The Charlotte News

Wednesday, July 2, 1941


Site Ed. Note: Time for a little Blue Rondo a la Turk now...

The column today begins with the sad news from Mexico of Cash's death and offers in its wake a brief and genuine sentiment of respect for the lost scholar and writer who had illuminated the column for the previous three and a half years. Plainly, J. E. Dowd was dumbfounded by the news.

Immediately below the lead piece is the comment on Lyndon Johnson being about to lose his first bid for the Senate by about 1,000 votes to Texas Governor Lee O'Daniel. Subsequent history would suggest that both fraud and confusing ballots, one being used in Johnson-favored counties whereby all except the chosen candidate were crossed off a list, had contributed to O'Daniel's victory. The final margin would be 1,311 votes. It was the last election Johnson would ever lose, save his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960.

The third piece, on General Wavell's relief from command of British forces in the Middle East and transfer to India, possibly because of the fall of Crete and the Nazi breakthrough in Libya, has in its latter passages the first mention in the column of Greensboro native, Edward R. Murrow. Murrow's matter-of-fact radio commentary for CBS during the initial London blitz had already become legend for its stark conveyance of the reality besetting the city each night the Nazi planes managing to elude the RAF net flew over the Channel and dropped their load on helpless civilians below, to find dawn in flames amid broken buildings and broken bodies, those who hadn't been able, or no longer possessed the will, to make it in time to the subway refuge underground. In 1964, we had occasion to purchase a recording of some of these broadcasts and were struck by the note of drama without excess, pathos without emotion, insistence without bombast, which, even then, nearly twenty years after the war, Murrow brought in steady drum roll to the matter--something which, as most broadcast journalists credit still, served as the benchmark by which such on-the-scene accounts have since been judged.

The last piece of the day, on Winston-Salem's slums, bemoans the absence there at the time of a Federal housing project, one favored by the new mayor, R. J. Reynolds, son of the tobacco magnate. The stress on Winston-Salem no doubt came from the familiarity with the city which Cash's replacement, Stuart Rabb, brought with him from the Winston-Salem Journal. Winston-Salem would eventually get its Federal housing project.

The piece's juxtaposition to the piece on Johnson's loss is interesting as it would be Johnson's mid-sixties War on Poverty which would cause in many larger cities the old worn-out, crime-riddled early Federal projects of the thirties and forties to be replaced by new ones--which by the 1980's themselves had become rat-infested concrete hollows, ripe for nurturing the rondo's crime and alienation. Such is the devastating whirlpool which cycles nurture of poverty and ignorance in recurring generations through the shadowbox which is a slum.

Removal from the environment and integration to the community at large is the cure for such devastation, not further segregation in the same fish-eaten environment, simply supplanted by newer digs.

The front page of the date carries a piece on Cash, describing his supposed suicide as reported by the Mexican police authorities, as eventually confirmed by the death certificate prepared by the coroner.

As we have before stated herein, the evidence, however, of suicide is simply non-existent. There is no autopsy report and none to which reference is made in the death certificate. The death certificate itself, in addition to simply declaring cause of death of one "Wilbob J. Cash", age 45, as "asphyxiation by hanging", bears the strange notation that cremation of the remains was performed without proper authority: "Panteón Civil Incineración previo el permiso correspondienta," meaning, "Mausoleum of Civil Incineration prior to suitable permission." Whether this notation simply meant that Mary, because her passport was locked away in the safe deposit box, did not have proper legal standing to grant such permission, or whether it literally indicated that someone ordered the cremation before obtaining her consent at all, is not explained. Regardless, the cremation was performed after Cash's parents had objected to the idea; they offered all necessary financial assistance in returning his remains, certainly something in any event which the Guggenheim Foundation would have covered. Mary, on the stated basis that she could not endure a multi-day train ride with Cash's body, agreed with Josephus Daniels's complicity to tell the Cashes before the fact that the body had already been cremated.

Mary admitted this "big story" to Morrison in the 1960's, but still persisted in the cover-up even then, on the notion that it would not do anyone any good in the Cash family to tell them that she and Daniels had dissembled about this fact in 1941.

As we have before suggested, while there was good reason for the story at the time, given the world situation, the nation tottering on tenterhooks over entry to the war, indeed, as editorials of the day suggested, in many respects already involved in the war, there was no need for continuing the deception after the war--except on fear that their own reputations might be somehow compromised by such a report. So doing, however, dodged a confrontation with the fact that, however unfair, a stigma inevitably attaches to the concept of suicide, both to the putative suicide and to his or her family. And understanding the true reasons for this cremation--obviously not to avoid a train ride with the body as the body could have as easily been flown back on the plane--is crucial to understanding what actually happened in Mexico. In any event, the true version of this part of the event was at least recorded by Mary in writing and preserved in Morrison's papers.

