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.

About these ads

43 Responses to “Richard Kimble Was Guilty”


  1. You’ve finally snapped.

  2. David Inman Says:

    More like F-U Zimbalist Jr., amirite?

  3. Robert Dahl Says:

    Stephen, thanks for an entertaining alternate-reality Fugitive history to commemorate the Fuge’s 50th anniversary.

    Glad to see that you found room to mention Karen Christian and Phil Gerard Jr.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Karen was the girl he should’ve ended up with, of course. Not Diane-why-have-I-never-heard-of-you-before-Baker.

      • Robert Dahl Says:

        Finding the right girl for Kimble is a tough job, as there are so many babes to choose from. Janssen had romances with Suzanne Pleshette and Angie Dickinson, neither of whom I would kick out of bed.

        Both Suzanne and Angie would be in my top 5, as would Susan Oliver. Diane Baker would be way down the list (sorry, Diane). But my vote goes to Janice Rule.

      • Larry Granberry Says:

        Dude – Lois Nettleton (from either “Man on a String,” “In a Plan Paper Wrapper,” or “Death is the Door Prize.” Lois was smoking sexy.

      • Jo.Stu Says:

        Jonson accussed himself in the final part !!
        He killed ozher persons in older parts of the fugitive!
        Gerard killed him when he planned to shoot down Kimble.
        Gerard maked a handshake by leaving Justice courthouse Kimble hesitated first , then agreed – a wounderfoll scene.
        ergo Donna is demend and cannot remember right!

  4. Scott Paton Says:

    Brilliant, Stephen! Thanks for your relentless pursuit of the truth. Philip Gerard would certainly grudgingly acknowledge your revisitation and revision of the Kimble case. I’m only sorry I never got either of the two principals to sign my copy of the wanted poster.

  5. moirafinnie Says:

    I have always wondered how Kimble lived after being exonerated. Like you, I pictured him as living like a scared rabbit with the curtains drawn and paranoia erupting every time a cop car glided by. Taking it one step further, you have now brilliantly illuminated that untold chapter in this character’s life much more vividly than I ever imagined. Good bit about “the lonely women” believing in his innocence all over the country. It always amuses me to see how women of every sort–like canaries in the coal mine of American society–intuitively sniff out the “truth” about Kimble’s guiltlessness.

    At times their sixth sense about him reminds me of the way that dogs sense a person’s true nature…but that analogy “might be” insulting to some of them. Very fine parody and most intriguing. Thanks.

  6. Lee Says:

    Reports surfaced that during the mid-70s, Kimble shuttled inexplicably between San Diego and Los Angeles with a boat ironically named “The Answer.” Perhaps mindful of his treatment by Lt. Gerard, he spent those years haranguing and tormenting police lieutenants.

    Stories of a brief period working for the treasury department remain unconfirmed by Universal Press and Mark VII News.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Uh-huh. Now explain how Lt. Gerard ended up in outer space. In 1999.

      • Lee Says:

        He had been spotted doing consulting work for the Martian government as early as 1963. The real mystery is how he disappeared from outer space right in the middle of 1999.

  7. Joe Says:

    Real simple. On Mars the martians received transmissions of Fugitive episodes but much like the aliens in Galaxy Quest the martians thought they were watching a real life incident. A martians face was scarred after a bad accident in 1998. The doctors rebuilt his face after many surgeries to resemble that of Philip Gerard because the martian believed Kimble was guilty. Coincidentally another martian had his face badly damaged but so wanted to look like his transmission hero Richard Kimble that the plastic surgeons made it so. The “Fugitive” and “Gerard” never met until that faithful day in 1999 when “Kimble” got into an argument with severe consequences after loudly supporting their individual hero’s position in the Kimble murder. “Kimble” won his argument and made his enemy disappear by using the exploding space modulator on him. The previous owner of the rarely seen explosive had passed away leaving his green dog behind to mind the store.

  8. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Should I be scared of what I have started here?

  9. sgspires68 Says:

    Reblogged this on Colonel Assignment – and thoughts about writings and the world and commented:
    I heard Gerard got his old war buddy, a private detective named Cannon – big guy with a radio announcer voice – to look back into the Kimble case in the early 70s. Gerard and Cannon were tight and had flew in B-17s with the 918th Bomb Group out of a little field called Archbury during World War II. Gerard got some info on Kimble from a UFO nut named David Vincent, yep the famous architect, and got Cannon to look into it.
    Glad to see it is all finally wrapped up now.

    • DB McWeeberton Says:

      I was recently watching the Cannon two-parter “He Who Digs a Grave”, where Cannon’s defending an old friend (Janssen) who’s accused of murdering his wife–and it turns out (spoiler?) that he IS guilty. Definitely intentional casting in this one!

      • sgspires68 Says:

        Such outstanding actors, too. Even a bad episode of Cannon is better than most drivel today. I slap myself for grumpy comments, but it is true. I remember seeing that two parter. Jansen spends most of the episode in a cell.

  10. jbrown3079 Says:

    This is very clever.

  11. Mark Speck Says:

    What I would have liked to see happen in the final Fugitive…when Kimble walks out with Jean, there’s more than a large group of reporters. There are a long line of women waiting for him as well…women who either want to hug and kiss him or slap him, depending on the circumstances under which he left. There’s also a long line of police cars from various states, with cops who wish to talk to him about various assaults, kidnapping of a police officer, petty theft, numerous incidents of falsification, etc.

