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Maryland poor hear echo of '63 killing

William Zantzinger, a rich young white man, killed a 51-year-old black waitress and mother of 11 because she was slow to refill his bourbon glass. The year, 1963, marked the birth of racial conscience for many Americans. Zantzinger's crime and subsequent light sentence came to symbolize the freedom of some and the absence of justice for others. Bob Dylan wrote a song, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, which lent the case a painful immediacy for many listeners who had never set foot in Baltimore. Dylan dropped the "t" in Zantzinger, but the name was burned into memory nevertheless:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll

With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger

At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'.

And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him

As they rode him in custody down to the station

And booked William Zanzinger for first degree murder.

Three decades later, Zantzinger is back in the news. Again, his victims are black and poor. Again, the legal system has worked in his favor. This time, tenants in a rural Maryland subdivision say, Zantzinger has used the courts and the sheriff to help him collect rent and evict families from shacks and trailers he doesn't even own.

Old news clippings described the Zantzingers as "socially prominent," a prominence gauged by wealth, skin color and political connections in Baltimore and Washington. As a young man in the early 1960s, William farmed tobacco and other crops on family-owned land. In his spare time, he honed his gentlemanly skills at the Wicomico County Hunt Club; his father, a former Maryland state legislator, was a found-ing member.

One night, dressed in tails with a carnation in his lapel and carrying a white novelty cane for effect, the six-foot, 225-pound Zantzinger went on a mini-rampage at the Spinster's Ball, a charity affair. First, he struck a hotel bellman, George Gesell. Later in the evening, he hit Ethel Hill, a waitress, with his cane. When she tried to move away, he caned her repeatedly on the arm, thigh and buttocks.

Zantzinger became verbally abusive to a second waitress, Hattie Carroll. Then he dealt her a single blow between the neck and shoulder. She collapsed, and Zantzinger was arrested, but not before he injured a policeman and earned himself a black eye.

Mrs. Carroll was taken to the hospital, where she died of a cerebral hemorrhage about eight hours later.

William Zanzinger, who at 24 years

Owns a tobacco farm of 600 acres

With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him

And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,

Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders

And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,

In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.

Actually, Zantzinger spent several hours in jail. He was still wearing his carnation when the judge, unaware that Mrs. Carroll had just died, released him on $3,600 bond. He was soon charged with homicide; the court found that Mrs. Carroll's death "was hastened by the defendant's verbal insults coupled with an assault."

The trial was much in the news during the long, hot summer of 1963. William J. O'Donnell, state's attorney in the case, told the court that "Mr. Zantzinger was playing lord of the manor, presiding over the old plantation."

The defense called him "a good, honest, hard-working boy."

A tribunal of judges simply labeled Zantzinger "immature."

Zantzinger was ultimately sentenced to six months' imprisonment, with a $500 fine, on reduced charges of manslaughter and assault. As the judges debated, National Guard troops massed on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where 4,000 black residents in the town of Cambridge were demonstrating for an end to segregation. A 15-year-old girl had been arrested and held without bail earlier that June for kneeling in prayer in front of a bowling alley. Less than 50 miles away in Washington, congressional leaders laid the outlines of what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We live like dogs'

William Devereaux Zantzinger is now in his early 50s, about the same age Hattie Carroll was when she died. Over the years he came into a handsome inheritance, including a trust fund and various parcels of southern Maryland real estate. He made real estate sales and rental his career, and his peers came to know him as a man of influence. In 1984, the Realtors Political Action Committee of Maryland elected him to lead its board of trustees.

Among Zantzinger's holdings were most of the lots in Patuxent Woods, a hardscrabble subdivision in rural Charles County. Indoor plumbing and safe drinking water were not included in the rent.

Health standards in Patuxent Woods are far below legal limits. One man, George Tolson, built his own outhouse from scrap wood; some families collect waste in plastic containers and dump it among the trees. Some get drinking water from shallow, contaminated wells; others trek four miles to an artesian well.

No signs lead the way to Patuxent Woods, just a couple of rutted dirt car paths. Tenants say Zantzinger never came around to check on the tumbledown shacks and aging trailers from which he drew rent.

Asked recently if she had ever met him, one woman laughed hoarsely and said, "Yeah, in court." Court records show that Zantzinger was quick to seek judgments against the poor when they fell behind in their payments of $100, $150, $175 a month.

