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True Lies: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

By Paul Slade
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“This is a true story. This is taken out of the newspapers.”
     - Bob Dylan, introducing Hattie Carroll at Manchester Free Trade Hall in May 1965.

“The song was a lie. Just a damned lie.”
     - William Zantzinger, quoted in The New Yorker, January 26, 2009.

On August 28, 1963, Dr Martin Luther King led 250,000 civil rights marchers to Washington in what The New York Times called “the greatest assembly for the redress of grievances that this capital has ever seen”. King delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, President Kennedy praised the marchers' dignity, and a young folk singer called Bob Dylan sang two of his own songs for the crowd.
Like every newspaper in America, Baltimore's Afro-American led on the march. Building the front page round a close-up of a young black marcher with the US flag artfully reflected in his sunglasses, it chose the banner headline “Cry for Freedom”. Beneath this were other headlines spotlighting various aspects of the event: “241,000 join in fervent appeal to the Congress”; “March praised by press”; “JFK vows push for more jobs”. Only one unconnected story made it above the fold that day, and its headline read: “Cane-killer gets off with six months”.

Right from the start, Carroll symbolised every injustice King's marchers wanted to overturn

The killer in question was William Zantzinger, a prosperous Baltimore tobacco farmer, who had got very drunk at a society dance there six months earlier. He'd called one of the barmaids a “black bitch” and then hit her with his cane when she asked him to wait for a moment while she finished serving another customer. The barmaid, Hattie Carroll, had died a few hours later from a brain haemorrhage brought on by Zantzinger's assault, he'd been convicted of manslaughter, and his sentence happened to be announced on the day of the march.
Many thought Zantzinger's thuggish behaviour at the dance should have brought a murder conviction, and believed it was only his position in Baltimore's rich, white hierarchy which got him off so lightly. Right from the start, Carroll's death had been seen to symbolise every injustice the Washington marchers wanted to overturn. “The case was drawn in shades of black and white,” the Afro remarked, “and not only because of the racial identification of the victim and her accused slayer. It seemed to place the rich against the poor, the haves against the have-nots.” (1)
Back in New York, the Times also reported Zantzinger's sentence. The paper later claimed it was this story - soberly headlined “Farmer sentenced in barmaid's death” - which inspired Dylan to write his own account of the killing.
He'd already penned two songs about racist white-on-black murders in the past 18 months - The Death of Emmett Till and Only a Pawn in their Game - and included one of these in his short Washington set. Pawn was about the murder of black civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who'd been gunned down in Jackson, Mississippi, in June 1963. Dylan portrayed the killer as poor white trash, sucked into committing a racist murder by the paranoia cynical white politicians had fed him. He was less to be hated than pitied, Dylan suggested, and that made the song a gutsy choice for the Washington rally.
Evers' death was still a raw memory when Dylan stepped up to the Lincoln Memorial's forest of podium mikes to sing, and his widow was there as one of the rally's key speakers. And yet here was a white singer, telling an 80% black audience that they should look on Evers' killer with a degree of sympathy. Even with this challenging message, though, the song went down well, winning Dylan applause and cheers as he slipped back into the crowd.
As with many of Dylan's early songs, Pawn's words and music were first published in Broadside, a tiny Greenwich Village magazine whose mimeographed pages were filled with radical songs. Broadside wanted songs which “mirrored an America becoming ever more deeply involved with the great national struggles of war or peace, civil rights and [...] the plight of the unemployed and poor.” Songs like these, the editors added, should “reflect an America of still increasing violence and death, inflicted especially on the Negro people and their white allies”. (2)
In January 1962, when Broadside made its debut, that meant contemporary American folk music and, for a while, Dylan was very happy to follow Broadside's agenda. In the magazine's first 18 months alone, he gave them 15 new songs, including Masters of War, Talking John Birch Society Blues and Blowing in the Wind.
The critic Paul Nelson, who had always been sceptical about glib protest songs, heard Dylan play Pawn for a small group of friends in the summer of 1963, and took this opportunity to challenge the singer about it. “These songs were like fish in the barrel stuff,” Nelson later wrote. “It's like patting-yourself-on-the-back music. [...] Dylan was arguing ‘No, no, this is really where it's at’. But he also made the point that the easiest way to get published if you wrote your own songs was to write topical songs, ‘cause Broadside wouldn't publish you if you didn't.” (3)
Dylan also used the Broadside songs to impress Suze Rotolo, then his girlfriend. “I stayed up and wrote songs and showed them to her and asked her ‘Is this right?’,” he told the journalist Robert Shelton in 1966. “I knew her mother and father were associated with unions, and she was into this equality-freedom thing long before I was. I checked the songs out with her” Eve MacKenzie, a friend of the couple, later added: “Suze was very much with the cause [...] She influenced Bobby considerably that way.” (4)
It's worth remembering that the Bob Dylan of August 1963 was not the global superstar we know today. He was then just 22 years old, only two albums into his career, and would have to wait another 20 months for his first chart hit. The first album had sold poorly enough for Columbia to threaten they'd drop him, and the second - already on the shelves for three months - was only now beginning to shift.
Dylan's career could have gone either way at that point, and Broadside gave him a useful platform to show off his skills, establish his ownership of each new song and polish up his radical credentials. I don't doubt there was a element of genuine outrage in his civil rights songs - no intelligent young artist could fail to be moved by such turbulent times - but there were also sound career reasons to keep those songs coming. In October 1963, he decided Hattie Carroll would be his next subject.

On Friday, February 8, 1963, the night she met her death, Carroll was working as a barmaid at Baltimore's Emerson Hotel. The 51-year-old grandmother had done occasional work at the hotel for the past six years, stepping in whenever they needed extra staff for a big function like that evening's Spinsters' Ball. It promised to be quite a night: a white tie charity affair, with 200 guests from Maryland's most prominent families invited and the prestigious Howard Lanin Orchestra providing the music.

Two of the guests, William Zantzinger and his wife Jane, started their evening with a pre-dinner drink at the city's Eager House restaurant. Zantzinger, 24 years old and over six feet tall, was the son of a rich tobacco farming family in Southern Maryland. His parents could trace their ancestors back both to Maryland's earliest white settlers and to a former governor of the state. His sister had been given not one, but two coming-out balls, both of which were covered in The Washington Post.
Time magazine spoke to other diners who'd been at Eager House that night, and produced this account of what happened:

“Zantzinger downed two fast drinks at the bar, then whacked the restaurant's hostess and its elderly sommelier with a wooden carnival cane that he had picked up somewhere. Coaxed into checking the cane, he lunged at the wine steward's cordial tray, then his neck chain and caught a sharp elbow in the stomach in return. Zantzinger had two double bourbons with his steak, Jane Zantzinger four double Cutty Sarks with her prime ribs. When the head barman refused to serve more, Jane hopped to another table and sipped from the glasses of its surprised occupants.” (5)

The couple were already drunk when they arrived at the Spinsters' Ball. Walking in, Zantzinger announced himself with a roar of: “I just flew in from Texas. Gimme a drink!” He was still fooling around with the cane, knocking it on the table's silver punchbowl when he wanted more booze, or playfully tapping any pretty woman who happened to walk by. Meanwhile, he worked his way through a steady stream of bourbon and ginger ales from the open bar. Jane was still drinking double scotches.

When Zantzinger walked out of the courtroom that morning, Carroll was already dead

When they tried to dance, the couple collapsed in a tangled heap, and Zantzinger started hitting his wife on the head with a shoe. Some of the other guests intervened, one of whom later testified he “knocked Zantzinger cold” when William took a swing at him. Dusting herself off, Jane allowed the hotel staff to lead her off to an empty bedroom upstairs where she could recover herself. Her husband returned to their table, where he resumed drinking, and swiped George Gessell, the hotel's black bellhop, across the behind with his cane.
By now, it was about 1:30 on Saturday morning and Zantzinger's mood was turning darker. He approached Ethel Hill, a black waitress clearing one of the tables near his, and asked her something about a fireman's fund. She said she didn't know what he meant, and Zantzinger snarled: “Don't say ‘No’ to me, you nigger, say ‘No, sir’”. He flailed at her with his cane, chasing her as she fled back towards the kitchen and hitting her on the arm, thighs and buttocks.
Working alongside Carroll that night were three other Emerson barmaids: Marina Patterson, Grace Shelton and Shirley Burrell. All three women witnessed Zantzinger's behaviour, and later testified in court about what they'd seen. “I heard Mrs Hill say ‘What is wrong with you? Leave me alone’,” Patterson recalled. “Then I heard him say ‘Nigger, what's wrong with you?’ Then I saw him whack her across the buttocks with the cane. She ran out of the room crying ‘Somebody help me. This man is killing me!’” (6)
Ten minutes after this incident, Zantzinger shoved his way through to the bar again, and was calling for more bourbon. Carroll, who was busy serving another customer, asked him to wait for a moment. “Mrs Carroll was fixing another drink,” Patterson testified. “So she didn't serve him immediately. He said ‘Nigger, did you hear me ask for a drink?‘ He said ‘I don't have to take that kind of shit off a nigger.’ He took the cane and struck her on the right shoulder. she leaned against the bar. Mr Zantzinger stood at the bar for a while, then he picked up his drink and left. She seemed to have been in shock. She said ‘That man has upset me so, I feel deathly ill’.” (6)
“He hit her. He struck right down and hit her,” Burrell confirmed. “It was a hard blow. So hard that I couldn't understand how she could stand up. [...] She handed him the drink, and then she stood there for a minute, and then she fell on me. I was so shocked I couldn't say anything to her.” (7)
“Zantzinger yelled ‘Why are you so slow, you black bitch?’ then hit Mrs Carroll with the cane,” Shelton added. “We were petrified. We were dumbfounded.”
Shelton and Burrell helped Carroll back into the privacy of the kitchen. “She said her arm was hurting and ‘I'm losing my grip’,” Shelton remembered. “I asked her to hold on to my arm, but I could feel her hand slipping off. Her speech became thick and garbled, and her words were running together.” Carroll complained her right arm felt numb, and her two colleagues tried to massage it back to life.
Meanwhile, someone else was calling both an ambulance and the police. One of the other guests, Hal Whittaker, forced Zantzinger's cane away from him and snapped it into pieces. “I saw that lady being taken out on a stretcher and I became upset,” he later told the court. “I didn't want him to use it again.” Years afterwards, Whittaker told his son this story, saying Zantzinger had struck the boy's pregnant mother earlier in the evening. (7, 8)
The unconscious Carroll was taken to Baltimore's Mercy Hospital. Two cops arrived at the Emerson Hotel to arrest Zantzinger, who loudly protested his innocence, and were leading him out through the hotel lobby when Jane reappeared. Still very drunk, she tumbled down a flight of five stairs, knocking both her husband and Officer Warren Todd to the ground. Crawling across the floor to grab Zantzinger's legs, she cried “You can't take my Billy Boy away! He beats me, but I still love him!” The police responded by arresting her too and bundling the couple off to Baltimore's Pine Street Police Station. (9)
There, Jane was charged with disorderly conduct, and allowed to go home after providing a $28 collateral. Zantzinger, charged with disorderly conduct, plus two charges of assault against Ethel Hill and Hattie Carroll by striking them with a wooden cane, was left to cool off in the cells for what remained of the night.
A few hours later, now sporting a black eye and still wearing the remains of his bedraggled evening dress, Zantzinger appeared before Judge Albert Blum at the city's Central Municipal Court. As the hearing began, Carroll was still unconscious at Mercy Hospital, and Blum left instructions that he was to be told of any change in her condition immediately. Zantzinger pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, and was released on $3,600 bail.
As Zantzinger walked out of the courtroom that Saturday morning, Carroll was already dead, but news of this fact did not reach Blum until it was too late to stop the accused man leaving. The judge later said he would never have allowed such low bail if he'd known this was now a potential murder case, and police blamed hospital staff for being too slow in passing on the information.
One of the last people - perhaps the very last person - to speak to Carroll, was Yvonne Ross, another Emerson Hotel worker, who'd ridden with her friend in the ambulance to Mercy. “I stayed with her at the hospital for a while,” she recalled in court. “ She was unconscious. Then she woke up. The last thing I heard her say was ‘Help me please’.” (10)

Carroll died at 9:15 on the Saturday morning, less than eight hours after Zantzinger had attacked her. “It all happened so fast,” one eyewitness said of the assault. “He was like a wild animal. After he had knocked her unconscious, he became even more belligerent. Now she is dead. And all because she didn't serve him fast enough.”
The hospital confirmed that Carroll had suffered a brain haemorrhage, but said her official cause of death would have to wait for the autopsy. Matters were complicated by the fact that she'd long suffered from an enlarged heart, hardened arteries and high blood pressure.
The police issued a murder warrant for Zantzinger as soon as they realised Carroll was dead, adding another warrant for Jane, who'd failed to turn up for her own disorderly conduct hearing. Next morning's Baltimore Sun splashed this news with the headline: “Caning Suspect, Wife Sought State-Wide In Death Of Barmaid: Charles County Man Is Charged With Homicide”. The story beneath added that police had failed to find Zantzinger at his Mount Victoria farm, about 70 miles south of Baltimore, and now “had no idea of his whereabouts”. (11)
Reading between the lines of that report, it's pretty clear the paper was hoping the Zantzingers had gone on the run, creating a police chase which would yield much juicy copy in the weeks to come. In fact, Zantzinger gave himself up the very next day, walking into Baltimore's Central District police HQ with his lawyer Claude Hanley just after noon on Sunday. He was arrested, hand-cuffed and returned to lock-up to wait for another hearing next day.

Police looked on as black Muslim men distributed flyers for a rally protesting Carroll's death

At that hearing, Judge Robert Hammerman ordered that Zantzinger should be held without bail until a murder trial could be scheduled. But Zantzinger's lawyers persuaded the superior City Court to overturn this ruling. That court's Judge Dulany Foster set Zantzinger's bail at $25,000, and allowed him to go free till the trial date. William O'Donnell, Maryland's state prosecutor, did not oppose bail.
By now, George Gessell, the Emerson's bellhop, had added his own assault complaint against Zantzinger, bringing his full sheet to one charge of homicide, two of assault (the other victim being Ethel Hill) and one of disorderly conduct. Hammerman insisted Zantzinger pay an additional $500 bail for the Gessell assault, but was then forced to release him.
“Zantzinger is charged with murder generally,” the Afro reported, “which could result in conviction of first or second degree murder or manslaughter. [...] Whether a general murder charge is reduced to second-degree or manslaughter is determined by the judge or jury after hearing the facts of the case.” (12)
Jane Zantzinger had to forfeit her earlier $28 but she, too, was granted bail again - this time of $603 - as she awaited her own trial for disorderly conduct. Maryland's most charming couple were back on the street.

Carroll's funeral was held on a wintery February afternoon at West Baltimore's Gillis Memorial Church, where she'd been a deacon and sung in the choir. Afro reporter Ralph Matthews put the crowd there at 1,600 mourners, only about half of whom were able to fit in the church for the service itself. White police, there to control the crowd, looked on as organisers distributed flyers for a rally to protest Carroll's death.
“It was a cold, grey day,” Matthews reports. “Silent intense-looking men passed through the onlookers, handing out leaflets with a headline ‘Who will be next?’ The people read news of a mass meeting. They did not throw the literature away, but read the message and shoved the paper into their pockets. [...] Among the watching crowd were well-dressed men and women, school children, people stopping on their way to work, veiled Muslim women in their long grey dresses. No white faces were to be seen, except in cars whizzing east on Mulberry Street, past the church.” (12)
Although there were no white faces in the crowd, the National Council of Christians and Jews did send representatives to the funeral, and so did the Emerson Hotel. Messages of sympathy came in from as far away as Alabama, confirming that Carroll's case was now getting national attention. Inside the church, Rev Theodore Jackson preached that her death would mean more to the city of Baltimore than any other it had seen.
“The ministers of this city, the doctors, lawyers, all people should come together as never before and let people know that coloured citizens are not going to stand for certain things,” Jackson thundered from the pulpit. “We are in the hands of a just God, but not in the hands of a just people.”
The emotional peak of the service came when the Gillis Young Adult Choir sang He Leadeth Me, Carroll's favourite hymn. “From that point till the procession from church to burial cavalcade, grief-stricken relatives had to be helped from pews to waiting cars outside,” Matthews writes. There were 34 cars in Carroll's funeral procession, which took her body to Baltimore National Cemetery, where her husband James' military service had earned her a place. Crowds lingered outside the church long after the cars had disappeared, reluctant to break this last connection with a woman many of them had never known. (13, 14)
The Afro's photographs from that day show a smartly-dressed black crowd, standing 10 or 12 deep on the sidewalk opposite the church, where they fill a full city block. In the foreground are the Muslim women Matthews spotted, with long scarves covering their hair and draping down their backs. The men wear hats and long overcoats, and everyone is sombre-faced. A second photo shows weeping mourners exiting down the steps from what had evidently been a very crowded church.
Perhaps the most telling photograph from that day's paper, though, is the Afro's full-length shot of Hattie Carroll herself. Often reduced to a head-and-shoulders, the full frame shows a middle-aged woman in a elegantly simple black dress and heels. She's wearing a lace-trimmed hat with a necklace and a broach, and clutching a shiny evening bag. She looks like exactly what she was: somebody's Mum, dressed up in her Sunday best and posing for her proud husband or daughter to take a quick snap before they leave the house. It's a tiny ceremony that's been duplicated a million times, but one that's never produced quite such a touching result as this.

Zantzinger's next court appearance came on March 15 at Baltimore's Central Homicide Court, where Judge Basil Thomas took only 85 minutes to decide the charges against him were serious enough to refer the case to a grand jury. Speaking to a tense and packed courtroom, Baltimore assistant medical examiner Charles Petty testified that Carroll's fatal brain haemorrhage had been induced by the fright, fear or anger caused by Zantzinger's blow. “Emotional reaction to the blow caused her death,” he said. (15,16)
Grace Shelton and Shirley Burrell, Carroll's two colleagues at the Emerson Hotel's bar, gave their accounts of Zantzinger's behaviour that night, describing all the details we've already seen. Burrell broke down and wept as she told the court about Zantzinger's attack. He had been “loud, abusive and belligerent all evening” she said.
Deputy state's attorney Charles Moylan - perhaps stung by the Afro's suggestion that his office had already decided to settle for a manslaughter conviction - insisted that his witnesses' detailed testimony was essential because it established malice on Zantzinger's part. “Malice is the essential element which distinguishes murder from manslaughter,” he reminded the court.

Judge Thomas was convinced enough by these arguments to send Zantzinger to the grand jury where, a few days later, he was formally indicted on a murder charge. A tentative date of March 28 was set for his criminal trail, but no-one seemed to think anything would really happen that soon. As the Afro pointed out, anyone facing a murder charge in Maryland was entitled to request a change of venue if they thought bad publicity or ill feeling would make it impossible for them to get a fair trial in their home jurisdiction. Baltimore's newspapers had been making hay with the Zantzinger story for over a month by that time, and he was thought almost certain to invoke this right.
At this point, the charge sheet against Zantzinger comprised one charge of murder, three of assault (one each against Carroll, Hill and Gessell) and one of disorderly conduct. Jane faced one charge of assaulting Officer Warren Todd and one of disorderly conduct, but her trial would remain in Baltimore.
In the middle of April, state prosecutor William O'Donnell confirmed that Zantzinger had succeeded in moving his trial out of Baltimore, and said Hagerstown in Western Maryland would be the replacement venue. His office had chosen Hagerstown, O'Donnell added, because it had court time open and local accommodation available. It remained to be seen whether the defence would ask for a jury trial or a court trial, where the verdict would be left to a panel of judges alone.
While all this was going on, Dylan was singing his latest songs on various New York radio stations and giving their lyrics to Broadside. The magazine's 20th issue, dated February 1963, gave its front page over to his Masters of War, illustrating the song with a couple of Suze Rotolo's scrawled drawings. Late February's Broadside 21 ran Dylan's The Rise & Fall of Hollis Brown, and the magazine's two March editions had John Brown and Train a-Travellin'. That last issue though - Broadside 23 - is less notable for the Dylan song on its front page than the Don West composition nestling within. (17)

Compared to the song Dylan would later write, West's effort is a plodding, awkward thing

West, a socialist campaigner and poet, had composed nine verses of polemic which he called The Ballad of Hattie Carroll, suggesting it be sung to the tune of Wayfaring Stranger. Compared to the song Dylan would write six months later, West's effort is a plodding, awkward thing, more concerned with parading its writer's conscience than adding any poetic resonance to the event. Here's a few sample verses to give you the flavour:

“A story of a brutal murder,
Done by a rich and powerful man,
Who beat to death a maid of colour,
With stylish cane held in his hand.”

Three verses later, he adds:

“The big man pounded on the table,
She hardly heard what he did say,
When Hattie went to get his order,
He took his cane and flailed away.”

West then notes that Carroll's death has left us all with a pledge we should keep. He closes with:

“A pledge that we shall end such sadness,
Brought on by men of powerful name,
Nor ever forget this honest mother,
For we must end this awful shame!”