    I would also like to know how Lt. Gerard and Archie Bunker got together and were mistaken for aliens from outer space…

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Hah, yeah. Turns out Kimble fathered 17 children in 15 different states during those four years, and he’s got a LOT of overdue child support to scrape together….

  12. Don Malcolm Says:

    Clever indeed, but didn’t Chandler actually step forward only after Johnson was killed? All that operatic self-laceration was just a front for a bribe? Definitely post-modernist cynicism at work here…

    I would have enjoyed it if Telly (Who Loves Ya Baby) Savalas would have revealed (in a “very special episode” of Kojak) that ’twas HE who’d killed Helen Kimble.

  13. david bushman Says:

    Fan fiction, Bowie-style!

  14. Ed Robertson Says:

    At least you spelled my name right, Stephen. ;)

  15. lenny raitzyk Says:

    I once read many years ago that an alternate ending had Kimble sitting on the beach reading the newspaper headlines and then with a smile pulling his one fake arm off.

  16. Dave Lally Says:

    Many yrs ago in Ireland, The Fugitive was very very popular on RTE (Irish TV), where I watched it religiously. Barry Morse regularly visited and would appear on the most popular TV show thereon (The Late Late Show) -usually just as the start of the new Fugitive season on the station. On one occasion he remarked that –at a charity do in LA– he and Janssen appeared, they had a mock fight and –specially arranged– BM’s arm came off ! Absolute hilarity! The above is a most enjoyable piece of post-Fuge history! [Oh and didint Gerards son change his name twice: (1) to Snake Pillsen and be dropped into
    a major prison --twice-- in a closed off US City (to extract important people) and then (2) change his name to Macready, work for a US Antarctic research station as a helicopter pilot and remain the sole survivor after --allegedly-- an alien encounter!!]
    best wishes.

    • James Says:

      Close Dave. It was Snake Plissken, who later turned up talking Japanese in a video game called Metal Gear Solid as well. Honest!

  17. James Says:

    I’m on jury duty soon. If I happen to hear any “dodgy” stories from the defendent about his innocence and seeing a “one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home”, I’ll be sure to take this all into account.

    Fantastic alternate take and, as always, containing your renowned attention to detail Mr Bowie!

  18. J Leonard Says:

    Well done, and frighteningly plausible. The alternate beach ending was the story Janssen made up for the press at the time: “Kimble, cleared of the murder, retires to a desert island to recuperate from his ordeal. At sunset he takes a swim. Just before plunging into the surf, he pauses, unscrews his wooden arm, and tosses it on the sand. Fade-out.” Always loved that one.

  19. Mitchell Says:

    Totally insane. Probably wrong. Absolutely brilliant – loved it!

  20. Brian Says:

    Thanks for clearing up this mystery at long last.

    i always wondered why Kimble looked so guilty if he was innocent.

    But I always thought the bad guy was sexy brother Andrew Prine, who was probably drilling Helen Kimble and had trouble breaking things off.

    However, I did suspect Donna Taft wasn’t as sweet as she looked.

  21. Dack Says:

    Wasn’t Gerard actually a State Police lieutenant? I seem to recall him being a statie.

    The commenter above is right about Lois Nettleton being the perfect mate for Janssen’s Kimble. She was the only actress who could match his twitchiness.

  22. Nick Caputo Says:

    Excellent stuff, Stephen! I could envision William Conrad speaking your words in his authoritative tone. It makes me want to go back and look at those episodes again with your conclusion in mind.

    The Fugitive is one of my favorite series which I’ve re-watched in the past few years, but it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor about the storyline.

  23. Tom Says:

    Great Blog! Of course I think Kimble would have jetted around the world with stewardess Ruth Morton played by Pamela Tiffin from “The Girl from Little Egypt” episode.

  24. Don Hilliard Says:

    Stephen –

    Gross and stupid.

    Yrs,
    DH

  25. Kafka Says:

    There is a persistent rumor that while in Southern California Kimble confessed to comedian Joey Bishop, “I killed her, Joey. She talked too much.” But this story has never been confirmed,

  26. Neville Ross Says:

    Here’s one that might work:

    Willy Gilligan is left on the island when the rest of the castaways realize that he is the one keeping them from going back to civilization (they devise a secret plot to get off the island without him knowing). He has to survive by himself for years and years (supported by the occasional ‘care package’ dropped by Thurston Howell) and does so, all the while eventually becoming angry at his friends for leaving him there. Eventually, pity is taken on him; he’s ‘rescued’ (taken off) of the island, and when he gets back to civilization, he tearfully and angrily confronts the other castaways as to what they did this. They all make it clear (lovingly but firmly) to him that they had lives to live, and that they didn’t want to spend all that time with an arrested development case stuck at the age of ten who treated the island as his own private kingdom with subjects to help him out of his messes. Gilligan realizes that they were right in leaving him there, eventually gets over it, goes back to school (vocational school for adults?) and gets a job driving a taxi, eventually befriending the owner of a diner, becoming BFF’s with its owner, and being best man at the man’s wedding. He does not see his former friends ever again, though-and the feeling is mutual.

  27. sanborneo Says:

    as a fan, i was like, “how DARE you?!! but as a piece of revisionist history, yeah, it was pretty damn good…

  28. sanborneo Says:

    next you’re going to tell me my whole life is a lie! wait, the fugitive…was really…the fugitive?…from actual justice?!…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers

%d bloggers like this: