DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM- CHAPTER XXXI

We were in Washington D.C. all day Saturday reviewing the files and making some headway about how this organization worked. Using the information that the cryptologist began to uncover, it appeared that the first file began sometime in the 1870’s in the Atherhold Community School District. Public education had begun in Pennsylvania in the 1840’s. There had been public schools even before then, but the state involvement occurred in the 1840’s. The first set of numbers on the oldest files appeared in the 1870’s.
The teacher whose file we found with the code on them was from 1881. The coded instructions were clear. The man was assigned to assassinate James Garfield, the President of the United States. There was an old picture of the teacher. Someone at the FBI scrounged up a picture of Charles Guiteau, the man who was assused of killing President Garfield. The teacher had been selected because he was a dead ringer for Charles Guiteau. Evidently, the plan was successful. Garfield died and Guiteau was brought to trial and hanged. The teacher, Frederick Schlossberg, continued to work at the school district for many years and retired 30 years later.
Schlossberg’s file contained a number of these coded messages, so that it was possible that he had done a number of other tasks for the organization. We decided to call the organization, Thieves and Assassins (T and A for short).
The day was long and pressure filled. I was anxious to get home to my family. It would be Easter Sunday the next day, and I would not want to miss it. There were many other things that we discovered on that day that could have changed the way people would look at history. Hoover made this admonishment to all of us. “Never, till the day you die, will you ever say anything about this to anyone. You can see what this might do to the entire world.”

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DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER XXX

When Baumgartner said that he wanted to see my, I was assuming that I would be going into Philly to the FBI office there. That is not at all what he meant. I was to meet him at the Philadelphia Airport at 7:00 p.m. and that we would be going to Washington D.C. I asked him if I should bring along the files. He said buy a suitcase and put all of the stuff in it and we will take it along with us. He reminded me that I would be staying over and coming back the following evening.
Daphne and I talked about what was happening. She and I pretty much agreed that my future was not in teaching, but with the FBI. We would probably have to move someplace (that’s the travail of and FBI agent) after all of this was over. I did get to the airport at around seven. Daphne drove me there with Dougie in the car seat draped over the front seat (as it was then). I met Baumgartner at the gate. During the flight I told him a bit more of what I found and he said that I will be even more surprised when the cryptologists make their report tomorrow.
We stayed at a pretty fancy hotel, the Hilton, in Washington D.C. It had an indoor pool, which I made use of. I was nervous as all hell and no one could calm me down. I needed to get so tired that I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. That’s what happened.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and took a cab over the Hoover Building. We had to show our credentials, as Baumgartner had mine, I showed nothing. We went to an elevator that stopped at the top floor. We got out and we were in a medium sized conference room. It had been set up with a screen and some sort of projector. We sat down and waited a few moments. The doors open on the side and in walked J.Edgar Hoover and his Assistant Clyde Colson. I could not believe what I was seeing. We both got up and shook hands with them both. It was beyond any dream that I might have concocted.
Despite all of the things that came out after 1972, that moment will forever be emblazoned on my mind. He was the epitome of power, self-assurance and knowledge. Somehow, he already knew the entire story of what was going on at Fleming Elementary School and the Atherhold School District. What could possibly be this important to bring out the Director of the FBI to this meeting? Hoover motioned to someone to start the presentation.
A very thin bespectacled gentleman began with the recording taken from Fleming a number of months ago. He then flashed the letters and numbers on the screen and began explaining how this was a very old replacement code that required some memory and a clear mind to understand. He had listened to the phone call for hours and it appeared that the call was meant to trigger something in the minds of the people who listened. He thought that the listeners had been prepared for these numbers and letters with some sort of post hypnotic suggestion. However, this was not a Manchurian Candidate type of suggestion, but just an alphanumeric way of telling the listener where they were to go, when they had to be there and what it was they were to perform. These listeners had to be cooperative and self-motivated to do the things that they were told to do.
In this case, it was to steal documents from the Department of Defense. The dates had already passed and an investigation of the documents domicile showed that they were indeed missing. Further, no one seemed to know that they were missing until the FBI intervened. That was the most difficult part to understand. How was it that this could occur with no one noticing?
I was so impressed with the presentation that I brought out the briefcase that I had with me and showed the assemblage some of the older files from the central office of the Atherhold School District. The thin man looked at a few of them and said that they were in the same code and that he would have to look at them for a while to see what they said.
Director Hoover looked around the room and asked this question. “Is it possible that we have had among us and organization so strong and so deliberate that it could get any information that it wanted?” I thought for a while and realized the import of the question. How long has this been going on? Who did these people work for, or were they some sort of private company that did things on request for a fee?
Hoover answered the unasked question. “Atherhold School District has evidently been the home of a most notorious industry- information purveyors and murderers.” The thin man who made the presentation interrupted. “Sir, the file that I have just looked at is from 1898 and has reference to the Battleship Maine. I would have to have some time to get the entire message encoded, but it seems to me that the order had something to do with the initiation of the Spanish-American War.”

DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER XXIX

I could not get away from that place fast enough. I got back home at about twelve. Daphne was still up after giving Dougie his late night feeding. Recently he had been getting up and asking for more food. I don’t envy women who breast feed. He seems to be growing and that must mean he needs more sustenance.
Daphne knew what I was doing that night. When I got home she looked at the files and commented that they looked like they came from a really old used book store. There were files, with really old papers and ledger books from another century. We picked out a couple of early 1900 files and looked over them. There were signed contracts with signatures of school board members, supervising principals and teachers. Some of the teachers had comments in their files about their teaching techniques and their success or failure with students. On the front of some of the files there were a series of numbers and letters. In some instances there were 10 of these sets of numbers and letters. There were none of these on many of the other files, but about 25% of them, as many as we could look at in half an hour, had these inscriptions. We finally fell asleep, wondering what it was that we could discover from these old files.
The next morning I made an appointment with Mr. Ryerson for the end of the day. At 3:15 I walked into the school office and was ushered into the principal’s office by Miranda Cooper. Mr. Ryerson was sitting behind his desk, ostensibly reading something. It just seemed like a game to me. “Yes, Mr. Hodges, what can I do for you?” If I had told him the truth, there would have been blood on the floor before the end of the discussion. I told him that I would agree to put in my letter of resignation, if I was to get my sick days paid at my daily rate, positive recommendations from him and someone in the central office, and a written statement that the district would get me a job in the school district or without. Those were my terms.
Ryerson was not at all surprised, since he was the one who suggested those three things. The only problem for him was to get all of them on a document. I was not sure that he or his superiors would agree to something that iron-clad. He told me that he would discuss it with the superintendent of schools and others in the central office. I thanked him and walked out of the office.
I was satisfied that I had done the correct thing, both in my role as a teacher, FBI agent and personally. Not sure I could have existed under those conditions too much longer.
When I got home, I had a call from Baumgartner, telling me that I should call immediately. I did, and he told me that the cryptographers had broken the code and that it was not so good. He wanted to see me personally. It told him about my meeting with Ryerson and the files that I had taken. I also said that I was not comfortable putting them back. Baumgartner said that he would have someone else do it. He was anxious to see me, as I was him. This thing was way out of hand.

CEASE AND DESIST

I have been mandated by the authorities to cease and desist any more descriptions of the incidents in the Atherhold School District in 1965, 1966 and 1967. At this moment, I am complying with the order. I have contacted my attorney, as well as those with whom I worked, to see what my next steps should be.

DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER XXVIII

“Charles Ryerson, you have got to be kidding.” I stammered when I saw Ellerbee and Baumgartner the following Saturday. We were at a diner on Cheltenham Avenue. It was a little bit dangerous. We might see people there that we knew, but it was a place that one could speak to people in privacy. “So now do we arrest him and get him to talk about what’s going on in Fleming and maybe in the whole school district?” They patiently explained to me that the word of a serial killer might stand up in court. We may be able to arrest Ryerson on suspicion of contracting for a death, but he would never talk about anything else, if that.
We have to widen our perspective on this case. We have done most of the work on the faculty members in your school, and we have run across the same thing as we did with Drigg’s; no social security, no military records, no idea where they went to school, no birth records or anything. It makes us wonder, if it didn’t before, how they got hired here. It also points to a much larger problem than just in the Fleming Elementary School. Someone has set things up, so that this school is headquarters for people with no known background. The only two that seem to have a record right now are Sleepy James (Cowens) and Elder Angstadt, who were both in the military. Even there the background on them is sketchy. It’s as if the people in Fleming were chosen to teach there because they had no backgrounds at all.
I asked if they actually went back before 1940 to see if the staff then had any locatable background. Since computers were not available as of yet, the only way one could check would be to peruse the actual files in the central office and get names and dates of employment. I volunteered for the job. I had no idea what I would find.
I went over to the central office of the Atherhold School District. It was in Elkins Park, not too far from the Fleming Elementary School. I had been there a few times to get some papers signed and to give them all of my references, college transcripts and my certification materials. I entered the building and was confronted by the same person who had seen me a number of times before. This time, she was not very friendly. I told her that I wanted to take a look at my personnel file and see if I had sent them my transcript from this past summer classes.
I knew that there were no such papers, because I had not sent anything in. The woman said that she would have to get someone from the personnel office to help me. I was ushered back to a conference room. I waited for about 20 minutes. Another young lady came in and gave me my file. I engaged her in a conversation. She seemed to be new there. I thought that I might have a chance to get some information from her. “What would happen to my file, if I were to leave the district?” She looked at me and asked, “Were you thinking of doing that.” “Yes, I was,” I answered. She told me that it would be stored, as others were down in the basement with all of the other staff who had retired, left or passed away in service.
“Wow, that must be heck of a lot of work to keep track of all of those papers,” “It sure is and I am glad that they have a filing system that seems to work.” I did not want to ask any more questions. I had gotten all that I needed to know.
That night, after putting Dougie to sleep and working on some test papers and lesson plans, I put on my jacket, got into my car and left for the central office. I parked my car in the back and jumped over a low fence. I walked up some stone stairs to the back door. The door was locked. However, FBI training came in handy, as well as a kit to unlock doors. It took me about five minutes to get the idea of how to do it. I was in the building.
I went down the stairs, using only my flashlight. There did not seem to be anyone in the building. As I descended, it became increasingly dark. When I got to a door, I tried my hand at lock picking again and it worked. I flashed my light around this cavernous room. There were no windows that I could see, so I took a chance at turning on a light. It was still dim, but helpful. There was a wooden cabinet right in front of some very large shelves. The cabinet contained the filing system that the young secretary had told me about.
I looked at the labels. All of the pre-1940’s personnel files were in one area. Actually, the files went further back than I could have imagined, all the way to 1898. There was also a space for some files that seemed to go back even further. Each of the sets of files was divided into constituent buildings. As the district got larger, more building files were added. Fleming was the oldest building in the district, so it had its own set of files. I was going to look through them all, when I thought of a better idea. I wondered how many of these files are used on a daily, weekly or monthly basis; probably none. So, I would take the Fleming files from pre-1898, and post 1898 to 1940. There weren’t that many folders, so I was able to handle them all in one turn. I put everything back into order and then walked up the stairs, closed the light and went out the back door. As I was leaving in my car, I saw that the lights in the administration building were being turned on. That was not a good sign. I got out of there in a flash.

DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER XXVII

Barstow lied. Because the FBI had a signed confession from him, they only had to appear in front of a judge to accept his confession. Since these were just the early days of the Miranda decision, there was no clambering by Barstow’s court appointed lawyer. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to a maximum, security prison in southern Virginia. While there he was questioned once again about his instructions from the people who wanted Miss Reinhold killed.
While in prison, he had bragged that he put one over on the FBI about who had hired him. He told his cellmate (who told the warden for some accommodations at the prison), that he really did know who hired him. It was a last minute hire that could not be done by the man’s organization because it would cause suspicion. Baumgartner and Ellerbee were dispatched to the prison to speak with Barstow. When they got him in a private holding area, Barstow began to laugh. “How’d you like to know who hired me” he intoned. “What do I get out of it, if I tell you?” The FBI could not promise Barstow anything, but they did say that they would speak to the warden about granting some more yard time and extra rations. Barstow agreed.
He said that he got a phone call from one of his pals, saying that someone was asking around about a possible hit. Did they know anyone? The man mentioned Barstow, although not by name and was given a phone number to call. When Barstow got the call he negotiated a $5,000 fee. He asked for half up front and half upon successful completion of the task. He was told to meet someone in Fairmont Park in back of the Valley Green restaurant at 11:00 the following evening. He did as he was told and someone was there to meet him. Although all of this was done in shadows, he did notice that the person was extremely tall and walked stooped over. The same arrangement was made for the second half of the money. This time, the darkness could not disguise the person’s general appearance. He was wearing a suit with shined shoes and he looked like a school teacher. Actually he looked like that teacher in that story about the headless horseman- Ichabod Crane.

DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM -CHAPTER XXVI

Let’s figure this out. They don’t want me here because I either know too much, or they think that I am going to find out things about them. They cannot kill me because there have already been too many deaths. I wonder how many deaths there have been over the years at this school. How long has this been going on? Holy mackerel, the school was first built in 1898 during the jingoist period in our history- the Spanish American War. It was added onto in 1917 just at the beginning of the U.S. involvement in World War I. It was further enlarged when we were deep in the Depression.
Is it possible that whatever organization this is goes back to the 19th century, or am I just scared out of my mind and making things up. Baumgartner told me, just before Mama Pags’ “death,” that the people she identified in the pictures were all workers in the consulates of Russia and Eastern Bloc countries. Since she heard Russian being spoken, it must have been either Poland, one of Baltic countries or maybe even Yugoslavia. Those countries had Russian speakers. It appears that Mr. Driggs was not just working for the Russians, but others at the same time. What was he doing with them? Was he a Communist too, or was he something else?
The answer to those questions had to wait a while till Daphne and I had made up our minds about what the future held for us. Either I defied the organization and stayed to get killed. Or, I decided to resign with some nice recommendations and some dough and try to find out what was going on in the next next five months.
I called Baumgartner with the conundrum and also a question. Had he wondered how long this place was as weird as it was? He said that he had not really gone down that path, but it was an interesting idea. Something told me that Mr. Driggs was not the only person on staff whose background should have been checked. I asked Baumgartner if the FBI had the capacity to investigate the backgrounds of all of the staff members at Fleming and also the central office, including the superintendent of schools. He asked my why and I told him that these events had to be coordinated by an organization that had implicit faith in its members.
There have been other staff members, who have left after a short time and others who have been here for a long time. Why did the others leave and what did the old timers have in common other than their tenure here. I believed that the background checks would tell us something. If not, I was barking up the wrong tree. Baumgartner told me to tell Ryerson that I was going to leave under the following circumstances- good references, pay for sick days, and if I could not get a job over the next five months, the district would get one for me, either in another building in the district or another district.
What we all were not aware of was that 1966 was a signal year in education in Pennsylvania. Governor Scranton had convinced the legislature to reduce the number of school districts from 2,500 to 505. In the end that would make it harder for me to get a job. The consolidation caused all kinds of problems and hiring new teachers was not the highest priority across the state.