ALL THESE years, the fear flitted quietly, but naggingly, about Dick Williams' ear like a mosquito that would not die. If anyone ever discovered what really happened that day in March 1948, certainly there would be trouble. Baltimore cops acting on old arrest warrants would show up at his house in Timonium and there he'd be - handcuffed, head bowed, his walk to the lockup telecast on the 11 o'clock news. Williams' wife would have to post bail. By God, he'd have to hire Stephen L. Miles.
The prospects haunted him.
So Williams kept his mouth shut, and he lived his life, one eye over his shoulder whenever he heard the word "kidnapping," or the name "Rosenthal."
But now, after more than a half-century, Dick Williams has decided to zap that old mosquito.
"It's time to come clean," he announced the other day.
To use a period term: Here's the skinny.
Williams says that he and four other City College seniors were behind a sensational incident on March 4, 1948, that resulted the next morning in this front-page headline in The Sun: "Man Is Beaten And Kidnapped By Pair In Car."
The story's lead: "Two young men leaped from an automobile at Thirty-third street and Old York road yesterday afternoon, overpowered a pedestrian and drove him away in their mud-spattered automobile."
It was a brazen, broad-daylight abduction, right out of a gangster film. At least 10 men and women witnessed the Waverly attack and told police about it. In 1948, two decades before heroin addiction became epidemic and spawned the violence that marks the city's recent history, this was front-page news.
And it wasn't even real.
It was a hoax, a prank right out of a Barry Levinson film.
According to Williams, he and his City College buddies decided to see if they could stage a kidnapping on 33rd Street during their lunch break. They left City between noon and 1 p.m. and went to Waverly. Along with Williams, the gang of kidnappers consisted of students named Heim, Moran and Rosenthal, who drove his father's car. (The first names have been omitted to protect the yet-contrite.)
Another classmate named Nichols played the part of the victim.
According to Williams - and witnesses quoted in The Sun - the abductors chased Nichols, jumped him and pushed him into Rosenthal's car. The car sped off. The scene shocked the lunchtime crowd on 33rd Street.
"I didn't see any weapon, but he must have used a blackjack because the [victim] got a surprised look on his face, collapsed to his knees and then went down flat on his face," Herbert L. Beverly, a trash collector, told a Sun reporter. "They grabbed him by his arms and dragged him to the car. They shoved and pushed him up into the back seat and then drove away."
Williams and his buddies got back to City College in time for lunch. "None of us could even look at each other without breaking up," he says.
But the next day, when their stunt made the front page, they were stunned. They anticipated big trouble from police and parents.
"We didn't expect [news coverage]," Williams says. "We were in shock. So we all avoided each other."
Though police launched an investigation, some Baltimore cops were savvy enough to smell a phony from the outset.
Sgt. James A. McNamara of the Northeastern Police District gave The Sun this theory about the incident: "Probably a college prank."
According to Williams, police came to City College to ask questions. But they never interrogated him, he says, and as far as he knows, none of his buddies was implicated.
The day after the incident, Baltimore police Commissioner Hamilton R. Atkinson declared the kidnapping a hoax and said some high school students, whom he did not name, would be reprimanded.
"Never happened, as far as I know," says Williams. "No one talked."
The perpetrators never have been publicly identified, and they've only been semi-identified with today's column. But youse guys know whose you are, and your old buddy Dickie Williams has this message for ya: "The jig is up. Get out of town!"
Rain can't drown hope
A hard rain's been falling, in the tragic-poetic Bob Dylan sense, for years on drug-scarred Druid Heights and it fell, in the down-to-earth physical sense, over the weekend. But neither seems to have vanquished spirits.
A vicious summer cloudburst could not stop the big block party Saturday afternoon on Druid Hill Avenue, and the grand scene of everyone, from Baltimore's police commissioner to recovering addicts, standing in the downpour provides a hopeful symbol of the West Baltimore neighborhood's defiance of the forces that have threatened to destroy it.
It was a back-to-school block party for the kids, the "youth ambassadors" of the acclaimed Safe and Sound campaign that works to ensure Baltimore's boys and girls get to grow up safely, get an education and stay clear of the drug culture.
The Central District police have played a huge role in helping Safe and Sound achieve those goals, says "Mama" Myrt Howerton, who's active in the campaign as well as in the Druid Heights Community Development Corp. She's among the big supporters of the new, aggressive policing tactics aimed at breaking up open-air drug markets. "The streets are safer," she says. "We've seen a big change from four or five months ago, when the Central District went through here and made a lot of arrests."
So Saturday's block party honored the cops. Dozens of them stopped by to get something to eat -fried and barbecued chicken, steamed crabs, hamburgers, hot dogs - and the intersection of Druid Hill Avenue and Laurens Street filled with people determined to live there and raise their kids there. The storm did not stop the party.
Ed Norris, police commissioner, stood his ground with everyone else - right through a long downpour. It was an emotional and memorable moment: adults and kids soaked to the skin, laughing, defying the hard rain.
TJIDAN@aol.com is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166.