Hal Roth: November 2005

Old News from Delmarva
“The Murder of Bronza Parks”
Hal Roth

     On January 14, 1958, Delmarva newspapers announced that Bronza Parks, a boat builder and Democrat from Wingate in lower Dorchester County, had filed as candidate for county commissioner, joining Roscoe Willey of Cambridge and Austin Gray of Elliott’s Island on the ballot. But Parks, a legend in his profession and a highly respected member of his community, would never have the chance to test his political ambitions.

     CAMBRIDGE, May 14, 1958 –Dorchester County authorities have charged a 39-year-old Silver Spring man with the slaying of Bronza Parks, a boat builder and Democratic candidate for county commissioner.
      Parks was shot to death last night in his boathouse at Wingate. Dr. John Mace, county deputy medical examiner, said the 57-year-old Parks was shot once through the chest and twice in the head.
      Sheriff David F. Bradshaw found an angry crowd of about 150 Wingate residents at the boathouse after the shooting. Parks was regarded as a community benefactor.
      The sheriff quickly took Willis Case Rowe into custody and drove to Cambridge, leaving two deputies to carry on the investigation. Rowe was charged with the killing a few hours later.
      Bradshaw said the shooting resulted from an argument over an 18-foot boat Parks was building for Rowe, who said he was a magazine salesman.
      State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace said Rowe told him he had a wife and 6-year-old daughter and worked for U. S. News and World Report.
      Bradshaw said Rowe had driven to Wingate with James Richardson, another boat builder from nearby Lloyds. The sheriff quoted Richardson as saying he stayed in the car while Rowe went inside the boathouse to talk to Parks.
      Richardson said he heard three shots, rushed into the structure and found Parks dead and Rowe standing over him with a .32 caliber pistol. Richardson said he phoned the sheriff. Bradshaw said Rowe had the gun in his possession when arrested.
      Rowe was taken to the Dorchester County Jail in Cambridge.
      Parks, president of the Lakes-Strait Volunteer Fire Co. at Wingate, had built more than 400 boats from 14-foot craft to 60-foot cabin cruisers.
Only yesterday Parks had campaigned in the upper part of the county, advertising a meeting that was planned for tonight at the firehouse located on his property.
      Rowe later told Bradshaw he used the gun after Parks came after him with a stick, investigators said.
      Richardson, a gas company serviceman and skilled boat builder, went with Rowe to check the boat before delivery was made.
      Rowe went in first, Richardson said, and returned and told Richardson to go in and settle on the price after he had inspected the craft.
      Richardson went in, came out in a few minutes and told Rowe that Parks wanted his money. Rowe retuned to the boathouse. In a few moments, Richardson said, he heard the shots, then called the sheriff from a pay phone.
      The sheriff said he was checking on reports that Rowe walked from the boathouse to the Parks residence and told Mrs. Katie Parks, the victim’s wife, that he had just shot and killed Parks in a quarrel over a boat, adding that he would wait until “the law” had arrived.
      Bradshaw said Rowe offered no resistance, although he had the pistol on his person when the sheriff arrived at the shooting scene.

     James B. Richardson (1906-1991) became another master shipwright. Honored by Governor Hughes in 1969 with the title “Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay,” Mr. Jim’s accomplishments are also legendary. Among them are the Dove, a replica of the ship that brought the first Maryland settlers to St. Mary’s River in 1634, and the Spocott Windmill in Lloyds. His many conversations with James Michener provided that writer with inspiration for the boat-building Paxmore family in his novel Chesapeake. Mr. Jim’s legacy is also preserved by the Richardson Maritime Museum in Cambridge.
      On May 22, newspapers reported that Chief Judge W. Laird Henry, Jr. had ordered the Dorchester County Grand Jury to convene on June 5 to hear testimony against Rowe, which resulted in an indictment of first-degree murder. What appeared to be an open-and-shut case against Rowe took the first of what would prove to be many turns a month later

     CAMBRIDGE, June 21, 1958––Chief Judge W. Laird Henry Jr. has signed an order for a psychiatric examination at Spring Grove Mental Hospital for Willis Case Rowe, 39-year-old Silver Spring research writer.
      Request for the order was made by State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace of Dorchester County, following a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity made last Tuesday after a general plea of not guilty by Rowe upon arraignment here.
      Rowe will be taken immediately to Spring Grove by Sheriff David F. Bradshaw. If found able to stand trial, the defense plans to ask a change of venue from Dorchester County.

