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© 2018 Black Duck Productions LLC

On December 20th, 1995, Captain Charles Travers was laid to rest at Saint John’s Cemetery, New Bedford,   Massachusetts.

 

Charlie Travers experienced almost all of the 20th Century. He was 89 when he died and was the widower of Mildred (Hart) Travers. His brother Joe, a retired New Bedford Police  Lieutenant, was in attendance. He was a highly decorated U.S. Navy Veteran. 

His brother Francis also attended and he was a decorated WW II Army veteran.
Born in Dartmouth, Charles was a sea Captain, a WW II Navy veteran, and a member of the Elks of New Bedford, American Legion Post # 1, and the Masters, Mates, and Pilots Association.

His obituary notes that Mr. Travers had an extensive knowledge of marine engines and operated a shop on Hillman St., New Bedford. He also operated the former Chrysler Plymouth dealership in New Bedford, Survivors include a stepson, Harry Sedgwick of Old Saybrook Connecticut, his two brothers, 6 grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

 

When “Cukie” Macomber was a kid, his father introduced him to a few of the bigger rum-runners and bootleggers on the South Coast, including smuggler Charlie Travers.

                           “He was a crook,

                               but he was an honest crook.”

 

 

 
Captain Charlie Travers 

Charles Travers was born in Dartmouth to Frank P. and Mary (Avila) Travers in 1906.   When he was 15, he lied about his age so he could become a Coast Guard surf-man on Cuttyhunk.  Cuttyhunk Island is about two miles long, at the southwestern end of the Elizabeth Islands, a chain that extends westward from the village of Woods Hole in Falmouth on Cape Cod. 

The surfmen were known for their boat handling skills in shallow water and heavy surf. They were the men who would take to boats to rescue stranded and wrecked ships. The Cuttyhunk, Cape Cod and Buzzards Bay area's coastline is notoriously dangerous, strewn with massive boulders and rips. The surfmen were the Coast Guard personnel who braved the seas that had made wreckage of some of the best ships and sailors that sailed the local waters, and the world for that matter. The surfmen put out in small boats, some powered by oars, later by small gasoline engines, hoping to save those stranded in sea wrecks. 

 

After his enlistment was up in 1924 Charlie started lobstering out of New Bedford with his younger brother. 

 

Lobsters fetched 10-14 cents a pound. Charlie was one of the first to use a car motor in his boat.  This innovation allowed them to run farther, set more traps and therefore make more money than the other slower boats. 

 

Charlie found liquor jettisoned by a rum runner that was being pursued  by Coast Guard. He sold the load in New Bedford for more cash than he earned in a month of lobstering.

Selling liquor from lobster boat.

 

1925 - Charlie was only 19 when he was busted aboard the rum runner "Tramp" while trying to run in a load of $10,000 worth of liquor. Both men plead not guilty, but were convicted and fined $500 fine. 

Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of  The New York Times, editor-at-large of Time. He has a house on Cape Cod,

 

“Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by World War I”               

"The drys had their law," as Okrent observes, "and the wets would have their liquor." And the bootleggers would have their obscene and blood-soaked profits, blissfully free of state and federal taxes. The dry forces -- led by powerful interest  groups like the Anti-Saloon League -- overcame this stiff opposition, cobbling together an unlikely coalition of rural populists, urban progressives, women and nativists (even the KKK), all of whom had their own peculiar reasons for wanting to see the demise of legal alcohol.

By 1926, annual sales of illegal liquor had reached an estimated $3.6 billion  -- roughly the size of the entire federal budget. In the cities, meanwhile, few people were even pretending to obey the law. "It cannot be truthfully said that prohibition enforcement has failed in New York," one former Justice department official remarked. "It has not yet been attempted."

 

In 1927, at the age of 21, Charlie bought the 'Black Duck' out of Gloucester, MA.

Faster than anything the Coast Guard had in their inventory of surf rescue boats, tug boats, former Navy sub hunters and old destroyers at the time. 

The WWI surplus V-12 Liberty aircraft engines produced about 300 hp. After Charlie worked the engines over they were said to produce up to 500 horsepower. The Duck was able to reach 32 knots. 

