The Thayers


Sep 20, 2000
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Some other fairly glaring questions:

Jack was reported (by Bell) to have left his office at the University of Pennsylvania around "10:45 a.m. Tuesday", presumably according to his secretary, yet he was only discovered in that car, parked adjacent to the P.T.C. trolley loop, almost 3 days (70 hours) later. Still, the coroner's report only suggests a time of death about *40* hours prior to the discovery.

That only takes us back -- from Friday, 8:50 a.m. (the time of the discovery, according to the Inquirer article) -- to Wednesday evening, around 4:50 p.m.. Where did Jack go, at 10:45 Tuesday morning, and what was he doing for over a full day prior to his estimated time of death? (By direct inference, he was still very much alive when "the family became alarmed" at his failure to appear home Tuesday evening, and would be for another day!)

Moreover, did he supposedly sit in his car in a relatively public place in *daylight* hours, and proceed to do himself in, in this violent manner? The "at least 40 hours" suggests *daytime* on the 19th of September -- some time previous to 4:50 p.m. -- in a fairly open area. (There's a photo that accompanied the Bulletin article that shows the car at the scene -- it's a wide open space, with only the P.T.C. tracks and terminal behind it.)

Add to that the fact that P.T.C. employees Wharton and Petetti "first saw the car" at Noon, Thursday, and you have one very peculiar set of circumstances. (If the estimated time of death was perhaps far too conservative, then where was the car all day Wednesday?)
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Good questions. To quote an oft used saying; "It just don't add up!"

If somebody really wants to persue this, one might ask who would have the most to gain by Jack Thayer's death? (Follow the money!)

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Mike: Yeah, lots of funny business there. I would never venture to take this any further publicly than the profound sense of disbelief that it inspires in me (and perhaps did in the press, as well).

But this whole story has a bizarre aura about it that's vaguely reminiscent of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and similar dark films. Somehow it just doesn't add up.

It's of course entirely possible that it was a suicide. But the circumstances (just at gut level) suggest to me something far deeper than merely "worrying about his son's death" from two years prior, or even his mother's later death having affected him in this manner. It just seems to me like there's a "third strike" missing somewhere.

(The only thing that remotely ties in additionally here is the occurrence of V.J. Day on September 2, 1945. If the end of the war finally allowed Jack's emotional "flood gates" to open, I suppose that *could* have been the trigger for repressed feelings to finally reach the surface full-force. But it does seem a bit far-fetched for a "nervous breakdown" to ensue within a week or so, and subsequently, "amnesia".)

I also have to wonder why a fairly well-established man -- Financial Vice President of an Ivy League University, after all -- was at his office in the midst of a "nervous breakdown" most recently accompanied by this alleged "amnesia". Know what I mean? It's not like he needed the money! (I'd have thought he'd be under a doctor's care, resting comfortably at home, if that were the case.)

Jack's daughter-in-law Charlotte (J.B. Thayer IV's widow) in a later article described him as a man she absolutely adored -- something along the lines of "the nicest man I ever knew". And every time I look at this in depth, it just seems "off". (I get little ripples in the back of my neck, even.)

I have to admit, it's not purely a rational reaction; in many ways, it's really more instinctive.

Cheers,
John
 
Jul 9, 2000
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John, I suspect it's more then instinctive. Perhaps it was a suicide. Occam's Razor and all that, but it still has a ripe smell to it. Some of the points you raised would have any homicide detective's radar up on full power and out there asking hard questions.

Good luck to anybody trying to run it down now. 57 years after the fact, the trail is going to be ice cold.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Tracy Smith

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Hmmmm, this is all very interesting. I'd be interested in anything further you come up with, John.

One question, though. How advanced was forensic medicine of this time period? Would a medical examiner of that time be able to accurately pinpoint the time of death, or was he giving a ballpark figure?
 
Jan 31, 2001
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Thanks for posting those articles, John. They were very thought-provoking.