Zantzinger's criminal trial hadn't even been scheduled, let alone resolved, when this issue of Broadside was published. It wasn't certain at that point that he would face a murder charge at all, let alone be found guilty of the “brutal murder” which West attributes to him. And, although he doesn't name Zantzinger anywhere in the song, he does give Hattie Carroll's name in full, leaving no-one who'd read the papers in any doubt about who the song's killer must be.
Just to ram that point home, Broadside stuck a photocopied press clipping under West's lyric, which the story's text suggests was first published within a week of Carroll's death. The headline reads “Rich Brute Slays Negro Mother of 10”, and the story's by-lined to Roy H Wood in Baltimore.
This seems to be the same Roy H Wood who'd been secretary of the District of Columbia's Communist Party when he wrote to the Washington Post campaigning for local black families back in 1949. Washington, which Wood gave as his address in another Post letter that year, is just 40 miles south-west of Baltimore, and the two cities merged into a single metropolitan area long before 1963. Records at the Harvard College Library show Wood was also called before Joe McCarthy's Committee on Un-American Activities in December 1950, where he was forced to testify on “Communism in the District of Columbia”. Wood's answers to the committee give his date of birth as November 1914 - making him 48 years old when the “Rich Brute” story was written - and mention that he spent about ten years living in Baltimore. (19, 20)
Broadside doesn't date the “Rich Brute” clipping or identify the paper it comes from, but the typefaces and style conventions it uses match those in The Afro-American perfectly. Wood's also given the latitude to inject a greater sense of outrage into his prose than you'd normally find on the news pages, which would fit with it running in Baltimore's leading black newspaper so soon after this traumatic killing in the city.
“Mrs Hattie Carroll, 51, Negro waitress at the Emerson Hotel, died last week as the result of a brutal beating by a wealthy socialite during the exclusive Spinsters' Ball at that hotel,” Wood begins. “She died in the hospital where she had been taken after being felled from blows inflicted by William Devereux Zantzinger, 24, owner of a 600-acre tobacco farm near Marlsboro, Md. Mrs Carroll was one of two waitresses whom Zantzinger struck with a wooden cane at the society affair.” (18)
Later in the story, Wood says of Zantzinger: “He strolled to the bar and rained blows on the head and back of Mrs Carroll who was working there. The cane was broken in three pieces.”
Other employees called the police, Wood reports, then adds: “Zantzinger's father is a member of the state planning commission in Maryland. Others of his relatives in the Devereux family are prominent in politics here. The judge who released Zantzinger on bond has already permitted his attorney to claim that Mrs Carroll died indirectly as a result of the attack rather than directly. There is speculation here that attempts will be made to get Zantzinger off with a slap on the wrist.”
Wood is clearly angry about the way Carroll was treated, and wants to make sure his readers get angry too. He takes every chance to paint Zantzinger as a rich, spoilt thug - not an unreasonable view based on his behaviour that night - but goes a little too far in how he describes the attack itself.
All the court evidence describes a single blow to Carroll's right shoulder rather than the many blows on her head and back which Wood reports. Is he indulging in a bit of clever juxtaposition when he implies Zantzinger actually broke his cane on Carroll's back, or simply unaware of Hal Whittaker's intervention? He clearly wants us to think the judge was corrupt in “allowing” Zantzinger's attorney to argue Carroll's death had not been caused directly by the blow, but given the woman's known medical history, it's hard to see that the judge had any other choice.

Dylan could hardly have been more involved with Broadside at this point. He was spending all his time in New York and contributing new songs to every issue of the magazine. The March 1963 issue which contained West's Ballad of Hattie Carroll had Dylan's Train a-Travellin' on its front page, a song he'd recently demoed at Broadside's offices. It's fair to assume he would have been seeing every issue of the magazine at this point, if only to check out his own work there and keep a wary eye on the competition. (21)
As we'll see in a moment, Broadside's Wood clipping became one of Dylan's prime sources in writing The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Whether you view the more colourful aspects in Wood's account as deliberate distortions or justifiable hyperbole, they played a key role in shaping Dylan's composition and, through that, Wood continues to influence the way we all think of the case to this day. The host of tiny decisions he made sitting at his typewriter in February 1963 cast a longer shadow than he could ever have imagined.

Zantzinger's criminal trail finally began on June 19, 1963, in Hagerstown's 19th Century courthouse. There's no mention of a jury anywhere in the coverage, which presumably means Zantzinger's lawyers had won their bid to have his case decided by a panel of judges alone. The three-man panel was headed by Judge David McLaughlin, who shared the bench with Judges Irvine Rutledge and Stuart Hamill. The Afro sent reporter James Williams along to set the scene for its readers.
“When the trial opened, Wednesday, 9:30am, every seat in the small courtroom was occupied,” Williams writes. “In the front, off to the right of the judges, sat the accused man and his wife. He was dressed in a dark summer suit, while his wife wore a blue striped linen suit, white blouse and white shoes. Their chairs were directly behind the table occupied by their attorneys. If they were disturbed, it did not show in their faces.” (6)
Most of the spectators waiting to see this drama unfold were white, Williams notes. “The ‘aristocracy’ of Maryland was represented in the courtroom through the guests at the ball who had been summoned as witnesses,” he adds. “Many of them wore rather shame-faced expressions, as if they were embarrassed to be involved in a trial of this nature.”
It's now taken for granted that Zantzinger's trial must have been fixed to ensure him lenient treatment, but that's not a view the Afro's man took as proceedings began. “The state has obviously gone all out to make the case stick against Zantzinger by bringing to Western Maryland some 30 witnesses and using its top legal talent in Baltimore city to prosecute the case,” Williams says approvingly. He also praises McLaughlin, reminding Afro readers the judge was chief justice of Washington County, saying he was held in great respect there, and noting the “calm and impartial manner” he brought to Zantzinger's trial. (1, 6)
O'Donnell and Moylan - the “top talent” Williams had mentioned - certainly don't seem to have pulled their punches. O'Donnell called Zantzinger “the lord of the manor, lord of the plantation” and Moylan claimed he had never been able to accept the South's Civil War defeat and the end to slavery which that brought.
The two prosecutors questioned Patterson, Shelton and Burrell as they built their case, hearing more of the testimony from the three women quoted above. They saved Petty, the doctor who'd carried out Carroll's autopsy, for their final witness, questioning him on the Thursday as they prepared to close the prosecution's case. Moylan asked him whether he believed Zantzinger's blow with the cane had caused Carroll's fatal stroke. “Yes,” Petty replied. “My opinion is there was a definite relationship. The assault occurred some minutes before the onslaught of the symptoms. I feel there is a definite cause and effect between the two.”
The defence team produced two doctors of its own, who both testified that Carroll's stroke could have been caused by something other than Zantzinger's behaviour, and a series of character witnesses to speak on his behalf. They did all they could to draw attention to Carroll's history of health problems and painted their client as an honest, hard-working man.

‘A review of this case discloses it was involuntary manslaughter,’ the judge announced

The defendant himself gave evidence on Friday. “When Zantzinger took the stand, it was in an effort to portray himself as a dirt farmer who went to Baltimore just to ‘cut up’ a bit, and drank so much that he had no recollection of striking Mrs Carroll,” Williams reports. It was this claim which gave the Afro its next banner headline. “Cane-Killer Forgets,” its front page screamed incredulously. “He can't remember fatal blow.” (6)
The defence closed its case on Friday and then broke for the weekend, leaving only Monday morning's final arguments before the three judges could begin considering their verdict. That came on Thursday, June 27, when McLaughlin walked back into the courthouse to announce Zantzinger's fate.
“We find that Hattie Carroll's death was not due solely to disease, but that it was caused or hastened by the defendant's verbal insults, coupled with an actual assault,” he said. “And that he is guilty of manslaughter.” McLaughlin also announced that Zantzinger had been found guilty of the three assault charges, but all anyone was interested in was his manslaughter ruling. What did it all mean? (1)
“The court accepted medical testimony that the caning itself was not enough to cause death,” next day's New York Times explained. “But the combination of shock, produced by Zantzinger's abusive language and the blow with the cane were sufficient to cause a sudden blood pressure increase and fatal brain haemorrhage. [...] The verdict involves a possible maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $500 fine.” (22)
In fact, sentencing was going to have to wait. Zantzinger's lawyers quickly lodged an application for a new trial, claiming that the medical evidence left room for reasonable doubt on the cause of Hattie Carroll's death. Sentence could not be pronounced until this application had been considered and the probation office completed its report. In the meantime, Zantzinger was left to go free on his existing $25,000 bail because, as McLaughlin noted in his judgement, this was a busy time of year on the family's farm.
The same three judges who'd presided at Zantzinger's trial dismissed his defence team's application to re-try the case and, by the end of August, they were ready to announce a sentence. “A review of this case discloses this was involuntary manslaughter, similar to manslaughter by automobile,” McLaughlin announced. “We don't feel that Mr Zantzinger is an animal type. Our problem is to view this case from the type of punishment Mr Zantzinger should have.” (23)
Reviewing Zantzinger's probation report, McLaughlin remarked that he had never shown any remorse about Hattie Carroll's death. Later, asked by the judge if he had anything to say before hearing his sentence, Zantzinger whispered “I'm very sorry it happened”. These words, the Afro's Max Johnson reports, came in “a barely-audible light voice”.
Finally, the sentence was announced: six months in jail and fines totalling $625. The jail time, McLaughlin added, would not start until September 15, a dispensation again designed to let Zantzinger finish gathering in his farm's crops. “Zantzinger accepted sentence without visible emotion, but his wife wept silently,” Johnson says. “His mother, sitting with several friends, including two clergymen, appeared stunned.”

The Afro was fairly stunned itself, headlining the resulting story “Cane-killer gets off with six months” and giving it all the prominence left available by the same day's Washington freedom march. “Some observers expressed the opinion afterwards that it was an unexpectedly light penalty,” the story's second paragraph notes.
A few weeks later the New York Herald Tribune speculated that Zantzinger's sentence had deliberately been kept under a year to ensure that he went to county rather than state prison. The majority black population in Maryland's state jail, the paper guessed, would have ensured Zantzinger didn't survive long there. Whatever the reason, it was decided that he should serve his time at Washington County Jail, about 70 miles from Baltimore. A particularly diligent Afro reporter later discovered he'd been given work in the kitchens there. (24, 25)
The same Herald Tribune piece interviewed Zantzinger and Jane as he prepared to leave home to start his sentence. The paper found Zantzinger in arrogant mood, declaring that all he was going to miss out on during his winter incarceration was “a lot of snow”. He also told the reporter that he had much more respect for some black people than for the “white niggers” he knew, and added: “Hell, you wouldn't want to go to school with Negroes any more than you would with French people”. Stepping in to defend her husband's generosity, Jane said: “Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here.” For some reason, she seemed to think that would be helpful.

