Chapter 7 GOVERNMENT—PROHIBITION

Doris J. Williams about 1925

Before Doris and I moved from Canandaigua our first child was born in the local hospital there, November 11, 1920. Ray was named after her older sister, Mrs. Rae Curtis. The spelling of our daughter's name was changed to Ray.

I had personal and private misgivings about the prohibition law which later was made part of the U.S. Constitution--Amendment ARTICLE XVIII. The law in my opinion, at that time, should have exempted light wines and beer. Paris taxi drivers carried persons safely around crowded streets yet most drivers had 1/2 liter (over a pint) of wine (10-12% alcohol) with their meals before going on the job. German brewmasters often drank over one gallon of beer (4-6% alcohol) each day without becoming intoxicated! But my main objection was the statement in the law that 0.5% (or more) of alcohol was "intoxicating." The amount, say 0.6%, was not intoxicating "in fact," but it was in law. To establish evidence it was necessary that a sample of the beverage in question be examined by a chemist, who had to testify in court. The U.S. Treasury Department, Alcohol Tax Unit, set up a number of chemical laboratories in major cities to handle the thousands of beverages seized in violation of the law. The laboratories also had to examine samples seized in violation of the narcotic law. Morphine, heroin, cocaine, etc. were examples.

In Washington, D.C. I met with success. They were taking on chemists and I was already qualified by being on the U.S. Civil Service Register. Before the prohibition law was over, 12 years later, the Buffalo laboratory had handled over 125,000 samples, less than 5% of which were narcotic samples. I set up equipment which permitted twelve beverage samples to be tested for alcoholic content at one time. This saved not only time but cost.

My life and experiences in this position were rich and exciting. Court procedures in Federal, State, and local courts as an “expert witness" gave me an insight into the operation of criminal law. I got to know many judges, district attorneys, dozens of lawyers, government agents, police, city and county officials, not only in Buffalo but in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Utica, New York City, and other cities. There were also defendants in criminal cases, underground characters, rum runners, bribers, and even a few murderers.

In one instance I examined the contents of a human stomach and established evidence of wood alcohol poisoning. In another case I was assigned to analyze samples from the debris left after an explosion in an automobile killing of two men. One of these men was a border guard who had previously reported to the U.S. district attorney a bribe offer he had received from a rum runner. In another case I found a poison, copper sulfate, in a liquor sample served in a speak-easy bar intended to kill a disguised government agent. I always refused to listen to bribes offered to me, by phone or otherwise, to alter the analysis of samples in criminal cases.

Not all of the crooks were on the other side. Some were on the public payroll. The less said about that the better at this time. I had little direct contact with politicians, only with their appointees, such as district attorneys who would call upon me, as Chief of the laboratory, by subpoena or otherwise, to produce a chemist and samples as cases were scheduled for trial in court in the several districts.

It was my privilege and pleasure to be in western New York during the time when William Donovan was the U. S. District Attorney "Wild Bill" as he was called, had WWI fame as Commander of the 69th New York Regiment--the Fighting Irish. He ordered his attorneys to enforce the law and bring cases to trial. This stance did not set well with local politicians, and the majority of voters who were against enforcement of prohibition.

Author, daughter Ray and baby Jack, summer 1922

Finally the politicians won. Bill was "promoted" to a higher job--Assistant U.S. Attorney General in Washington. In that job he again insisted on the enforcement of the law throughout the United States. This was too much. Again he was "promoted," away from law enforcement all together, and named U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines.

At the beginning of WWII it was my privilege to have a brief conversation with him in Washington about the time he was named head of the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, the forerunner of the present CIA. He was an honest and honorable man. Doubtless he would turn over in his' grave (he died February 8, 1959, age 77) if he could read today's headlines about the CIA.

In addition to my government job there were many other activities: Two weeks active duty military training at Fort Niagara (near the Falls) each year; the Reserve Officer's Association held monthly social meetings at night--Doris and I went frequently. Also the American Chemical Society, western New York Chapter, was one of the most active in the U.S.A. I had the honor to be elected President of this Chapter in 1932. See attached reprint, Page VII.

In addition to these groups there was a Federal Business Men's Association, made up of federal officials in the area. On several occasions I spoke at some of the business meetings, mostly about the technical aspects of operating a chemical laboratory related to law enforcement.

There was little or no supervision of the Buffalo laboratory by the headquarters (Dr. Linder) in Washington. This was both good and bad. The bad side first. Grade promotions were not made as the work load and administrative responsibility increased. I had to visit Washington and explain the need for higher Civil Service grades for chemists on my staff and my own.

In the 20's my salary ranged from $2,200 to $4,000 per annum, much lower than chemists in charge of laboratories in industry. Because of the huge electric power produced at Niagara Falls many chemical industries flocked to the area. Nowhere else could they obtain the energy to operate electro-chemical manufacturing plants at such low costs.

Williams Family: Doris, the author and Ray, Jack and baby Don

In the mid 20's, with a wife and three children, it was difficult to meet living expenses, medical, rent, food, etc. So I applied to the National Aniline Corporation for a night job on an hourly basis. I worked from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on certain week days and 8 hours on Saturdays, whenever I was available; so as not to interfere with my government job. I had to check in and out like a day laborer.

