January 6th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Suspect Arrested In Miami “Hairdresser Murder” Case: 1955. Only a day had passed since Miami Beach police were called to an apartment on 82nd Street where William Bishop’s roommates discovered his dead body on the floor of an enclosed porch (see Jan 5). When police arrived, they examined his nude body with his hands tied behind his back, his ankles tied together, and a dish towel and handkerchief fashioned into a gag around his mouth. The Dade County sheriff’s legal-medical advisor told reporters that Bishop probably died from strangulation, but he wouldn’t be able to make a final determination until an autopsy was performed. A separate Associated Press report the next day would reveal that the autopsy showed that “Bishop died of strangulation and that he had been sexually abused.”
If this were Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday briefing reporters on the case, those would have been, in his words, “just the facts, ma’am.” But this murder had taken place against the backdrop of a long-running anti-gay witchhunt (see Aug 3, Aug 11, Aug 12, Aug 13 (twice that day), Aug 14, Aug 26, Aug 31, Sep 1, Sep 2, Sep 7, Sep 15, Sep 19, Oct 6, Oct 20, Nov 12 and Dec 16), and The Miami News was often eager to fan the flames of anti-gay prejudice throughout much of the year. They played this latest incident they way they played all of the other developments: to maximum effect. In yesterday’s report, Bishop was identified as a hairdresser — not just once but four times, including twice in the headlines, just in case anyone missed it. The reporter, Frank Fox, dutifully pointed out that the roommates were also a hairdresser and a florist, and they were “hysterical” — Fox used that word twice — when they called the police. Police allowed Fox a close-up look at the body so he could report, in detail, Bishop’s “silk dressing gown sash” which was used to tie Bishop’s hands together. Fox apparently was also given the run of the apartment. He described the full layout of the U-shaped apartment and “the reading matter about homosexuals” scattered about. Fox did leave it to the homicide detective to say openly what Fox and his Miami News readers already concluded: “It looks to me like a sadistic murder.”
William Bishop’s death looked like it was shaping up to being just one more crime that police and the public would refuse to take seriously. Which makes it all the more surprising when the following day, police announced the arrest of “a 21-year-old Korean War veteran” by the name of Thomas Francis McDonald. Miami News reporter Sanford Schnier described him as a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, a private first class who served “11 months in Korea with the 71st Regiment, 7th Infantry (Hourglass) Division as a switchboard operator (with) several battle stars who, in effect, had little choice but to attack William Bishop. The story went like this:
McDonald, who has a wife and 6-month-old child, related this story: He left home several days ago feeling despondent over an argument with his wife and because of the recent deaths of his mother and father. He checked into the Tuscany Hotel in Hollywood, and came to Miami Beach Tuesday night. In a 74th Street bar he met Bishop. They played shuffleboard and had a few drinks, he said. Bishop invited him to his apartment and he accepted.
When they go there, McDonald stated, Bishop “tried to make some improper advances towards me. I hit him with my first three or four times, and he struck back and got me on the jaw twice. He fell when I hit him again.”
The, he said, he tied him up “Because I figured he might follow me,” and left the scene. He went back to Hollywood, checked out at 7:15 a.m. yesterday and came back to Miami, where he planned to check in.”
Asked by detectives if he knew Bishop was a homosexual, McDonald answered, “I never had any use for them and I still don’t.”
McDonald, 210 pounds and 5 feet, 11 inches tall, said he took Bishop’s gold watch, $5 in case, two shirts and a tan sport jacket, which he was wearing when arrested. McDonald admitted in his statement to Miami Beach police that ho took a ring from Bishop and hocked it later in the day at a Miami pawnshop for $35.
“I swear he was breathing when I left; you got to believe me,” he implored detectives.
That’s how the story ended on January 6: a burly Korean war vet and married father who attacked a silk dressing-gowned hairdresser. It would appear that, in The Miami News’ opinion, the case was more or less closed — except for the small matter of a dead body. The News dropped the story until May, when a judge ruled that McDonald was competent to stand trial and jury selection began. The story then fell back off of the paper’s pages, so I don’t have much information about what happened during the trial until May 24, when the paper’s late edition carried a very brief one-paragraph description of McDonald’s testimony:
Accused Testified in Murder Trial.
Thomas F. McDonald, accused of murdering William B. Bishop, took the stand in his own defense today and reiterated that Bishop was still alive when he left Bishop’s apartment at 235 82nd St., Miami Beach, the night of Jan 5. McDonald, a 21-year-old Korean veteran, told the court that he beat, bound and gagged the 29-year-old hairdresser because he was “acting like a mad dog.”
Later that day, the jury found McDonald guilty of murder, “and recommended mercy, thus saving him from death in the electric chair.” Fortunately, Florida law placed a limit to that mercy: a life sentence was the mandatory minimum. McDonald was formally sentenced to life on May 27.
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