intent on vandalizing the Jewish-owned shops along Plymouth. When they got to Penn, a group of teenagers burst out of the alley and started attacking the militia members with clubs and brass knuckles. The attackers were the Young Maccabees from the Jewish Community Center on Oak Park Avenue. Their leader was a recent North High School graduate, Pauley Nathanson. Earlier that day, Nathanson had received an anonymous phone call about the militia’s plans. The melee on Plymouth Avenue lasted for only about half an hour. By 10:30 the police arrived and broke up the fight.
“There was nothing about the fight in the paper today, but we have the full report back at headquarters,” Jocko told his friend Ned when they were together the next day, having a beer at the Schooner. “The mayor called Jack Cowles at the Tribune and asked him to cover up the story.
“It must have been Norbert who tipped off the Nathanson kid about the march,” Jocko continued. “That’s why the Maccabees were ready for the Shirts when they got to Penn. The call about the fight came into the precinct station about 10:10 but our squad didn’t get to Penn and Plymouth until about 10:30. It shouldn’t have taken them that long to get there. I think our boys wanted to give those Maccabee kids a head start.”
In another part of the city, the Pee Wee softball league was wrapping up its spring season at Longfellow Park. After their final game, Ned brought the Hiawatha Tigers up to Minnehaha Falls for ice cream to celebrate their second place showing. While his boys were waiting in line at the park refectory, Ned noticed his friend Jimmy at the falls overlook. He had his arm around the woman next to him. The woman was Elspeth Schroeder.
“Be careful,” Ned told Jimmy as they were suiting up for their weekly handball game later in the week. “Don’t get too involved – for a lot of reasons.”
“Yes, O wise one, your advice must always be followed,” Jimmy answered back, mocking his friend. “But sometimes, when something happens between two people, you have to let it happen.”
Chapter 5 The Murder Charge
The news broke at the end of May.
“Minneapolis man charged with orphanage murder,” the Tribune’s headline screamed. The story said that 24-year-old Daniel Simmons has been arrested and charged with the murder of Walter Jencks at the Shelter Arms Orphanage.
Ethel Lings was bristling with anger when she and Ned met with Jocko Delaney for their weekly update on the murder investigation. “Miss Lings, this is not what I expected from you today,” Jocko told the Sheltering Arms director. “ I thought you would be pleased with the news.”
“Lieutenant, I am not at all pleased. You have made a terrible mistake. You have arrested the wrong man. I know Danny. I have known him ever since he was here with us as a young boy. He has had a hard life. He was homeless during the terrible early years of the Depression—riding the rails, I think they call it. There were run-ins with the police. But then he was able to go to one of those CCC camps and he started to turn his life around.
“Lieutenant Delaney, Danny may still be fighting his demons, but he has a good heart. I know he isn’t capable of murder.”
“Miss Lings, you may believe that, but we have clear evidence, “ Jocko responded. “The gun that killed Walter Jencks, Danny’s gun, was found in his room. That evidence will persuade any jury. You can be sure of it.”
“Be that as it may, Lieutenant, I am going to do what I can to help Danny. My friend Mr. Kantor is a criminal lawyer. I am going to ask him to represent Danny. If need be, I’ll pay the legal fees myself.”
Ned and Ethel Lings joined Alex Kantor when the Minneapolis attorney met with Danny Simmons at the Hennepin County Jail. Kantor got down to business right away. “Danny, I need to have you look me in the eye and tell me honestly: Did you kill Walter Jencks?”
“Mr. Kantor, I swear I didn’t kill Jencks. I know I threatened him that night at the Green Lantern, but that was the alcohol talking, not me.”
“Danny, I believe you, but I am going to have a hard time persuading a jury that you are innocent. The police found the gun that killed Jencks in your room, and then there is the matter of your alibi. You say you were with your girl friend Doris, but we can’t find her.
“Doris has a friend, Janice, who works some nights at the Lantern,” Danny told his attorney. “Maybe Janice will know where to find Doris.”
That night, Ned was at the bar at the Green Lantern, as a perky young blonde, no more than 17, came up to take his order. “Janice, I want to talk to you about Doris Miller. Can we talk here?” Ned asked her. Immediately, Janice’s face darkened. “I can’t let Dix see me talking to you,” she whispered. “I get off work in a few minutes. Wait for me out in front at the bus stop. If anyone asks why you are with me, I’ll tell them you are my uncle.”
Ten minutes later, when they were together out in front of the bar, Ned explained to the nervous young woman who he was and why he had come to the Green Lantern to see her.
“Mr. Lilleveld, I know where Doris is but I can’t tell you. I am scared. She is scared. I know she loves Danny. They have even talked about getting married. But Dix warned her not to get mixed up in the Jencks murder trial. He says some very bad people will come and hurt her if she talks. They may hurt me, too, if they know I am involved. I’ll tell Doris that you want to talk to her. If she’s willing to talk, I’ll get back in touch with you.”
Chapter 6 The Washington Visitor
Jimmy was troubled when he and Ned got together for their weekly handball game.
“I just had a very unsettling conversation with a man from Washington who came to see me,” Jimmy told his friend as they were suiting up. “His name is Donovan. He is with some government agency I had never heard of before—the Office of Strategic Services. Anyway, Donovan told me there were rumors that Von Lansdorf, or at least some of the people around him, might have some connections with the Nazis, and that his research might be finding its way to Germany.
“I can’t believe any of this. I work with Doctor Von Lansdorf and Elspeth every day. If there was any truth in what Donovan told me, I would have known about it.”