Dyes were made by reacting aniline and other chemicals in an alcoholic solution in large kettles. The supervisor of the huge plant operation had to draw samples, from time to time, to learn the percent of alcohol in each of the reacting kettles. So he dispatched samples to the control laboratory. Analysis had to be made as quickly as possible. It was necessary for the chemist to distill the sample, using a glass flask and determine the percent of alcohol in the distillate. This took one or two hours time.

It was also dangerous because picric acid in the samples, would, if the flask became dry, or overheated, explode--right in the chemist's face. This problem bothered me. There must be a better, quicker way. Finally, after much experimentation, on my own time, I discovered a method for getting the percent of alcohol, within reasonable limits, in two minutes, not two hours. No one was told this method. Instead I approached a patent lawyer who prepared my application in 1926. In 1928 two patents were granted. One covering the operation, the other covering the solvent used. When I decided to quit night work at National Aniline, moon-lighting, their head chemist offered me a regular job at a salary greater than the government was paying. I turned it down. My government job had tenure. At that time, in industry, a chemist, like a laborer, would be fired without advance notice. I could well afford to take this risk if I was single and probably would have. With a family to support I could not. Many were the friends I made in western New York, some of whom have kept in touch with me for over 50 years.

Not all of my descriptions took place in exact chronological order; rather in the order in which I now recall them. My association with members of the faculty of the University of Buffalo lasted several years. I recall Chancellor Samuel Capen, Drs. Julius Pratt, Albert Sy, E. R. Riegel, and students in the College of Arts and Science. By going to advanced classes in the evenings (credits) I received an M.A. degree in Chemistry in 1928. It was a great experience to live twelve years in upstate New York. One-third of the Buffalo citizens were of Polish origin; there were colonies of German, Italian, Irish, some French, and being a border city many Canadians. These I got to know quite well. Each group tried to keep the life style of their homeland. My sister Genevieve came to Buffalo in the early 20's, got a job and seemed to be happy and made many friends. She went to the Roman Catholic Church under her own power. I wanted no part of any church membership --preoccupied with domestic and other problems.

One of my sister's special friends (and mine) was Joseph Brennan, a young surgeon. He was from the upper class "white lace" Irish--not from the "shanty" gang. In confidence he indicated his unhappy choice, at times, to make a medical decision. If I decide to amputate a patient's leg, I get $500.00 (much more at this time). If I do not amputate I get nothing." He had been married once on the spur of the moment. It lasted only a few days. A legal divorce was easy to get, but would not be recognized by the church. He estimated it would cost $2,000 to process an annulment. It had to go all the up to the Pope, and takes a year or more. He never remarried.

The author's first house 357 Norwark Buffalo

The first few years in Buffalo Doris and I got along as well as could be expected. Our second child, Jack, named by his mother after me, was born March 2, 1922 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our third child (I insisted upon naming) Donald Allen, was born October 26, 1923 in our home in Buffalo. After living in apartments we decided to buy a home in a new development on Norwalk Avenue in the northern part of Buffalo. Doris' father, Mr. Jenkins, a farmer from Ahoskie, North Carolina came to visit us for a week in our new home. I was pleased. He was an honorable and honest man. He had been very strict in rearing his two daughters, Rae and Doris. Maybe he overdid it, and they rebelled later when they were grown. After his visit family problems increased. My father also paid us a week's visit. Things were fine while he was there. After he left Doris and I agreed on a separation or divorce. She took the children and moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, not far from Buffalo. The state of Pennsylvania had easier divorce laws than New York State. I supported the family in Erie and rented a room for myself in a low cost hotel in downtown Buffalo, not far from the laboratory in the Federal Building.

The author holding son Don with Doris's father?

After several months of separation Doris and I agreed to reunite. I drove over to Erie and brought the family back to an apartment I had rented for us near Delaware Avenue, Buffalo. We both tried hard to get along. Ray and Jack were now in school, and Don, four, was in kindergarten. I loved these children. They knew it too. A friend of mine took a 100 foot black and white movie of the family (five of us) strolling in nearby Delaware Park. All three children now have copies of this film.

Doris started to accuse me of having affairs with other women, without naming anyone. To me this was false and also irrational. She said I was a squeezed lemon--sour and no juice. This last accusation was true. I was not a bull with young heifers. Did she want me to fit the image of her sister's husband? On one occasion she hired a detective to trail me, without any results. A third of my month's salary was thus thrown away.

