Richard Kimble Was Guilty

September 17, 2013

Guilty2

Richard Kimble exits the Stafford, Indiana courthouse, on August 29, 1967, moments after his murder conviction was reversed.  Kimble’s sister, Donna Taft (far left), now alleges that Kimble was guilty of that crime. (File Photo)

STAFFORD, IND. – Richard Kimble, the small-town pediatrician and death row fugitive whose first degree murder conviction was famously overturned in 1967, may not have been innocent after all, according to new claims made this week by members of his family.

Convicted for the brutal slaying of his wife Helen Kimble in September 1961, Kimble escaped custody during a freak train derailment two years later.  He spent four years as the subject of an intensive manhunt before the discovery of new evidence led him to turn himself in to Stafford police in August of 1967.

According to Kimble’s sister, however, her brother was guilty of the crime, and the new evidence that exonerated him was faked.

Donna Taft, 81, maintained her brother’s innocence for more than fifty years.  During his years as a fugitive, she was the Kimble family’s primary spokesperson and an outspoken critic of what she described as his “persecution” by prosecutors and police.  Now, however, Taft says that Richard Kimble really did kill his wife.

“Richard was a severe alcoholic,” Taft explained in an interview Thursday. “Helen was a heavy drinker, too. They argued all the time and the arguments escalated into brawls. Then Dick found out that Helen was having an affair, and that caused him to snap.”  According to Taft, her brother hired a man he met in a bar to kill his wife in exchange for a payment of $1,000.  The man, Fred Johnson, was a troubled veteran with a history of violent larceny and assault and battery arrests. Johnson lost his right arm while serving in the Pacific during World War II.

Upon his arrest, Kimble told police and reporters that he had seen a one-armed man, whom he did not recognize, running from the scene of the crime.  “Dick’s plan all along was that if the police did arrest him, he could just blame Johnson, and they would take his word over that of a known criminal,” Taft explained.  But Kimble hadn’t counted on Johnson’s ability to disappear so completely.  When the police were unable to locate Johnson, even after interrogating dozens of local amputees, Kimble was trapped.

According to Taft, Kimble did not confess to her his true role in the slaying until two or three years into his escape.  “He was a master manipulator,” she said.  “He fooled us all.”  During Kimble’s four years on the run, reports occasionally surfaced in the press of strangers who helped Kimble elude capture.  In particular, he had a knack for seducing lonely women who provided him with shelter and money.

“Yes, for a time, I believed he was innocent.  That’s true,” said Terry Waverly, 73, who is the younger sister of Helen Kimble.  “Only our mother was certain. She never trusted Dick, never.”

“I spoke to dozens of people who met Kimble, and nearly all of them described his empathy, his quiet warmth,” said Ed Robertson, author of The Fugitive Recaptured, a 1993 book that retraced Kimble’s path across the United States during his years of flight.  “If it is true that he conspired to kill his wife, then he had to have been a true sociopath.”

In the interview last week, Taft said that her brother confessed to her because he was looking for a way out of a life on the run.  “Dick was worn out. He’d suffered injuries and serious illnesses. Finally, he called my husband and I and asked us to help him find an exit strategy.”  Kimble had always thought he could eventually settle down quietly somewhere, or leave the country, after the initial media frenzy around the escape.  What Kimble had not counted on was the determination of Philip Gerard, the Stafford police lieutenant who initially arrested Kimble and in whose custody Kimble was on the night of the escape, to bring him to justice.

“Gerard was crazy,” Taft says. “He used his own money and vacation time to pursue Dick around the country. Dick was desperate. A few times he set up traps for Gerard — he lured him into the path of other criminals in the hopes that one of them would kill Gerard for him. But it never worked.”

Taft and her husband Leonard, discussed severing ties with Kimble. But in the end they agreed to help him.  (Leonard Taft, now 87, was to ill to be interviewed at length, but he confirmed that his wife’s statements are true.)  When a family friend, a court stenographer named Jean Carlisle, alerted Donna Taft that Johnson had been arrested on a different charge in Los Angeles, Kimble and the Tafts quickly devised a scheme to revive the original frame that Kimble had arranged for Johnson.

“Gerard interrogated Johnson and placed him in Stafford at the time of the murder, but he still didn’t buy it.  He knew Dick too well by that time, knew he was a killer,” said Taft.  “So we got Lloyd Chandler involved.”