     CAMBRIDGE, September 1, 1958––State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace has received a letter from Superintendent Isadore Tuerk of Spring Grove Hospital, regarding the status of Willis Case Rowe, who is discussed in the letter of August 28 as follows: “The psychiatrists present at the staff conferences have divided opinions as to whether the patient at the present time has the capacity to participate in the conduct of his own defense. However, they all agree that the patient is now a potential suicidal risk and is in need of the protective environment of the hospital for a further period of time.”

     CAMBRIDGE, September 25, 1958––An order was signed here today by Chief Judge W. Laird Henry, Jr., transferring the murder trial of Willis C. Rowe to Wicomico County.

     SALISBURY, October 23, 1958––Attorneys for Willis Rowe have asked for a court order declaring Rowe incompetent to stand trial.
      State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace said today he would ask the court to hear medical evidence at the earliest opportunity to decide if Rowe could stand trial or needs further treatment. “As soon as there is a judicial determination that Rowe is able to stand trial, I will ask for an early trial date to be set.” Mace said.

     SALISBURY, November 27, 1958––Two circuit judges ruled yesterday that Willis Case Rowe is not mentally capable to stand trial for the murder of a Wingate boat builder. The decision was made after testimony was given in Wicomico County Circuit Court by three psychiatrists holding state positions. The psychiatrists testified at the hearing that Rowe is in a severe state of depression and is incapable of defending himself against the charge.
      Dr. Tuerk, superintendent of Spring Grove State Hospital, had examined Rowe on four separate occasions, twice with hospital staff and twice alone. Rowe, he testified, has been a patient at Spring Grove much of the time since his arrest for the May 13 shooting.
      Dr. Tuerk continued: “He does understand that he is charged with the crime. He is, however, very depressed and thinks life is not worth living.”
      The psychiatric head indicated, as did following witnesses, that the defendant is sicker now than when he was first examined.
      Second witness for the defense was Dr. Jacob Morgernstern, director of correctional psychiatry for the Maryland Hygiene Society. He testified: “Rowe insists he will not get a fair trial. He doesn’t think he can find attorneys––or anyone else––who fully understands his personal problem.”
      Dorchester County State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace asked Dr. Morgernstern if Rowe was incapable of defending himself because of his suicidal tendencies.
      Dr. Morgernstern said that this reflects the desire of the accused to destroy himself. “He wouldn’t be able to defend himself under those circumstances,” added the witness.
      Final witness to take the stand was Dr. Manfred Guttmacher, medical officer of the Baltimore Supreme Bench. He has asked Spring Grove technicians to administer shock treatments to Rowe in an effort to bring about a normal mental state.
      Dr. Guttmacher told Mr. Mace under questioning that he has examined 200 persons accused of homicide. When Mr. Mace asked the court psychiatrist if a high percentage of such persons suffered deep depressive states, Dr. Guttmacher replied: “I’m always amazed that there is a low percentage of depression among these persons.”
      After defense council Vincent J. Fuller, Washington, D. C., presented these witnesses, the judges made their decision.
      Chief Judge W. Laird Henry, Jr., sitting with Judge Rex A. Taylor, made this statement: “We have no doubt from testimony that the defendant is not capable of defending himself at this moment. We are satisfied that there is no reason to try him.”
      The two judges called for an order committing Rowe to Spring Grove for further psychiatric treatment.

