Chapter 16

Was it Suicide or Murder?

[Picture Taken Just Months Before His Murder]

        Was it Suicide or Murder?

Much of what follows is speculation; the author openly admits that simple coincidences (no matter how many of them we keep finding), do not constitute proof.     However, as we have already seen, a conspiracy of some kind did take place, and thus, what is to prevent us from extending the boundaries of this conspiracy a bit?     If we were to do so (assuming the same players), then a lot of the loose pieces of this jigsaw puzzle (very clearly) start coming together.

Simply put, it is the author’s viewpoint that Victor Licata DID NOT commit suicide but was instead murdered as part of a cover up.     In addition (again in the authors opinion), Victor was NOT the only one killed as part of this cover up.     A second prominent individual being Courtney Ryley Cooper – Ghost writer to both J. Edgar Hoover (head of the F.B.I.) as well as Harry J. Anslinger (head of the Bureau of Narcotics – aka the D.E.A.) himself.

Let’s examine the evidence behind Courtney Ryley Coopers strange and very mysterious death first, before moving on to the equally mysterious death of Victor Licata.

16.1 - Courtney Ryley Cooper -- Was it Suicides or was it Murder?
Let us first start by looking at this interesting article, taken from the Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Fla.).     Keep in mind that Sebring Florida (where C.R. Cooper had his home residence) is only 91 Miles away from Tampa Florida.     Also note the publication date, only two years away from the Licata family murders.
The Evening Independent - June 19, 1931 p1
Sufficiency of circumstantial Evidence Feature Oral Arguments Before Tribunal

Tallahassee, June 19.-- (AP) -- Attacks on the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence under which William Raymond Carver, Sebring, was convicted for the axe slayings of his wife, featured oral arguments on his second appeal to the Florida supreme court today.

Carver, a former Philadelphian, was charged with the axe killing of his wife and child and the fatal shooting of a negro man-servant in his Sebring home.   He was tried for the slaying of his wife and convicted of first-degree murder with a recommendation for mercy.     The Highlands County circuit court sentenced him to life in prison.     His conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Supreme Court in the first appeal.

State Senator W.D. Bell, Arcadia, and William A. Price, Miami, defended Carver at the oral argument before the high court today.     They discussed at length the legal aspects of conviction from purely circumstantial evidence and claimed the state failed to prove circumstances in the case “absolutely inconsistent with Carver’s innocence.”   The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General H.E. Carter.

An axe, a gun, blood-stained clothing and other exhibits used at the original murder trial were displayed before the justices during the arguments.

The state charged Carver with killing his wife and child with an axe as they slept during the early afternoon following lunch at the Carver home.     The state further claimed Carver shot the negro employee to cover the crime and place blame on the servant.     No definite motive was ascribed by the state but evidence was produced to show Carver had insured his wife’s life.

Carver based his plea of innocence on a claim he discovered the negro leaving his wife’s bedroom and shot the servant when he saw the negro had killed the young mother and her child with an axe.     Mrs. Carver’s family declared their belief in the husband’s innocence and stood by him during his trial and appeals to the Supreme Court.     Carver has been held in jail since his conviction.
To the author, this all sounds kind of familiar, almost exactly like what would have happened to Victor Licata had he not been found insane.

Now, what does this prove ---- of and by itself, absolutely nothing; other than the fact that an axe murder occurred in C.R. Cooper's home town, located just 91 miles away from the Licata home.     It could have been just plain coincidence.     Even the fact that it occurred just two years before the Licata murders, could also have been coincidence.

However, one thing that was no coincidence was the fact that Courtney Ryley Cooper was one hell of a good writer.     One who served both J. Edgar Hoover as well as Harry J. Anslinger very well indeed.     Just look at the following example of his work (written in corroboration with then Drug Czar Harry Anslinger):
The American Magazine Vol. 124 No. 1 (July 1937).
Marijuana the Assassin of Youth
“It was an unprovoked crime some years ago which brought the first realization that the age-old drug had gained a foothold in America.     An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida.     When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse.     With an ax he had killed his father, his mother, two brothers, and a sister.     He seemed to be in a daze.

