Tales from the Morgue


After another day of testimony and arguments, the case was turned over to the jury. Just more than five hours later, the jury had a verdict.

From the Arizona Daily Star, Thursday, December 5, 1935:



Jury Returns at 8:45 o'Clock With Its Unanimous Verdict


Highly Conflicting and Varied Stories Told By Witnesses

Robert E. Nardelli, night club operator, was found not guilty of aggravated battery against Maurice Hedderman, Pima county civil deputy sheriff, when the jury in the case returned to the courtroom courtroom last night at 8:45 o'clock.

The jury had been out since 3:20 o'clock in the afternoon.

As Judge E. W. McFarland of Florence, presiding in place of Judge William G. Hall, asked the foreman of the jury the question, "Have you reached a verdict?" Nardelli and his wife watched from the front row of the benches In the courtroom.

Louis Boch, the foreman, answered: "We have, your honor," and handed the verdict to Mrs. Lenna Burges, clerk of court, who read the formal preliminary to the words "not guilty." On request of the deputy county attorney, Harry Juliani, the jury was polled and unanimously approved the verdict.

Nardelli, smiling broadly, arose and, as the jury left the box, shook hands with one member, then stepped over and placed his arm around the shoulders of Sheriff John Belton, superior officer of the deputy he was accused of having attacked. He shook hands with the officer and then accompanied him down the corridor away from the courtroom.

Trial of the charges against Nardelli, which occasioned great interest, grew out of the state's charge that he and his head waiter, Eddie Manciet, precipitated an unprovoked attack upon Hedderman early in the morning of Saturday, August 31, as Hedderman and two friends were leaving the Plantation.

The three-day trial brought out a prosecution case and a defense case which probably are unparalleled locally in the divergence of the testimony. At no point did the state's and defendant's cases coincide. Hedderman and his companions, Mrs. Jean Bridwell and Raymond Carlson, stated they arrived at the Plantation about 12:30 a. m. August 31, remaining until shortly before one o'clock when they set out to leave. In the rear parking yard they were attacked, Hedderman receiving a severe beating about the head by Nardelli and Manciet, with others unidentified, adding kicks, it was claimed. Carlson Carlson was kicked and rendered momentarily hors de combat with a blow in the groin. All disappeared, and Hedderman's friends took him to the sheriff's office and later he was taken to a local hospital.

Prior to arriving at the Plantation, the state brought forth witnesses to show that Hedderman and party were at the Blue Moon and, shortly after midnight, downtown on Congress street.

Contrariwise, the defense with a number of witnesses, testified that Hedderman and his guests arrived at the Plantation between 10 and eleven o'clock that night; were drunk and disorderly and a constant source of disturbance; were finally excluded at closing time.

Later, about 1:30 a. m., according to two Plantation waiters, as they were leaving for their homes, Hedderman and later Carlson, accosted them and a scuffle alongside Hedderman’s car ensued. Hedderman and Wallace Holloway, the man he is said to have attached by the defense, fell to the ground. Both waiters disengaged themselves from the tangle and left. That was all.

Nardelli on Stand

When the morning session started, Nardelli was again on the witness stand for continued cross examination. With the transcript of Nardelli’s testimony at the September 13 preliminary hearing before him, Juliani pounded away at the defendant, bringing out a series of confections or refutations between the September testimony and that offered by Nardelli Tuesday and yesterday morning.

Recalling to the witness the statement made Tuesday that he had known Hedderman for a couple of years, and especially since the time he raided slot machines at the Plantation, Juliani referred to Nardelli’s preliminary hearing testimony wherein he said he knew Hedderman was a “speed cop”, but didn’t know whether he worked for the city or county. Nardelli ultimately said that oftentimes city officers carry deputy commissions, and added “I knew he was an officer.”

Juliani then pounded the defendant on alleged confections in his testimony relating to his conversation with Deputy Roy Manning, who answered a call to the Plantation early on the morning of August 31. According to Nardelli’s testimony at the preliminary, he told Manning two or three kids had gotten drunk and raised a fuss, but later had gone home. Again, Juliani found conflicts in Nardelli’s statements as to when he first learned that Hedderman had been injured; early the same morning at the preliminary and not until the following Tuesday, at the trial.

Finishing with Nardelli, the defense rested its case.

The state then called seven rebuttal witnesses, principally to establish time elements in question and to show that, up to the time he said he got to the Plantation early on the morning of August 31, Hedderman had been elsewhere. Other than an attempt to show that these witnesses were friendly to Hedderman, defense counsel made no attempt to discredit this line of testimony.