Chandler, who died in 2005, was a neighbor who had never been publicly connected to the Kimble case.  But in 1967 Chandler declared that he had been in the Kimble home at the time of the murder and had watched as Johnson, not Kimble, bludgeoned Helen Kimble with a lamp.  That testimony led a judge to vacate the original verdict.

Chandler never offered an explanation for his six years of silence, and reporters at the time speculated that he had been having an affair with Helen Kimble.  Taft confirmed that those rumors were true, and says that after Johnson was apprehended she and Leonard Taft approached Chandler with a bribe.

“We knew he had serious financial problems, and also we figured that if his story was questioned, the affair would make it seem plausible,” Taft explained. “Lloyd was desperate enough to perjure himself, and we all got away with it.”

Guilty1

Lloyd Chandler (File Photo)

But the conspiracy between Kimble, Chandler, and the Tafts went further than perjury.  In order to prevent Johnson from implicating Kimble in the killing, Kimble and Chandler lured Johnson into a meeting where, claims Donna Taft, Kimble planned to kill Johnson.  Although a clear account of that encounter never emerged, Johnson was slain – but by Gerard’s bullet.  Gerard stated publicly that he was convinced of Kimble’s innocence by that point, and the press treated him as a hero. “POLICE PURSUER SLAYS ACTUAL KIMBLE KILLER,” read the headline in the Stafford News.

But, according to Taft, Gerard was actually aiming for Kimble and missed. “Gerard hated my brother so much he never put it together that Dick hired Johnson.  He was sure that Chandler was lying, but he couldn’t prove it.  If he had tried, he would have been implicating himself in the death of a man he thought was innocent,” said Taft.  “So he kept his mouth shut.”

At the time, perhaps, but in the decades that followed, Gerard gave many interviews proclaiming his continued belief in Kimble’s guilt.  Reporters at the Stafford News grew accustomed to ducking calls from Gerard, who suffered personal and professional setbacks as a result of Kimble’s exoneration.  He took an early retirement from the Stafford police force in early 1968, a move that was not of his own volition, according to a former Stafford police official who insisted upon anonymity.  Afterwards, Gerard briefly operated a private detective firm, and later worked as a uniformed security guard.  He died in 2008.

“I don’t care about Richard Kimble,” said Philip Gerard, Jr., the only son of Lt. Philip Gerard, when reached on Monday.  “Dad cared more about him than about his family.  My mother left him and I grew up without a father because of Richard Kimble.”

Gerard, Jr., who retired from a thirty-year career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2007, initially declined to comment further, but abruptly added: “When I started at the Bureau, I went to work for an old-time, by-the-book guy named Lew Erskine. He recognized my name and all he said was, ‘Chip off the old block?’ My dad alienated the Bureau guys all the time and I could tell just from Inspector Erskine’s expression that Dad had stepped on his toes, too.

“So if Kimble is guilty and that rehabilitates Dad’s reputation to any extent, I guess that’s a good thing,” Gerard said.

As for Kimble, he lived a quiet but restless life after winning his freedom.  Although his license was restored by the Indiana Medical Board, Kimble never practiced medicine again. Instead, he moved to Los Angeles with Jean Carlisle, the typist who helped set his exoneration in motion.  Their marriage ended in divorce after less than a year.  According to Donna Taft, Kimble was living in San Pedro, California, with Karen Christian, a woman he first met during his time as a fugitive, when he died of complications of alcoholism in 1980 at the age of 48.  “But he looked twenty years older,” said Taft. “He never recovered from the ordeal of being on the run.  He was never happy again.  And he couldn’t stop drinking.”

Kimble re-entered the headlines only once, in 1971, when he was questioned as a suspect in the Zodiac killings by San Francisco homicide detective Dave Toschi.  Kimble was quickly cleared at the time.

“But if we know now that Kimble really was a killer, that’s a whole new ballgame,” said Robert Graysmith, author of several books on the Zodiac case.  “I always thought Kimble was a strong suspect as the Zodiac.  I tried to interview him, but he wouldn’t talk to me.  He was a squirrelly guy.  He never made eye contact, not once.  That definitely needs to be looked at again.”

