Month: March 2015

In Search of Kermit Jaediker

“The tall hawk-faced Holder and the curvy brown-haired Lynnor Gershenson were lovers and what made their lovemaking so fascinating to the police was that Holder’s wife had been murdered.”

You would be excused for assuming that this wonderful sentence is lifted from one of those paperback pulp novels, a bit of classic hardboiled detective fiction. But it’s not. I love good writing wherever I find it and I found this gem of a sentence in a newspaper story from The Reading Eagle, dated August 6, 1972.

In 1970, for reasons that are not germane to this post, I was selected to give a commencement speech at my high school graduation (Valley Stream North High, Class of ’70). Some of my classmates were on their way to Viet Nam. And for those of us who were heading off to college, one month after the National Guard shootings at Kent State, college suddenly seemed more dangerous than ever before. I didn’t see how I could give a commencement speech without making reference to the world that we were graduating into.

Now you’re just going to have to trust me on this, but I didn’t say anything outrageous or unnecessarily confrontational. Actually, you don’t have to trust me. You can trust my father. Before I gave my speech, he made it clear that he wanted to review every word. And he surely would not have allowed me to say anything that would give “aid and comfort to our enemies.”

But when the representative from the Board of Education, a Mr. Howard Holder, got up to speak, that is exactly what he said. That I was giving aid and comfort to the enemies. That I was looking to Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman as my role models. I’ll admit to a certain fondness for Abbie Hoffman, but, in truth, I mentioned neither of them in my speech. Mr. Holder went on to give me a lecture on citizenship (in front of the entire graduating class, our families and guests) suggesting that it would be more appropriate to look to people such as he himself, volunteering his time on the Board of Education, for my role models. (I kid you not.)

Two months later, Mr. Holder was arrested for hiring someone to murder his wife. I am far from perfect, but as I approach my 35th wedding anniversary, I can proudly say that I have never hired a hitman to murder my lovely bride. Anyway, Mr. Holder was arrested, and now, 45 years later, as Paul Harvey would say, I “know the rest of the story.” After 45 years, you’d think I could let it go, that I wouldn’t take such delight in Mr. Holder getting his comeuppance. But he did. And I am.

I learned the rest of the story with the help of the internet, when I came upon two newspaper stories in the Reading (PA) Eagle, The Sweet Smell of Death (July 30, 1972) and A Tryst – Down Payment on Death (August 7, 1972). I learned that Mr. Holder was having an affair. I learned that he and his girlfriend plotted to kill his wife. I learned that they were convicted and imprisoned for their crime.

But that is not what this post is about. This post is about Kermit Jaediker, the reporter who wrote the two stories in the Reading Eagle. What drew me to the stories were the facts about the Holder murder case, but what held my attention was the writing itself.

I needed to know more about Kermit Jaediker. Surely he had written more than a two-part feature in the Reading Eagle. It has become something of an obsession.

Mr. Jaediker was born on April 19, 1911 (perhaps in New Jersey). The first references I can find indicate that from 1941 – 1943, he worked on comic books. He was the writer and colorist for the first issue of Air Fighters Comics (November 1, 1941) as well as the writer of the first issue of Captain Battle Comics (July 1, 1942).

air fighters     captain battle
He was the letterer of issues #2, 3 and 4 of Victory Comics (October, November and December, 1941). He wrote Sub-Mariner Comics issue #8 (December 10, 1942). He also co-wrote a daily (and Sunday) newspaper comic strip, Vic Jordan, under the pseudonym, Tom Paine.

From there, he went on to write two potboilers. In 1947, his first book, Tall Dark and Dead was published in a hardcover edition by Mystery House. Lion released the mass-market paperback in 1951. In 1953, Lion released his second title, Hero’s Lust. He had stories published in the 1950s in magazines with names like Swank and MALE.

tall dark and dead     hero's lust

While working on his comics and his pulp fiction, Kermit Jaediker apparently earned a living as a staff reporter for the New York Daily News. I have found bylines in the Daily News as early as May 9, 1944. His byline pops up intermittently in the Daily News until 1958, according to various online sources. On September 14, 1958, he reported on the Bob Wood murder case, Gramercy Park Gets the Horrors.

grammercy park gets the horrors

Bob Wood, the editor of the well-known crime comic, Crime Does Not Pay, was arrested and later convicted for the murder of his girlfriend, beating her to death after an 11 day drunken hotel tryst. (Mr. Wood served three years in jail for the crime.) Given Kermit Jaediker’s history in the comics, I can only assume that he knew Bob Wood personally.