Dylan returned to New York after the Washington rally, where he may well have seen the Times' August 29 report of Zantzinger's six-month sentence. By then, he was going out with folk singer Joan Baez , and at the end of September 1963. he flew out to Carmel Valley, California, to stay with her there. Baez was touring on the west coast at that time, and welcomed Dylan on stage for a guest spot at her October 9 Hollywood Bowl concert.

By specifying first degree murder, he implies Zantzinger killed in an act of deliberate malice

Contrary to the legend that Dylan wrote The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll at an all-night coffee shop in New York, he actually composed the song during his October stay with Baez. “He played the piano she bought him and set up his typewriter in a kitchen at a window overlooking the mountains,” says Howard Sounes in his Dylan biography Down The Highway. “Each morning, he went straight to the typewriter and worked at it through the day. [...] During his stay in Carmel, Bob worked on pieces of extended Rimbaud-like verse, later published in a book he titled Tarantula. He also wrote one important song at this time: ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’.” (26)
There's nothing in Dylan's song that he couldn't have gleaned from a combination of Wood's account (which either he or Baez had presumably saved from Broadside) and the New York Times story. Unfortunately, Wood's story was a little too politically-committed to be a reliable source of the facts, and all Dylan took from the Times was the length of Zantzinger's sentence.
The crucial lines are the first six, where Dylan writes:

“William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll,
With a cane that he twirled round his diamond ring finger,
At a Baltimore hotel society gathering,
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him,
As they rode him in custody down to the station,
And booked William Zanzinger for first degree murder.” (27 )

Clinton Heylin calls Dylan's opening couplet here “a million dollar libel case waiting to happen”, arguing that because it wasn't literally Zantzinger's blow with the cane that caused Carroll's death, he can't fairly be described as the killer. For my money, though, it's the sixth line - the alleged booking for “first degree murder” which really puts Dylan in the dock. (3 )
Judge McLaughlin's words as he pronounced Zantzinger's sentence confirm that Carroll's death was “caused or hastened by the defendant's verbal insults, coupled with an actual assault.” If you've “caused or hastened” someone's death - by whatever means - then surely it's fair to say you've killed them. McLaughlin also confirms that the cane was relevant to Carroll's death, placing it on an equal footing with Zantzinger's verbal insults as a cause of death. Whether that's enough to justify the words “killed with a cane” or not is matter of personal taste, but they seem eminently defendable to me.
There's no evidence that Zantzinger really was wearing a diamond ring at the Emerson Hotel, and to the extent that the accusation tends to exaggerate his privileged position, I suppose you could argue that it's damaging to him. The underlying point, though, that Zantzinger was a great deal richer than the woman he killed, is irrefutably true, and the ring on its own is hardly a major point.
The next three lines present no problem either. Aside from the possible implication that it was the police who took Zantzinger's cane away from him, rather than Hal Whittaker, everything played out just as Dylan describes it.
So far, so good. But it's that sixth line which should have made Dylan nervous. Zantzinger was never booked for “first degree murder”, merely for what The Afro called “murder generally”. That's a charge which encompasses first degree murder, certainly, but which equally includes the possibility of second degree murder or manslaughter. As we've seen, when the police first learned of Carroll's death, their warrant allowed for all three of these possibilities, knowing it was not up to them to decide which conviction would eventually be pursued in court.
That's an important distinction, because specifying first degree murder, the most serious of the three charges, implies Zantzinger killed Carroll as an act of deliberate malice. Indeed, by mentioning no other charge before he details Zantzinger's six-month sentence, Dylan implies he was actually convicted of first-degree murder, rather than the far lesser charge of manslaughter, and that's a seriously damaging libel which the songwriter would have found difficult to defend in court.
Nor could Dylan have blamed Wood for his careless use of the term. The word “murder” is never used in Wood's story, and the reporter is careful to say merely that Carroll died “after” Zantzinger's attack. Wood's story contains several actionable errors of its own - not least the assertion that Zantzinger “rained blows on the head and back of Mrs Carroll” when in fact he'd hit her only once on the shoulder - but the “first degree murder” allegation is one of Dylan's own making.
Most of Dylan's next verse, which mentions Zantzinger's age, the size of his family farm, his parents' wealth and their social standing, is taken directly from the Broadside clipping, and all that's factual enough. Zantzinger may not have literally “reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders”, but the swearing, sneering and snarling which Dylan accuses him of seem perfectly consistent with the descriptions we have of his arrest. He was kept at the police station overnight rather than the “matter of minutes” Dylan mentions before walking out on bail, but perhaps that should be seen as a bit of songwriter's licence rather than a strict factual error.
Wood had called Carroll a waitress in his story, though The New York Times correctly described her as barmaid. Dylan goes with “maid of the kitchen”, a demotion I suspect the real Carroll would have found mortifying. Like Wood, Dylan wrongly says that she had birthed ten children, when the real total was either 11 or 13.

The real problem in this third verse comes later, though, when Dylan says she “got killed by a blow, lain slain by a cane”. No-one with Dylan's fondness for Biblical language could resist that neat pun on mankind's first murderer, but it's another line he may have found hard to defend in court. Lacking even the minimal wriggle room of the first verse's “killed with a cane” these words reinforce the impression that Carroll was beaten to death. Nowhere does Dylan mention the other factors involved.
The final verse is really all rhetoric on Dylan's part, with very little factual content one way or the other. He does spell out Zantzinger's six-month sentence, the clear implication being that it was imposed for a murder conviction. This increases the apparent discrepancy between the seriousness of Zantzinger's crime and the light sentence he received, suggesting a much greater degree of corruption than even a cynical reading of the facts could support. Arguably, it implies that Zantzinger and his family were guilty of perverting the course of justice too.
Looked at as a whole, the song tells listeners that Zantzinger killed Carroll by beating her with his cane, and was charged with first-degree murder as a result. He's presented as a rich, spoilt brat, who behaved brutally towards an innocent kitchen maid, and felt no remorse when his actions led to her death. Corruption in Baltimore's police and court system, we're told, coupled with his family connections, ensured he was immediately bailed out of jail and given a ridiculously light sentence. There's all sorts of holes a competent libel lawyer could pick in that account, but by far the most serious is the false allegation of first-degree murder.
Heylin is sceptical about the excuses sometimes made for Dylan here, pointing out that any initial anger he might have felt at reading Wood's article must long since have faded by the time he wrote the song. “Reading this article made Dylan's blood boil with so much righteous fury that six months later he got around to lashing out,” Heylin writes. “One thing is certain - he hadn't spent the intervening months researching the case, or even keeping abreast of developments.”

‘Dylan's letter was the reaction of a worried young man. Zantzinger enjoyed that immensely’

Sounes is kinder, crediting Dylan with “the economy of a news reporter”. That's true enough, but any reporter taking Dylan's story to his editor would have got a severe bollocking for being so careless. If the story had been allowed into print without his errors being corrected, the paper employing him would have been forced into either printing a very embarrassing correction or coughing up a big out-of-court settlement to make the case go away. (26)
Their only chance of successfully defending Dylan's account in court would have been to argue that, by October 1963, Zantzinger had already received so much bad publicity that he had no reputation left to defend. Even if that had worked - which is pretty doubtful - Dylan the reporter would certainly have been sacked. The last words ringing in his ears as he cleared his desk would have been the editor's forceful reminder that he'd even spelt the killer's name wrong!
It's this last discrepancy which is most puzzling of all. Inventing a diamond ring for Zantzinger's finger quickly conveys the information that he had money, and exaggerating the charge against him does at least make the song more dramatic. But what possible purpose could be served by mis-spelling his name? Ian Frazier, writing in Mother Jones magazine, suggests the missing “t” is a deliberate signal of Dylan's contempt for Zantzinger, or done to emphasise the buzzing hiss of two closely-spaced Zs, but both those arguments sound pretty far-fetched to me.
What we do know is that the Wood story and the New York Times report Dylan was working from both spell Zantzinger's name correctly, with the “t” in place, as does every other newspaper story I've seen from that time. The first official version we have of Dylan's lyrics, which appear in typewritten form on the front page of Broadside's April 1964 edition, spells it correctly too. And yet, in every version I've ever heard, from its first studio recording in 1963, through the Rolling Thunder Review's 1975 performance to a 2006 Arizona bootleg, Dylan sings “Zanzinger”. That's also the way it's written on the lyrics page of his own official website.
Did Dylan always have the name spelt this way, only to find a helpful Broadside staffer correcting it for him before publication? Was it a simple typing error on his part which no-one noticed until the record was already out? Did he imagine that mis-spelling Zantzinger's name would confer some magical defence against any legal action the song might prompt? Was “Zanzinger” simply easier to pronounce when singing?
Whatever the answer, Dylan has now performed Hattie Carroll so often that I doubt he could sing “Zantzinger” even if he wanted to. He's toured in 37 of the 47 years since writing the song, and played it live on stage in all but five of those touring years. Two years of that touring - 1979 and 1980 - were devoted to his Christian material alone, leaving just three years between 1963 and 2009 when he could have included Hattie Carroll in his live repertoire, but chose not to do so. He's played it live every single year since 1986, and included it on at least two official live albums. And every one a “Zanzinger”. (21)
However you spell his name, Zantzinger has very seldom spoken in public about Dylan. Sounes got one of his very few comments on the subject for his 2001 Dylan biography. “He's just like a scum of a bag of the earth,” Souness quotes a spluttering Zantzinger as saying. “I should have sued him and put him in jail”.
In the event, he never did sue over the song, and has never made any attempt to stop Dylan performing it in concert. But evidence emerging earlier this year suggests Zantzinger's lawyers did threaten action against both Dylan and his record label when the song was first released. Pleasingly enough, this evidence comes from David Simon, the writer and producer behind HBO's The Wire, a series which has made him the poet laureate of Baltimore crime.
Simon, then a crime reporter with The Baltimore Sun, spent 1988 shadowing the city's murder police for a book about their work which later inspired the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street. The access this gave him let Simon examine Carroll's old case file, where he found a surprising note. Intrigued, he made an appointment with Zantzinger and raised the issue face-to-face. His first problem was persuading Zantzinger to talk.
“I tried trashing Dylan,” Simon recalled 21 years later. “‘That son of a bitch libelled you. You could have sued his ass for what he did.’ Zantzinger smiled: ‘We were going to sue him big time. Scared that boy good!’ he said. ‘The song was a lie. Just a damned lie.’
“He enjoyed talking about how his lawyer had fired shots across Dylan's bow. Columbia Records was on the receiving end as well, Zantzinger said, adding that he dropped the idea of a lawsuit because, after being convicted of manslaughter and assault, he'd seen enough of courtrooms and controversy.
“I told Zantzinger about a note I had found in the old homicide file: ‘Attached is correspondence from... a folksinger in New York who seeks information about the aforementioned case, which was investigated by your agency’. But Dylan's letter wasn't attached - snatched, perhaps as a souvenir from police files. But the cover sheet, dated months after the release of Hattie Carroll, was telling. Dylan was apparently writing too late to improve his song's accuracy; his letter was the re-action of a worried young man. Zantzinger enjoyed that immensely.” (28)