Martin Sets Time

Jerry Martin, deputy sheriff, was the first of the rebuttal witnesses for the state. He testified to relieving Deputy Roy Manning at the sheriff’s office telephone at 12:30 a. m. August 31, so that Manning could get some lunch. About 12:40 a. m. the telephone call from Nardelli came in, Martin said. This was the only telephone call from Nardelli that night, Martin added (Nardelli and Will T. Boyd testified that the call was made at 11:00 o’clock that night).

“This is Bob,” Nardelli’s voice said over the phone, the officer testified. “One of your boys is out here raising hell. You’d better come out.” Asking who it was creating the disturbance, Martin state that Nardelli replied “Mickey.”

“There’s no one in this office named Mickey,” Martin replied.

“It’s Mickey Nolan,” Nardelli explained over the phone, Martin testified. Stating to Nardelli that he would send someone out, Martin testified that he told Manning to go, when the latter called in a few moments later.

Under cross examination Martin stated that Manning went on the Plantation call about 12:50 a. m. He made no note of the call on the blotter, Martin said, and to a series of questions from Hilzinger, stated that calls were not always noted on the blotter. “In other words,” Hilzinger said, “you not down all calls except bar fights.”

A. H. Murchison, deputy sheriff, was produced to give an account of a conversation between Juliani and Nardelli, during the former’s investigation of the case and covering the Nardelli’s denial on the stand, Tuesday, that he told the county prosecutor he heard about the Hedderman row about 3 o’clock Saturday morning. (Nardelli had stated on the stand he didn’t learn of the affair until the following Tuesday.)

Successful objections of the defense prevented Murchison from retelling the conversation and then taking the officer on cross examination, Cusick asked Murchison to repeat the conversation alluded to by Juliani. Insisting on the exact words, if Murchison remembered them, the officer stated that Nardelli told Juliani he had first learned of the injuries to Hedderman upon his return to the Plantation about 3 or 3:30 that same morning, after a trip to town for breakfast.

That, Murchison stated, was all he remembered specifically of the conversation. Under continued questioning from Cusick, the officer admitted making weekly visits to the Plantation as a deputy and to working there and being paid by Nardelli. The court refused to permit questions along this line.

Manning Testifies

Next was Deputy Roy Manning, the officer who answered the call to the Plantation. He arrived between 1:15 and 1:25, the officer said, seeing Manciet and, a moment later, Nardelli. Over strenuous objections of the defense, Manning testified that, upon asking Nardelli what the trouble was, the night club proprietor told him nothing, that everybody was satisfied and he was sorry Manning had been put to the trouble of the call.

Goining into detail, Manning stated that Nardelli told him that Mickey Nolan had been out there, drunk and “raising hell”; that he had broken a glass in Manciet’s car. Manning then testified that Nardelli took him to the car and demonstrated how Nolan had broken the glass.

Manning further testified that there was not a call to the sheriff’s office from Nardelli prior to 12:30 o’clock Saturday morning, at which time he went to lunch. He had been on the desk phone at the sheriff’s office from 9:30 that evening, the officer stated.

Under cross examination Manning added the fact that, when Nardelli told him of the disturbance raised by Mickey Nolan, he (Manning) told Nardelli that it could not have been Nolan as he had just seen him downtown on duty on Congress street. Nardelli then asked of the sheriff had a man named “Morris” and Manning said no one was employed by that name. Nardelli asked then who was the man who formerly rode on a motorcycle with Shinn, and Manning replied “Hedderman.” “That’s the — — —“ Nardelli answered, Manning said.

Followed Samuel M. Patullo, proprietor of the Blue Moon. This witness stated that Hedderman, Carlson and Mrs. Bridwell came to the Blue Moon that night around ten and did not leave until after midnight, after the dance hall had closed.

Under cross examination, Patullo stated that he didn’t know Nardelli. He admitted that he, E. C. Jacobs (Riverdale dance hall) and Ed Wetmore (Wetmore’s) had discussed a petition to get the Plantation closed, but denied ever circulating such.

Mrs. Patullo followed, giving similar testimony about the visit and stay at the Blue Moon of Hedderman and his party. Also did Mrs. Billie Hudgel testify similarly. All agreed that Hedderman was there from about 10:30 at the latest until after midnight.

Ora Shinn, Former motorcycle deputy with Hedderman, next testified that he saw Hedderman and his party in front of the Minerva cafe between midnight and 12:30 a. m. Under cross examination Shinn stated that he had been a brother officer with Hedderman for over two years and that they had mutual interests.

The state then rested.