Asked whether prosecutors were considering reopening the Kimble case, a spokesperson for the Stafford County District Attorney’s office had no comment.

I discovered The Fugitive on TV.

The title character was my imagined self as sexual igniter.  He was running from a murder charge as trumped-up as mine was real.  The show was the epic of shifting and lonely America.  Love was alway unconsummated.  Yearning was continuous and transferred monogamously.  Dr. Richard Kimble had moments of stunning truth with women weekly.  The real world interdicted his efforts to claim them and create a separate world mutually safe.  The guest-star actresses were torturously aware and rooted in complex and frustrated selfhood.  They all try to love him.  He tries to love them all.  It never happens.  It all goes away.

I fucking lost it and wept every Tuesday night . . . .

It wasn’t the way they looked at Dr. Kimble.  It was who they were and the path of their hurt up to him.

- James Ellroy (who turned 15 in 1963, and blamed himself for his mother’s murder five years earlier), in his memoir The Hilliker Curse (2010)

First Richard Kimble found his wife’s dead body.  Then he was convicted of her murder.  Then he found himself on the run with a psychotic nutjob vowing to send him to the death house.

But all of that was a cakewalk compared to what happened when Dr. Kimble fell into the hands of CBS Home Video.

The latest volume of The Fugitive to arrive on DVD, the third such set, has had all of its incidental music stripped out and replaced by an entirely new score composed specifically for that purpose.  This is not the removal of occasional snippets of songs, which has (lamentably) become commonplace in the DVD realm because it’s expensive to clear the rights to popular tunes for home video.  Instead, it’s the wholesale deletion of the entire original musical element of the series – and without any warning to consumers beyond a standard boilerplate disclaimer in tiny print.  This is the first time any television show has arrived on DVD in such an aurally mutilated form.  It’s a very big deal.

“Where did they put my music?  Is it behind this fence?”

I’ve sampled the new music in some episodes on the set and compared them scene-for-scene to tapes of the show with the original score intact.  The results were dire.  To their credit, the new composers have been conservative in their approach, placing the new music for the most part in the same spots as the old – even imitating it note for note in some sections.  Roy Braverman, a music editor who worked on the new score, wrote on his website that the “new music library is being composed ‘in the style of’” the original scores.

Up to a point, that’s true – the new music isn’t quite as obtrusive I expected.  However, it is pedestrian and generic.  As I watched the first act of one of my favorite episodes, “Devil’s Carnival,” my heart sank.  The mournful Pete Rugolo melody used whenever Kimble would amble wearily into a new town, was gone, replaced by new notes that have no emotion at all.  The Rugolo score played under William Conrad’s basso narration, adding a wistful quality to lines like “Richard Kimble: He travels a lot by thumb, makes many a long, lonely hike between rides.”  The new music fades out abruptly as soon as Conrad starts speaking, and pops back in with an annoying two-note sting as soon as he falls silent.  (The main and end titles of all the episodes have their original music intact, although the musical bridges from the teaser into the opening titles have been effaced in a rather jarring way.)

On a technical level, the new music has a tinny, squawky quality and the remixed audio tracks exhibit a lot of abrupt changes in volume.  Even if you’ve never seen The Fugitive before, and aren’t sensitive enough to the styles of sixties music to detect the anachronistic, modern tinges to the new score, this release will hurt your ears.

This week I called Alan A. Armer, the producer of The Fugitive‘s first three seasons, and broke the news to him about the music replacement.  Armer told me that he was “totally in awe of what you’re telling me . . . . I’m a bit staggered.”

Armer had less involvement with scoring The Fugitive than most TV producers do on their shows; at QM Productions, series producers focused on story while the post-production was supervised by other executives (on The Fugitive, Arthur Fellows and John Elizalde).  Nevertheless, Armer expressed dismay that the original cues are gone.  “You just have to wonder how much that will affect the dramatic quality of the shows,” Armer told me.  “I suspect that the show may have suffered as a result of it.”

The Fugitive has a somewhat unusual musical history.  It was, as Jon Burlingame writes in his invaluable TV’s Biggest Hits: Television Themes From Dragnet to Friends, the only major hit series of the sixties for which “no single episode actually received an original score.”  Instead, QM commissioned jazz composer Pete Rugolo (a former arranger for Stan Kenton) to write a library of cues that could be tracked into multiple episodes.  Rugolo composed the theme and basic Fugitive motifs based upon either a screening of the pilot, or possibly just a description of the show’s premise.