 

The Seaview Poultry Farm  

Charlie’s base of operations was the Seaview Poultry Farm in FairHaven. It consisted of about 100 acres of stone walled pastures, fields and a farm house a large barn with several out-buildings. Charlie placed the property in the name of his girlfriend (later wife) Mildred Sedgwick. It was kept minimally operational to keep suspicion of rum running activities low.

 

Charlie had outfitted a garage, as a machine shop and boat repair shop. Besides the house, there was a stable, a poultry slaughter house, chicken coop and a bunk house. The bunk house was used by the men who worked for Charlie moving liquor. They would wait there until everything was ready for a night's work.

Several dories were on the property which could be rigged up tied end to end to  a farm tractor and pulled in from the water up to the barn for safe keeping. 

 

He also had an old barge which he set up as a dredge and a pile driver. The barge was also useful as an instant dock, by bringing it to a secluded location the spuds could be dropped and the barge was perfect for unloading liquor on to.

show farm workings

 

During this time the Coast Guard knew that Black Duck was running liquor. Although she was documented as being boarded 5 times, alcohol was never to be found on her. Charlie 'let' them catch her when he was not transporting liquor. 

 

Charlie’s partner was Max Fox, a local gangster who presented himself as a ‘junk dealer’. Born in Austria, Max was a lieutenant for a Russian immigrant named Charles Solomon, AKA ‘King Solomon’ 

 

Solomon was a racketeer in Boston who controlled narcotics, prostitution and illegal gambling during the 1920's and '30's. According to Boston Customs director, King Solomon “was as notorious here as Capone is in Chicago.”

 

The games of ‘cat and mouse’ between the rum runners rarely amounted to more than a token fine and immediate release. 

The New Bedford Evening Standard reported on April 8, 1925 that a fast Rum Runner "Cigarette" was nabbed by US Customs Men, but Contained No Liquor  In fact, it was the official mail boat and  express carrier of the rum runners along rum row. It’s mission was to deliver mail, supplies and coded delivery schedules to liquor supply ships off the coast.

The vessel was confiscated, which meant that Charlie’s Black Duck was now the fastest rum runner on this coast - a sought after title. 

 

On land, local law enforcement operated almost as “Keystone Cops.  On May 9, 1925, the New Bedford Times reported:

SHOTS FIRED TO STOP FLEEING MACHINE

Acushnet Police Capture One Truck Loaded With Liquor 

 

Shots were fired by the Acushnet police in an effort to stop alleged rum runners at Perry's Corner early in the morning, but the officers jumped aside as the truck sped past. The second truck found the officers better prepared and they forced the truck to stop. The driver jumped over a barbed wire fence, disappearing in the woods. 

43 cases of liquor were turned over to the New Bedford police. No arrests were made. When the court date for the case came, only one case of booze could be found….not an unusual disappearance.

Observers that say about 75% of town residents were involved in rum running in some form, bakers supplied yeast and sugar for distilling, boat yards profited and people were paid for storage use and keeping quiet, not all looked the other way.

As the New Bedford Times reported on May 12, 1925

Petitions TO RID TOWN OF RUM RUNNING were presented to Fairhaven Selectmen by a Rev. Tingley, who declared “rum running in town was making the town a joke in every New England seaport.” While Rev. Owens, a pastor, First Congressional church, added that he had heard that, “there is a garage in the town that is actively engaged with the liquor business. However, there has been nothing that has come to my personal observation to indicate rum running on a large scale has been charged. But if this lawless element exists I will certainly join any movement to combat them.”

show town meeting 

 

The garage mentioned was adjacent to the Fire Station where Firemen were paid to either set a shed on fire to distract attention during liquor movements, or else they were directly involved in transporting liquor.

In 1926, Charlie’s partner, Max Fox orchestrated a huge delivery where just  about everything went wrong, for everybody. 

Max Fox arranged for a 155’ Lutzen, to sail right up the Taunton River to Somerset, MA and unloaded on the banks of the river. This was a brazen act, According to Herb Cavaca, "It was the craziest operation I'd ever seen in the racket. They had lanterns on deck, they were smoking cigarettes and yelling. Three quarters of the guys had a slant on. You never heard such a racket. There was no attempt to hide or keep quiet."

