Crimes Against the Post Office #1

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You know that older woman who’s been a fixture at your job for years and years? Almost every workplace has one. Well, don’t be so quick to dismiss her – she may have a skeleton in her closet.

Tensas Gazette -September 4, 1975

¬†Josie Aly nee’ Fultz was 73-years-old when she retired from her position within the Tensas Parish (Louisiana) School Board. She had spent 27 years in their employ as their bookkeper/secretary. By all accounts, she was much-loved and respected.

To mark the occasion, Newellton, LA Mayor Edwin Preis declared August 31, 1975 to be “Mrs. Josie Aly Day” and he lavished praise upon her as not only a good employee but one of Newellton’s finest citizens.

I have to wonder how many of those who attended Josie’s retirement party that Sunday afternoon knew about her secret shame and subsequent brush with the law 52 years earlier when she was a beautiful, blonde, unwed, 21-year-old school teacher.

This blog entry isn’t intended to throw shade upon Josie, who was most-likely deserving of their respect and admiration, but her story is too “wtf, Josie?” not to tell.

On Friday, April 20, 1923, Duncan, Oklahoma Postmaster James W. Elliott carried a suspicious parcel over to the Goodman and Grooms Furniture and Undertaking building. Yes, you read that right. Furniture and Undertaking. It’s all woodworking.

The package had arrived on the Rock Island train No. 23 the previous day, at 4 PM, and clerks noticed right off that it was odorous but they didn’t open it until the following day when the smell became unbearable.

The 13 1/2 pound cardboard box was insufficiently address to “Miss Ethel Martyn, Duncan, Oklahoma” and had no return address. Clerks didn’t recognize the name and a check of the town’s directories had proved fruitless.

It’s doubtful this workspace changed very much between 1912 and 1923

Just a quick note about the number of people living in town that the package could have been meant for – I’m not sure what the population of Duncan was in 1923 and it’s tough to guess as there was a serious spike between the 1920 and 1930 census records when the numbers surged from 3,463 to 8,363 but suffice to say it would be a challenge to deliver that parcel without a street address or a “General Delivery” endorsement which would indicate the recipient might be stopping in to pick it up herself.

As the Postmaster would later tell a reporter from the Duncan Weekly Eagle, “I wanted some officer or other outsider to witness the act of opening the package, not that I had any idea that it enclosed a tragedy, but just to play safe. I thought it was something that was spoiling and should be attended to.”

What Postmaster Elliott and later undertaker L. Woodard found was shocking and yes, tragic.

Inside the box was a dead baby boy, wrapped in bloody swaddling clothes and surrounded by newspapers and magazines. L. Woodard determined the baby was only a few hours old when he died.

The US Postal Inspectors were called, the body embalmed and retained along with the box he came in as well as the various packing materials.

Reporters were scratching their heads. Surely there was an easier way to dispose of an unwanted baby? Had the baby been killed? Was there some malice in shipping the corpse to this “Ethel Martyn,” if she even existed?

Inspectors Jack W. Adamson and Joe W. Lisman, out of Kansas City, Missouri were dispatched to investigate. This would be the first time in the history of the Post Office that the USPSIS was called to investigate such a case.

At this stage of the investigation, it was believed the mystery would go unsolved. There were so few clues. However, one should never underestimate the detection skills of the US Postal Inspectors.

The packing materials surrounding the baby were pages from New Orleans
newspapers plus the January 1923 editions of “The Designer” (a woman’s
magazine) and “Normal Instructor and Primary Plans.”

The box which had been used to mail the baby had been through the mail system previously. Using the assorted postmarks, labels and markings on the box, the cardboard container was traced to Memphis, TN, to Vicksburg, MS, and then New Orleans, LA.

Inspectors tracked the box back to a New Orleans mercantile firm who had shipped merchandise to a woman in Newellton, LA. That woman recalled using the same box to ship some items of clothing to her cousin Josie Fultz, a 1921 Louisiana State Normal College graduate now teaching at Scott High School, just outside of Lafayette, LA.

Inspectors Adamson and Lisman traveled to Scott and asked not for Josie specifically but instead inquired as to whether any staff member had been out on sick leave as of lately. One teacher fit the bill – Miss Josie Fultz. It had been a less than two weeks since the Duncan Post Office opened that horrific parcel. So much for the case being unsolvable.

Josie wasn’t a tough nut to crack. On April 28, 1923, Josie sobbed openly as she told the inspectors her sad tale and begged them not inform her family.

Nobody knew Josie had been pregnant. Josie hadn’t told the father of the baby, nor her parents, friends or coworkers not even a doctor. Josie had not sought medical care at any point during the pregnancy and in fact, delivered the baby herself – alone in her room in the teacher’s housing quarters of the Scott School on the evening of April 7, 1923. No easy task considering there were other teachers in adjoining rooms. The 1920 US Census, which predates Josie’s assignment to the Scott High School, shows 4 teachers living on the premises but I’m not sure how many were living there in 1923.