     After nearly four years of silence in the matter of Maryland vs. Willis C. Rowe, the Salisbury Times carried the following headline on October 3, 1962: “TO TRY MAN HERE IN SLAYING OF BOAT BUILDER.” The trial of Willis Rowe was entered on the September docket of the Wicomico County Circuit Court, and Rowe’s Salisbury attorney, George E. Bahen, Jr., successfully petitioned Judge Henry to have Rowe transferred to the Wicomico County Jail prior to the trial.
      Further motions from the defense caused the trial to be rescheduled for December 4 and then postponed again until after the first of the year. Proceedings finally began on February 5, 1963 before a jury of six men and six women.

     SALISBURY, February 5, 1963––James Richardson of Cambridge testified today at the trial of Willis C. Rowe to the events leading up to the slaying of a Dorchester County boat builder.
      The prosecuting attorney said Richardson was standing outside a boathouse where Bronza Parks, 57, of Wingate, was shot and killed on May 13, 1958.
Richardson, a boat builder, too, testified he heard three shots and went inside to see Rowe standing over Parks with the revolver extended over Park’s face.
“Rowe said to me: ‘Go call the sheriff,’ or ‘I suppose you will call the sheriff,’” Richardson said. Visibly shaken on the stand, Richardson said that Rowe then offered the gun, a .38 revolver [earlier reports called it a .32], to him. “I didn’t accept it,” Richardson said.
      Richardson said that Rowe had come to him in the late afternoon preceding the shooting and asked him to go with him to see Parks at Wingate.
      Richardson said that Rowe considered him the only person who would be acceptable to both Parks and Rowe to rule on the quality of the partially finished boat Parks was building for Rowe.
      Richardson said they drove to Wingate and Rowe appeared normal and said, “I enjoyed my ride.”
      They arrived at Wingate at 5:30 or 5:45, Richardson recalled. They examined the boat before Parks arrived. “I felt it was a good job and Rowe agreed it was a rather nice job so far,” Richardson told the jury.
      Parks arrived a little later and he and Rowe discussed a few details about the boat. Richardson said Rowe asked Parks for a figure for the completion of the boat and that Parks replied in so many words: “Pay me what you owe me.”
      Richardson testified he left the boathouse and Rowe came out and asked him if he would testify for him if Rowe took Parks to court. Richardson said he refused. Richardson said that Rowe asked him if he thought Parks would take $700 for the bill. Richardson said he told Rowe he didn’t think so. [Rowe owed Parks $1,100 for work already completed.]
      Richardson said Rowe asked him to wait in the car while he (Rowe) went inside “to settle with Mr. Parks.”
      Richardson testified he saw Rowe reaching into his pocket as though for a wallet.
     “I thought he was going to pay Parks,” Richardson testified. He added that he heard Rowe say as soon as he got inside the boathouse: “Where is he?”
Parks answered, “Here I am.”
     “The next thing I heard was a shot and then two more,” Richardson testified.
      Defense attorney George E. Bahen, Jr. said in his opening statement that he would prove that Rowe was insane at the time of the shooting and had been mentally disturbed since the end of World War II, after he spent two years in a German prisoner of war camp. [Rowe, a staff member of the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division, was a prisoner for only several months at the end of the war.]
      Testimony by a pathologist, Dr. E. C. H. Schmidt, and Dr. John Mace, medical examiner for Dorchester County, established there were three bullet wounds––any one of which could have killed Parks––two in the head and one in the chest.
      Listening without any outward show of emotion were the wife and sister of Rowe. Seated on the opposite side of the half-filled courtroom were the widow of Parks, three daughters and a son. Mrs. Parks broke down momentarily as testimony concerning the bullets was given. She was comforted by her daughters.
L. Noble Robinson, assistant executive editor of U. S. News & World Report, was here instead of Editor-in-Chief David Lawrence, for whom Rowe worked for two years as a research writer. Robinson was put upon the stand and said that during the time Rowe worked for the magazine, Rowe appeared normal.
      Psychiatrists have differed from time to time in their reports as to the mental condition of Rowe. Under Maryland law the jury must decide if Rowe was sane at the time of the shooting and sane now.