Dylan first recorded Hattie Carroll on October 23, 1963, as part of the New York sessions for his third album The Times They Are A-Changin', giving it a live debut at Carnegie Hall just three days later.
The album was released in January 1964, complete with a take of Hattie Carroll which Dylanologist Christopher Ricks calls “a perfect song, perfectly rendered, once and for all”. Other songwriters seemed to agree, with Judy Collins rapidly nabbing the song for her own 1964 Town Hall concert, and Phil Ochs using a Broadside essay to praise Dylan's skill.
“I believe this song could add a new dimension to topical songs that has been missing too often in the past,” Ochs wrote. “I listened to Bob's third record with him before it was released, and the song that moved him most was Hattie Carroll. The use of poetry is paramount to his effective narration and one of his most important techniques is that he always avoids the obvious.” (29)

Hattie Carroll is the work of a superb craftsman who's already leaving his rivals far behind

It's that collision between the news reporter and the poet that makes Dylan's task so tricky in writing of such a recent case. We've already seen that the song may not have stood up to the cold scrutiny of the libel courts - which make no distinction between a tale set to music and one set in type - but the song remains an absolute triumph when judged as work of art. It's the work of a superb craftsman who's already starting to leave his contemporary rivals far behind.
Just glancing through the lyrics now, the lines which stand out are:

“With a cane that he twirled round his diamond ring finger”

“Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres”

“And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level”

“Stared at the person who killed for no reason”.

What better way to convey, so quickly and elegantly, the privilege and arrogance which Zantzinger represented that night, the opposite ends of the social spectrum which he and Carroll occupied, the horror with which the rest of us regard such thoughtless violence?
Then there's the recurring three lines which Dylan adds to the end of every verse, culminating in this final variation:

“You who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face,
For now is the time for your tears.” (27)

Each time he denies us permission to cry earlier in the song, Dylan is telling us to wait, because there's worse to come. It's not Carroll's death that's the greatest outrage here - so don't cry yet. It's not Zantzinger's casual attitude to the crime either - not yet, not yet - and nor is it Carroll's lowly duties. For Dylan, the greatest outrage is the fact that Zantzinger was allowed to get away with it, and it's only when we've drunk in that final abomination that he's prepared to allow us any release. Few other songwriters would have had the wit to even attempt that, let alone the restraint to pull it off so effectively.

Perhaps most striking of all, as Sounes points out, is the fact that Dylan never feels it necessary to spell out that Zantzinger was white and Carroll was black. In the troubled racial atmosphere of 1963 America, he knew he could rely on listeners to automatically fill in that information for themselves. In that year alone, Alabama police chief Bull Connor had fire-hosed black demonstrators, Medgar Evers had been killed by a white sniper and a Klan bomb had slaughtered four black children in a Birmingham church. Of course an arrogant rich man would be white. Of course the servant who emptied the ashtrays his farm filled would be black. What need was there to say so?
Dylan himself evidently realised he had something a bit special in Hattie Carroll, because that's the song he chose to sing when The Steve Allen Show gave him his first national television appearance in February 1964. Perched on a stool next to Allen for a brief interview, Dylan looks nervous and fidgety. Asked about the song's background, he tells Allen it's a true story from the newspaper, but adds “I changed the reporter's point of view. I used it for something that I wanted to say”.
He regains his composure only when he's allowed to sing Hattie Carroll instead of talking about it. “He duly delivered such a compelling performance that viewers couldn't help but be convinced of the singer's civil rights credentials,” says Heylin.
There's some obvious cynicism about Dylan's motives in the way Heylin chooses to phrase that, and the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs makes a similar point in his 1976 essay about the singer for The Village Voice. “Dylan merely used Civil Rights and the rest of the Movement to advance himself in the first place,” Bangs writes. “Which was actually not only kosher, but a fair deal, because the exchange amounted to symbiotic exploitation - the Movement got some potent anthems, Dylan got to be a figurehead and, even if he was using his constituency, art is more important than politics in the long run anyway.” (30)
That's Dylan's trump card. Whenever he's taken to task for romanticising a killer in one of his other murder ballads - Joey for example - Dylan counters that he's merely working in the tradition of old outlaw ballads, which glorify their equally vicious subjects in a similarly sentimental way. Perhaps he's just got his eyes fixed further into the future than the rest of us, looking to how the song will fare not in a few weeks' time, but in a few decades' time, when it can function as legend alone.
Every future generation will take it as axiomatic that William Zantzinger really was charged with first-degree murder, and they'll do that because a great work of art tells them so. The small lies which Hattie Carroll tells in service of its core truth will be forgotten, and in the end the song's own verdict is the only one that's going to matter.

Zantzinger was released from jail about a month after Dylan appeared on Steve Allen, but his notoriety showed no sign of going away. There were letters in the Afro sarcastically drawing attention to the light sentence he'd received and a Broadside editorial coupling Carroll's death to the November 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. “The list of the murdered and slain grows long,” Broadside mused as it surveyed the horizon in July 1964. “And the victims range from a humble hotel maid to the President of the United States.”
In October 1964, the Afro led an inside page with news that the Zantzingers were planning a fund-raiser for Barry Goldwater, the Republican Presidential candidate, who'd opposed Kennedy's civil rights legislation. Despite Jane's protests that her husband had nothing to do with the event, this story was headlined: “Killer of Hotel Barmaid Raising Funds for Goldwater”. Every time Zantzinger's name appeared in the papers from that day onward, this was how he'd be described. (31)

The story's next incarnation came at Baltimore's Center Stage Theatre, where Lester Franklin's play A Scaffold for Marionettes was given its world premiere in July 1966. Described as “a myth based on the Hattie Carroll murder case”, the play drew a packed audience in Baltimore, and soon won a transfer to Philadelphia's Theatre of The Living Arts. The managers there liked it enough to put it in a rep season with Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Franklin, who'd been jailed for robbery as a teenager, wrote the play in prison as his 15-year term drew to a close, and began working at Center Stage on his release. “Mr Franklin, who was born in Baltimore, heard the song and wrote the first draft of his play in ten days,” The New York Times reports. “Its first one-night-only performance at Center Stage was a great success.” (32)
Sadly, it wasn't that Baltimore performance that Times theatre critic Julius Novick reviewed for the paper. Instead, he saw the play in Philadelphia, where it left him decidedly unimpressed. “It's all a perfect example of what the residential theatres ought to be doing more of,” he writes, “except for the pretentious, obstinate, unregenerate badness of the play itself.”
Novick allows that Dylan Green's performance as Billy Loudemilk, Franklin's stand in for William Zantzinger, had some merits, but clearly this was not enough to salvage his evening. “This play employs all the expressionistic devices that have been familiar ever since the twenties,” he writes. “A stage bare except for a few constructivist trappings, stylised movement, frozen poses, menacing words coming over the loudspeakers, choral speech, a caricatured trial scene, you name it.”
For all its faults, Marionettes does at least have the virtue of circling Dylan's composition neatly back to the Brechtian theatre that had helped to inspire it. In his 2004 memoir Chronicles, Dylan recalls seeing a 1961 evening of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil's songs at New York's Theatre de Lys with Lotte Lenya in the cast. Inspired by the pair's dark wit and the unflinching gaze they directed at sexual violence, Dylan began to see that a new type of folk song was possible - and one which his idol Woody Guthrie had never envisaged. “I began fooling around with things,” he says “Took a story out of the Police Gazette, a tawdry incident about a hooker in Cleveland who killed one of her customers in a grotesque and ugly way.”
Of all the songs he heard at Theatre de Lys that night, it was Pirate Jenny from Brecht and Weil's Threepenny Opera that impressed him most. In the opera, this song's sung by a downtrodden prostitute who fantasises that a spectral pirate ship will one day come to slaughter all the men and women who treat her like dirt. When all her tormentors are dead, Jenny decides, she'll sail off on the pirates' black freighter as its beautiful new captain.
“This is a wild song,“ Dylan writes. “Big medicine in the lyrics. Heavy action spread out. Each phrase comes at you from a ten-foot drop, scuttles across the road and then another one comes like a punch on the chin. And then there's always that ghost chorus about the black ship that steps in, fences it all off and locks it up tighter than a drum.”
Substitute the word “tears” for “black ship” in that paragraph, and Dylan could be talking about Hattie Carroll itself. “This piece left you flat on your back and demanded to be taken seriously,” he concludes. “Woody never wrote a song like that.” (33)

After a spell running the family farm, Zantzinger switched into real estate, moving first to Waldorf and then to Port Tobacco, but never leaving Charles County. He had three children, then divorced Jane and married again. By 1991, he owned a nightclub in La Plata, an antiques shop and a White Plains auctioneer's business called W&Z Realty. He drove a Mercedes with the vanity plate “SOLD2U” and cultivated his reputation as a fun-loving good ol' boy with an annual pig and oyster roast. In October 1983, the Internal Revenue Service took the income stream he was receiving from his mother's trust to clear a little over $78,000 in unpaid federal taxes.

The six shacks Zantzinger illegally rented out had no running water, sewers or heating

Every now and again, one reporter or another would notice the anniversary of Hattie Carroll's death had come around again, and approach Zantzinger for an interview, but he always refused. It's a tribute to Simon's skills as a journalist that he persuaded Zantzinger to see him at all in 1988, but his first impression was less dramatic than the reporter might have hoped.
“I found Zantzinger a disappointing lump of a man, with small dark eyes and black hair thinning from behind,” Simon writes. “The eyes followed me angrily as I offered up my two-sides-to-every-story patter, trying to get him to talk. ‘There was a girl come down here from Baltimore five years ago,’ he said. ‘I didn't talk to her. And one before that. I got nothing to say.’”
Simon pressed on, encouraging Zantzinger to list all the ways he believed Dylan's song had wronged him. “Zantzinger ran through all of this,” Simon says. “He knew the song and its equivocations. He knew precisely the historical role to which it had consigned him. [...] ‘I know that I caused that woman's death,’ he said. ‘I'm responsible. Me talking does nothing for that woman or her family. Just put this in your article: I admire and respect the Carroll family for their decision not to talk publicly. Like them, I think the best thing to do is let it rest.’” (28)
Simon also raised the question of the $25,000 which Zantzinger gave the Carroll family back in 1963. Heylin describes this sum as “damages”, but Simon hints at a different explanation.
“I told him that the Carroll children would not talk,” Simon writes. “He acknowledged that he had paid them money in an out-of-court settlement.” This suggests that one condition of the payment was a ban on the Carroll family talking, and if that's the case, then Zantzinger could hardly cite their reluctance to speak as support for his own silence. It's possible also that he meant “settlement” in a stricter legal sense, and that the payment was made to stave off the threat of a civil case from the bereaved Carroll family. Until they feel free to speak, we simply won't know.
Zantzinger returned to the headlines in April 1991, when the Maryland Independent carried a front-page story saying he'd been collecting rents of $200 a month on “some beat-up old wooden shacks” in Patuxent Woods which he hadn't actually owned since 1986. Charles County had confiscated the shacks that year because Zantzinger owed it over $18,000 in unpaid property taxes.
The six shacks, which had no running water, no sewers, no outhouses and no heating, were occupied by poor black families, who had to empty their chamber pots in the woods near the shallow wells they relied on for drinking water. The Washington Post calculated that Zantzinger had illegally collected from $600 to $10,364 per household on these shacks after they were confiscated by the county, the sums reaching over $64,000 in total.