The Scott High School

Josie passed out from the strain of birthing the baby and when she regained consciousness, her son was dead. She would never waiver in that assertion – she did not kill her baby. As to why Josie had opted to mail the corpse, apparently that was just an attempt to conceal her predicament.

“First I put the body in the bottom of my trunk,” Josie explained, “and I kept it there several days and managed to make the other persons believe I was just sick. Then someone complained of a bad odor. I was frightened to death. The next day I dragged myself out of bed, wrapped the body and sent it to Miss Ethel Martyn, Duncan, Oklahoma. Then I went back to the house and almost fainted from fear.”

The birth date comes not from Josie’s confession but an affidavit filed later claiming the child was born “on or about April 7, 1923.” The date Josie mailed the parcel from Lousiana to Oklahoma was April 16, 1923.

Josie was taken into custody but authorities weren’t sure what to charge her with. They couldn’t actually prove the infant hadn’t died of anything but natural causes and there was even some disagreement regarding the age of the child at the time of death. “Misuse of the mails” the best they could do until a decision was made.

Josie’s physical as well as mental health was in question since she’d not seen a doctor before, during or after giving birth. She was quite fragile by this time. Josie was taken for treatment to a Lafayette hospital while Federal and State authorities argued over whose responsibility she was.

The state did ultimately charge Josie with the unlawful, willful and felonious death of her child.

Josie Fultz was transported for her arraignment by train from Lafayette, LA to Opelousas, LA under the watchful eyes of the two Postal Inspectors, Deputy Pete Brooks and Josie’s father John D. Fultz. Someone evidently had contacted Josie’s parents with news of her impending arrest.

Shortly after reaching Opelousas, Josie and her father were joined by Josie’s mother, her uncle Edgar Newell and his wife Isabelle. Josie, once worried about her family discovering her secret, was now grateful for their support. A reporter for The Clarion News commented on Mrs. Newell’s “refined appearance” and this “most affecting” reunion.

John W. Lewis, attorney

It was agreed that Josie would be housed at the LaCombe Hotel under Dr. S.B. Wolff’s care while her father obtained a lawyer to represent her. The Fultz family engaged John W. Lewis, Sr. who quickly issued the following statement:

“This young lady is a vicarious victim of circumstances. It is a most pathetic case. Miss Fultz is a girl of education, refinement and from her early childhood has been surrounded with the best refined influences. That she will be acquitted of the federal and state charges against her there is no doubt.

“I think that some of the newspapers, instead of featuring her as a criminal should have at least, reserved their columns for the defense of a girl who is justly entitled to the protection of society and the good men and woman of Louisiana. I tell you this girl needs, deserves and should have at once the support and comfort of all decent, self-respecting citizens and I am going to stand by her until the end.”

There was much truth in what John W. Lewis said. The Fultz family and especially the Newell family on Josie’s mother’s side were prominent, well-respected individuals with strong ties to the community. Heck, in 1876 they named the town after the Newell family.

Josie was released on bond. The combined amount was $7,500.00; the division of funds being $5,000 for the murder charge brought by the State of Lousiana and $2,500 for the federal charges of “sending unmailable materials through the mail.”

Putting up the money for Josie’s bail was S.R. Parkerson, vice-president
of the First National Bank of Lafayette,  L. L. Judice and J. Gilbert
St. Julien, president and vice-president respectively of the Lafayette
Parish School Board.

Josie never revealed the name of the man who fathered her child. All she would say to the authorities or the press was that he was a man from Newellton to whom she had been engaged these last three years. Those acquainted with the family must have known who this was and newspapers reported that Josie’s father, John D. Fultz, was traveling back home from Opelousas to confront the man.

According to the May 4th edition of Alabama’s Clayton Record, Mr. Fultz knew the man in question and “intends to kill him on sight.” I can find no record of a murder or even an assault charge leveled against Josie’s father. A less dramatic report of John’s intentions appeared in the May 1st edition of The Shreveport Journal which quoted Josie’s father as returning to Newellton “to square things with the man who ruined my daughter.”

In fairness to this unnamed individual, it takes two to make a baby and Josie was adamant that he did not know of her condition.

Josie needn’t have worried about her family’s reaction to her plight. Once the truth of the matter had been made public, via the extensive newspaper coverage as well as word-of-mouth, Josie had not only her family’s full support but that of the community. The Opelousas League of Women Voters sent a fresh bouquet of flowers to Josie’s hotel room every day during her stay there.

Mrs. Ducie Mornhinveg, League president, told a reporter from the Clarion-Progress newspaper, “We must stand by ready to help any woman in distress, because, who, if not a woman, will sympathize with a young girl in such a plight as that which has befallen Miss Fultz.”