To supplement Rugolo’s library (there were “other things they needed that I didn’t write,” Rugolo told Ed Robertson for his book The Fugitive Recaptured), Elizalde and music editor Ken Wilhoit pulled stock cues from outside music companies.  Cues from the Capitol Music catalog were licensed, along with the CBS music library and, eventually, an archive of scores composed by Dominic Frontiere, the Outer Limits composer who became closely associated with QM during the sixties.  The CBS library was an especially important source, and many treasured cues from The Twilight Zone and Gunsmoke (by such famous composers as Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann) were repurposed for The Fugitive.

(There’s some debate as to whether any of Frontiere’s music appeared in the episodes on this DVD set.  I’m almost certain that the familiar Outer Limits melodies from the Daystar library didn’t begin to crop up until The Fugitive‘s fourth and final season, but it’s possible that Frontiere’s scores for Daystar’s Stoney Burke or an earlier QM show, The New Breed, were sourced.)

Rugolo’s score would have been owned outright by QM and, though there was no connection between The Fugitive (an ABC show produced by QM and United Artists) and CBS Music in 1963, both properties are now owned by the same corporate entity, Viacom.  Naturally, then, there’s ample cause for speculation as to what element of the Fugitive scoring could have triggered the music replacement – especially since the series’ first season, comprised of the same mix of musical elements, arrived on DVD intact last year.

*

Adding insult to injury, CBS has digitally altered the closing credits of each episode to insert the names of the composers of the new score:

It’s a move that reeks of duplicity.  Instead of appending a new card containing the modern names to the end of the titles, as one would see on a film that’s been restored (although, in this case, these would be the “desecration credits,” not the “restoration credits”), CBS has hidden the new names in plain sight to avoid a clear admission that the music was changed.  Here’s how that same card (from the episode “Devil’s Carnival”) is supposed to read:

Nothing personal against Messrs. Heyes, Winans, and Komie, but seeing their names embedded among those of the people who actually worked to create The Fugitive back in the sixties gives me a sense of almost physical revulsion.

Somewhat overlooked, given the magnitude of the score-replacement problem, is the fact that CBS sliced out portions of the image in the “Ballad For a Ghost” episode, in which Janis Paige plays a chanteuse who bears a haunting resemblance to Richard Kimble’s late wife.  The two songs that Paige performs on-camera have been changed on the audio track, and so all of the closeups and medium shots during her numbers were deleted (a total of about a minute of footage).  One of the missing shots is a fast-dolly into a closeup of Paige immediately after Kimble (David Janssen) sees her for the first time.  The camera move emphasizes Kimble’s shock upon discovering his wife’s doppelganger; without it, the scene loses much of its power.

I didn’t realize this because I haven’t been watching any of the affected shows, but CBS has been taking this approach to some of its other classic television releases as well.  Often when Jim Nabors sings in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., or when Jack Klugman or Tony Randall belt out a few bars of a pop tune during the banter of The Odd Couple, those moments have been excised from the DVDs.

Look what they did to my song, Dr. Kimble: Janis Paige in a shot you won’t see on the new Fugitive DVD

The high costs of clearing popular music are widely known and many fans have been quick to forgive the studio and buy into the argument that paying the license fees for these songs would give the DVDs a prohibitive pricetag.  I won’t take a position on that except to suggest that cynicism rather than blind trust would be a more productive attitude toward any issue of corporate accounting.

One fact made clear by the extensive song deletions on various DVDs is the fact that CBS has an active corps of intellectual property lawyers scrutinizing the musical history of their television properties.  In off-the-record remarks to me, several people with recent experience in the home video world have characterized both the CBS/Paramount legal staff, and their counterparts at other studios, as inexpert, inconsistent, and overcautious.  (As an example, when you hear long stretches of silence in a Paramount or Warner Bros. DVD audio commentary, it’s usually not because “these people got caught up in watching something . . . they hadn’t seen in over 40 years,” as Jeffrey Kauffman suggests in his review of the recent Mannix DVD.  It’s because the lawyers have scissored out any material that could in theory trigger some kind of defamation claim.)  The convoluted nature of The Fugitive‘s underscoring raises the possibility that CBS’ attorneys scrutinized the show’s cue sheets, found some unfamilar names, and made a hasty decision to replace the score without fully or accurately investigating the ownership of the music.