Zantzinger also chalked up some unpaid debts of his own. In the early 1980s, the IRS seized interest from his inheritance trust fund for nonpayment of $78,000 in federal taxes, interest and penalties. Then, in 1986, Charles County took most of Patuxent Woods away from him, again for back taxes.

The county made no formal inventory of its various holdings until 1989. Even then, no one surveyed or inspected Patuxent Woods, where people were living in 19th century conditions on public land. No one noted the shallow, improperly sealed wells, the rusting trash heaps, the barrels used to collect waste and rainwater.

So the families remained as they were, and they paid Zantzinger his monthly due. When someone moved out, he openly advertised for another tenant. When tenants didn't pay, he won district court judgments against them.

In January, a complaint about Patuxent Woods worked its way from the county health department to the ear of a Charles County commissioner.

"It was just about too hard to believe," County Administrator Mel Bridgett said. "We've got every problem you could name."

In March and April, some Patuxent Woods tenants were instructed to stop making rent payments.

Agnes Reed, a 34-year-old who has lived in Patuxent Woods for 17 years, said simply: "He got us living like most people have their dogs living. He knew he could do it. We live like dogs because we couldn't do no better." Reed earns money by working as a maid at a local motel.

Reed's sister, Mary Owens, once lived in the small frame house with a sagging porch now occupied by George Tolson. The kitchen ceiling is falling down; an ancient wood-stove provides heat. Water is hauled with a bucket and rope lowered into an unprotected well shaft.

In 1987, Owens said, she was "set out" of the house by Zantzinger. Several neighbors confirmed her story. "He had the sheriff and everything," she added.

"This man was throwing people out of somebody else's houses, left and right. I don't understand that," Reed said. "He'd just walk up there with the sheriff."

Plenty amid

poverty

A visit to the Charles County courthouse confirmed that Zantzinger knew his way around the system. He brought action against Patuxent Woods tenants as recently as April, winning rent and penalty fees or evictions.

In court records of civil actions between mid-1984 and mid-1989, Zantzinger's name appear 27 times in some capacity.

After some initial fact-gathering, officials handed the matter of Zantzinger and his Patuxent Woods rentals over to the state's attorney. "In fact, that's one of the things I filed here today," said Paul Wright, an assistant county administrator, patting a file with evident satisfaction. "They are investigating it to see what they can legally do to Mr. Zantzinger."

No charges have been filed to date against Zantzinger.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel

To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level

And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded

And that even the nobles get properly handled

Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em

And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom

Paul Wright's pleasant office in the new red brick Charles County government building is separated from Patuxent Woods by about 20 miles of well-paved highway. The roads wind through beautiful farmlands, thick with For Sale signs. There is plenty of high-end residential construction; red brick is clearly the status material of choice. One local official estimated that the average home buyer in Charles County can expect to spend $175,000 to $225,000.

One woman puttering in the garden of a new, perfectly manicured brick house near Patuxent Woods wasn't sure exactly where the neighborhood was. "Yes, it's over that way somewhere," she said, waving vaguely. She was quick to add that she didn't know it existed until recently, when she read about the issue in the local paper.

Wright and many others who work for Charles County government are young, professional and relatively new to their jobs. They are frankly stunned by the legacy they inherited from the not-so-distant days when privileged landlords were not fettered by government "liveability" codes and the county kept no inventory of its own holdings.

"The structures were cracked, the ceilings were falling in, the floors were unsafe," Wright said. "I'm not used to that; I've never been in that environment before."

As a first step, county officials have begun spending $800 to $1,000 each month to supply Patuxent Woods residents with bottled water.

"It's pretty good," George Tolson said appreciatively. "I got three boxes, see? Over on the other side of that ice box."

Tolson's well is an open shaft secured by a thin sheet of plywood across the opening. He has to shoo small children away when he slides off the cover; they are attracted by the echoes they can make by shouting down the concrete shaft.

The county says the well is contaminated with surface bacteria, but Tolson and some of his neighbors have relied on it for years.

"There's a lot of people around here don't have water, you see," Tolson said. "I been swinging water for 'em. Sometimes I feel like doing it, and sometimes I don't, because one foot's got gout."

Tolson, 58, and his wife, Dorothy, live on a combined monthly disability income of roughly $600. Tolson gave $165 of this money to Zantzinger each month, and he has a careful stack of receipts to prove it.

He doesn't like to complain about the house, despite the roofing problems or the section of ceiling that has fallen in. "I don't feel like living outdoors," he said pragmatically.