I’ve had a terrible dream,” he said.     “People tried to hack off my arms!”
“Who were they?” an officer asked.
“I don’t know.     Maybe one was my uncle.     They slashed me with knives and I saw blood dripping from an ax.”

He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crimes.     The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed.     They sought the reason.     The boy said he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles,” a childish name for marijuana . . “
For those of you interested in old 1930’s stories about the J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, Mr. Cooper’s books are highly recommended.     Maybe not for their technical accuracy, but they do make for good entertainment and exciting reading.     Simply put, Courtney Ryley Cooper had a natural knack for writing, and by the late 1930’s was extremely well connected within both law and narcotic enforcement circles.

ALL of which made C.R. Cooper a powerful ally, and a good friend to have -- as long as he was on your side.     But could also make him a very powerful and frightful enemy; ---- should he ever turn against you.     --- WHICH is exactly what this author believes happened.     Such a powerful enemy that he had to be silenced by any means necessary.

Now let’s look at the way C.R. Cooper was supposed to have committed suicide.     According to the New York Times:
New York Times Sep 29, 1940 p43
Body of Writer Found in Hotel Room---Motive Is Unknown

Courtney Ryley Cooper, author and more recently chief press agent for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, was found dead from hanging at about 12:30 O’clock this morning in a suite at the Hotel Park Central, where he had registered on Friday.

His wife, Mrs. Genevieve Cooper of the hotel Weylin, 40 East Fifty-fourth Street, identified the body after she had been brought to the suite by detectives.     Earlier the identity of Mr. Cooper had been in doubt, because he had registered as C.R. Cooper of the United States Rubber Company, Sebring, Fla.

A note found in the room read as follows:
“I am leaving $43 in my clothing.     Pay $32 to the hotel, which I believe I own.”
Thomas Baker, a house detective, and Vincent Healy, an elevator operator, entered the room after it had been reported locked from the inside for several hours.     Mr. Cooper, according to an ambulance surgeon from Roosevelt Hospital, had been dead between ten and eleven hours.

His body was hanging in a clothes closet, suspended from a rod used as a support for clothing.

The Sebring address, police said, apparently arose from the fact that the author had an estate at Sebring, not far from the Winter quarters used by the circus, in which he had long been interested, having at one time been head press agent for the old Sells-Floto and Buffalo Bill show.
There are various other newspaper accounts which give us more details about his mysterious death, and even more mysterious funeral.   [16A]   A summarization of these accounts is as follows:

  • His home was in Sebring Florida (just 91 miles away from Tampa).
  • While in New York, he normally stayed at the hotel Weylin and used it as a second home while there.
  • But on this occasion, --- for reasons unknown, he checked in to a different hotel (Hotel Park Central) --- This despite the fact that his wife seems to have been staying at the Weylin at the time.
  • Judging from the Hotel bill ($32 – in 1940’s money), he had probably been at the Hotel for at least a few days previous to his death.
  • That his wife had to be called in to the Park Central Hotel in order to identify the body.
[MUSEUM COMMENT] -- This should raise some red flags somewhere.     Why did Cooper stay in a different hotel?     Granted, he could have wanted to get some work done and thus be by himself for a while, but if so, why not (at the very least), tell his wife where he was?     Obviously, something unusual was going on.

  • His body was found at about 12:30 O’clock by two Hotel workers, [Thomas Baker, house detective; and Vincent Healy, an elevator operator]
  • According to an ambulance surgeon from Roosevelt Hospital, he had been dead between ten and eleven hours.
[MUSEUM COMMENT] -- If this body was found at 12:30 (afternoon) and the Ambulance surgeon said he had been dead 10 to 11 hours, that would put the time of death at 1:30 and 2:30 AM the night before.     OR if we interpret the statement as meaning, 10 to 11 hours from the time they picked up the body (which would have been at around 3 to 4PM) then the death would have occurred sometime, sometime around 4 to 6AM that morning.     One supposes that one could commit suicide at any time of the day or night, but these are somewhat oddball hours one has to admit.     They would however make for a good time to commit a murder.

