Wednesday, August 31, 2011

One Flew Under The Cuckoo's Nest

re-posted from my blog "Weird Detroit"


It was commonplace for patients and inmates at the Eloise Asylum to be criminally orientated and subject to random violent or illegal acts but when a regaled psychiatrist from the same institution became embroiled in a murder-for-hire plot in 1957 it was highly scandalous. The fact that the intended victim was the man himself attempting to commit suicide by proxy made it that much more troubling and eerie.

To his colleagues and associates Dr. C. L. R. (Charles) Pearman was an outstanding psychiatrist with an impeccable character. Even the judge who would release him on bail after his failed experiment with death attested to his upstanding character. But something was bubbling under the surface of doctor's professional veneer and on Tuesday April 23, 1957 it overflowed.

While at a Detroit night club Pearman discussed hiring a hitman with a porter named Walter Jones. The porter listened intently as the doctor told him that the man must be "an ex-convict, a Negro, and must know his business." Jones agreed but instead of finding a thug to do the job he contacted the Detroit police. Henry Jason, a black officer, was assigned to arrange a meeting with Pearman. Two days later the men convened in a staged environment with concealed cameras which the filmed the entire exchange of money and the murder plot.

Jason was to come to Pearman's office the following evening and shoot the doctor clean through the heart. To Pearman it was the perfect scenario because you "could fire a cannon in my office and not be heard." In preparation for the supposed assault Pearman would ransack his own office to make it appear that he had walked in on a burglar. He then gave the plainclothes officer $50 as a down payment and would relinquish another $450 after the job was completed.

When police arrived the next evening they found a sign on his office door blankly stating, "Back Monday." Pearman had reconsidered his bizarre plan and instead went to a party at the nearby Grosse Ile naval air station where police later arrested him. Under interrogation Pearman admitted to being "despondent" and feeling that he had "nothing to live for". The reason he had chosen to hire his own assassin was so that a "lady friend" could collect on his life insurance policy which the doctor had altered the week before the plot to benefit the unnamed woman. Police interviewed the married woman, who was accompanied to the station by her spouse, and determined that she was an innocent cog in the ploy.

Pearman was detained and brought before Recorder's Court Judge John P. Scallen, who, after listening to defense remarks stating that the doctor's mind "had slipped a little" from overworking, released him into the care of the court psychiatrist Dr. Albert E.Waller, stating that having known and worked with Pearman for years that he was "a man of exceptionally fine reputation."

Wayne County Prosecutor Ralph Garber recommended charges against Pearman for conspiring to commit murder, a potential five year prison term, but Judge W. McKay Skillman refused to sign the warrant issued by Assistant Prosecutor Sam Brezner. After a "technical legal argument" between Skillman, Brezner and defense attorneys Albert Summers and Ernest Ostro, the judge denied the warrant citing a 1943 state attorney general ruling that committing suicide wasn't a crime.

In a bizarre postscript, which in hindsight might have foreshadowed the events of April 1957, the following year Dr. Pearman sued two black Detroit policemen for $25,000. In the suit he claimed that during a 1955 drunk driving incident he was falsely arrested, imprisoned and beaten, causing permanent injuries to his right hand and upper left arm that hampered his golf game. While he was later found innocent of the impaired driving charges his golf game suffered a nearly 20 stroke decline which demanded that he should be justly compensated for the loss of skills. The outcome is unknown.


FURTHER READING

1948

Doctor Pearman To Address PTA; The Grosse Pointe News, December 2, 1948


1957

Insurance Plot Fizzles; The Windsor Daily Star, April 27, 1957

Quiz Psychiatrist After Try To Hire Pseudo-Gunman To Kill; The Times-News, April 27, 1957

Wanted To Die, Hired A Killer; The Owosso Argus-Press, April 27, 1957

Psychiatrist Plotted Own Slaying; The Miami News, April 28, 1957

No Crime In Mich. To Attempt Suicide; The Lewiston Daily Sun, May 6, 1957

No Warrant Issued In Death Plot; The St. Joseph News-Press, May 7, 1957

Attempted Suicide Not A Crime In Michigan; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 8, 1957

Doctor Is Freed; Plotted His Killing; The Milwaukee Journal, May 8, 1957


1958

His Golf Game Suffers Now; The Beaver Valley Times, October 6, 1958

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