In the Spring of 1990, he even succeeded in suing John Savoy, a 61-year-old black tenant living on welfare, for unpaid rent of $240 on a shanty which he - Zantzinger - no longer owned. “He carried me to court, and he didn't even own the place,” a bemused Savoy said. (24)
To see how a situation like this could arise, let's take a look at Maryland's history for a moment, and the history of Charles County on the state's southern tip in particular.
Maryland's loyalties were split during the US Civil War. It's northern border forms part of the Mason-Dixon line, placing Maryland geographically in the South, and yet it remained officially part of the Union throughout the war. That didn't necessarily reflect the citizens' sympathies, though. In Baltimore itself power was so finely balanced that Unionist troops were stationed on Federal Hill with orders to fire on their own city if Confederate supporters there gained the upper hand.
Figures from 1860 show that, of the 85,000 Maryland men who joined a militia, 60,000 fought on the Unionist side and 25,000 for the Confederacy. That's nearly a third of the state's fighting men who decided to sign up with Maryland's official enemy in the war. Many marched south across the border to Virginia, where they joined the Maryland Line, a group comprising one infantry regiment, one infantry battalion, two cavalry battalions and four battalions of artillery, all manned by Marylanders who'd decided to fight for the slave-owning South. (34)
As ever, it was largely people's economic interests which determined their political beliefs, and Maryland's reliance on tobacco farming and the slave labour it used goes a long way to explaining why so many Marylanders took this view. Many of those signing up for the Union side did so only because they were promised home garrison duty.
Even in 1940, not much had changed. The Maryland Writers Project, preparing a guide to the state in that year, wrote: “On the Eastern Shore and in southern Maryland, the Negro lives under much the same conditions his ancestors knew. Dependant largely on the generosity of a white employer or landowner, he is generally described in the phrase ‘Sure I love niggers: the old-fashioned kind that knew their place’. Of the 16 recorded lynchings in Maryland since 1885, 11 have occurred in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.” (24)
This is the world where William Zantzinger, born in 1939, spent his formative years. Segregation was still a fact of life in Maryland well into the 1960s, and the state did not finally complete integrating its schools until 1967.

‘It's very easy for Zantzinger to take advantage of people who have no other options’

Fast forward now to 1985, when a survey showed that about 4% of Charles County's 30,000 dwellings still had no indoor plumbing. That's 1,120 properties in all, or about one in every 27 of the county's homes. Washington Post reporter Peter Carlson, visiting Charles County in 1991, asked local housing activist Connie Dunbar how such a situation had been allowed to persist. She explained that Charles County's taxpayers refused to fund any meaningful public housing programme of the county's own, and that the waiting lists for federal housing were too long to be of any help.
The county authorities knew that any attempt to enforce their minimum housing code would prompt private landlords to stop renting the properties altogether, and so they simply turned a blind eye. No slum landlord was going to spend the money needed to get his shacks up to code, and without those shacks, the tenants would have nowhere else to go. “That makes it very easy for somebody like Zantzinger to come along and take advantage of people who don't have any other options,” Dunbar told Carlson. “It's the situation in this county that allows a Zantzinger to flourish.”
When the Patuxent Woods case came to light, national US news outfits like The Washington Post and ABC News rediscovered their interest in Zantzinger, and he again became the talk of the county. Dunbar organised a protest march, which drew dozens of marchers despite temperatures of close to 100 degrees. Golden Evans, president of the county's NAACP chapter addressed the rally. “If it was anybody other than Zantzinger, maybe I'd look at it differently,” he said. “I have no sympathy with him because of the case back in Baltimore when he hit the black lady with the cane and killed her.”
Carlson watched the rally for his Washington Post piece. “For the second time in 28 years, Billy Zantzinger had become a symbol that could move people to protest,” he writes. Later in his research, he had the chance to see Zantzinger in action too, conducting the outdoor auction of a house he owned in Rock Point. “He's a big guy, 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, with an impressive pot belly that makes him look a bit like Willard Scott, especially when he flashes his salesman's grin,” Carlson reports. “He leaned against the front of a truck decorated with signs advertising his realty company, and barked numbers into a microphone.”
Forced into action by the news coverage Patuxent Woods was generating, Charles County set about supplying the residents there with bottled water, portable toilets and a skip to clear their rubbish. In April 1991, the county told them they need no longer pay any rent at all. Mac Middleton, head of the local commissioners, admitted they'd simply lost Patuxent Woods in their records, never realising they were supposed to have been its landlords for the past five years. “I'm ashamed,” he told Carlson. “It's an embarrassing situation.”
That June, Zantzinger was served a summons charging him with deceptive trade practice, including one count of making a false and misleading oral statement. The maximum sentence was one year in jail, plus a $1,000 fine. In an eerie echo of the Hattie Carroll case, old-timers in Charles County started predicting that Zantzinger's wealth and connections would ensure he got off.
Called by another Washington Post reporter, Zantzinger refused to comment on the charges, and then hung up. The paper had more luck with Margaret Locks, who had lived in one of the Patuxent Wood shacks for 19 years, and been evicted by Zantzinger in 1990 because she owed over $1,000 in rent. By that time, of course, Patuxent Woods was actually owned by the county, but Locks didn't know that. “I don't know how he got away with it for so long,” she told the Post. “They should make him pay the tenants back all the money he took from them.” (35)
By the beginning of July, Charles County had moved the first of the Patuxent Woods tenants into decent federal accommodation, shuffling other families down the list to make room. It lodged a request for $500,000 in federal aid to demolish the rest of the shacks and renovate as much of the County's sub-standard housing as that money allowed.
Carlson's long profile of Zantzinger was published in the Post's magazine that August, under the headline: “A regular old Southern Maryland boy”. The description came from Mike Sprague, an old friend of Zantzinger's and a member of the Maryland legislature. “He's the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet,” Sprague tells Carlson. “He'd give you the shirt off his back.”

Turning to the media's 1963 coverage of Carroll's death, Sprague adds: “They made it sound like he was Rhett Butler, riding around on a white horse with a whip. He was just an unfortunate victim of his times, because in the 60s with integration going on, that played well.” He dismisses Dylan's song, saying: “If Paul Anka wrote it, I'd be concerned. But that's just my personal opinion.”
Carlson also talked to Eloise Crain, a rich old lady who'd lived in Charles County all her life. “Billy was drunk,” she admits. “He was wrong. But is he going to have to pay for that for the rest of his life? [...] He could have done it to a white person. Would there have been such a furore? I wouldn't condemn him.”
What Crain ignores is the fact that - drunk as he was that night - Zantzinger would never have dreamed of treating a white barmaid with the casual contempt he showed towards Hattie Carroll. He may well have found the mood of the times moving against him, as Sprague suggests, but no-one asked him to behave like such a thug at the Spinsters' Ball, and that's a responsibility he has to bear for himself. “Can you imagine waking up from a drunk to find you'd done something like that?” Bobby Phelps, another old friend of Zantzinger's, asked. “I'd have probably blown my brains out if it had been me.” (36)
Soon after Carlson's piece appeared, the Post reported that Zantzinger had been indicted for rent theft, on a charge sheet that now comprised two counts of felony theft and 50 of unfair and deceptive trade practices. A second development at Indian Head was cited alongside the Patuxent Woods properties, adding an extra $4,750 to the rent Zantzinger had wrongly collected. He was arrested and released on personal bond. “Each felony count carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $1,000 fine,” the Post noted.
The case reached court on November 18, 1991, with Zantzinger pleading guilty to the misdemeanours and prosecutors dropping his two felony charges in return. Evidence presented in court revealed he had concealed the Patuxent Woods income stream in his 1988 divorce, acknowledging that he no longer held title to the properties. This scuppered any possible argument that he had continued collecting rents there in good faith.
The court also heard not only of Zantzinger's manslaughter conviction, but also about his three court appearances for drunken driving. Judge Steven Platt said the manslaughter conviction “did not weigh heavily in this proceeding” and that “we're not here to deal with your alcohol problem, if you have one”. But he rejected defence attorney Franklin Olmsted's argument that Zantzinger's misdemeanours amounted to a victimless crime. (37)
Even in the trial, Zantzinger continued to attract some surprising supporters. John Savoy had already told Carlson that he'd always got along pretty well with his landlord, and sometimes cut his lawn for an above-average $35 fee. “I never had any trouble with him,” Savoy had said, adding that he and his neighbours never demanded improvements at Patuxent Woods because they feared these would bring an increase in the rent. And now a handful of tenants testified that, without Zantzinger, they would have been living on the streets. “He's not a bad guy,” Patuxent Woods' Hilda Ford told the court. “He's a pretty nice fellow, but he should never have taken that rent.”