[MUSEUM COMMENT] -- While NO AXE was used in this murder (thus making it a bit too obvious that it wasn’t a suicide), note the exact method used.     The same method supposedly used at a later time by Victor Licata.

  • His body was hanging in a clothes closet, suspended from a rod used as a support for clothing.
  • Cooper’s body was hanging from a rope attached to a steam pipe.

  • Detective Gaswell Jacobs, who pronounced his death a suicide
  • Found an unsigned note in Cooper’s room.     It said: “In my clothes is $43 in cash.     I think my bill is about $32.     Give the hotel $32.”
[MUSEUM COMMENT] -- From my readings of his works (he was a good writer), the note would have been in keeping with his character.     Also, whenever something like this happens there is always confusion at first, so it is quite possible that the clothing rack (which would not have supported his weight for long) mentioned was simply a mistake.     However, note the way that Mr. Cooper was said to have committed suicide -- not by poison, not by a gunshot wound, but by hanging.     If the assassin(s) were the same, then it would follow that Victor Licata’s death would follow in a similar fashion.

  • J. Edgar Hoover was said to have gone to his funeral service.
  • His body Cremation took place in Union City, N.J.
  • Mr. Cooper was an Episcopalian
[MUSEUM COMMENT] -- Episcopalians don’t believe in Cremation and although in today’s world they do look the other way.     BUT here the year is 1940, which makes for a bit of suspicion.     Also note that there doesn’t seem to have been an autopsy of any kind.     And with no body to exhume in the future, (ah, how shall we phrase it), “How Convenient” for anyone who would have murdered the man.

According to the newspaper accounts.
  • The motive for the act was unknown to writer's family
  • Mr. Cooper had for several days been in a state of nervous exhaustion as the result of overwork.
  • His wife and sister could advance no reason for his suicide but told police he had been morose over alleged snubs he had received in Washington when he sought to inform officials of German activities he said he discovered in Mexico.
  • Brother-in-law, said there was no known motive.     He explained that Mr. Cooper had been, for several days, in a state of nervous exhaustion as the result of overwork.     Mr. Christie said that Mr. Cooper’s finances were in excellent shape, his home life happy and his professional career at its peak.”
[MUSEUM COMMENTS] – It appears that there was NO MOTIVE for the suicide.     And granted, he appears to have been snubbed, anyone who has ever read his works will tell you he was a fighter and would simply have found some other avenue (example write an article and have it prominently published etc.) to bring his findings to the public's attention.     As for the nervous exhaustion, hogwash, any psychologist can tell you (and a few have) that it simply doesn’t lead to suicidal thoughts.     A desire to finish a job and take a vacation yes, suicide no.     And as can be seen from the Editorial cartoon below, the issue was a very real one at the time.

Vidette Messenger - July 19, 1940

From the authors viewpoint, this sounds so familiar, ---- a tactic used by the Narcs to cover things up to this very day.     This author will never forget the shooting death of Donald Scott (some innocent so and so, killed by the drug police in a raid) – the next day, the newspapers read – “Reclusive Millionaire” etc., etc.

It is the opinion of the author (one he has held long before deciding to write a book about Victor Licata) that Courtney Ryley Cooper was murdered and DID NOT commit suicide.

Admittedly we have no real solid evidence, no proof that this was the case.     Still, circumstantial evidence seems to point in that direction.     The scenario goes as follows:

Courtney Ryley Cooper, while loyal to the concepts of Law and Order, and bitterly against the use of narcotics drugs; ---still he was a man of honor.     You know, one of those who believes in truth, justice and the American way, etc., etc.     Anyway, although he had written much of the early literature for the Reefer Madness Hysteria and/or dis-information campaign, he now began to figure out that much of what he had been writing about had been built up lies, pure and simple.     That the whole thing was not about ending drug abuse but about going after Mexicans and people of color, etc.

I for one would not at all be surprised if he had figured out that Victor Licata (who at the time was the main celebrity of Harry Anslinger's gore file), had been framed and had been innocent all along.     It was at this point that he became disillusioned with Anslinger, with the whole Reefer Madness campaign in general.