 

But Max had figured out a clever way to side-line the Coasties. He had arranged that the local 75 foot Coast Guard boat wouldn't be butting in. They had some ladies from New Bedford invite the Coast Guard crew out for a party. They had plenty of liquor and some fast women who were paid by the gang to party on  the patrol boat. After they were all good and drunk they went out to a road house and had "a hell'uva good time." Cavaca later said "$2000 protection for the night would have been cheap and it didn't cost anywhere near that.”

Party on board the CG vessel.

The liquor shipment was split into 2 loads which were delivered to local farms for later distribution to Boston. But gangsters from NY arrived at one farm with two rogue Federal Agents who flashed their badges and waved search warrants as they declared that the liquor was now seized. The local men guarding the farm tried bribing the four men but were "placed under arrest" and handcuffed. The Feds then hauled their loot away in moving trucks, just as Max Fox arrived and realized it was all a set-up. He called the cops in Connecticut who intercepted the stolen liquor, but the Federal Agents pretended they were victims and they walked away. 

 

At the other farm that Max stashed the liquor at the cases had been stacked in the barn by his 25 men who were relaxing and sampling the booze.

Another 20 men, who were part of a rival Providence gang directed by Raymond Patriarca Sr., snuck up on Fox's crew with rifles out and pistols drawn. The Fox gang began firing at the thieves and in seconds there was an all out gunfight of over 40 men. Max Fox went for help to the Dartmouth Chief of police's house and demanded that he send officers to aid in the gun fight. 

 

Max raced back to the farm and joined in the gunplay. 

The police chief dispatched a squad car with 2 officers along with 2 motorcycle cops who he told to investigate “chicken thievery”.  When the constables arrived at the scene, they stopped upon hearing the gunshots and shouting. They saw the Patriarca gang removing cases of liquor from the barn to their cars and trucks while Fox's men would wait until the other gang wasn’t looking, and they would run the cases from the cars and trucks to the farm house. The patrolmen grabbed Max Fox and told him he was under arrest. Max laughed at them and asked, "What are you going to do? You are outnumbered 10 to 1?"

Realizing their predicament, the officers hid behind their car and the stone walls, firing away until they ran out of ammunition.

 

Eventually the Patriarca hi-jackers were driven off by Max Fox’s gang. Max Fox made sure to leave evidence for the cops that pointed to the Patriarca gang when they returned the next morning to find no booze, but plenty of blood. They found the cook at the farm who was shot in the head but survived. When interviewed in his hospital bed the next day he recounted some of the details of the gun fight. Later, he claimed he remembered nothing and attributed his statements to morphine pain medication. It was reported later that the cook was given a bribe to keep quite, though it was never revealed which side made the offer.

Early the next morning Fox and 15 of  his men were rounded up at Downey's garage in New Bedford.

The New Bedford Evening Standard reported "Sixteen men were arraigned before special Justice George N. Gardiner on charges of being suspicious persons and assault with intent to murder Burgo (the cook)….

 

Each pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and were later bailed at $10,000. each. The suspicious persons complaints were dismissed."

 

 The Game Changes

 

John Kobler, author of Ardent Spirits, states that from 1920 to 1930, agents took about 577,000 suspects into custody, and prosecutors won convictions from almost two in three. Agents confiscated 1.6 million stills and other liquor-making devices, 9 million gallons of hard liquor, one billion gallons of malt liquor, a billion gallons of wine, hard cider and mash, plus 45,000 cars  and 1,300 boats. The value of the property federal agents seized was set at $40 million ($550 million in 2016 dollars), and state and local officials likely seized about the same amount. But the caseload for arrestees on liquor charges overburdened the court system and most suspected bootleggers pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for lighter sentences and fines. 

 

The Coast Guard asked the federal government for 200 more cruisers and 90 speed boats for patrols to catch rumrunners. They added 36 World War I naval ships to their fleet that employed 11,000 officers and crew.  Rum Row was pushed farther out, making it difficult to make a profit. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American-flagged ships with illegal liquor could be seized up to 34 miles from shore.