Cheers,
happy.gif


-B.W.
 
K

Karin Kasper

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I think (don't quote me on this) that back then they could estimate time of death to a certain degree- I think it was known by that point, for example, about rigor mortis and how long it takes for a body to go into and then later come out of it, and the fact that after death body temperature drops apporximately one degree an hour. Anything more than that, I couldn't be certain.

And, honestly, I do buy that he was depressed still after the death of his son and mother, even given the long time frame. I know someone who was depressed for a long time before they cut their wrists- several years. And for how long he was missing before the actual death, if the coroner was accurate with the time frame- I buy that, too. Think about it this way- he's despondant, and decides on the spur of the moment, "That's it, I've had enough." He gets up and leaves work at 10:45am. He wanders around for a while, drives around, whatever, buys some razors, says good bye mentally to everything he holds dear. Night falls, and he wants out, but can't quite work up the courage to do it, so he hides out somewhere for the night. The next day passes in much the same way, until he pulls up to where the car was found, sits there and smokes for a while, and then just does it.

However, the other facts- the rip in his shirt, how long the car was sitting there, etc.- they do bother me. I didn't know before just how long the car was sitting there until the police were called. That to me is odd. I mean, now, if I saw a vacant car sitting in what was essentially an empty lot, I probably wouldn't give it much thought, but in 1945, cars were still something relatively new, and not discarded like that. I think most people back then would have gone to check it out immediately, but that's just my opinion.

Karin
 
Dec 12, 1999
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There are similar suspicions about Washington Dodge's suicide. It took place, suspiciously, in the basement of his apartment building, his family had plans to go to on a trip out of town the next day, he had been involved in a major financial scandal, etc.

My feeling is that Thayer was carrying a lot of baggage. None of the Titanic survivors were treated for any mental disorder, afterwards. They simply tucked the horrifying disaster in the backs of their minds, and went about as before. We all know, today, that doesn't work. The stuff comes back to haunt you, even worse than before, when some other event triggers it. The longer it sits there, unresolved, the worse it gets.

Thayer, in particular, had a horrifying near-death experience, on Collapsible B. People screaming, dying, in the dark --- his own narrow escape from the fate that the ones in the water suffered, the death of his father, his friend, innocent people . . .

The straws, in the form of the deaths of 2 very close family members in proximity to one another, must have broken the camel's back.

I'm not saying the circumstances surrounding his death aren't suspicious, but the explanation of suicide is easily believeable, to me.

It's interesting to note that Mrs. Thayer died on the anniversary of the disaster. That suggests she may have been suffering from the after-effects, as well.

The syndromes associated with horrible events are easily killers in and of themselves. One of the psychiatrists on the ABC News board addressed this issue, after Sept. 11. He noted that at the time of the Titanic disaster there was little therapy, and even less prescription treatment available. Obviously, it's much different, today.

I would suggest that someone get ahold of the coroner's report -- that's probably all that's left.
 
Sep 8, 2000
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Hey John,

Thanks for posting these articles. They are very interesting in deed.

Just a few thoughts and my opinion on some the circumstances reported in the articles:

I think VJ Day could have been his catalysis-after
all, sons were coming home and this reminder of
his loss must have been heart wrenching.

As respects the cuts in the shirt, I would think
it more probable that this was a result of actions
a few minutes before his inflicted wounds. What
is a red flag to me here is if the cuts in the shirt came from another person using the razor, I would think that there would be some sort of wound (ever superficial) in the chest area and a possible struggle.

I don't find it unusual to see a car parked in an isolated area of a public parking lot. After all, business men would leave their cars while on trips and this was near the trolley line.

Growing up in the inner city and having to find a good location for baseball or football, I don't
remember ever observing cars in the area except
when a tire could be used as 1st or 3rd base or
a sideline out of bounds for football, or worse case senario we just broke the window with the ball! ;-O

Holding the position he did in Philadelphia society leads me to believe if this was not a
suicide, and his actions during the past few months did not coincide with this act, his family would have had front page denial of suicide. I'm sure they didn't want publicity but acceptance
of these articles published without family rebuttal leads me to believe the family was in agreement with the publishing.