Again, he was a powerful ally to have on your side, but also a powerful enemy if he was against you.     Additionally, he also knew the truth about the whole of the Reefer Madness campaign.     One can only imagine what would have happened had he gone to the newspapers with his story.     Obviously, most of them, either through fear of Anslinger or just plain dumbness, would not have carried the story, but some of them would have.     Cooper was no ordinary man and could not simply have been ignored.

Thus, Courtney Ryley Cooper, could have taken down a lot of people and Harry Anslinger knew it.     Thus, the need to silence him, -- And there was only one way to silence him, permanently.

If this sounds like a fanciful work of fiction; well maybe so.     But as was mentioned in Chapter 2, Harry Anslinger was no angel.     In fact, he was out and out evil.     And if anyone doubts that he would order an assassination of C.R. Cooper, just look at the fact that he himself knew all along that his whole hysteria campaign was nothing more than a big LIE.     Yet he did nothing while so many innocents were sent to jail, ---all in the name of his Drug War.

Then look at it from his perspective.     If Cooper started shooting his mouth off (as I believe he was about to do), that would have been the end of him.     Of his career, of his whole reefer madness campaign and one suspects that if his co-conspirators were anything like him, of his life itself.     After all, they might start worrying that he also might start talking, etc.     Thus, with the stakes so high, it is obvious what had to be done.

On December 7, 1950, the Tampa Tribune ran the following article:
Tampa Morning Tribune Dec 7, 1950 p10
Victor Licata hanged with Bedsheet

Victor Licata.     Tampa man who killed five members of his family with an ax in 1933, committed suicide Monday by hanging himself with a bedsheet, the prison superintendent announced at Railford yesterday.

Private funeral services were held here yesterday at 11 A.M., two hours before it was announced Licata was dead.

Superintendent L.F. Chapman, of the prison, said Licata’s body was found on the floor of his cell with a bedsheet around his neck.   The sheet had been tied to the end of his double-decker bed. He was discovered at 2:30 P.M. Monday by an orderly, who said Licata had not been dead long.
[MUSEUM COMMENTS] – [Victor was 5’ 8” – a double-decker bed would only go up so far, --- No way, can’t be done-- AND please explain how can you be hanged but then be found on the floor?]
In Cell alone
The superintendent said Licata was alone in his cell when the suicide took place.     A cellmate; whose name was not released, had gone out into the jail yard to work while Licata stayed in his cell.

Chapman said the state attorney for the circuit in which Raiford is located was called and a coroner’s jury sat at an inquest to fix definitely the cause of death.

Licata was sent to the state prison by the late County Judge Cornelius to serve a life sentence for killing all the members of his family except one.

According to the officers at the time of the slaying, Licata had been drinking moonshine and smoking marijuana cigarettes.     Licata said he had a dream that his family was trying to kill him by torturing him and slashing off his arms and legs with an ax.

An examination was held and Judge Cornelius adjudged Licata insane and ordered him to the state hospital for the insane at Chattahoochee after pleas for leniency from relatives.

Brother Escaped
The only member of the family not killed during the wild spree was a brother, ‘Anthony J. Licata.     Tampa attorney, who was in college at the time.

Licata was just recently recaptured and sent to Raiford after an escape from Chattahoochee in 1945.     He had been at large for five years until apprehended in New Orleans Aug, 15.

Superintendent Chapmah said Licata was technically a patient of the state hospital but had been held at Raiford for “safekeeping” since his recapture in August.

Licata’s death had not been announced until reporters, attempting to verify rumors they heard here, called the superintendent yesterday.

Chapman [???] he notified the state hospital but had not announced it to the press.     Relatives were notified by the state hospital but no announcement to the press was forthcoming from there either.

The Tribune learned through reports later verified by Lord and Fernandex Funeral Home, that Licata was buried at a quiet funeral service yesterday morning at 11 A.M., two hours before announcement of the death was made at Ralford.
In order to understand all the ramifications of the above article, maybe it would be best to step back a bit.     As mentioned in the previous chapter, on Oct 1945 (after spending 12 years at the State Hospital), Victor Licata (along with four others) made good his escape.     And although the four others were quickly recaptured, Victor Licata himself was nowhere to be found.

