The "Law and Order" television series prefaced some episodes by saying they were "ripped from the headlines." And so it was, once upon a time, before newspapers and their websites began devoting tons of space to the Kardashians, Justin Bieber and other very boring people, that you could find many interesting, but weird stories that with little effort could be turned into films.

Here's a sampling of strange stuff from 1933. Some of these, I'm sure, inspired at least parts of movies that were cranked out in the '30s and re-made afterward. At least one of them seems tailor-made for Charlie Chan, and the characters in another story would not have been out of place in the television series "Justified."



"Mutineers Without a Cause"
This first story was big news for a few days, and may have been the basis of a film, or, at least, inspired a part of one. Exercising creative license, such as inserting a role for Jean Harlow, Fay Wray or Marlene Dietrich, and pitting, say, Clark Gable against Otto Kruger, and turning the mutineers into the good guys, you'd probably have a hit, even if the film didn't make any sense, which it almost certainly wouldn't.

Syracuse Journal, February 10
BATAVIA, Java (INS) — Carrying the bodies of 18 mutineers killed when Dutch military planes bombed the captured warship, De Zeven Provincien, the punitive squadron of cruisers and destroyers steamed back to port today, victorious in the bloodiest naval clash in peacetime annals.

The De Zeven Provincien was bombed after the mutineers refused to surrender promptly after receiving an ultimatum from Captain Van Duin, commander of the punitive squadron.

The punitive squadron encountered the De Zeven at the entrance to Sunda Strait, which divides Sumatra from Java. When the mutineers refused to surrender, Captain Van Duin ordered seaplanes to drop one bomb on the ship.

The aerial bombers scored a direct hit on the ship’s bridge, killing 18 mutineers, including three European marines and one petty officer, and wounding 25 others.

The remaining mutineers capitulated after the bombing, running up white flags. They were placed under arrest.

Reasons for the mutiny remain unclear, though a reduction in pay certainly was one of them. The usual suspects — communist agitators — are sometimes mentioned. The determination of the mutineers caught the Dutch by surprise, but they went ahead and bombed one of their own ships.

"Who is Hedwig?"
One of the year's strangest stories was one that kept changing. At its heart was a six-year-old German girl named Hedwig, found in Los Angeles in the care of a 48-year-old man variously described as a doctor, a philosopher and a mental patient.

What happened to both people, I don't know. The problem, as far as an explanation is concerned, is that the girl, at least, was returned to Germany, about to be ruled by Adolf Hitler. It was all too easy for people to disappear in Nazi Germany.

Here is one version of Hedwig's story, which today would be turned into a Lifetime movie.

Syracuse American, February 12
LOS ANGELES (Universal) — Happiness is in store for a German mother who will leave her home in Hamburg for a trip here to claim her 6-year-old daughter, Hedwig Wengret, who was given up for murdered many months ago.

The child was kidnapped from the street in front of her home as she played in the snow more than a year ago. German authorities reported they believed the girl had been killed.

Hedwig was found in Los Angeles when Wilhelm Dathe, 48-year-old foreigner who described himself as a “philosopher,” recently applied at a county charity bureau for food for his “foster daughter.” He said he found the girl abandoned in a New York railway station when she was a baby and that he had kept her.

The mother, Mrs. Annette Wengret, wife of a Hamburg municipal official, has made arrangements to have Hedwig back again through German consular officials.

William (Wilhelm) Irving Dathe told several stories, for awhile claiming to be the girl's natural father. Young Hedwig said she had been stolen from her mother, but appeared to have no recollection of her father. Early newspaper stories claimed the girl could speak four languages.

On February 15 it was revealed Dathe was being held in Los Angeles on a charge of moral turpitude and that he had been deported from the United States in 1924 after being convicted of purchasing a 10-month-old baby. He was described as a doctor, and because of his interest in young children was briefly considered a suspect in the Lindbergh kidnapping case.