The trail goes cold after 1958. But 14 years later, on July 30, 1972, Kermit Jaediker has a byline in the Reading (PA) Eagle, The Sweet Smell of Death, the first of a two part feature about the Holder murder case. On August 7, 1972, part two, A Tryst – Down Payment on Death. A year after that, on June 22, 1973,the Reading Eagle published Jaediker’s feature story about Jack the Ripper, and on July 15, 1973, a feature about a serial killer in Santa Cruz, CA. The final byline I can find is a feature story about the zodiac killer in the Sunday News dated July 22, 1973.

code-for-murder-1

Kermit Jaediker died in January 1986.

So I have learned a good deal about Mr. Jaediker, the crime reporter and wordsmith, but I feel like I’m left with more questions. Where in the world was Kermit Jaediker from September 1958 until July 1972? Was he, all that time, a working newsman, whose stories have somehow eluded my detection? Or did he perhaps follow the example of one of his comic book characters, the Black Commander? In Air Fighters Comics, the Black Commander was sentenced to death for treason as a cover story which allowed him to go undercover and infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. As far as I can tell, Kermit Jaediker went missing from 1958 to 1972. I like to imagine him going undercover, living out his fascination with the lurid underbelly of society, in order to infiltrate a Communist spy ring.

Tubby and Coo’s

a great little book shop in Mid-City New Orleans relaxing before the signing sharing the afternoon with author Stacie Stroud Triche My favorite part of the book event

In which Terrell saves my day

I was in Trenton today. Since I was going there anyway, it seemed like a good day to stop in at Classics Books, a used and rare bookstore on W. Lafayette Street. I had three boxes of used books that I wanted to donate, and I wanted to donate them to Classics Books. It’s about the Books at Home Program. “The Books at Home Program provides free books to Trenton kids. Studies show that when kids have more books in their home, they do better in school—no matter how much they are struggling.”

So Classics Books accepts donations of used books. They give you a store credit for the donation. And then they do something really great. They ask you to donate the store credit back to the store and they use the store credit to enable inner-city Trenton youth to “shop” for free books at the book store. If my math is correct, they’ve donated approximately $36,000 worth of books to Trenton youth in the last 6 years.

I had sixty books in three boxes in the back seat of my car.

I got to the book store at noon. It was closed. I waited. And waited. It was starting to feel like a wasted trip. And then I met Terrell.

Terrell is a teenager – I would guess 14 or 15 years-old – an African-American youngster who recently moved to Trenton. He had noticed the book store. So today, an early release day from school, what did Terrell do with his free afternoon? He took the bus to Classics Books. Like me, he stood on the sidewalk, waiting to see if the store would open. We started talking. Terrell loves books – mostly comics, he told me, and fantasy. He stood on the sidewalk peering into the storefront window, hoping they might have a good manga collection, willing the book store to open. We waited. We chatted. The book store remained closed.

I had three boxes of used books in my car. I had mysteries, of course, but I had a lot more than just mysteries. I had everything from Sophocles to Dr. Ruth. But I didn’t have comics. And I didn’t have fantasy. Then I remembered something. I dug through the boxes for my copy of the graphic novel edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I offered it to Terrell. He gratefully accepted my gift. We continued to chat. Terrell waited on the sidewalk for 40 minutes before giving in to reality. “I’ve got to catch my bus,” he explained.

I went back into my car, and came out with one more book. “It’s not the kind of book you normally read,” I explained. “You probably won’t like it.”

“I’m open-minded about what I read,” Terrell assured me.

I handed him one of my books. Not my new book, not Death and White Diamonds. He’s got plenty of time later to find out how deeply disturbed I am. I gave him a copy of A Minor Case of Murder, from the Cassie O’Malley series. “When you tell your family about your visit to the bookstore,” I said, “you can tell them you met an author.”

So Terrell went home with two books. And me, I went home with something a whole lot more valuable than two books. I went home with the memory of Terrell, on his early-release day, standing on the sidewalk for forty minutes, hoping that the book store would open.

Thank you, Terrell. I think I got the better of the trade.

Postscript: The woman who was supposed to staff the small book store today has walking pneumonia. So be it. I’ll return with my book donation next week. I hope that Terrell gives the store another chance. I believe he will.