That next week there was a letter from overseas waiting for Ned in his office. The letter did not bring good news. It was from his sister Mary, who was back in London working for CBS. Along with the letter there was a clipping from a Munich newspaper dated March 12, 1938. It showed a photo of the local chapter of the Wehrmachtheferin, the Women’s Nazi Auxiliary. There, in the front row, was Elspeth Schroeder. Mary had written to say she knew there was something familiar about Helmut Von Lansdorf’s daughter when she had met her at the reception in Minneapolis. Mary said it had taken her awhile to remember that she had seen photo when she had been in Munich on assignment for CBS.
Ned knew he would have to tell Jimmy. It was information his friend would not want to hear. The next day, the two men confronted a rueful Elspeth Schroeder in Jimmy’s office. Elspeth admitted that she had been a member of the Wehrmachtheferin, but only because her husband Konrad had thought it would advance his career in the education ministry. When Konrad was killed in an auto accident, she knew that she and the boys had the chance to leave Germany and flee to Sweden with her father.
“I never believed any of the propaganda they were spouting off,” Elspeth told Jimmy and Ned. “I joined only because of Konrad. But once we were in Sweden, I did keep my membership a secret. If the word had gotten out, I knew it would harm Father’s chance of coming to America.”
But the word did get out—the family’s chauffer, Klaus, had learned about Elspeth’s membership in the Women’s Auxiliary.
“I was desperate,” she told Ned and Jimmy, apologetically. “I had to find some way to keep Klaus quiet. I told him I would let him in on some of the secret work we were doing in the lab if he would promise not to expose me as a member of the Auxiliary. I made him think we were working on some kind of a chemical agent that could be used as a military weapon. That was all nonsense. Our work had nothing to do with chemical agents but Klaus didn’t know any better. I made copies of some meaningless files and told him they were top secret. I even gave him an outmoded centrifuge that we were no longer using. When we came here, Klaus decided that he could make some money by selling the files and the equipment to that fanatical minister Luke Rader, who is a Nazi sympathizer.”
Jimmy was on the verge of tears when he phoned Ned the next week. “She’s leaving. They are all leaving. Von Lansdorf is going to back to Sweden,” Jimmy said, his voice breaking.
“Jimmy, I know how painful it is for you to lose Elspeth,” Ned responded, trying to console his friend. “But it had to end this way. Sooner or later, the story about Elspeth would have come out. She and Von Lansdorf needed to move on. You need to move on, too.”
Chapter 7 Bombshell
Ethel Lings was uncharacteristically cheerful when she phoned Ned just before Labor Day. “Ned, you are going to find some interesting news in the Tribune tomorrow. Come and see me after your paper arrives.”
The next morning, Ned could hardly believe his eyes when he retrieved the Tribune from his front steps. “Minneapolis police officer confesses to Sheltering Arms murder,” the headline blared.
Later that morning, when they were together in her office, Miss Lings told Ned she had suspected Norbert Wordlinger almost from the very beginning.
“It was that clover leaf tattoo I saw on his arm when he first came here,” she said. “The tattoo jogged my memory—I remembered a young girl named Clover Johnson who was at Sheltering Arms in the early 1930s. She was here only for a few months, after her father died. Clover left here under a cloud. There was a rumor that Jencks was involved—that he had abused the girl—that he had done unspeakable things to her. I didn’t believe the rumors.
“I know now that I didn’t want to believe them. After she left here, Clover committed suicide. A horrible thing to happen. There’s a copy of the obituary in our files. It said she was survived by her mother, Edith Wordlinger, Edith’s husband Wilmont Wordlinger and Wordlinger’s two sons Kenyon and Norbert.
“I realized then that it must have been Norbert Wordlinger who murdered Jencks, that he had waited all this time to avenge his sister’s death. It was Norbert who planted the gun in Danny’s room.
“I went to see Norbert. I told him I knew what he had done, and that he would not be honoring his sister’s memory by getting an innocent man convicted of the murder. I told Norbert he would have to live with that terrible thought for the rest of his life. I told him he needed to do the right thing and confess. Norbert believed me. He did the right thing.”
That next week, Jocko Delaney came back to Sheltering Arms to tie up one last loose end in the murder investigation. Jocko reported that Douglas Martin was about to be indicated for bribery. According to the MPD’s investigation, Martin was paying off Newton Berringer, the head of the city’s Public Works Department, to speed up the construction of water and sewer lines to a new subdivision that Martin wanted to build out beyond the Creek.
“Jencks was the go-between,” Jocko said. “Berringer was getting greedy. He told Jencks that he wanted a bigger payoff. That was the message Jencks delivered to Martin when they met at Sheltering Arms the week before he was murdered.”
Miss Lings thanked Jocko for the report, “What a relief! Now that Mr. Martin is out of the picture, we can finally go ahead with what we have always wanted to do—set up that polio rehabilitation center here.”
Four months later, on New Year’s Eve, a small group gathered in the Sheltering Arms chapel for the wedding of Seaman First Class Danny Simmons and Doris Miller. The guests included Ned Lilleveld, Jimmy Patterson and Ethel Lings. Danny and Doris had decided to get married before Danny shipped out to his first post at the naval base in Honolulu.
“I am so glad we are able to end 1940 on this happy note.” Miss Ling told the newlyweds and their guests as they were leaving the chapel. “Years from now, I am sure the dark times we all lived through here will be forgotten. What people will remember about Sheltering Arms is that it was a place of peace, a place of hope and compassion. That will be our gift to those who come after us.”
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