Chain Store Head Defies Death Threat

The following news article was published in the January 7, 1928 edition of The New York Times:

 ‘Three Ghostmen’ Demand $5,500 From Saunders and Warn of ‘Most Brutal Crime.’

 Saunders at desk

Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 6 (AP)-

Warned in a letter today that “the most brutal crime ever committed” would result if he failed to leave $5,500 in a secluded spot, Clarence Saunders, chain grocery store operator, defied the writers, who signed themselves ‘The Three Ghostmen,” to attempt to carry out their threat.

“Put it in the paper that I will not have any bodyguard, and if they want to take a shot at me—let them try,” was the challenge hurled by Saunders, who four years ago became prominent in affairs of the Piggly Wiggly Stores Corporation, of which he was President.

Instead of paying the money demanded, Saunders offered a $1,000 reward for the arrest of the writers of the letter.

The police announced tonight that they had uncovered clues that likely would lead to the arrest soon or of one or more of the “ghost men.”

“This is the only notice that we will give you,” read the letter, which was neatly written and correctly punctuated. It then directed that the money be left under a railroad trestle, be placed there by Saunders and be in old $100 bills.

Saunders was warned that if he informed the police it would mean “disaster for you and your whole family.” The last two paragraphs, written in capital letters, reiterated the warning.

“Do not notify the police. This is final and we do not intend to take any foolishness. Take heed and do the right thing.

Don’t fail—if you do, it will be the most brutal crime ever committed.”

At the time of the threat, Saunders had two sons, Clay, 18, and Lee, 21. He also had a daughter named Amy Clare, 15. He made a statement that while he did not need a bodyguard, he was hiring protection for his family. The police posted officers at the Saunders home while others searched for the “Ghostmen.” The police eventually jailed five suspects.

In late February, police inspector W.T. Griffin and Saunders each received a letter from the “Three Ghostmen” stating that the original letter sent to Saunders was part of a $500 bet to see if Saunders’ picture would be in that afternoon’s newspaper. The “Ghostmen” wrote the letter to free the innocently jailed suspects. The men were released that next Saturday, and the “Ghostmen were never heard from again.

CHAIN STORE HEAD DEFIED DEATH THREAT: ‘Three Ghostmen’ Demand $5,000… New York Times (1923-Current file); Jan 7, 1928; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010) pg. 2.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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