Nardelli Denies It

The defense recalled Nardelli who denied positively mentioning Mickey Nolan’s name to Manning. Nardelli added that he knew Nolan.

The defense next call James E. Abbott, undersheriff, to show that no note on the sheriff’s blotter of the Plantation call had been made. The defense then rested at 11:10 yesterday morning.

Odin B. Dodd, special prosecutor, opened for the state. Dodd asked the jury to lay aside any prejudice or bias against either Hedderman or Nardelli, and consider only the hard, cold facts of this case. The defense, Dodd charged, injected prejudice in the case against Hedderman simply on the grounds that he was an officer.

Dodd then quietly informed the jury that they must either believe the state’s witnesses or the defense witnesses—that there was not other course open to them. So widely divergent was the conflicting testimony, so impossible to reconcile, they must determine that one side told the truth and that the other side did not.

Dodd then outlined and analyzed the state’s case, declaring it to be coherent, logical and plausible. He dwelt at considerable length on the time element and challenged the jury to find reason or credulity in the defense’s counter story of the time element.

Nardelli’s own story Dodd characterized an “impossibility” and ended by supplying a motive for the attack: Nardelli’s dislike of Hedderman.

First to argue was Cusick, for the defense. The attorney pleaded with the jury to leave off with bias and prejudice and to consider the facts presented only in the light of facts. He then told the jury that there was some significance connected with the presence of Odin B. Dodd, former deputy county attorney, in this case as special prosecutor.

Summarizing the defense testimony, Cusick reminded the jury that the frequent allusions to gambling at the Plantation had no connection with this case, nor had Nardelli, by all showings made, anything to do with it. Touching on the state’s charge of assault, Cusick stated that it was hard to believe that Nardelli, shown throughout the testimony as a peacemaker, had figured in such an action.

Cusick then attacked Hedderman’s statements that Nardelli was his attacker, stating that had he been sure, Misbaugh and Pickett would be in the courtroom, not Dodd. With great enthusiasm, Cusick contended, all the state’s witnesses had combined to pave the way, via this prosecution, for a damage suit against Nardelli.

Much Invective

Followed Hilzinger, who featured a stream of invective directed at all the state’s witnesses, The Arizona Daily Star and deputy sheriffs in general. Specifically, Hilzinger told of a number he had convicted of high crimes some 20 years ago when he served Pima county as prosecuting attorney. The state’s case, the attorney said, was a story concocted, but not concocted very well.

In this case, Hilzinger continued, the county attorney surrendered his prosecuting functions in allowing Odin B. Dodd to conduct and direct the prosecution. He charged that this was to further the private vengeance of Hedderman, who, if conviction followed, would have paved the way for a damage suit against Nardelli. None of the others could pay for a damage suit, hence Nardelli, Hilzinger charged.

As Hilzinger got well into his diatribe on deputy sheriffs, Juliani objected for the state and the court directed the arguing attorney to remain within the fact situation of this case.

Juliani closed for the state. Arguments of defense counsel with their diatribe, ridicule of what respectable people hold dear was a “smoke screen,” Juliani charged. “The only ones to escape are the bootleggers and gamblers,” Juliani told the jury. “These he would have you believe and glorify. Abolish the offices of the police and the sheriff and let the satrap of the Plantation run the town.”

Later the deputy county attorney said: “Can Nardelli commit an assault and get away with it? Acquit him and you will win the applause of the underworld.”

Touching on the cleavage between the state witnesses’ testimony and that of the defense, Juliani stated that no single defense witness had testified save those attached to Nardelli. Will T. Boyd, brightest spot in the defense list of witnesses, according to Juliani, slipped in the last analysis by becoming uncertain in his identification of Hedderman as prime disturber at the Plantation, and this was not a credible witness. All were connected with the “lord of the Plantation,” Juliani charged.

Asking the jury why the attack on Hedderman had been made, Juliani answered his own question: “Because Hedderman had been a thorn in his side.” Characterizing the whole defense skein of testimony as “an improbability,” Juliani asked for a verdict of guilty.

One must presume that the wildly divergent testimony caused the jury members to have reasonable doubt.

While Robert Nardelli was cleared in this case, he still had a liquor charge hanging over his head. He was indicted December 12, 1935.

The Plantation eventually changed hands and during the 1940's ceased to be a night club at all.

Johanna Eubank is an online content producer for the Arizona Daily Star and tucson.com. Contact her at jeubank@tucson.com

About Tales from the Morgue: The "morgue," is what those in the newspaper business call the archives. Before digital archives, the morgue was a room full of clippings and other files of old newspapers.