This time, the judge ensured Zantzinger left in handcuffs to begin his jail term straight away

Rev Arnold Taylor, Zantzinger's pastor, added: “He's affable and a person who's good-hearted. He is generous in giving to people and the church.” Prosecuting council Leonard Collins, on the other hand, said Zantzinger was “dumb like a fox” and called him “a moderate criminal”.
The judge caught this contradiction in Zantzinger's character when he summed up the case, saying he was “a more complex human being” than either his supporters or detractors tended to portray. “You are capable of great compassion for other human beings,” Platt told him. “At the same time, you are capable of committing acts with a certain amount of arrogance and disrespect for the government and those who you perceive to be of a different station in life than you are.”
Pleading for leniency, Zantzinger replied: “I never intended to hurt anyone ever, ever. It's not my nature. I got into this hole, dug it, it was my mistake. It got deeper and deeper. I've learned my lesson, believe me.” Platt sentenced him to 18 months on work-release in the county jail, plus 2,400 hours of community service with local housing charities and penalties and fines of $62,000. This time, the judge denied his request for time to set his affairs in order, and Zantzinger was led away in handcuffs to begin his sentence immediately.
A few months later, the Maryland Real Estate Commission declined to renew Zantzinger's licence, and levied a $2,000 fine of its own against him. The Patuxent Woods buildings, they said, were “ramshackle, primitive structures reminiscent of slave quarters”. The idea of Charles County launching a civil suit against Zantzinger was quietly dropped because it was felt the county's half share of his $50,000 fine amounted to restitution for the diverted rents anyway.
The county decided to spend all of its $370,000 federal community development grant on Patuxent Woods, and won a National Association of Counties aware for its redevelopment work there. The Waldorf Independent remarked that this should have been a geography award, recognising the county's achievement in finally discovering the whereabouts of a place it had owned since 1986. (38)
One effect of the Patuxent Woods case was to bring Hattie Carroll's story back into the public consciousness, even for people who may never have heard Dylan's song. Every newspaper that reported Zantzinger's new sentence included a few pars reminding people of the Spinsters' Ball incident, and some ran the old pics of him in handcuffs after his 1963 arrest too. If anyone had been in danger of forgetting Zantzinger's history, they sure knew about it now.
This renewed awareness haunted Zantzinger for the rest of his life, as a few quick examples will show:

* In 1998, speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Professor Sean Wilentz asked why Republicans were “describing Bill Clinton as if he were William Zantzinger”. (39)

* In 2005, a Maryland newspaper reported some accidental fire damage on Zantzinger's Chaptico estate under the headline “Fire Scorches Garage of High Society Killer”. Only eight of the story's 22 lines were devoted to the fire, the rest going to Hattie Carroll's killing (another eight lines) and the Patuxent Woods affair (six lines). This time the vintage pic they chose showed Zantzinger cuffed in the back of a paddy wagon. (40)

* In 2006, Matt Boyd and Ian McConville used Zantzinger in their Three Panel Soul webcomic, picturing him as a snooty, aristocratic figure in a bow tie, a white suit and a white fedora. One of the other characters in the strip quickly Googles “William Zanzinger” and then returns with a frown to announce “There's something wrong with you.” (41)

Meanwhile, the song was still in robust health, with new cover versions trickling out from Martin Carthy, Julie Felix, Steve Howe, Michael Rose and Christy Moore. In 2006, Billy Bragg took Dylan's Hattie Carroll tune and rewrote the lyrics as a tribute to Rachel Corrie, the American girl killed by Israeli bulldozers while protesting for Palestinian rights three years earlier. That's the sign of a song that's still very much alive, and still earning its keep in the world.
Dylan himself continues to play it every year in concert. Alex Ross, The New Yorker's music critic, was mightily impressed by the song's treatment at a 1990s Dylan gig in Portland, Maine. “It was the best performance that I heard him give,” Ross writes. “He turned the accompaniment into a steady, slow, acoustic waltz, and he played a lullaby-like solo at the centre. You were reminded that the ‘hotel society gathering’ was a Spinsters' Ball, whose dance went on before, during and after the fatal attack on Hattie Carroll. It was an eerie twist on the meaning of the song, and not a sentimental one.”
Through all this, Zantzinger continued to find some unlikely defenders. Mother Jones interviewed former Maryland housing activist Candice Quinn Kelly for its November 2004 issue, and found her in forgiving mood. “I was on the other side from Zantzinger in the Patuxent Woods situation,” she told MJ's Ian Frazier. “In fact, it was our organisation that uncovered his fraud in the first place. Maybe I've mellowed or sold-out, but I don't see things as clear-cut as I did then.”
“Billy Zantzinger provides housing to marginal folks nobody's going to give a lease to, because they don't have a job or a rent deposit or a bank account or whatever. I learned that you can offer people tons of help and they still can't get out of poverty. Billy rents to these people anyway. Since Patuxent Woods, I've met him and talked to him a couple of times, and I feel strange saying this, but Billy Zantzinger is really a very nice man.” (36)

Through all this, Zantzinger has continued to find himself some unlikely defenders

It's testimony like this that makes it so infuriatingly hard to dismiss Zantzinger as the pantomime villain most of us imagine when we first hear Dylan's song. If Hattie Carroll had ever been tested in the libel courts, Zantzinger may well have won his case. That said, his behaviour at the Spinsters' Ball remains utterly indefensible, and we should never forget that it's Carroll who was the real victim of this whole saga. If it was left to Dylan's song to give her the justice which the courts failed to provide, then shouldn't we be thanking him for that?
We should certainly thank him for a great song, and its essential message - rich bully behaves appallingly, innocent victim dies, rich bully escapes lightly - is a fair summary of Zantzinger's crime. The trouble is that Dylan's always seemed to want it both ways with this song. On the one hand, he's happy to take the extra frisson which the song gains when he reminds audiences that it's a true story, but on the other he seems to deny any responsibility for getting the facts of that story right.
Some people reply that William Zantzinger was clearly an asshole anyway, so why worry about it? The trouble with that argument is that any legal system protecting people from having lies written (or sung) about them in public loses much of its moral force if you add the caveat “...unless me and my friends decide you're an asshole”. If you and I think we're entitled to such protection, then we have to accept that William Zantzinger should get it too. As a poster called Jen put it on the Mudcat boards: “Maybe if Dylan wrote a somewhat exaggerated song about you, the mob would be on your ass too.”
Dylan himself would say I'm missing the point. Writing in Chronicles about his early days on the New York folk circuit, he says:

“Songs about real events were always topical. You could sometimes find some kind of point of view in it, though, and take it for what it was worth, and the writer doesn't have to be accurate, could tell you anything and you're going to believe it.
    “Billy Gashade, the man who presumably wrote the Jesse James ballad, makes you believe that Jesse robbed from the rich and gave to the poor and was shot down by 'a dirty little coward'. In the song, Jesse robs banks, gives money to the destitute and, in the end, is betrayed by a friend. By all accounts, though James was a bloodthirsty killer who was anything but the Robin Hood sung about in the song. But Billy Gashade has the last word and he spins it around.” (33)

In other words, “print the legend”. And perhaps that's fair enough: after all, anyone who looks to songwriters as a 100% reliable source of information probably deserves all they get. Certainly, Dylan's never made any attempt to water-down the lyrics on stage. The DVD edition of DA Pennebaker's film Don't Look Back has footage of two Hattie Carroll performances from 1965 - not long after Dylan's fearful letter to Baltimore's police - and both times he sings his original lyrics in full. As recently as 2004, he asked a journalist, “Who wouldn't be offended by some guy beating an old woman to death and just getting a slap on the wrist?” Perhaps, by now, that's once again what he believes really happened. (42)
Carroll herself has been gone for 47 years now, Zantzinger died in January 2009, Dylan's 68 years old himself, and pretty soon all three will have moved beyond living memory. Stagger Lee and the other old murder ballads must have gone through a similar process, as anyone with direct knowledge of the crime or its participants died out and the legend that song preserved took over from cold, hard fact. There's no doubt that Hattie Carroll is a good enough song to survive into the next century and beyond, and by then it'll be only nerds like me who have any interest in digging back through the history screens to check its veracity.
As the Afro reminded its readers in July 1963, Carroll's case can serve as a protest against almost any injustice, be its roots in money, race or social standing - and the fact that her song is so easy to play makes it perfect for aspiring young musicians everywhere. Interviewed by Mojo in June this year, the songwriter Bill Fay said: “Just before I started writing, in 1964, I started playing the guitar to myself by practising The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. [...] It's five chords. Even in 1964, I knew four of them.” (43)
That approach still holds good today, as a quick trawl of YouTube confirms. Tap the words “Hattie Carroll” in there, and the first two pages alone will produce amateur performances from young men called Jimski123, Marcoacca, JeffreyC2, Teledude1972, Willieturnip, Zinrgy, Atticbadger, Iralightman and Rodhak1. The professionals are still busy too, with recent cover versions emerging from Mason Jennings, Rusty Willoughby, Mike Leslie, Michael Reis and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Somewhere near you, a busker is playing it right now.

Even listening to Dylan himself, you can hear the song tearing itself free of its roots. The bootleg recordings I've heard from his 2005 and 2006 gigs use an arrangement much like the one Alex Ross described in Portland, but with Dylan delivering the lyrics in a very mannered, distancing way. The tune's pretty enough, but Dylan seems entirely removed from Carroll's plight, injecting the same fake pout into his voice we use to mock a small child's complaints. It's as though he's already begun letting go of the song's history, handing its more earnest aspects over to the younger singers who've adopted it for themselves.

Eight months after his death, Zantzinger continues to raise strong emotions on folk music message boards. One of the most striking posts came in May this year, when Talya Carroll joined a William Zantzinger thread on Mudcat's forum:

“I would like for you all to know that the Carroll family did not get the justice we deserved in that trial. I am the great grand-daughter of Hattie Carroll, and I witness fallout between members of our family, and also her children are dying by the years. During that time, many of her 13 children moved out of the Baltimore area and have not been in contact with the others, leaving our family broken. I would honestly love to meet William Zantzinger, granted that he's still alive. If not, I would like to spit on his grave and hope he does not get eternal peace!” (44)

‘I would like for you all to know that the Carroll family did not get the justice we deserved’

We have to inject a slight note of caution here, because Mudcat's board allows any guest to post with no membership or proof of identity. As we'll see in a moment, though, the post does match how Hattie Carroll's old friends recall the family's fate. If we assume that really is Hattie's great grand-daughter talking, then her remarks are potent testimony that the pain Zantzinger caused her family has barely begun to heal.
In closing, let's return to that 2004 Mother Jones article. Frazier went to Carroll's old church in Baltimore, where he found two parishioners who still remembered her. Dorothy Johnson and Mildred Jessup described Carroll as a quiet, well-dressed woman who took a very active role in Gillis Memorial's life.
“I remember Hattie went to work at the hotel that day, and later word came back that she'd been struck with a cane,” Johnson said. “And right after that, we heard that she had died. Everybody in the church was very upset, It was a terrible blow. [...] Hattie's family suffered so after she died. They don't go to this church anymore. Four of them, I think became Muslims. One daughter ended up in a mental institution. But whatever you cause by word or by deed, it's all coming back to you.”
Frazier closed the conversation by asking both women if they, personally, could ever forgive Zantzinger for what he'd done. Johnson thought she could, but Jessup hesitated. “For myself, I don't know,” she said. “Things may be possible for God that are not possible for me. But I will tell you one thing: because of what happened to Hattie Carroll, I have a phobia about canes to this day.”

Special thanks to Michael Stevens at Baltimore County Public Library for supplying clippings from The Afro-American's 1963 coverage of Zantzinger's trial.