That aspect of the controversy aside, the mere fact of hanging by one's own necktie obviously does not in any manner indicate suicide more than it suggests possible strangulation by a third party, whether by use of the necktie or some other device. The tale-teller would have been an autopsy to determine whether the marks on the neck closed at the back, indicating strangulation, or were open, indicating hanging. That information, we simply do not have. Nor did Joseph Morrison in his research in the mid-1960's; nor Bruce Clayton in his research in the 1980's. Morrison had sought from the State Department and from Mexican authorities a coroner's report, but nothing other than the conclusory death certificate is included in his papers contained at the University of North Carolina's Wilson Library.

Morrison received no cooperation from the Mexico City police in the mid-1960's and was informed that the inspector on the case, Commander Alvara Basail, was no longer with the force. Ben Meyer, the Associated Press reporter summoned by Mary during the afternoon of July 1, the only other named witness besides the police and Mary to the discovery of Cash's body at around 10:00 p.m. at Hotel Reforma, refused to talk about the matter to Morrison in 1964, stating that he never had any reason to doubt the suicide but could offer nothing about it and abruptly requested not to be bothered further. Oddly, he offered that he never spoke to Cash, odd because Mary insisted they had "hit it off" when visiting the A.P. offices a week or so before July 1, the reason she sought him, she later said, to try to calm Cash.

Leaving aside then any non-sensical theory of murder by robbers, non-sensical because Cash had placed all valuables in a safe deposit box on the morning of July 1 and because the Reforma was one of the top hotels in the city at the time, one which catered to the wealthy, and moreover because a robber or robbers would not have taken the time to make a scene appear as suicide by hanging Cash's body on a bathroom door hook, the only theory left, by simple process of elimination, is murder which was premeditated in some manner for some motive other than mere random selection of Cash as a victim. That inevitably leads to the theory that members of the Nazi spy ring in Mexico murdered Cash, as Cash himself, according to Mary, complained of being followed by Nazi spies, or by someone bent on killing him, during the last 24 hours of his life.

Several facts, not examined at all by either Professor Morrison or Professor Clayton, for all their fine scholarship otherwise, then leap forth: 1) the largest spy arrest in U.S. history the previous weekend in New York and New Jersey, leading directly to the Mexico City operation receiving orders to shut down and destroy its papers and to get out of the country as quickly as possible, followed by the frantic efforts to do so; 2) the fact of the plan, concocted in summer, 1940 by the Abwehr, in place in Germany to arrest, on bogus charges of spying, a Mexican journalist in Berlin should the Mexico operation ever be compromised, a form of ransom to wedge their release should they be arrested or in jeopardy of it; 3) the transmission on July 11 by Mexican Ambassador Josephus Daniels to Jose Padilla, Mexican foreign minister, of a note seeking the arrest of three named suspected Nazi agents, without any particular reason or timing for such a note, and the failure then of the Mexican government to act on the request; 4) after Pearl Harbor, the arrest of 240 Nazi agents in Mexico, those who had not already left Mexico, and their being deported, only two being prosecuted for espionage, none convicted; 5) the Japanese military command decision in the morning hours of this date in Tokyo, in concert with the Emperor, to move south in the Pacific, the decision which inevitably led to Pearl Harbor; 6) the death on August 1 in Houston, ostensibly by heart attack but questioned as to its circumstances in an otherwise seemingly healthy man, of William Rhodes Davis, Nazi oil supplier, in Mexico in mid-June, 1941 and staying at the Reforma Hotel; 7) Cash's own writings in the months before his departure for Mexico including two pieces in January on Davis, the second essentially labeling him a traitor for his oil deals arranged between Mexico and Germany to effect the invasion of Poland in 1939; including further his account of the death in April of John F. Arena in Chicago at the hand probably of Italian or German agents at the behest of the Italian or German Embassies for anti-Fascist writings in his Italian-language news sheet; including his editorials regarding the deaths by supposed suicide of both Premier Pal Teleky of Hungary and Premier Korizis of Greece.