 

Even so, in 1929, The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement which was charged with surveying the U.S. criminal justice system under Prohibition, castigated the police for their "general failure... to detect and arrest criminals guilty of the many murders, spectacular bank, payroll and other holdups and sensational robberies with guns.”

 

The liquor transport vessel I’m Alone under Captain, Jack Randell, was making runs from Belize to coastal Louisiana.  Captain Randall repeatedly outmaneuvered  the 100 foot USCG Cutters patrolling that coast. But Randell learned through the rumrunner grapevine in Belize that the captain of the USCG Cutter Dexter, a seasoned World War I veteran had vowed, “. . . that the next time I meet up with that old [S.O.B.], I’ll get him!”

 

The newly formed Coast Guard intelligence office targeted I’m Alone radio traffic and on 20 March 1929, as I’m Alone arrived with more than 3,000 cases of liquor on board  the USCG Wolcott steamed toward her. Wolcott’s Captain hailed Randell that he wanted to come aboard. Randell replied, “You can shoot and sink me, but be damned if you will board me.” The Wolcott then ordered the I’m Alone to heave-to. Randell shouted that he would shoot any Coast Guardsman who tried to board his ship. show stand-off at sea as CG vessel looms over sailboat

 

Once in international waters, Randell allowed the Coast Guard skipper to come aboard alone and unarmed. They discussed what constituted treaty limitations and law-enforcement jurisdictions on the high seas, Randell offered the CG Captain a drink, which the officer turned down before departing the schooner. 

Back on board the Wolcott, the Captain received a radio order from the Treasury Department to “use all force to seize her.” Onboard meeting of captains

The Wolcott fired two blank rounds from her 3” cannon. Live rounds followed, and a Wolcott crewman opened fire with a Thompson submachine gun loaded with “wax bullets”. A bullet struck Randell in the leg. 

Coast Guard HQ ordered the Dexter to join the chase. Wolcott reported: “Have shot through sails, also British flag . . . Master appears desperate. Have not enough men to board her.”  

 

Cutter Dexter caught up with I’m Alone and shot off two saluting rounds before firing live ammunition at the schooner. According to Randell, “explosive shells, machine gun, and rifle bullets” pelted the I’m Alone . CG Captain Powell ordered his crew to open fire with their service rifles. Pieces of the rum boat flew in every direction, but she remained under way. Powell had his gun crew blow a large hole below the waterline under the forward mast and I’m Alone went down by the bow.

Randell and his crew abandoned ship. Randell’s bosun, Leon Mainguy, a French citizen, died from drowning. The cutters steamed back to New Orleans in a heavy fog with their prisoners in irons. 

 

 The prisoners were arraigned in the U.S. Customs House on federal smuggling charges.   On 30 March the British Consul posted a $500 bond and secured Randell’s release, while the crew was released without bail on their recognizance.

The U.S. Attorney of the Federal Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana dismissed the charges against Randell and his crew on 10 April.

courtroom re-enactment

A New York World editorial declared that in any case the sinking was not justified. The Times-Picayune referred to Randell as a “hero.”

British press headlines declared “British Seamen in Manacles” and “British Flag Fired Upon by American Coast Guard.” Some politicians in Britain and Canada stated that if the sinking had been ordered by the U.S. government, it was an overt act of war. Others claimed that if the action had been at the discretion of the Coast Guard officer in charge, it was an act of “piracy.”

The issue of excessive force was debated along with the right to sink a private vessel on the high seas beyond national jurisdiction. 

 

A new and deadly chapter in offshore law enforcement by the USCG had begun…

In December, 1929 New Year's eve was approaching and Newport, RI was a party hot spot. Local socialites and politicians wanted to celebrate in a big way and placed orders for champagne and liquors. Charlie had a deal to bring in a load to Newport on December 29, 1929.  