Appendix I: Dylan's other murder ballads

The Death of Emmett Till (1962): Two white men torture and kill a black teenager, but are never punished for the crime.
Based on: The 1955 Mississippi murder of Emmett Till, killed for the “crime” of flirting with a white woman. The two brothers responsible were acquitted by an all-white jury, but later confessed they'd been guilty all along.
Sample lines: “Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up / They said they had a reason, but I can't remember what.”
Dylan says: “I think it's the best thing I've ever written.” (1962)
His critics say: “Dylan shows himself to be hopelessly confused about the facts of the case.” - Clinton Heylin. (3)

Only a Pawn in Their Game (1963): Black civil rights activist is killed by a white sniper. Dylan portrays the shooter as poor white trash, exploited by cynical racist politicians.
Based on: Byron de la Beckwith's June 1963 murder of the NAACP's Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi.
Sample lines: “Like a dog on a chain / He ain't got no name / But it ain't him to blame/ He's only a pawn in their game.”
Dylan says:“If someone gets killed who's to say who fired the gun? And why?”
His critics say: “Beckwith was hardly someone who came ‘from the poverty shacks’. In fact, he paid the $10,000 bail set in cash.” - Clinton Heylin.

George Jackson (1971): White prison guards shoot down a black inmate because they resent his integrity.
Based on: The 1971 death of Black Panther George Jackson, shot by a prison guard while trying to escape from San Quentin.
Sample lines: “Prison guards they cursed him / As they watched him from above / But they were frightened of his power / They were scared of his love.”
Dylan says: “No one cares to see it the way I'm seeing it now, whereas before, I saw it the way they see it.”
His critics say: “The official report of the incident - which resulted in the death of three guards and two other inmates - suggests that Jackson summarily executed at least one of the guards.” - Clinton Heylin.

Joey (1975): Murdered New York mob boss is portrayed as peace-loving intellectual.
Based on: Colombo family's 1972 revenge hit on their rival Joey Gallo, who they shot dead in a Little Italy clam house.
Sample lines: “There was talk they killed their rivals / But the truth was far from that / No one ever knew for sure / Where they were really at.”
Dylan says: “I never considered him a gangster. I always thought of him as some kind of hero.” (4)
His critics say: “The severe bloodletting in the Profaci-Columbo family began when the greed of the Gallo brothers set them lusting after power.” - New York Times. (30)

Hurricane (1975): Dylan meets with a black boxer, jailed for murder on questionable evidence, and decides to champion his cause.
Based on: Rubin Carter's life sentence for three 1967 murders at a New Jersey bar. He was convicted on the evidence of two small-time crooks who later admitted they'd lied under oath.
Sample lines: “ You think you'd like to play ball with the law? / Think it might have been that fighter that you saw / Runnin' that night? / Don't forget that you are white.”
Dylan says: “I realised that the man's philosophy and my philosophy were running on the same road, and you don't meet too many people like that.”
His critics say: “There was no reference to (Carter's) antagonistic rhetoric, criminal history or violent temper. The repeated refrain that he could have been ‘champion of the world’ was slightly misleading, considering he lost seven of his last 15 fights.” - Howard Sounes. (26)


Appendix II: Cover me - I'm going in

The trouble with most cover versions of Hattie Carroll is that singers allow themselves to overwhelmed by the song's seriousness of purpose. This leads to a host of wearisomely reverential takes full of tasteful acoustic guitars and solemn, empathetic vocals. Dylan's original recording nailed that treatment of the song 45 years ago, so you wonder why they bother.
    Fortunately, the past few years have brought a handful of braver, more imaginative approaches which reinvigorate the song by having the cheek to mess about with it a bit. Here's some examples:

Hattie Carroll, by Michael Rose (2005). Black Uhuru's former frontman does his bit to chant down Babylon with this pretty reggae version. His sweet voice joins with a propulsive bass line, background stabs of piano and a gentle sax solo to integrate the song into reggae's own long tradition of protest music. It's a good fit. Available on: Is It Rolling Bob? (Ras, 2005).

The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie, by Billy Bragg (2006). Bragg borrows Dylan's tune and his “tears” refrain, but re-writes the verses to commemorate a young American peace activist killed in Palestine in 2003. “An Israeli bulldozer killed poor Rachel Corrie,” he sings. “As she stood in its path in the township of Raffa”. The no-frills strumming and Bragg's hoarse vocals offer few thrills, but his heart's clearly in the right place, and it's good to see Dylan's song being given fresh purpose. Available on: YouTube .

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, by Ira Lightman (2007). If you've ever wondered what George Formby would have sounded like as protest singer, then here's your answer. Using nothing more than a frantically-strummed ukulele and a pitch his voice can't quite reach, Lightman will make you smile again. Available on: YouTube .

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, by Mike Leslie (2008). Listening to this recording, I imagine Leslie sitting next to me in a grotty bar, toying with a shot glass, as he growls out a half-drunk story I never asked to hear. There's someone strumming an acoustic guitar in the background, true, but that seems a world away from his unhurried spoken-word vocals. Available on: Bad Robot (Self, 2008).

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, by Michael Reis (2009). Of all the approaches that might suit Hattie Carroll, instrumental jazz is not the first you'd think of. Reis makes it work, though, producing a lovely piano ballad that reminds you how strong Dylans tune is even without the words. Available on: Fairytale (WPR, 2009).


Appendix III: Hattie Carroll on NBC's Homicide

We've already seen how David Simon, who went on to create The Wire, interviewed Zantzinger while shadowing Baltimore's murder police for his 1991 book Homicide. That book inspired the NBC cop show Homicide: Life on the Street, which is where Simon began his TV career. He continued writing occasional episodes for the show right through its seven-season run.
   In October 1997, he teamed with Anya Epstein to write an opening trilogy for the series' sixth season. Blood Ties, as the story was called, used modern-day Baltimore to ask how an equivalent of the Hattie Carroll case might play out today.
    The story starts with Al Giardello, the Homicide Squad's lieutenant, attending a formal dinner at Baltimore's Belvedere Hotel to honour his friend Felix Wilson. Felix, who's played by James Earl Jones to give him a little extra gravitas, is a rich black businessman and philanthropist in Baltimore.
    As the dinner continues, a young Haitian called Melia Brierre is found beaten to death in the men's bathroom, and the Wilsons identify her as one of the family's domestic servants. White cops in the homicide division accuse Giardello and Detective Frank Pembleton - both of whom are black - of going easy on the Wilsons because of their contribution to the city's black community.
    In episode one of the trilogy, Felix canters through the Hattie Carroll story for Pembleton's (and the viewers') benefit. His version comes direct from the Dylan song, although he does give Zantzinger's name correctly and squeeze in a mention of Carroll's heart condition. “From poor Hattie Carroll to our sweet Melia,” he says, adding that he and Regina had attended “the vigil in front of the hotel” after Carroll's death. I've found no other reports of this vigil, so I don't know if it's invention of Simon's or not.
    As the investigation proceeds, we discover that Felix's son Hal had been in love with Melia, and then discovered his father was having an affair with her. In a rage, he'd threatened to have her sent back to Haiti, and she'd followed him to that evening's Belvedere dinner to beg him to change his mind.
    Hal confesses to Pembleton that he was the one who dragged Melia into the Belvedere's bathroom and killed her there. “She had hurt me,” he says. “I wanted to hurt her.”
    The circumstances of Hal's confession make it inadmissible as evidence, however, and district attorney Ed Danvers confirms that there is no point in bringing charges against him. Felix makes it clear he'll do whatever it takes to keep his son out of jail.
    Disgusted at this outcome, Pembleton visits the Wilsons' home as they prepare to leave Baltimore for good. “I came to understand,” Pembleton tells Felix, who replies by quoting a few lines from Dylan's final verse. “What is that?” the detective asks.
    “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” Felix replies. “Bob Dylan. Two hotels, two black servants and two privileged young men raised to believe that the world has no right to deny them anything.”
    “Two senseless deaths,” says Pembleton. “Zantzinger got off because of wealth and influence. Are you going to make sure the same's true for Hal?”
    “I guess I am.”
    The story's a salutary reminder that we're all hypocrites where our own family's welfare is concerned, and helped the series win its third Peabody Award.

For more on The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, please go to this Amazon Kindle page (US / UK). The version of my essay there adds an exclusive interview with Billy Bragg, who discusses how first hearing the song helped to change his life and his later borrowing of its structure for a Rachel Corrie song. The price is just 1.49 ($1.85 in US). Amazon has a free app allowing its Kindle titles to also be read on smartphones, tablets and computers.

1) The Afro-American, July 6, 1963.
2) Broadside, July 20, 1964.
3) Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin (Constable & Robinson, 2009)
4) Behind The Shades: Take Two, by Clinton Heylin (Penguin, 2001)
5) Time, February 22, 1963.
6) The Afro-American, June 29, 1963.
7) The Afro-American, March 23, 1963.
8) Mudcat thread:
9) The Afro-American, December 14, 1963.
10) The Afro-American, February 16, 1963.
11) The Baltimore Sun, February 10, 1963.
12) The Afro-American, February 23, 1963.
14) US Dept. of Veterans' Affairs (
15) The Afro-American, March 16, 1963.
16) The Afro-American, March 23, 1953.
17) Broadside 20-23, February and March 1963 (
18) Broadside 23, March 1963.
19) Washington Post, April 9, 1949.
20) Hearings Regarding Communism in The District of Columbia, Harvard College Library (
21) Before The Hurricane Begins: Bob Dylan 1963, by Olof Bjorner (
22) New York Times, June 28, 1963.
23) The Afro-American, September 7, 1963.
24) A Regular Old Southern Maryland Boy, by Peter Carlson. (Washington Post magazine, August 4, 1991.
25) The Afro-American, October 26, 1963.
26) Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, by Howard Sounes (Doubleday 2001).
27) The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, by Bob Dylan.
28) The New Yorker, January 26 2009.
29) Broadside 48, July 1964.
30) Bob Dylan's Dalliance With Mafia Chic, by Lester Bangs. Available in Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste (Serpent's Tail, 2003).
31) The Afro-American, October 31, 1964.
32) New York Times, March 24, 1968.
33) Chronicles, by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
34) Wikipedia (
35) Washington Post, June 7, 1991.
36) Legacy of a Lonesome Death, by Ian Frazier (Mother Jones, November/December 2004).
37) Washington Post, January 4, 1992.
38) Washington Post, August 7, 1992.
39) The Times, January 12, 2009.
40) St Mary's Today (
41) Three Panel Soul, November 15, 2006 (
42) Guitar World Acoustic, February 2006.
43) The 20 Greatest Dylan Songs, Mojo. (
44) Whatever Happened top William Zantzinger, Mudcat Cafe forum (