One could question these matters certainly, individually, as being mere coincidence with the death of Cash in Mexico. For instance, examining in isolation the fact of the Daniels letter to Padilla, the question arises as to why the timing, when no particular event, other than Cash's death, had occurred in Mexico to prompt such a letter then as opposed to say the previous summer when Daniels was warned in advance of July 4 by the Belgian Ambassador that there might be a coup by the Fascist supporters of Almazán in the election taking place for president, that word had come that the American Embassy was to be a target for reprisal and that Daniels might be killed; Daniels did nothing, attended as usual the traditional July 4 festivities put on by the Embassy, even as gunfire could be heard in places across the city.

Why then, ten days after Cash's death did he suddenly seek the arrest of three Nazi agents? There was, with the Nazi spy arrests in New York and the closing of the Italian and German consulates, prelude to severance by the U.S. of diplomatic relations with the two countries, a consistent parade of events since the President's May 27 speech indicative of the national emergency he had declared at that time. Perhaps, then, Daniels's letter was just another such event? But if so, why not press the matter? No further action is reported by either Daniels or by the Mexican government in response until the fall, just before Pearl Harbor, after Daniels's October retirement and return to Raleigh. Why not write the letter in mid-June, say, right after the announcement of closing of the U.S. consulates? Why not in May, right after the President's speech. Why not June 30, to be in time with the spy arrests in New York? Why July 11?

We cite the matter as example of one such examination one might make of each of these coincidences separately. And of course there are other coincidences which we have presented before and which are contained in the part of the site on Cash's death, as well as in the last page of the photographic section. Taking each one of the coincidences in isolation, one might then offer some reasonable explanation or simply dismiss it all as coincidence. We have tried it.

But the more one examines the number of such coincidences in combination, a picture fairly forms from the dots left on the page, the ones not susceptible to such explanation. And it is that picture circumstantially which inevitably suggests that Cash died not at all by suicide but at the hands of Nazi agents seeking either a form of ransom, a manner of communicating threat so as to be left alone to escape back to Germany, as they eventually did, or some communication of direct concern about Cash and his role, suspicions over his writing, that he was a spy for the government, sent to infiltrate the spy ring in Mexico, not just a writer on sabbatical to write a novel about the South; indeed, even the possibility that Cash was in fact that, and that the heat placed on him in Mexico led to Roosevelt appointing "Wild Bill" Donovan to the newly-created post of Coordinator of Information on July 10, formally to organize an intelligence gathering organization, even if the decision to do so actually had been made a few days before Cash's death.

In the end, it is a case without a firm answer. But on balance, the probabilities are certainly on the side of murder, not suicide. The former has plenty of circumstantial evidence attached to it, including ample fit with the apparent modus operandi being employed by the Nazis in various places across the world stage in 1941. The latter has no evidence, not a shred, to support it, other than the results, unsupported by either an extant coroner's report or even further cooperation with Morrison nearly a quarter century later--results offered up by the notably corrupt Mexican government with plain Fascist leanings to satisfy across their country at the time, a country which stood on the brink of acceptance of Fascist-Nazi rule if it stood to their benefit to accept it, if the Nazis were going to win the war; indeed, a country in that respect not unlike the United States, at least through the time before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

We have written much on the topic previously and so we shall leave it for you to ponder.

Installment 27 of Out of the Night presents more of the forceful consolidation of power by the Nazis, the burning of the Reichstag and blaming a supposed Communist for the act, using it as excuse to arrest 4,000 Communists, the steady hoofbeat of the storm troopers and Gestapo agents into their lives. Jan imparts that, while still only possessed of a plurality of active support, the Nazis nevertheless were able effectively to exploit the natural enmity between the Socialists and Communists, to wedge themselves into the role they occupied by March, 1933--omnipotence over all German society. As Jan seeks to re-form his propaganda unit, Hamburg undergoes the same purges of Communists to which Berlin was made subject. Firelie is visited by a Gestapo agent; while dressing in another room, she escapes, leaving baby Jan in the clutches of the Gestapo man. After several days, she is able to muster enough people to her aid to re-obtain her infant. Meanwhile, Jan remains busy distributing anti-Nazi propaganda.

And The New York Times, as we discovered one fine July day in 1991 at the library out in Oakland, California, as well as The News, reported this date that isolationist Congressman Hamilton Fish of New York, a Colonel in the Army Reserve, was ordered to report to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to begin 30 days of active training.

Until today, incidentally, we had never read that page six of The News: the biographical sketch therein provides the first reference we have ever seen to Cash's supposed writing of a series of articles for the Southern Newspaper Syndicate out of Dallas. We shall endeavor to find it for you at some future point.

The time, said the Bulova Bannerman hands, was 10:35--Pacific Standard Time.

Good night and good luck.

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