 

Coast Guard Boatswain A.C. Cornell, also WWI combat veteran out of the New London CT base had gotten a tip from an informant that the Duck would be entering Narragansett Bay on December 29th. He had been following Charlie, much the way Powell had been stalking I’m Alone, and he was surely aware of the deadly lines that had now been crossed in terms of lethal enforcement.

CG loading munitions aboard for mission   That night, Charlie’s luck ran out…     

 

December 31, 1929 -  Charlie Travers was wounded by a high-calibre machine gun bullet that took off his thumb, passed through his palm, and shattered his  wrist. 

 

He was taken, under guard, to Newport Hospital. The next day, still under US Coast Guard armed guards, Charlie’s lawyers and local law enforcement were barred from seeing him by strict orders from the U.S. Attorney in Boston. 

 

Charlie’s attorney telephoned U. S. Senator Davis Walsh to say that his client was being deprived of his constitutional rights. He feared that a plan was underway to remove Charlie to the Coast Guard hospital at New London to hold him incommunicado.

The New England CG Commander said the U. S. District Attorney at Providence was in charge and that the Coast Guards were standing over Travers bedside to guard him on behalf of federal authorities.

 

 

Two locals either paid-off, or snuck past the guards and were able to get Charlie’s side of the story out for the press. At the same time the Coast Guard put out a very different story…

 

An official statement by Lieutenant Commander L.T. Chalker, in charge of base four here, declared the shootings "unfortunate, but clearly justified by the law."

"It was an unfortunate killing," Commander Chalker said, "but rumrunners and all others on the sea must understand the law of the sea that requires them to heave to upon signal of the Coast Guard craft. In this respect it is difficult to see where the rumrunners are any different from burglars or any other violators of the law who attempt to escape."

Commander Chalker insisted that his men had not fired on the C-5677 until the identity had been established and the searchlight had revealed the sacks on her deck . The intent was to disable her by shooting the rudder, he said, and at no time did they fire at any men.

 

However, the New Bedford Standard ran this headline quoting their hometown captain:

 

"THEY DIDN'T GIVE US A CHANCE" TRAVERS ACCUSES COAST GUARD

 

Cutter Loomed Out of Fog and "Blazed Away" Without Warning, Wounded Rum Boat Skipper Declares-"Fine Boys," He Describes Slain Trio 

 

"We didn't have a chance," he exclaimed bitterly as he was asked to tell of how it came about. He said the Coast Guardsmen gave them no warning, just loomed out of the fog and started to "blaze away."

Propped up on a pillow with a guard over him, swathed in bandages and weak, he braced himself to tell his version as the lone survivor of the attempted flight of the rum runner.

"We were only going four miles an hour. I hear the gong ringing on the buoy off the Dumplings, the first thing I know a dark object comes up ahead. It was the seventy-five. She had her lights out and was tied to the buoy. I was not more than 20 feet away when they threw the search light on us. Then I saw the flash of the gun. Then I heard the zing, zing and felt the pain in my arm.

"I looked forward in the pilot house and Jake Weissman, Dudley Brandt and John Goulart are all falling down and making funny faces. But I wanted to talk with them and I kept going , but my knees got weak, so I hollered, 'Lay down, lay down, they are throwing stuff.' But I couldn’t see them, and Goulart came out of the coop and he's leaking blood out of his mouth, and he told me about 'me and my kid brother.'

"And I felt terribly bad about him because he goes to church and everything, and never took a drink and was always on the level.

"'Bye, bye', he says. 'I don't know what it's all about, and when he said that, I grabbed him and said, "They went through the coop," and I knew they must have fired bullets.

"I tried to hold Goulart up, but I fell down on the deck and I didn't remember anything until I woke up here with the guards. Nobody on my boat would have fired a gun at at anybody because we didn't have guns, and I never fired one anyway.

"We got a racket you know, "a grand" is a thousand dollars to us and when the big shots put up ten to fifteen thousand for a load they want us to invest a thousand out of our own pocketbooks.

"Or maybe four or five hundred, and what can we do but protect our own money, which is right in the load. That's why we take these chances, but it was too long a chance this time. The guards didn’t give us a break at all and they all took the licking but me." 