She wrote her sister, Rae, who came to Buffalo. Rae told me I was at fault for not taking Doris and the children to a Southern Baptist church. This, she said would solve all our problems. I could not do it mainly because I could not accept fundamentalism. Instead I went to a Christian Science service where love was the key note. This could well solve our troubles. Doris refused to go with me. Next I went to the well-known pastor of a Unitarian church and told him our problems. Would he counsel us? Yes, he would separately. I talked with him again after Doris had visited him. He could not help in our situation. He told me Doris was very hard. The situation increased in tempo. I wanted no more children. My father, in spite of all his faults, considered adultery a sin, as did my sister Mary. In addition adultery was a violation of law in all states. I could not do it in spite of its prevalence. Several wives of my friends had indicated their "availability" to me. Too bad. I had enough domestic problems to take on any more. In my professional life honor and integrity were the keynote. Now my fault (?) was trying to carry this ideal over into my private life. I was touchy and sensitive about it.

One day before the children had left for school, Doris again accused me of having affairs with other women. I shot back, "What about you and Manly Curtis?" She reached for a nearby China dinner plate and cracked it over my head. Fortunately the plate broke in half, otherwise my skull would have been broken. What a sad legacy to leave my children if this had happened. I had escaped greater dangers in WWI. My life was not as important as the future of the children. As the two halves of the plate parted the glass-like edges cut my scalp down the middle and blood poured down my face. I grabbed all three of my children in my arms. Don, five, said, "I'm going to be a policeman." Jack, seven, said, speaking to me, "It's your fault." Ray, nine, said nothing. At the doctor's office, after shaving the top of my head, he used four stitches to join my scalp together. At the laboratory I explained it was an accident. It would be easy to destroy myself. Some chemicals in the laboratory could do that in less than one minute. But would not this hurt the children's future? They would need me at least until they were grown.

There were only two grounds for divorce in New York State: Abandonment--get lost and be adjudged dead; and adultery. Doris planned to take the children to North Carolina to live. Why not go there to get a divorce where there are many grounds for divorce? No, she wanted a New York State divorce--adultery. I had to agree. It was divorce or death, there was no other course.

A friend of mine, George Doyle, a good lawyer, agreed to represent Doris. I needed no attorney. This saved one lawyers' fees. For the first time in my life I had to commit adultery, or show evidence of it. Evidence was what was shown. A detective agency was employed to provide the girl and a witness. I had to get a friend to be a "non-paid" witness. There had to be two witnesses in court. The girl was put in my hotel room (rented for one day only) with the bed sheet over her (still with her dress on). My pants were down when the two witnesses entered the room. That was all the evidence needed. The judge was convinced with the evidence presented in court and Doris was awarded a divorce, about half of my salary, plus custody of the children; with a proviso that I could have custody of the children during the summer months when school was out. After the decision was made the court records were sealed.

When I went to his office to pay the legal fees, I asked George how he kept this case away from the scandal page of the Courier Express. His reply, "When the news reporter entered the court room, I gave him a box of fine cigars."

After living in Ahoskie for some time Doris married again, November 24, 1931, to a local man she had known before our marriage, T. Julian Heckstall. They had two children. Later they (Doris and Julian) were divorced. He is now dead. After the divorce I met many desirable girls who doubtless would have made excellent partners. I felt that I was a domestic cripple. Would any one of them take on three young children during the summer months and during the Christmas holidays? Mark Hopkins, a high school teacher, invited me to live with his family--a room in his large house, with one meal a day, at low cost. Also, Alice his wife, agreed to look after my children during the summer on week days while I was at work. What a great thing for me. Later Alice became ill with cancer and in a few years passed on. What to do now? Each year at Christmas time I would drive from Buffalo to Ahoskie to pick up the three kids and take them to Charlotte for a week's visit with my family. Then back to Ahoskie (return them to their mother) and drive back to Buffalo. It was a 2,000 plus mile trip in an old Ford coupe over snow and ice most of the way, in the cold winter climate. Tire chains were a must, especially going over the Pennsylvania mountains; and me all alone.

The 3 children 1928

There is a tide in the affairs of man, which taken at the crest, leads on to fortune, or words to that effect. The reader may recall the source. In October, 1932, the local Army Reserve Officers had a meeting at the Armory. Major William Laidlaw, whose home was in Belmont, New York, invited me to have dinner with a number of others at a Buffalo restaurant. His daughter, Aileen, and other girls were present. Her friend, Virginia Pomeroy, was at one end of the long table; I was seated at the other end. What attracted my attention was the sound of her voice. The clarity and intelligence which rang out above the din and chatter at the table was unusual. Everything she said was logical. We met again afterwards. I told her I was divorced, had three children, and in December would drive to North Carolina and take them to be with my family in Charlotte for the Christmas holidays. No proposal was made. She was free until I returned in January. By osmosis or otherwise, she got the message.

Later in life she told me she had contacted her boyfriend about me. His loss was my gain. On my return from North Carolina we had several dates. I proposed in silence. She accepted in like manner. We were married by a Congregational minister in a quiet wedding March 3, 1933, in Lockport, New York, not far from her father's farm. Her wedding ring was marked 3-3-33, four 3's.

As I write this account we have celebrated our 43rd anniversary. On the average we have done better than could be expected under the circumstances. Virginia looked after my three children as her own and they in turn love her. Virginia did not tell her father, before the marriage, that I was a divorced man. He might have forbidden our marriage. However, he approved of me when we first met. He gave her to me in marriage.