The one real puzzle to me is the watch being found at his home. Then again, I can't imagine
a murder returning a watch that could have been
thrown in the river and never found. Could this have been a blunder and shoddy investigation and the watch not included in items on the victim (fell on ground...etc)?

Just my opinions....thanks again for posting the articles.

Rosanne MacIntyre
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Tracy wrote: "How advanced was forensic medicine of this time period? Would a medical examiner of that time be able to accurately pinpoint the time of death, or was he giving a ballpark figure?"

Tracy: That's a question I've wondered about myself, and don't really have a definite answer for. Judging from the obituaries alone, I took that official "at least 40 hours" (determined from the condition of the blood in the car) as pathologist lingo for some "step-wise" or "threshold" type of measurement derived from the minimum elapsed time for those physical changes to occur. So I'm guessing that the underlying implication of the "at least" is that 40 hours would be the earliest likely onset for that particular change in the blood. But what the other discernible phases might be, or what other physical signs could be used to pinpoint the time of death in 1945 is beyond me.

It's a very critical question though, I agree. If "40 hours" indicated the minimum threshold for one observed criterion, then indeed: Where's the *next* discernible benchmark? (Or more properly, where was it in 1945?) If it was in fact beyond 70 hours, then we truly know very little other than "at least 40".

Someone here did mention the onset of rigor mortis. That, I know from some other reading, can vary with environmental factors -- heat and humidity -- and to some extent just randomly. (But then I imagine changes in the blood would, too.) There is a single bizarre case reported where rigor mortis supposedly set in instantly -- in a woman leaning against a wall -- though that's hardly a typical onset. (Note: I can't really vouch for that, either. It's only "reported", as far as I recall, based on the fact that she was found dead in a standing position.)

Add to that the fact that full autopsies were likely not the norm in 1945, except in cases where foul play was *definitely* suspected. (And culturally, I believe, they were very much disdained by familes.) In more recent times, even *possibly* questionable deaths may require an autopsy by law. (Said from recent experience with a heart attack victim.) But, of course, that's nowadays.

Is there an old forensic pathologist in the house? :)
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Karin wrote: "... and the fact that after death body temperature drops apporximately one degree an hour"

Ah, you had brought up rigor mortis. I jumped out of my seat momentarily when I caught that second observation about body temperature. But then I realized it was possible, in mid- to late September, that the ambient temperature might already have been reached before the 40 hours passed.

Roseanne: Regarding the "inner city" analogy, the trick there is that the P.T.C. Trolley loop at 48th and Parkside was (and still is) pretty far off the beaten track, though not nearly as much so now as then. On the north side of Parkside av. is Fairmount Park, a vast, sprawling reserve of dedicated park land. (It's Philadelphia's version of "Central Park", more or less, though it's not at all central, but across the Schuylkill River some miles from the city center.)

On the south side around 48th was just the P.T.C. Loop complex and a few other buildings. Old topo maps show the PTC loop as a "railroad marshalling yard" of sorts, with an array of parallel tracks, forks, the round-about, and maintenance sheds. It's pretty open still on aerial photos -- maybe more so, since the tracks and complex themselves seem to be long gone.

The foreground to the car's location actually looks like a big clearing, with railroad tracks (with the car parked alongside) and a "terminal" behind it in the 1945 news photo -- taken too *far* back to even get a very good view of the car. (It's recognizable as a car, but that's about it.) So that particular vantage point would have made an ideal ball field, though workers Wharton and Petetti were likely on the other side of the tracks, around the P.T.C. buildings.
 

Tracy Smith

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Returning to the point of it being odd that no one noticed a body in the car in all that length of time, I've found it amazing how oblivious people can be.