 

The official Inquiry into the
Black Duck Incident

 

The public was outraged. The Coast Guard had fired on and killed 3 American citizens, unprovoked. The name of the CG Captain, A. C. Cornell was on  everybody's lips.

 

The COAST GUARD called for a one-man commission to look into the incident to try to quash the public outrage. This took place in New London with load protesters outside, some throwing rocks. 

Courtroom re-enactment

Officer CORNELL testifies. His nervous crew shuffles and fidgets behind him. PEARSON (the gunner) wipes away sweat.

VAN OKER, the presiding officer, is the one-man judge, prosecutor, defender and jury.

CORNELL states that “Under orders from the Executive Officer, Section Base 4, on the  night of December 28th, 1929, we lay by Bell Buoy No. 1, hanging stern-to and facing to sea.

CUT TO:

We see patrol boat CG 290 tying off astern to the buoy in the fog. 

CORNELL continues. “At 2:15 a.m. we heard, coming down the passage from seaward, a boat running at high speed. I turned on the searchlight on this boat and as she came closer I read her numbers off the bow and saw stacks of liquor on her deck. No one was visible on deck.”

DISSOLVE TO:

The intense face of a 21 year-old Lewis PEARSON who, under his Coast Guard sailor’s cap, strains his eyes to see into the night fog. He wipes away drops of moisture from his youthful face.

Next to him is the rugged face of Machinist’s Mate, Risden BENNETT. He hears something and elbows PEARSON. PEARSON reaches for the mounted Lewis machine gun and pivots it to aim it into the darkness where voices can now be heard, along with the low rumble of idling engines. ECU - His finger twitches nervously over the trigger.

EXT. BLACK DUCK PILOT HOUSE- NIGHT

CHARLIE and Jake, in the pilot house of the BLACK DUCK, are straining their eyes into the dense fog as they track to the sound of the sea buoy which leads them in.

INT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

Below JOHN and Dudley play cards and try to stay warm near the engine.

EXT. PATROL BOAT- NIGHT

BENNETT looks back over his shoulder at the patrol boat’s pilot house, where an eerie red glow illuminates the expressionless face of their commander, CORNELL. The distant fog horn drones and bell buoy clangs annoyingly. BENNETT and PEARSON grow increasingly tense as the sea noises close in on them. PEARSON's finger tightens on the trigger. Sweat mixes with the dew on his face.

EXT. BLACK DUCK PILOT HOUSE- NIGHT

Jake goes below just as Dudley comes up. Dudley cautiously puts one hand on the wheel. CHARLIE hands over the helm.  

Dudley intensely undertakes his task of steering the boat.

.EXT. PATROL BOAT- NIGHT

CORNELL steps out onto the deck and stares into fog. PEARSON and BENNETT pick up on this and follow his gaze.

CORNELL points.

PEARSON pivots the machine gun just as the bow of the BLACK DUCK comes out of the fog.

CORNELL's hand goes up to a spotlight. PEARSON's finger tightens on the trigger and he closes one eye and takes aim. BENNETT puts his hand on PEARSON'S shoulder as he looks to CORNELL for orders.

CUT TO:

INT. COAST GUARD HQ- DAY

CORNELL testifies coldly: “I waved the searchlight up and

down, showing it on the Coast Guard flag on the starboard yard arm, kept sounding the whistle and hailed this boat to heave to.

EXT. COAST GUARD CG290- NIGHT

When the Black Duck is within 50-feet of their bow, CORNELL puts the spotlight on them.

CORNELL   “Heave to!”

EXT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

CHARLIE pushes the throttles full forward as Dudley spins the wheel and pivots away from the patrol boat as the powerful engines roar. CORNELL holds his hand up flat to BENNETT until the Black Duck’s stern is facing the patrol boat.

CUT TO:

INT. CG HQ- DAY

CORNELL continues, “When this happened, the boat,which was travelling at high speed, turned and tried to pass between us and the shore. After she got abaft of our starboard beam, the machine gun was ordered fired.”

CUT TO:

EXT. PATROL BOAT- NIGHT

CORNELL says, “Let em have it”

In slow-motion, the machine gun barrel spits hot flames and belches blue smoke as it empties itself into the Black Duck.

