Today In History, 1961: Delaware Police Announce “Morals” Roundup

Jim Burroway

June 13th, 2016

55 YEARS AGO: A state investigation in a “morals case” ended with the arrest of fifteen men, aged sixteen to twenty-seven years. As The Mattachine Review commented, the sixteen-year-old “unfortunately gives authorities a valid reason to conduct the investigations,” although it is unclear from the Wilmington Evening Journal’s article of June 13 whether that was the focus of the investigation or merely something police discovered sometime after it began. The investigation started on April 6 when police officers in Newark arrested Vance H. Middleton, 37, who “admitted participating in immoral acts.” Police went to his home and “seized a mass of obscene pictures and literature and photographic equipment and original photographs. It was through these photographs that the identity of many of those in the investigation was established.” Through a kind of a snowballing operation in which each contact was interrogated in order to obtain the names of other contacts, police surmised that “The Newark parties drew persons from throughout Delaware, Elkton, Philadelphia and New York” and that “most of the immoral activity centered in the Newark-Brookside area of week-ends.” One man, James M.F. Short, 31, of Newark and Wilmington, was charged with “63 morals charges by state police” and was being “held for psychiatric treatment on the Newark charges.”

A reader sent a copy of the Wilmington Evening Journal’s article to The Mattachine Review, and added the following details.

Police pressure is terrible throughout the state, they are pressuring homosexuals that are picked up to name and identify all their acquaintances. They even go to the places where they are employed, call them off the job and not even permit them to inform their employers they are leaving. They then are held as long as the police desire to hold them and generally cost the respective employee his job (which the police clearly envision because of their actions). When they are picked up, they are taken to the station for interrogation, subjected to a contingent of police officials’ questioning, and their actions and conversation filmed and tape recorded for the entirety of their stay. Their legal rights are denied on a wholesale basis, and none of them as yet has taken any action against the police.

Of course, in some towns down state, attorneys will not even defend a prospective client against the police even on charges other than homosexuality. (Proof of that statement In the Delaware State News, Dover, Delaware)

Short, one of the defendants in the case, attempted to implicate a State Trooper, so, of course, the numerous charges placed against him clearly indicate how the police plan to handle him.

[Sources: “15 Arrests in Morals Case End State’s Investigation.” Wilmington (DE) Evening Journal (June 13, 1961). As reprinted in the The Mattachine Review 7. no. 7 (June 1961): 27-28.]

Letter to the editor. The Mattachine Review 7. no. 7 (June 1961): 27.

Harold Call. “Calling Shots.” The Mattachine Review 7. no. 7 (June 1961): 4-5.]

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