(Before publishing this piece I attempted to solicit a comment from CBS, but calls and e-mails to several CBS home video personnel, as well as a Paramount media relations representative, were not returned.  Roy Braverman and one of the credited composers of the new Fugitive score also did not respond to interview requests.)

*

A separate, but very much related, issue is the ignorance and/or sympathy that on-line DVD reviewers exhibit for this sort of nonsense.  Ronald Epstein, proprietor of the widely-read Home Theater Forum website, praised Paramount for its “wise decision” regarding the Fugitive music replacement.  Both DVDTalk and DVDBeaver, well-respected sites among cinephiles, gave the Fugitive DVD set high marks without noticing the music substitution.

Now, I have some sympathy for DVD reviewers in this situation, because nobody can be an expert on every TV show or movie that’s thrown over the transom.  And as we’ve seen above, the studios will do everything they can to disguise the alterations they’ve made to their product – so each DVD is a little trap for the unsuspecting DVD reviewer to step into.  But I feel that the ignorance displayed by DVDTalk’s Paul Mavis in this case is inexcusable.

Two days before publishing his review of the altered Season 2 set, Mavis posted a review of the largely unchanged Season 1, Volume 2 Fugitive DVD.  How could any remotely competent film historian or “Fugitive fanatic” (Mavis identifies himself as both) watch parts of these two collections back-to-back without immediately noticing the radical changes to the sound of the series’ music?  After being alerted to his error, Mavis posted a defense of CBS’ decision: “I know it feels good to bitch out the studios for doing this . . .  but I also know this is a business – pure and simple . . . . I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I’m going to enjoy the show.”  As of this writing, Mavis has yet to substantially amend his review, which still claims that the audio on the DVD set “accurately represents the original broadcast presentation.”  This is not consumer reporting as I understand the concept.

And speaking of consumer reporting, I vowed after February’s Route 66 debacle that I wasn’t going to turn this into a DVD blog.  I also wrote that I was going to balance my reporting with some positive posts about successful DVD editions of early TV shows.  But before I’ve gotten around to doing that, we have yet another crisis to address – another essential series of the sixties that’s being butchered in its initial videodisc release.  It’s ironic that The Fugitive should join Route 66 in the virtual wastebin (and the wastebin, make no mistake about it, is exactly where I’m recommending you file your Fugitive Season 2 discs).  The two series have always been paired in my mind because of their peripatetic structure, and because they featured protagonists who were anti-heroes of a sort – social dropouts at a time when television typically celebrated establishment figures (doctors, lawyers, policemen) and looked askance at nonconformists.  In this regard The Fugitive, which arrived on the air as Route 66 began its final season, can be seen as a natural continuation of the earlier show – Richard Kimble was a forced exile from society while Route 66‘s Tod and Buz had left on their own accord and could re-enter the mainstream at any time.  Both of them were prescient hints of the years ahead when “dropping out” became a widespread credo for disaffected young people.

Because of that, although I’m not sure that I’d call The Fugitive or Route 66 my favorite television drama of the sixties, I would argue that the two of them have to be considered the most signifant.  It’s beyond dispiriting that both shows are in real peril of being utterly ruined in their first (and likely only) complete home video release.

It is of – pardon the pun – paramount importance that CBS undo its error, untangle whatever legal or financial morass underlies the music substitution, and give us the real Fugitive.  With the release of this DVD set, if not before, I’ve become convinced that large-scale music replacement is a form of aesthetic butchery that’s the equal of panning-and-scanning or colorization during the days of VHS.  It took a long time, but those battles have largely been won by videophiles.  Now those of us who care about television and movies know what the next fight will be.

Update (4/20/2013): After more than four years of further gaffes – more numerous than I could attempt to report along the way - CBS/Paramount issued a definitive box set with all of Pete Rugolo’s music and the vast majority of stock cues intact. For the most part, replacement copies were not provided to consumers who purchased the mutilated sets, and no official explanation for the music replacement was ever offered.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 177 other followers