Josie’s mother greeted visitors in the parlor room of the LaCombe Hotel and on May 5, 1923, when the family finally checked out the Hotel in order to take a train to Baton Rouge, with Newellton as their final destination, Mrs. Fultz issued the following statement:

LaCombe Hotel

“Our hearts are almost too full of gratitude and thankfulness to the good people of Opelousas to be able to express our feelings. Surely we were blessed in our misfortune in being cast among such good and sympathetic people, and if anything could lesson our sorrow and give us consolation, the men and women of Opelousas left nothing undone. God bless Opelousas, and God bless its good men and women. It must be good indeed to live in such a community.”

According to the Buffalo Morning Express, hundreds of letters of support were sent. One signed simply and anonymously “A Schoolgirl Friend,” was “full of bitterness for the man who betrayed Miss Fultz and expressed the hope that “the heavy hand of the law would crush him for having ruined a life so sweet with promise of the cherished hopes of being the bride of a boyhood friend.””

Josie spent her days propped up in bed, in a darkened hotel room, dwelling on her sadness and concerned for the future but the letters and steady stream of flowers gave her some hope. Perhaps she would not be pilloried.

The Louisiana District Attorney’s office soon dropped the infanticide charge knowing they had no definite proof that Josie had killed her baby.

Josie’s trial on the federal charges, scheduled for June 1923, was postponed until the next session. In January 1924 it was announced that a grand jury refused to indict Josie so all federal charges against her were “nolle prossed” and those charges were dropped as well.

Josie returned to the bosom of her friends and family. She seemingly abandoned teaching. The 1930 Census lists Josie’s profession as bookkeeper for a ladies’ ready-to-wear company and she was living in Shreveport, LA.

The 1940 census, shows Josie once again living in Newellton with her parents along with her brother Edward and his Edward’s wife Mary. Josie’s working as stenographer for a law office. Also listed as “a roomer” at the Fultz home in 1940 was Edwin Preis. I knew that name sounded familiar. Is this the same man who later became Mayor of Newellton? (see paragraph 3 above)

On August 8, 1942, when she was 40-years-old, Josie Fultz married Charles Horace Aly, he was 43 and a school bus driver. The ceremony was in her parents’ living room.

Charles Aly died on March 31, 1967 at the St. Charles Legion Memorial Hospital and according to his obituary, he “had been in poor health for some time.”

Josie began her career with the Tensas School Board on March 18, 1948. Twenty seven years later, on September 1, 1975, she retired. She left twenty five unused sick leave days on the books for which she was compensated $1,029.00. That’s $4889.80 in today’s money.

In early December 1983, Josie was recovering from a broken hip and the following month she took up residence in the Tensas Nursing Home.

Josie died on July 4, 1987 at the age of 85. She’s buried alongside her husband Charles in the Legion Memorial Cemetery in Newellton, LA.

Findagrave photo uploaded by Karen Klemm Pinckard

Not explained to my satisfaction was why Josie chose to mail her child’s body to a fictitious person or how she came up with that specific name and location? And, of course, it would be nice to know the name of the man who helped make that baby. I also wondered where the baby’s body was buried.

Hoping for answers to my questions and confirmation that there were indeed three other individuals in the teacher’s quarters when Josie gave birth, I submitted a FOIA request for the USPSIS records relating to this case so that I could gather as many facts possible without relying exclusively on the various newspapers accounts but unfortunately “any investigatory records that may have existed during the 1920’s concerning the individuals in question would have been destroyed in accordance with the prescribed records retention schedule of the U.S. Postal Service.”

I spent 30 years working for the USPS and I can recall at least one incident when a suspicious package had our supervisors reaching out to the Postal Inspectors. There were many incoming Priority Mail envelopes to be delivered that day but only one of them was dripping blood. It turned out to be a raw steak some knucklehead thought he’d send to his uncle who lived in our town. It was frozen when he had mailed it and he was genuinely surprised to learn it had thawed out. There’s a reason Omaha Steaks uses dry-ice and foam coolers to ship their meats.

More sad news coming from Duncan, Oklahoma and involving Postmaster James Elliott was reported in Oklahoma newspapers in November 1933.

Elton Elliott, 12-year-old son of James and Lena Elliott, had accidentally shot his friend Junior White, aged 11, while they were out hunting on the morning of November 22, 1923. The discharge from Elton’s shotgun caught Junior in the right side and in his right arm. Junior died the following day; Elton served as a pallbearer. It doesn’t seem as though there were any legal repercussions for the Elliott family.

Also, why do I mention which train carried the parcel to Duncan, OK? Because the Rock Island Train Line has it’s own following and fandom.

The Rock Island train No. 23 was involved in a number of accidents over the years including one in 1934 when it sideswiped another train, causing 2 fatalities and mulitple injuries.

Moline, IL Dispatch, Oct 12, 1934 – No. 14 on the left, No. 23 on the right

There’s also the Rock Island 905 Museum in Duncan, Oklahoma’s Fuqua Park.

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