It would be five years later (again see previous chapter) until Victor would be recaptured and only because he had made the mistake of making contact with a cousin in New Orleans who turned him in.     Which in turn would now seal his fate.

Why he made contact with his cousin (his father's brother) we can only speculate on.     Maybe he was trying to obtain his help in clearing his name, or maybe . . . the maybes could go on and on. [16B]

As per our research:
  • New Orleans District Attorney's Office – Claims no records, index cards, nothing on the matter.
  • New Orleans Police Department – Claims NO ‘Police Report’ on file anywhere.     They did suggest that we try the New Orleans Public Library (archival division)
  • New Orleans Public Library (archival division) – Claims that they could NOT locate any such ‘Police Report’ nor other material dealing with the Victor Licata arrest.
  • County Jail – No records of Victor Licata exist.
  • Sheriff Office – Nothing.
It seems that like everything else in Victor’s life, even the historical paperwork seems to be working against him.     --- OR was this lack of paperwork all a part of the conspiracy against him?     Could the conspirators have deliberately cleaned up things a bit to cover their trail?

Even when he was brought back to Florida, the paper trail related to Victor’s last days is also almost non-existent.
As per our research:
  • No autopsy report still exists -- This despite the fact that according to the Tampa Tribune article above stated: “Chapman said the state attorney for the circuit in which Raiford is located was called and a coroner’s jury sat at an inquest to fix definitely the cause of death.”
  • No Jail investigation (cause of death) report still exists
  • No local Sheriff's Report on the matter exists or can be found
In other words, NOTHING, Victor’s paperwork simply went AWOL -- Could all of this simply be a coincidence?     Maybe, but the shear fact that so much paperwork, dealing with his death, from so many different agencies was either never filed or has gone missing (of and by itself), should at least raise a few eyebrows.     [16C]

Next, there is the matter of his death itself.     Again, as per the above article:
“Superintendent L.F. Chapman, of the prison, said Licata’s body was found on the floor of his cell with a bedsheet around his neck.     The sheet had been tied to the end of his double-decker bed.   He was discovered at 2:30 p.m.     Monday by an orderly, who said Licata had not been dead long. “
QUESTION: How do you find the body of someone who (allegedly) just hanged himself on the floor?

Also, Victor was five feet, eight and a half inches tall, while the highest point in any double-decker bed that I’ve ever seen is no more than 6 feet high.     So how was it possible for him to have hanged himself?

Now please, I am not saying that it was not possible that the above could have taken place.     Yes, yes, it is possible for the bedsheet that he was (allegedly) using as a rope to have gotten loose, and it is possible that he weighed his 127 lb., body down with some kind of lead weight and then gone on his knees allowing the short rope to do its work.     --- But overall, it just doesn’t sound right and again should raise a few more eyebrows.

To this author it sounds more like the work of an assassin.     And in all probability (judging by the M.O.), the same one(s) that took care of C.R. Cooper.

Obviously this author has already sided with MURDER, and let’s be frank, (while having no solid proof), this case simply has too many weird things going on for it to have been anything else but.

The (almost deliberate) lack of paper work, the similarities between this death and that of Harry Anslinger’s ghost writer (C.R. Cooper), etc.     However, one must admit that it would have been a bit hard for anyone other than an extremely well placed assassin to have committed the crime.     Example; how did the assassin get all the proper permits to actually get into the prison in the first place?     Then there is the issue of logistics --special keys to the cells, maybe even special guard uniforms so as not to draw unwanted attention, etc.     You had to have had a map of the prison, one showing where all the doors, cell blocks, etc., were.     And last of all the timing would have had to be right.     Victor was found dead in his cell around 2:30 p.m. or around an hour and a half after he got back from lunch etc.     BUT most important of all, you had to have the knowledge of exactly when and where, Victor was going to be left alone in his cell.