A story on May 18 said the girl actually was an orphan and had been adopted from a Hamburg orphanage by Dathe, who posed as a Lutheran minister. Had Dathe been able to support himself in the United States, the case might never have come to light, but he surrendered her to the Los Angeles police and admitted he had escaped from a German insane asylum, though even that tale may have been bogus.

"Fun With Guns"
The following story seems familiar, though the movie that was made many years later —"Breakout" (1975), with Charles Bronson — was about a pilot hired to help a convict escape a Mexican prison. The two ex-cons who attacked Leavenworth federal prison in 1933 may have been giving police an excuse to put them back behind bars. Or maybe they simply were idiots.

Syracuse Journal, April 1
LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (INS) — Two former convicts were held in Wyandotte County jail today, charged with having sprayed the walls and administration offices of the federal penitentiary here with machine gun fire from an airplane.

The plane swooped low within the walls of the prison late Friday. Guards on the tower turrets fired at the plane, to no avail.

While Major General Stuart Heintzelman was calling the fort flying field to order a pursuit squadron out to capture the plane, the ship landed on the fort reservation and the two men were seized. They are Jack Barlow and James C. Norris of Denver. Both recently served short terms for violation of federal prohibition laws.

Officials believe the ex-convicts were trying to drop contraband within prison walls. A similar incident occurred last fall and officials believe the same plane was involved.

Or perhaps — note the date — this was an April Fool's Day prank. In any event, the story faded quickly, so it is unknown what happened to the two young men who turned out to be brothers, Lynn S. Barlow, 35, and A. N. Barlow, 40. The names they gave police were aliases. They also said they had a brother, Theodore, and that the purpose of their flight was to celebrate their brother's release from prison. The two flying Barlow brothers had previously served time in Leavenworth on a liquor violation. The plane belonged to Lynn Barlow, aka Jack.
"Rustlers Along the Rio Grande"
The two Americans involved in the following Mexican adventure returned home unscarred, but perhaps with a few good stories to tell. Reports of their reasons for crossing the border varied, with one newspaper story saying the two men had been arrested for attempting to rob a bank. The truth apparently involved missing horses, which may have been rustled.

Syracuse Journal, May 18
ALPINE, Texas (INS) — Posse men recruited from the Big Bend cattle country by C. L. Hannold were ready to ride across the border into Mexico today to rescue Hannold’s son, Arthur, and another American rancher, John Rollins, who are believed held by Mexican bandits.

Rollins and young Hannold disappeared 10 days ago when they crossed into Mexico to recover a herd of horses driven off the Hannold ranch by rustlers.

The missing man’s father said he had learned the two Americans had been seized by Candalario Blasa, renegade border outlaw wanted by both Mexican and Texas authorities.

Reports as to the whereabouts of the two cattlemen are vague, but it is said the two men have been turned over to Mexican police and are on their way to Bouquillas and will be released there unharmed.


"Panic on Long Island"
You may recall "Panic in the Streets," a fine 1950 suspense film set in New Orleans, starring Richard Widmark and Jack Palance. It was about a race to find small-time mobsters who didn't know (or care) that they were sick and could touch off an epidemic of pneumonic plague.

Our film would be set on Long Island. Quick, call Hankmed and those medical busybodies from the old TV series, "Royal Pains." (Trivia note: In "North by Northwest," Cary Grant's man-on-the-run was picked up by the Glen Cove police.)

Binghamton Press, November 27
GLEN COVE, Long Island (AP) — Police were scouring this section of Long Island today for a petty thief who unwittingly stole a tube containing enough typhoid fever culture, according to Dr. George Zucalia, to contaminate the entire Forest Park district of Glen Cove.

The culture was left in a bag in Dr. Zucalia’s automobile last night when he was visiting a patient in Forest Park. Whoever took the bag, the doctor said, obtained nothing save the tube of typhoid culture.


"Death Goes Down the Drain"
Another suspense film, though it might be scarier to work the word "radium" into the title. The dangers of radium and radiation poisoning were well known in the early 1930s because of the tragic cases of women who became fatally ill while working for a New Jersey company that made watches with radium dials.

