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February 16, 1975 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1975-02-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

editors:
laura berman
,dn gorus
contributing editor:

Sunday

magazine

inside:
page four-books
page five-hanging
page six-geo

wary

long

Number 18 Page Three Februar

16, 1975

FEATURES

.J

Death by
quiet tow
a nightm~

hanging: A

shares

in

Irish

riddle

It should have been a routine driving arrest, but within four
hours,20-year-oldJackWhiteherse was found hanging in his
cell in the Shiawassee County Jail. The death stunned the
town of Owosso. Its aftermath raised severe questions about
the administration of justice.

By DAN BIDDLE
ON THE EVENING of May 20,
1974, a 20-year-old factory
worker named Jack Lesten White-
herse was driving his father's Ford
to a grocery store in Owosso, Mich-
igan. He cruised up Corunna Ave-
nue on the south side of the small,
rural town, looking straight into
the glare of the sunset over Owos-
so's aged Grand Trunk Railway
depot.
The dusklight may have blinded
him for a moment, or he may have
taken enough methaquaalone tab-
lets to get him high and hamper
his perception. Or he may simply
have been exhausted from his
day's work as a press operator and
fork lift driver at the Genesee
Stamping Plant.
For whatever reason, J a c k
Whiteherse stopped concentrating
long enough to let the Ford slam
into the car in front of him as he
reached the intersection of Corun-
na and Washington Streets.
THE OWOSSO police arrested him
for drunk driving and booked
him for driving under the influ-
ence of drugs after a breathalyzer
test showed he hadn't been drink-
ing.
Everyone who spoke to him that
evening said the stocky, blond-
haired Owosso native was still in
good spirits after his accident and
arrest.
But less than four hours later,
Jack Whiteherse was found hanged
to death from the cross bar of his
cell in the Shiawassee County jail.
The noose was his own red flan-
nel shirt.
NEARLY ALL the 17,000 people
who live in Owosso, which is
21 miles north of Flint, are farm-

ers and factory workers. Very few
of them are wealthy; for 150 years,
life in Owosso and the tiny neigh-
boring hamlet of Corunna has
mainly consisted of earning a
wage, growing produce, or raising
a family.
"The Whiteherse thing was a
pretty emotional ordeal for the
whole town," Owosso barber Karl
Manke reflected last week in the
middle of a razor cut. Manke,
something of an idol to the town's
young people, sports long hair and

live here 35 years, you see each
other every day, you go to the
same churches, you have the same
problems . . . something like this
comes along, it shakes people."
IN MAY, 1974, the death of Jack
Whiteherse exploded like a
thunderclap over the county. The
sheriff and his men refused to ex-
plain the apparent suicide, and in
the absence of credible official in-

formation, word quickly
that Whiteherse's death
from rough treatment by

spread
resulted
the po-

No proof has yet sur-

face
the

d

to indicate

that

sheriff's deputies

murdered Jack White-
herse ... But even as-
suming the best of mo-
tives, the evidence of
the Shiawasee County
Sheriff's Department's
shoddy, negligent en-
forcement of the law

lice.
For two nights, hundreds of
young people and many adults
marched through the streets of
Owosso and Corunna, demanding a
full accounting of the death. On
the second night, May 23, an angry
crowd of 400 gathered before the
jailhouse in Corunna and chanted,
"We want justice." They threw a
few rocks and bottles at the drab
concrete jail building, and wouldn't
disperse until 50 riot-equipped of-
ficers from Flint's Tactical Unit
arrived. In all, police arrested two
dozen young people in both nights
of demonstrations.
The fury of the protests was an
odd memorial for Jack Whiteherse.
His friends and relatives said he
was a hapoy young man with a
carefree, optimistic outlook and an
ever-present smile. He was al-
ready engaged to be married to
Laura Ebe, a 16-year-old blond
girl whom he showered with pre-
sents, cards, and affection.
"[ REMEMBER that Jack was dif-
ferent from most because he
always came to work with a smile
on his face," said one of his for-
mer supervisors at the Genesee
plant.
He had once been known for

that M a y evening
overwhelming.