Things that most ordinary assassins just wouldn’t have, which leads me to the suspicion that higher-ups -- very higher-ups were involved in his murder.     Which now leads to the obvious question --- WHY would anyone want to go to so much trouble to KILL Victor Licata in the first place?

Once more, speculation must come into play here, BUT WHAT IF, Victor Licata (who was now around 37 years of age) was now talking openly about his case?     Telling those around him that he was innocent etc.     AND at this point in his life, he was back in the news.

Now, try putting yourself into Harry Anslinger’s shoes AND you just got wind of what was going on.     And knowing that sooner or later one reporter or another was going to listen.     Wouldn’t you hit the panic button also?     Just think of it, his whole career of evil would go down the drain.     And as we have seen from chapter 2, while a genius in some ways, he just wasn’t a very good man.     Given all the human misery that he created, many of us today would agree that he was out and out evil.     And if to save his career meant murder then so be it, he already knew a good assassin (maybe the one that fixed Cooper) that would be just perfect for the job.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case might be, as can be seen from the newspaper article below, destiny took another turn in Victor Licata’s life.
St. Petersburg Times - Aug 16, 1950 p20
Tallahassee --- (AP) – Some of Florida’s more dangerous criminal insane fugitives will be taken to the State Prison instead of the State Hospital when they are recaptured. . . . . Commissioner of Agriculture Nathan Mayo, who made the motion, said he didn’t know at the time that Victor Licata had been recaptured in New Orleans but he will be moved to have him taken to the prison, too, when he is brought back.  

They will be housed at the prison until the new building for criminal insane patients at the Chattahoochee Hospital is completed.

Secretary of State R. A. Gray reported the inadequacy of the present building was partly responsible for the Aug. 6 [1950] . . . .[more]
This meant that the murder (if such it was) must take place in a State Prison as opposed to the Florida State Hospital.     But it didn’t matter, Anslinger thought his contacts would be able to obtain internal diagrams of the prison, prisoner information, guard schedules etc., and most important of all, some excuses for having someone enter the prison (unescorted) at just the right time.     Granted, Anslinger faced disgrace if his plan failed, but he stood to do so either way.     This path, his mind would have calculated, stood the best chance of success.     And as for poor Victor, so what, he would be but just one of whom he had already done so much harm to.

The following newspaper articles deal with Mr. Coopers death:
Chicago Daily Tribune
[ ]- 1940-Sep-30 "cooper Morose Over Snub, His Widow Reveals" [by the AP]
Los Angeles Times
Sep 30, 1940 p1 Cooper suicide Linked to Snubs at Washington -- Mrs. Cooper became hysterical when she identified her husband's body and was placed under a doctor's care."
[ ]- Oct 1, 1940 "The Cooper Mystery"
[ ]- 1940-apr-9 "Big Show boasts Real Live Novelist"
[ ]- 1940-Sep-29 C.R. Cooper, author, Kills himself Here"
His body was hanging in a clothes closet, suspended from a rod used as a support for clothing."
[ ]- 1940-Sep-30 Funeral of Cooper Set for tomorrow - Wife Prostrated by his suicide -- Motive for act unknown to writer's family  Mr. Cooper was found dead, hanged from a steam pipe in a closet of a two-room suite.     Mr. Cooper had been for several days, in a state of nervous exhaustion as the result of overwork.
[ ]- NYTimes1940-Oct-2 "Courtney R. Cooper Rites"
[Cremation took place in Union City, N.J. ]
Washington Post
[ ]- 1940-Sep-30 "D.C. Snub Blamed in suicide of Courtney Ryley Cooper"
[Detective Gaswell Jacobs, who pronounced his death a suicide, said he found an unsigned note in Cooper's room.
It said: "In my clothes is $43 in cash.     I think my bill is about $32.     Give the hotel $32."
[16B]- Here I hate to shoot myself in the foot, but from the accounts that we know of, Victor Licata did not bring up that fact at all.     During his short meetings he had with his cousin, it appears that the subject never came up.
[16C]- Granted, we have been able to locate Victor’s death certificate as well as (through private means) his burial records.     However, very little else (paperwork-wise) has been found.



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