In this movie, of course, sewer rats would ingest some of the radium and begin glowing, which would help the hero (played by George Brent) save the day.

Syracuse Journal, June 3
ALBANY (INS) — Somewhere in the main of the city sewer, between the Albany Hospital and the Hudson River, $10,000 worth of radium was being sought today.

The search is being made by George H. Loftus of New York, who is testing sewer traps in and near the hospital with an electroscope which indicated the presence of radium in its vicinity.

The one hundred milligrams of the precious substance was lost through the carelessness of a cancer patient.

"Bullets vs. Ballots"
Those who loved the terrific F/X television series, "Justified," might regard the following as business as usual in Kentucky's Harlan County.

Syracuse American, August 6
HARLAN, Kentucky (INS) — In a tenseness scarcely eased by closing of the polls at sundown, Kentuckians yesterday chose legislative and local office candidates in both major parties in a general primary which cost four lives.

Gunplay and dynamiting marked the election in Harlan County until National Guardsmen restored order. They will remain on guard until the ballot count, which starts tomorrow, is completed.

Violence was general throughout the mountains, but elsewhere in Kentucky the election was quiet, with record heavy primary votes being recorded.

A gun battle ushered in election day at Tway, three miles north of here. Ten minutes before time for the polls to open, a fusillade of bullets cut short a quarrel over a last-minute inspection of ballot boxes in that coal mine camp precinct. As men ran for cover, dynamite was hurled into a huge coal pile. Theodore Middleton, candidate for Republican nomination for sheriff, was injured on his left leg and Bob Gilbert lost the sight of one eye in the blast. Jim Cawood had two fingers shot off.

Tom Shelton, 30, succumbed at Pineville to bullet wounds suffered Friday in a duel over the election in Bell County, which adjoins Harlan. The clash was believed to be an aftermath of a double murder at the same site, Four Mile, last November 8, in the Hoover-Roosevelt election, for which two of Shelton’s brothers were tried. George Hendrickson, 34, a witness against the Sheltons, was arrested for yesterday’s shooting. He bore a bullet wound in the hand.

“Bad” Brown Strong, 50-year-old mountaineer, reputed to have three notches on his gun, was reported shot to death in a disturbance at a remote Breathitt County polling place late yesterday.

Previously two men were slain in Harlan County. Deputy Sheriff Joe Lee, 44, was shot down at Wallins on election eve when he tore down an election poster. Robert Roark, 33, who had been appointed a precinct judge in today’s balloting, was shot to death at Black Mountain Thursday in a quarrel over accusations of ballot box stuffing. Four men were injured in this melee.

Numerous clashes, involving minor injuries, were reported throughout the mountain counties. More than a third of Harlan County’s voters were believed to have remained away from the polls in fear of disorders, despite the protection of National Guardsmen.

"The Chiromaniac"
Oldtimers might picture wrestler-turned-actor Mike Mazurki as the villain in the title role of a film about a person determined to make the world free of chiropractors.

Syracuse Journal, August 9
PATERSON, New Jersey (INS) — Perplexed police today combed haunts of the underworld in search of the perpetrators of a maniacal campaign of intended extermination against chiropractors, following discovery of the fifth deadly bomb within three months.

Dr. William Cooper, 33, found an eight-inch bomb filled with a quarter-pound of nitroglycerin and half a pound of buckshot under the hood of his auto. The bomb was set to explode when he turned the ignition switch.

Two weeks ago two bombs attached to light sockets wrecked the offices of two Paterson chiropractors, fatally injuring a female patient.

"Reward From Beyond"
It's the following that strikes me as fodder for a 1930s private eye film. Indeed, I think the premise was used more than once by Hollywood, except that in the movie versions it would turn out the eccentric millionaire really had been murdered.

Syracuse Journal, August 29
Millionaire Horace Elliott Wadsworth died in Reno on August 10, apparently of natural causes. However, in his will he left $100,000 for the solution of his murder, should it be proven that he, indeed, was murdered.