     SALISBURY, February 6, 1963––The first witness for the defense in the murder trial of Willis C. Rowe testified today that the defendant was insane at the time of the fatal shooting of a Dorchester County boat builder.
      Dr. Isadore Tuerk, commissioner of mental hygiene, said that he concluded after a third examination of Rowe at Spring Grove State Hospital in 1958, that the defendant was incapable of knowing right from wrong at the time of the crime.
      In answer to defense attorney George E. Bahen, Jr., and over the objection of the state’s attorney, Dr. Tuerk said, “I consider Rowe insane.”
Besides Dr. Tuerk, witnesses during the third day of the trial were Dr. Bruno Radauskas, superintendent of Spring Grove; Robert Holmes, director of personnel of the Library of Congress, where Rowe once was employed; James Walker, personnel employee relations chief in the library’s copyright department and Eugene Blackford, a friend of Rowe who was a prisoner of war with the defendant at Camp Hammleburg in Germany in 1945.

     SALISBURY, February 7, 1963––A Baltimore psychiatrist testified today that although he found Willis C. Rowe psychotic during an examination a year ago, he thought Rowe was competent to stand trial on charges of slaying a Dorchester County man.
      Dr. William G. Cushard, superintendent of Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital, said he examined Rowe on January 4, 1962 for more than two hours. Afterward, Dr. Cushard said, he concluded that Rowe was competent to stand trial and capable of assisting the defense during the trial.
In answer to a question by Chief Judge W. Laird Henry, Dr. Cushard said he did not know whether Rowe had cooperated with his counsel, that he could say only that Rowe was capable of assisting.
      Dr. Cushard said he did not believe Rowe had an understanding of right or wrong in matters in which he was emotionally involved.
      The first witness today was Oscar T. Oropollo, a clinical psychologist at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital. Oropollo said he examined Rowe again last September in the Wicomico County Jail at the defendant’s request. His condition had become worse since the May examination, Oropollo testified.

     SALISBURY, February 8, 1963––The trial of Willis C. Rowe is expected to go to the jury today after final arguments.
      Alfred T. Truitt, Jr., state’s attorney for Wicomico County, led off the state’s summation at 11 a.m. He is assisting C. Burnam Mace, Dorchester County prosecutor.
      The state put on one more witness this morning. He was John Walston, chief deputy sheriff of Wicomico County. Walston said that in his daily contacts with Rowe at the jail, he observed the conduct of the prisoner to be normal with “normal conversation.”
      Defense counsel asked the deputy if he was a physician or a psychiatrist, and the replies were “no.” The deputy answered that he was not trying to give an opinion on the prisoner’s mental condition.
      Walston testified that law books from the Wicomico County Law Library have been brought to Rowe’s cell. The former legal researcher for the Library of congress has several degrees and is reportedly writing a book on jurisprudence.

     SALISBURY, February 9, 1963 –– JURY FINDS ROWE GULTY OF MURDER. Sentencing has been delayed until Thursday for Willis C. Rowe, found guilty Friday of second-degree murder.
      The jury of six men and six women deliberated three hours and 10 minutes before ruling that Rowe was sane when he shot Parks at Parks’ Wingate boathouse on May 13, 1958.
      However, the jury also said that Rowe, a former magazine researcher and lawyer, is insane now.
      When the verdict was read, Rowe showed no sign of emotion, remaining stone-faced as he had throughout the trial.
      In his summation, defense attorney George E. Bahen, Jr. told the jury that the defendant was insane. “Let’s put him in a mental institution where he obviously belongs and where he’ll stay,” Bahen said.
      State’s Attorney C. Burnam Mace told the jury that they must find Rowe guilty of first-degree murder because Rowe was sane at the time of the crime and sane now. “If there ever was a case of first-degree murder, this is it,” he said.
      According to Maryland law, a conviction of second-degree murder can bring a sentence of five to 18 years.
      Associate Judge Rex A. Taylor said he would defer sentencing Rowe until next Thursday.