Case in point. When I was on the police force, one of the meter maids told me of an incident that had happened years before with another meter maid, long since retired. This meter maid had gone around the town square marking tires and later returning to give tickets to the cars still there with marked tires. One day she noticed a man sitting in his car with his arm propped against the window. She paid him no attention, as she thought he was merely waiting for someone inside the courthouse. It wasn't until the third day of patrol that she noticed that the car and the man hadn't changed position; that he was dead.

Now, I'm not sure if this story was told to me just to pull my leg, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was true, as self-absorbed as most people are these days.
happy.gif
 
Sep 8, 2000
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John F wrote-- On the south side around 48th was just the P.T.C. Loop complex and a few other buildings. Old topo maps show the PTC loop as a "railroad marshalling yard" of sorts, with an array of parallel tracks, forks, the round-about, and maintenance sheds. It's pretty open still on aerial photos -- maybe more so, since the tracks and complex themselves seem to be long gone.

Thanks for the explanation of the area surrounding
where his vehicle was found.

Just looking through MapQuest at Philadelphia today, this area is surrounded 4 blocks to the south and appx 1/2mi to the east by Penn Central RR Tracks. Are these one in the same as his fathers tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad?

If so, I wonder if this area was not well known by him and a place he could have frequented for
various reasons.

Rosanne MacIntyre
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Hi, Roseanne: I see the area you mean -- around the zoo and south along the river. The vestiges of the once mighty railroad litter that area, though much of it is now reverted land. (But a good bit is still in operation, too. I'm quite familiar with it from passing the area occasionally years back.) I'm not sure if the Penn Central and P.R.R. were related or not, though.

For best viewing, you may want to try the Microsoft Terraserver site:
http://terraserver.microsoft.com/default.asp

Strangely, if you do an advanced search (by address) for "Parkside av | Philadelphia | Pa" and select the 1984 topo for the second location match listed, you wind up positioned right over what was the PTC complex. (It looks vaguely like a Commodore's hat with tracks running out from it.)

If you're at all unfamiliar with topos, that 1984 one is a "revised" topo -- a modified reprinting of an older map. So, purple items are all additions since the original mapping, while apparent structures colored over with green indicate reversions of previous buildings, etc., to undeveloped land.

The P.T.C. ("Philadelphia Transit Company"?), of course, was a wholly separate entity from the P.R.R., but Jack and his family may well have had intimate familiarity with that too, since P.A.B. Widener (George Widener's father) was *the* Philadelphia streetcar magnate in 1912.

If you get a chance to view the topo and accompanying aerial photo, the newspaper photo definitely looks to have been taken from the south side of the tracks and complex, facing roughly north. (On the aerial photo, all that's still obvious is the "footprint" of the loop complex and tracks.)

Cheers,
John
 
Sep 20, 2000
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Just a note of clarification regarding Phil Gowan's fine transcription of the Philadelphia Inquirer's (Saturday, Sept. 22, 1945) obituary for Jack Thayer, located here at ET.

I noticed, upon reviewing my own print-out recently, that the continuation page (at least) for the article prominently displays "Saturday Morning, Sept 23" at the top! That's wrong -- Saturday was really the *22nd*. But it's not a transcription error, it's the Inquirer's own goof.

Sorry for any misunderstandings there.

(I wonder what the readership thought of that: Just another SIC joke from the press??) ;^)
 
B

Bob Cruise

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I hadn't paid strict attention to this thread until now.

Boy - does it smell.

In all the suicides I have ever heard about, I have yet to hear of one where a person slashes their own throat along with their wrists (accomplishing one after the other takes quite a bit of effort). My guess is that Thayer's throat was slashed BEFORE the wrists - and that the wrists were slashed to make foul play look more like a suicide.

I also have to wonder about Thayer's lifelong friend Former Lieutenant Governor John C. Bell. Bell seemed all-too-ready with a handy explanation: "He has been suffering from a nervous breakdown during the last two weeks, due, I believe, to worrying about the death of his son who was killed in service. A few days ago he seemed to develop amnesia."