EXT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

In slow motion we see the tracer bullets ark white death across the boat. CHARLIE turns to see bullets splinter the dory and bottles of whiskey explode. Dudley hunches over the wheel, intent on performing his duty, no matter what. CHARLIE reaches over and puts his hand over one of Dudley's on the top spoke of the wheel. Then the gunner finds his mark. Dudley is hit twice through the chest and once in the neck, which produces a deadly stream of blood. One of the bullets passing through Dudley explodes the wrung of the wheel where the two men have their hands, and CHARLIE pulls back his thumbless, bloody hand as he dives to protect Dudley - too late.

EXT. PATROL BOAT- NIGHT

PEARSON continues the merciless pounding with the Lewis machine gun. CORNELL has a crazed, intense look in his eye.

INT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

Bullets pierce through the bulkhead into the engine room. CHARLIE leans in the hatch to shout a warning, but it’s too late... Jake and John’s bodies are ripped by bullets.

INT. CG HQ- DAY

PEARSON, the gunner, is now on the stand. Nervous, perspiring, eyes desperately appealing to CORNELL for support that is not there.

PEARSON “The skipper said, ‘Let em have it!’, which I understood to mean from previous instructions to fire the machine gun astern of the speedboat with the idea of frightening them into stopping, and not with the intention of injuring anyone.”

EXT. COAST GUARD PATROL BOAT- NIGHT

PEARSON panics when the machine gun jams after 3-seconds and a deadly silence falls on the foredeck of the patrol boat which is now shrouded in a dense cloud of blue gunpowder smoke, illuminated by the searchlight. PEARSON emits a high-pitched grunt as he tugs at the trigger. BENNETT rips at the ammo pan, trying to fix the weapon. CORNELL watches as the Black Duck disappears into the fog. His clenched fist slams the gunwhale. 

INT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

CHARLIE goes to Jake and JOHN and finds they are dead in a pool of their own blood. He returns topside.

EXT. BLACK DUCK- NIGHT

Dudley is bleeding badly. He is frightened.

CHARLIE breaks away and spins the boat around and heads back to the (now lit) Coast Guard boat.

As he pulls alongside, he yells.

“I need to get this man to the hospital.”

CORNELL’s men swarm aboard the Black Duck, guns drawn. 

INT. CG HQ- DAY

CORNELL “Two of the men were pronounced dead, and another man was probably dead. I made every attempt to give them first aid. We proceeded without delay to Ft Adams where the men were delivered to the hospital, at once.”

The angry mob outside can be heard inside, where VAN OKER (the officer in charge) suddenly stands. All come to attention.

VAN OKER (abruptly) “That concludes the inquiry, gentlemen.  I commend you for your truthful testimony. The findings of this inquiry will be issued at 0700 tomorrow.” 

EXT. OCEAN/FOG- NIGHT

The Patrol Boat, with the Black Duck strapped alongside, makes it's way through the thick fog.

INT. RI COURT- DAY

CHARLIE (hand bandages and arm in sling) is up before a Rhode Island JUDGE on bail.

JUDGE “Now who’s here to represent the Feds?”

A Customs Agent in wire-rimmed spectacles and a 3-piece suit stands.

AGENT “I am your honor.”

JUDGE “Now, what’s this case about. I mean what evidence do you have against this man?”

The customs agent pulls out a stack of paper.

AGENT “We are charging them with violation of the Volstead Act…"

JUDGE “Rhode Island never ratified the Volstead Act. Now, I asked - what evidence you have?”

AGENT “Well, your honor, we recovered 283 cases.”

JUDGE “And where are they?”

AGENT “Ah, well, may I approach the “bench? 

The Judge waves the man up to the bench and he proceeds to whisper hoarsely to the Judge. The JUDGE begins to grin, and then erupts into a belly-laugh that converts to coughing and wheezing. He waves the man away and addresses the Court.

JUDGE “It seems that the Government’s evidence was pilfered and consumed by the valiant Coast Guard in a drinking party that coincided with the wake for the boys of the Black Duck. Half the men at the base are presently in the brig  drying out”

“Case dismissed for lack of evidence.”