iS

boasts an almost legendary his-
tory of bringing subculture trapp-
ings to the town. The young peo-
ple come to his shop more to talk
than get haircuts.
"An awful lot of people were
quite frustrated - the older peo-
ple were mad, they backed the
kids," he recalled. "You know, you

hell-raising, but Rick Hudson, a
friend from high school said, "Jack
was no greaser. . . he was no red-
neck. He was a real comfortable
guy to get along with."
Jack played tackle for the Owos-
so High Trojans before he gradu-
ated in 1972. He spent hours paint-
ing brightly - colored portraits and
landscapes, and had won many
prizes in local art shows.
He had planned to drive to Flint
in the last week of May for a job
interview that might get him a
$10-per-hour engineering position
with a big firm in the city.
JRONICALLY, at the time of, his
death, he had halfway com-
pleted a huge, dramatic canvas of
Jimi Hendrix, whose own drug-re-
lated death was shaded by mys-
tery. The painting was to be a
present for Laura.
Following Whiteherse's death
the county quickly agreed to con-
duct an inquest - "just to satisfy
the whim of the crowd," one confi-
dent assistant prosecutor scoffed
at the time. In the second week of
June, two witnesses gave 320 pages
of testimony to six coroner's jur-
ors. The jury toured the Shiawas-
see County jail twice and deliber-
ated for only an hour and a quar-
ter before reaching its conclusion:
"On May 20, 1974, said Jack L.
Whiteherse came to his death in
tank number one of the Shiawas-
see County Jail between the hours
of 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. by means of
hanging himself about the neck
with his own shirt, around a bar
above the top horizontal flat
(cross) bar."
RUT THE COUNTY'S brief in-
quiry into its own men's ac-
tions raised more questions than
it answered. Some key witneses
did not testifv: no action was ever
taken on a slew of contradictory
statements from officials under
oath. While the sheriff mublicly
interpreted the jury's finding as an
exoneration of departmental elil't,
he made only a token effort to
console the dead man's narents.
Now, more than eight months

department's shoddy, negligent en-
forcement of the law that May
evening is overwhelming.
THE TERSE FINDING of the in-
quest into Jack's death are
inadequate on several counts:
* Whiteherse was charged with
a narcotics offense - driving un-
der the influence - but was not
examined by a doctor after his ar-
rest. State jail regulations require
such an examination. The city and
county police said they waive the
rule in many minor narcotics
cases.
* In a second violation of jail-
house law, the sheriff's deputies
failed to check Whiteherse's cell
between 10:30 p.m. and 12:08 a.m.
on the night of his death. Regula-
tions require "the inspection of in-
mate quarters on an hourly basis."
The deputy on duty stated he was
never informed of the inspection

Doily Photo by STEVE KAGAN
body claimed no medical exper-
tise -- hence he could not be ab-
solutely certain the body wasn't
still alive.
* The sequence of events after
finding Jack's body includes the
most outlandish twist of all:
Sheriff Moiles, called to the cell
by his deputies, first ran back to
his own quarters for his Polaroid
camera, returned to the cell, and
had a deputy snap a picture of the
hanging body before cutting
Whiteherse down. Then, he has
stated, resuscitation efforts began.
He describes the entire time be-
tween finding the body and cut-
ting it down as "a matter of sec-
onds." But the jail's former switch-
board- operator, who did not ap-
pear at the inquest, is now ready
to testify that the period in ques-
tion was no less than ten minutes.
Michigan's Department of Cor-
rections provides all county sher-
iffs with a pocket-size manual of
jail regulations which carry the
power of civil law. Under "inmate
health and medical care," the rule
book reads:
E D I C A L EXAMINATIONS
shall be made as follows: If
an inmate is visibly ill, chronically
ill, or receiving medication, he
shall be examined by a licensed
physician as soon as possible." The
book provides no specific order on
handling of persons under the in-
fluence of narcotics, but correc-
tions department officials say the
statute is widely construed to in-
clude those who are obviously high
as visibly ill." In an interview less
than a week after the hanging,
Victor Molles, Shiawassee County's
stout, crew-cut sheriff, claimed,
"The man (Whiteherse) wasn't
bad enough off to require hospital
attention."
But two witnesses to Jack's acci-
dent and all the city, county and
state police who dealt. with him
before he entered Tank Number
One said his condition was obvious.
Kenneth Cach, the man whose car

THE SHERIFF: Victor Moiles.
rule. If he had checked Tank Num-
ber One before 11:30 p.m. as re-
quired, Whiteherse might have
been saved: The coroner listed es-
timated time of death as 11:18
p.m.

1: M ! 1
ON 0: 1 1 X OR 1: ME i I

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