Usually, those who offer a quick and reasonably sound theory usually know more than they are telling. Such explanations are meant to quell suspicion, and very often include details which seem to foreshadow the supposed cause of one's death. (How convenient - Mr. Thayer developed amnesia only a few days before his death...)

I also have to wonder about those giving corroborating evidence - like the secretary who was "the last" to see Mr. Thayer alive.

And one certainly cannot discount Michael Standart's comment about who inherited the Thayer fortune. Odd that the Bulletin made no mention of who survived Mr. Thayer. (Perhaps someone had influence with the local papers?)

Ah, rich people.

When questioning whether Thayer died a suicide or not, in light of the circumstances of his death, let's not forget that names like Leopold and Loeb and Klaus Von Bulow prove that even the rich are not incapable of murder/murder attempts.

As for the trail possibly going cold after so many years, that's never discouraged anyone from investigating Jack the Ripper.

I think it's high time someone investigate Thayer's death. If a wrong has been committed, it needs to be acknowledged.
 

Adam McGuirk

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Jack the Ripper is different Bob. Everyone knows about Jack the Ripper. I think when all the public knows about something then someone will want to investigate it more. Know one really knows who Jack Thayer is. His death SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED but I don't really see it happening. When you have something as intruging as Jack the Ripper, people want to go investigate it. We don't know what happened there at all. In the investigations eyes Thayers case is closed, though I do want to see re investigated. But you just can't compare Jack the Ripper and Jack Thayer.
Adam
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I think the operative is that Jack Theyer's death should have been more closely investigated at the time. The problem is that 57 years ex post facto all the principles involved and any potential suspects have long since "gone to their reward" themselves.

This assumes...a dangerous passtime, I know...that Jack was in fact murdered. A stretch? Maybe. We'll never know, but as Bob noted, it sure does smell.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Mike: Agreed. And Bob's reaction strongly resembles my own initial response. If anything, what I'm left with is the impression that the coroner's diagnosis was at best preliminary (and pretty surficial, really), yet accepted as final much too hastily. It might have been right, but it just seems massively under-investigated.

In the same attendant circumstances, but with no political clout involved, I imagine a formal investigation would have been ordered to resolve all doubt. Yet there's no suggestion of that at all. Again, even the one reporter on that watch story sounds incredibly sceptical in an otherwise fairly conservative newspaper!

I have entertained the same questions about the underlying possibilities of slashed wrists *and* throat that Bob has, envisioning perhaps "the perfect crime"? Part of my problem is something that Bob hit right on the head. There's *far* too much of former Lieutenant Governor Bell in all of this! Even the secretary's revelation about his last wherabouts really just comes from *him* in those news accounts. His intercession may have been benignly intended, but it sticks out like a sore thumb. (And the influence of a powerful political figure in 1945 could be substantial, either directly or through connections.)

Sadly, I don't think we'll ever know for sure. The evidence itself is long gone, so blood toxicology or other tests are likely out of the question. And Philadelphia seems fairly guarded about dissemination of coroner's reports. If a full autopsy was even done, a confidant -- formerly a Philly police officer -- advises me that the report is very likely either trashed or buried by now. (About five to seven years' retention is all he thought likely for the Medical Examiner's office.)

But "fishy" is definitely the appropriate smell.

Jack apparently left behind a widow (Lois), three daughters, and one surviving son. The Jack Thayer web site -- http://www.bytenet.net/thayer/ -- has further details on his lineage.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Thanks John. I bookmarked that site for further use. I noticed this little blurb in his ET bio that might explain things a bit;

"Jack Thayer graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and went into banking; later he returned to the University as Financial Vice-President and Treasurer."

Seems to me, if somebody wanted to take him out, his associates, business partners, and likely a few customers would be the place to look. The old adage of "Follow the money" is one that investigators hold to for good reason. People like this inevitably make enemies and some play for keeps!
 

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