AGENT “But your honor…"

 

The local and national newspapers carried the stories with big, bold type. Word spread quickly and the Coast Guard was suddenly reviled. In Boston a mob swarmed the Coast Guard's recruiting center in Copley Center, ripping posters down and smashing windows. A.C. Cornell and his family was moved out of New London after death threats were targeted at him and his family. Coast Guardsmen were jumped and beaten while walking back to base at night and they were warned "not to travel alone."

 

All charges against Charlie were eventually dropped and no formal apology was ever issued over the deaths of his 3 crewman. The whole event did help galvanize people's opinion, even those in favor of Prohibition, that the Volstead act was not working.

Within the next few weeks the name of Charlie Hacking, the person who ratted out the Black Duck to the authorities was well known. By February reports appeared in the news that "C. R. Hacking was found dead, shot in the side and the head, and his body dumped in Attleboro on a secluded part of road, where the street light had been shot out. 

 

New York Times

April 26, 1932

Blast at Pier Rends Coast Guard Vessel

7 are Hurt by Explosion at New London of the 290 Which Captured Black Duck

Special to the New York Times

New London-April 25-The Coast Guard patrol boat 290 blew up at the wharf of the Colonial Beacon Oil Company this afternoon, injuring six members of the crew seriously and an employee of the oil company, who was struck by fragments as he stood on the wharf.

All were taken to a hospital.

Those injured included Boatswains Mate A. C. Cornell of New London, commander of the vessel.

The 290 is one of the most conspicuous vessels in the Coast Guard fleet of rum chasers and has been involved in many sensational captures, outstanding of  which was that of the Black Duck in 1929. Three men on the craft were killed by gunfire.

Foul play was never mentioned.

 

Meanwhile back at the farm...

 

The end of Charlie Travers rum running career and the Seaview Poultry Farm would come in 1941, 8 years after the end of Prohibition.

New Bedford Standard Times reported on January 17, 1941

FEDERAL AGENTS SEIZE BIG STILL ARREST THREE

Liquor Establishment Found in Henhouse on Sconticut Neck

 

Federal agents assisted by State and Federal Police today seized a 1000 gallon still and arrested three men on the former Seaview Poultry Farm, Sconticut Neck, East Fairhaven. 

 

According to U.S. agent James F. Gray, head of the local Alcohol Tax Unit office,Internal Revenue Bureau the prisoners included Charlie Travers.

Agents and police armed with crowbars found the still, said by them to have been in operation in the basement of a large henhouse. There were two large vats, members of the raiding party said.

Gray said that the South Dartmouth men were trapped in the cellar with no chance of escaping when the raiding party made the surprise visit. Travers allegedly was found in another section of the farm.

The upper floor of the hen house had a dummy wall, police disclosed which when lowered revealed the illicit still.

 

Records showed the same farm was raided in the Spring of 1935 when Federal Agents found 2458 cases of smuggled alcohol. The alcohol was traced as part of the alleged shipment from the British vessel Accuracy, at that time an additional 640 cases of alcohol were found in South Dartmouth. 

 

New Bedford Standard Times reported  January 31, 1941 

WOMAN NAMED IN STILL CHARGED - this is Mildred, Charlie’s wife, and 

amongst the three defendants are Charles Travers.  

 

Arrests of the four defendants followed a raid by Federal agents, state and Fairhaven police, on the former Seaview Poultry Farm, where the raiders allege they found the large still in operation under a henhouse. The same farm was raided in the Spring of 1935 when 2450 cases of smuggled alcohol were seized, officials said.

Charges against Mildred were dropped when Charlie agreed to plead guilty and serve time in prison for the raid on the still. He would end  up serving about a year until WWII broke out  and he was released to join the Navy. He served and was honorably discharged. 

 

Late in the 1950's Charlie was employed by the Navy and was gone about 2 years. He never told anyone, including his family what he did during that time. Speculation is that he worked with engineers on classified high-speed PT boat designs later used in the Viet Nam war…