His dream is to buy a little house of his own in rural Charles County, a place he can "patch up" as energy and finances permit. "I always did believe in trying to help myself," he said. "I'm getting up in age. I used to work in sawmills and places like that. I can't stand no long bending now."

"That's a good man'

William Zantzinger was easily reached by telephone at his real estate office, and he was very polite. He declined to comment about Patuxent Woods, however.

The Realtor has no comment for Charles County government, either. "Mr. Zantzinger has not returned my calls, and I don't expect him to," Paul Wright said. "I am sure he has a lawyer who will do his speaking for him."

At least two others are willing to speak on Zantzinger's behalf, Ernest Battle and his daughter, Carolyn. "That's a good man," Carolyn said hotly. "Put that in the paper."

The Battles have owned their home in Patuxent Woods for more than 30 years. Ernest Battle met Zantzinger about 11 years ago when a tree fell on one of the rental houses. Zantzinger hired him to clear it, and Battle did other repair work for him.

"I don't work for him now," Battle added resentfully, alluding to the recent trouble at Patuxent Woods.

The view from the Battles' neatly raked front yard includes Zantzinger's former shacks and trailers, plus junk dumped by strangers on the vacant lots. Yet Battle doesn't hold Zantzinger responsible for the housing, or for the many health hazards that impinge on his own property.

"I ain't mad with the man," he said. "All the people in here, he helped."

Battle paused from loading his truck and leaned on his shovel to consider the problem:

"If it wasn't for Mr. Zantzinger, where would the poor people go? They'd be sleeping out in the street, like them street people up in Washington. They wouldn't have nowhere to go. They ain't able to pay rent."

Charles County officials are determined to do better by these families, most of whom rely on public assistance. "Everybody has the right to safe drinking water and a sanitary method of sewage disposal," said James H. Story, assistant director for the county's environmental health department.

Paul Wright meets regularly with Story and other local health and social services experts. The team plans to install chemical toilets on the properties, secure a clean public water supply and address any other immediate health hazards. The county also is applying for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to improve the site. There is a long waiting list, but subsidized housing eventually will be found for those Patuxent Woods residents who are forced to move away.

"Most county-owned property will be torn down," Wright said flatly. "It's unliveable."

Joseph Cole, a frequent visitor whose sister lives in Patuxent Woods, said: "I ain't read that Zantzinger lost no big houses. It was only the poor black community that he lost." Cole said he thought the real estate heir was treating his tenants "like slaves, who have no knowledge to speak up for themselves. He was not going to tell them. . . . This hasn't been going on since yesterday _ it's been going on for years."

The subject of Zantzinger's past weighs over this community, bearing down each time the discussion turns to racism, the legal system and, "who comes out on top," as Mary Owens put it.

"He might not have a tax record," she observed, "but he sure had a police record."

"He called her a name'

All but two of Hattie Carroll's 11 children were grown and married by the early 1960s. She had hypertension _ a fact Zantzinger's defense counsel later would seize upon _ but she was vital enough to be active in community work and affairs at her Baltimore church. She also worked society parties and special events at the Emerson Hotel. The Spinster's Ball, a two-night affair, was almost over when Mrs. Carroll had her fatal encounter with the young man who was impatient for another bourbon.

"She never looked up. He called her a name," a waitress who was tending bar that night next to Mrs. Carroll told the court. "That's when he took the cane and struck down on her right side between the shoulder and neck. She gave him the drink and then said, "I just feel so ill the man has upset me so.' "

Bob Dylan's rendition of the Zantzinger case is less precise, but no less chilling. Perhaps only a poet can render the moment when a Baltimore judge . . .

Stared at the person who killed for no reason

Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'.

And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,

And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentence,

William Zanzinger with a six month sentence.

Even among Zantzinger's supporters, the Battles, the old case echoes like the voices of children peering into the depths of George Tolson's well. "Why do you always bring up the past?" Carolyn Battle demanded suddenly, although the interview with her family had not touched on the subject at all.

"Something happened 30 years ago, you go back and dig that up on the man," Ernest Battle seconded indignantly.

"See, he done been convicted for that and served the time. If they didn't give him but two days, he served the time they gave him. If they ain't satisfied, why did they give him that little time?"

_ "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (Bob Dylan), 1964 Warner Bros. Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Microfilm records of the Baltimore Sun were used in preparing the historical portions of this report.

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