The Island As An Age-Old Refuge For People On The Lam

[Note to F.B.I. and Interpol authorities: should the author of this classified story disappear within a week of its publication, please follow the leads offered in the material herein. Also, to the columnist’s detractors who maintain the author is making up stuff as she goes, her sudden demise, non habeas corpus, should put paid to her credibility; a journalist’s highest goal.]

In 1941, Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow, packed up their kids, nannies, secretaries, maids and chief-cook-and-bottle-washers, and sought asylum from a ravening public and press that had beset them ever since, some years previous their baby, Charles, Jr. had been kidnapped and killed. They settled into an old manor house in Seven Gates in the wilds of Chilmark, without any fanfare whatsoever (although, nowadays, Robert Murdoch would have hacked into their iPhones inside of 20 seconds.)

By that time, Mr. Lindbergh had found a new way to be the It Boy. No more solo trans-Atlantic flights or family tragedies for him. Instead he had joined the right-wing America First party and made speeches around the country, railing against the Brits, the Roosevelts, the Jews, and anyone else who ticked him off. Ms. Morrow did not wholly approve. She wrote in her diary that a speech of her husband’s was “throwing [her] into black gloom.” In another entry, she despaired, “How then to explain my profound feeling of grief about what he is doing?”

Still, Charles must have been too sexy for his shirt: Alongside the Seven Gates house, bursting at the seams with kids and staff, the Lindberghs pitched a tent to be blissfully alone together. By the time WWII was declared, they managed to make a new baby.

And the aviator was in the inconvenient position of having to renounce his America First buddies. Although no one in the U.S. military rushed to enlist him when he volunteered, he was given a job by another notable American anti-Semite, Henry Ford. The Lindberghs left Seven Gates to move to Michigan.

The family’s sanctuary on Martha’s Vineyard, to which not even the paper of record, The Vineyard Gazette, ever alluded until later, is considered one of the great, unqualified successes in freedom from (as opposed to of) the press (would that be the First Amendment, Part B?)

Where better to disappear than on this island where descendants of escaped slaves, whaling captains, and snake oil salesmen blend with artists, poets, drunks, metrosexuals, farmers with PhD’s in philosophy, weavers, documentary filmmakers, billionaires, let’s-all-poop-outdoors advocates, and random souls in the witness protection program?

Yes, witness protection. A few decades ago, a New Jersey mayor who decided to fight city hall and organized crime (is that redundant?) was cached here by the feds before he dropped a few dimes. And the same scenario has been fictionally imagined as well: In Philip R. Craig’s 2001 mystery, Vineyard Shadows, Island sleuth J.W. calls up the local state police barracks and says to a crony, “You can tell me whether the minions of the law would consider putting Tom Rimini and his family in a witness protection program.”

Whatever one’s reason for getting lost, this is a great place to jump into the void. Back in the 1950s, movie star James Cagney was frustrated when Warner Brothers refused to raise his already beefy salary. His pal, nationally known illustrator Denys Wortman, with a summer house on Hines Point, suggested he make himself invisible on Martha’s Vineyard: “No one will ever find you here.”

Great publicity stunt! The actor played hide-and-go-seek in Chilmark (where he later bought a farm). As far as the larger world was concerned, James Cagney was missing! Warner Brothers added another zero or more to his pay, and the actor returned to the coast.

So consider another famous Irishman, 81 year-old Whitey Bulger, lifelong crime boss of the notorious Winter Hill Gang of South Boston, captured in 2011 outside his apartment in Santa Monica, California, after 16 years in the wind.

 “Hiding in plain sight” was repeated in all the news media when Bulger and his 60 year-old girlfriend, Catherine Greig, were apprehended a block away from their local Prada emporium.

In your mind’s eye, scroll up his face: round, rosy, white beard, blue eyes, amiable Anglo / Irish features. Can you imagine him on the porch of Alley’s, sipping a Nearly Naked Mighty Mango, and chatting with a summer lady with a couple of fair-haired tots and an au pair? At the Chilmark library perusing recent-release true crime stories on tables? Spooning Tuscan ribollitta to his mustachioed lips at State Road? Would you be able to distinguish him from the hundreds of other white-haired, blue-eyed elderly gents around him?

Didn’t think so!

We’ve been told that during those sixteen years in absentia, Bulger often traveled to both Vegas to play the slots and to Boston to take care of business. No one knew where he parked the extra dough necessary for all this travel and hiding out. At his Santa Monica bolt-hole, only $812,198 was recovered in a hiding place between the walls -- boo hoo! Well, what better arrangement for stashing your grub plus a few dead bodies then taking a midnight boat from a dark Boston pier, motoring south / southwest over Nantucket Sound, just like the lads used to do in Prohibition days, and mooring off Chappy or Paul’s Point? There are any number of abandoned cellars, caves, and smugglers’ coves for salting away all sorts of loot and human body parts in heavy-duty dark green trash bags.

You think you know your neighbors? Well, just remember this advice given by protection experts to “cooperating witnesses”: “Live low-key, have a cover story and stick to it.” Can you think of anybody around these parts who does that? Oh, everybody?

You might want to lock your door tonight.



Holly Nadler January 30, 2012 at 06:05 PM
This just in from Denys Wortman, Jr., to clarify the Cagney / Vineyard connection: Good story Holly. Just one point of clarification. Dad brought Jim Cagney here in 1933. My folks had a summer place on Middle Road in Chilmark. Cagney stayed with them, fell in love with the Vineyard and bought a farm on the North Road in Chilmark. From that time on he and his family spent time here every summer until old age and incapacitation kept him from returning. Good story... Denny
Holly Nadler January 30, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Cyn, you can dibs on my dog!
Betty Burton January 30, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Great story, Holly. As always. I have a little one to add about a minister from a certain church I used to attend. I noticed he kept driving around in a little sports car. Not there is anything wrong with that, just a bit unusual I thought. He did a few other things that I thought were peculiar at the time...like giving me an extra tight hug at the end of the service. He often visited India and brought young girls, 12 or so. You can imagine the rest for yourself. When they finally found him, he was living in a place called Chilmark. I had hardly heard of MV at the time (pre-Jaws and Clintons) and certainly had never heard of Chilmark. I always think of that story when someone mentions hiding out in the wilds of MV. I also know a very well respected person who hides out here on the Vineyard. I won't mention his name, but he has meant so much to our family. He actually saved one member of our family's life way back when. Long may he vacation in privacy. Thank you for all of your stories. They are just wonderful.
Charlie Nadler January 30, 2012 at 08:39 PM
There's a big Boston sports bar named Sonny Macleans down the street from his Santa Monica apartment and I heard he went there a lot too.
Holly Nadler January 31, 2012 at 12:12 AM
No wonder they found him! He should hung out at Zucky's Deli! Is Zucky's in Santa Monica still in business?


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