Local police officials consider the case closed, but are expecting people will be digging for evidence that would point to foul play. Wadsworth, a native of Detroit, was buried in Kalamazoo. He was in Reno to file suit for divorce against Elizabeth Baker Wadsworth of Stratford, Ontario.

At first, it was believed he had died of an overdose of sleeping tablets, either taken accidentally, or with suicidal intent, or administered by a mysterious killer. However, the coroner listed “alcoholism” as the cause and declared the case closed.

Lester Summerfield, Reno attorney who represented Wadsworth while he planned divorce action, said there was “absolutely no evidence of foul play.”

Wadsworth, he explained, had that fear, but an analysis of his stomach showed no poison, but instead a bad case of ulcers, plus “acute alcoholism.”

The millionaire was brought in late at night to the hospital from the fashionable Desert Inn at Pyramid. He died the next morning.

If it can be verified that Wadsworth was estranged from his second wife, and assuming he died of natural causes, the entire estate will go to his daughter by his first marriage. If his second wife can prove the couple was not estranged, then she is entitled to half the estate.

At the time of Wadsworth’s death, it was said he had not filed suit for divorce because he had been unable to reach an agreement with his second wife concerning a property settlement.

Contacted at her home in Brighton, New York, near Rochester, Wadsworth’s first wife, Dorothy Clatt White, said her former husband’s will is as much a mystery to her as to everyone else.

Mrs. White is now the wife of Thomas R. White, executive of a Rochester paper company. She has lived in Brighton for the past five years.

“I never knew Mr. Wadsworth to have enemies,” she said. “I saw him a year ago and he appeared to be in good health.”

She added to the mystery when she added, “He was not a heavy drinker and I cannot understand attributing his death to that.”

She refused to let reporters see her 8-year-old daughter, Mary Elizabeth Wadsworth, who may inherit her father’s $900,000 estate or a large share of it. The girl goes to public school in Brighton and had gone to Detroit once a year to visit her father.

"The Ominous Obituary"
This one also smacks of a 1930s private detective film. It would be perfect for Charlie Chan, who'd expose a professional killer whose trademark was having his victims' obituaries published before they were dead.

Syracuse Journal, September 23
LONDON (INS) — The mysterious death of an East Indian in California the day after his obituary was published in a San Francisco newspaper will be brought up in the Indian legislative assembly, according to the Daily Herald today.

The Herald stated the victim, Sharedar Sher Singh, was shot to death at El Centro, California, near the Mexican border, in July of this year. The obituary notice had appeared the preceding day.

Representative Gayaprasad, the Herald declared, will raise the question in the Indian Assembly, asking if an inquiry has been made and, if so, with what results?

The Herald stated Sher Singh, who was a sikh, was murdered by members of a rival Indian political group.

"Andy Hardy Goes to Rutgers"
Despite its serious overtones, the next one most likely would have been treated as a comedy, perhaps an installment in a popular Mickey Rooney film series. (That's Rooney, above, with Ann Rutherford, who was featured in several "Andy Hardy" films as his girl friend, Polly Benedict.)

Syracuse Journal, November 3
NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (Universal) — Five students of Rutgers University chose the gangster method of censoring the gossip column in the college newspaper, Targum, last night. They kidnapped the columnist, Sidney S. Margolius, a senior, of Highland, New Jersey.

Arthur Kammerman, a freshman who was walking with Margolius when the latter was forced into the abductors’ sedan, telephoned police to say five masked men in a gray sedan had kidnapped a Rutgers student.

While police were patrolling roads outside the college town, Margolius was pushed out of the sedan in front of his fraternity house, Omicron Alpha Tau.

He told authorities his kidnappers were students. “They blindfolded me and drove me around for two hours. They threatened to beat me up if I didn’t promise to quit printing gossip. And so I promised.”

Dean Frazier of the university said he will investigate and deal with the abductors, declaring this is not a matter for the police.