     SALISBURY, February 28, 1963––Willis Case Rowe, convicted February 8 of the second-degree murder of a Dorchester County boat builder, was sentenced here yesterday to 18 years in the state prison.
       The sentence, as pronounced by Judge E. McMaster Duer of Somerset County, is the maximum for second-degree murder. Five years, the minimum, is what Rowe’s attorney had asked the court to impose.
       The verdict caused some difficulty for Judges Duer, Rex A. Taylor and W. Laird Henry, Jr. The fact that the jury found Rowe presently insane generated some doubt as to the type of sentence to impose.
      Rowe was transferred to the Dorchester County sheriff’s office yesterday. From there he will be taken to prison until later transferred to a state hospital for the mentally ill.

     But that is not the end of the story.

     ANNAPOLIS, April 8, 1964––The Maryland Court of Appeals Tuesday ordered Willis C. Rowe of Wheaton committed to a mental institution until he is able to stand trial after striking down, on a 4-3 decision, his murder conviction.
      The Court of Appeals majority upheld the jury’s decision on the question of sanity, but said Maryland law does not permit a person who is insane to be brought to trail.
     “It is apparent that the trial court should not have received a verdict on the issue of guilt or innocence when the jury had found that Rowe was insane at the time of the trial.”
      The majority also said, “It is clear that the court had no authority to ignore the finding of insanity at the time of the trial.”
      The minority opinion by Judge William L. Henderson said the court should not have considered the question of whether Rowe could be found guilty if he was insane at the time of the trial because his lawyer did not raise the issue.

     A year later, Rowe was tried again, this time in Baltimore Criminal Court.

     BALTIMORE, July 1, 1965––Willis C. Rowe was sentenced again Wednesday to 18 years in prison for the 1958 pistol slaying of boat builder Bronza Parks.
This time, however, he will get credit for time already spent in jail and mental hospitals. That period reached seven years last May 13.
      Rowe stood pale and expressionless while Judge Anselm Sodaro pronounced sentence in Baltimore Criminal Court.
      An unusual development in Wednesday’s sentencing session before Sodaro was the appearance of Baltimore lawyer Francis D. Murnihan to speak on behalf of Rowe. He was one of seven court-appointed lawyers earlier rejected or fired by Rowe at various stages of his case, and this time he returned at Rowe’s request as a friend of the court.
      After a 10-minute conference with Rowe, Murnihan delivered a 20-minute plea, emphasizing the mental condition of the prisoner and the time he has spent in confinement.
      The slightly built, bespectacled Rowe wore neither tie nor coat. His shirt sleeves rolled above the elbows, he listened intently as Murnihan described him as “a good risk for society.”
     “The passage of years has seen an improvement in Mr. Rowe’s condition,” said Murnihan. “This is a case that got off the track and stayed off the track for long periods of time.”
      Murnihan noted that Rowe’s “parting of the ways” with some of his lawyers resulted from their insistence in pleading over his objections that he was innocent by reason of insanity.
      He said Rowe denied being insane even during the many years in a mental hospital and repeatedly pleaded for immediate trial. Ironically, Murnihan added, when the man was finally brought to trial, the jury agreed with him and disagreed with his counsel by finding him sane at the time of the slaying.
      Murnihan said the circumstances of Rowe’s confinement since his arrest moments after Parks’ death made each day the equivalent of two days served by a man who has been convicted and knows he is paying a debt to society.

     Rowe made the headlines one more time on April 24, 1970.

     BALTIMORE (AP)––The 1965 murder conviction of Willis C. Rowe, appealed on grounds of double jeopardy, was upheld Thursday by Judge James A. Perrott of Baltimore Criminal Court.

     The boat that Bronza Parks built for Rowe was mysteriously destroyed––by Wingate residents, it is believed.
      There is little published information about Willis Case Rowe after 1970. His name appears in the Washington Times on July 27, 1996 as author of the article “True Colors of Confederate Flags.” A Confederate soldier by the name of Willis Rowe, who appears to have been an ancestor, was killed in the Civil War.
Then, the following memoriam appeared in the George Washington Law School Alumni Magazine in the fall of 2002: “Willis Case Rowe, BA 1949, JD 1950, LLM 1952––February 8, 2002, Baltimore, Maryland.”
      Rowe would have been 83 years old in 2002.

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com