Saturday, August 7, 2010

Update on the mysterious origins of the fatal hand

I was curious enough to get in touch with the author, Gary Pomerantz, who was kind enough to send a prompt reply:

Hi Jonathan, Thanks for your very nice email. On the night Jack Bennett was killed, the Hofmans were interviewed by Kansas City police. Both Mayme and Charles Hofman indicated that they could not remember the distribution of cards in the so-called "Fatal Hand." Myrtle was delirious on that night, and into the wee hours, and was given a sedative. To my knowlege, she was never asked about the distribution of cards. My Best, GP

I agree with Mr. Pomerantz that this makes it almost certain that the deal was a fabrication. What I gather, though, is that he doesn't have any first or second-hand accounts of the actual concoction, but as far as he knows it first appeared in The Bridge World so he assumes they were the ones who made it up. He is very likely to be right. If there were any bridge-playing cops on the scene (not so far-fetched in 1929) they *might* have been able to reconstruct the deal, but one would expect there to be a record of such a thing happening, and The Bridge World might have mentioned that, so I really doubt such a reconstruction happened.


Josh Sher said...

Somehow I was under the impression that Eli Culpertson presented and discussed the hand as a defense witness at the trial. Of course he might have made it up... I am wrong about him going through the hand at the trial?

Jonathan Weinstein said...

I have also seen the story that Ely Culbertson spoke at the trial, but this is apparently false. (There is no way the author would have left this out, since the two major strands of the book are Culbertson and the trial.) Culbertson did love to talk about the hand on the bridge lecture circuit; it was a big crowd-pleaser. His talking at the trial is the kind of urban legend that would have caught on.

Memphis MOJO said...

I checked what the display in the ACBL Museum said (for what that's worth):

It said the people involved couldn't remember the hands (not surprising, given they were social bridge players who had just witnessed a murder!).

It also said that Lenz tried to reconstruct the hand and discussed it in a BW article.

It then says "Culbertson used the imagined hand as a marketing tool." He would discuss it when he lectured saying it showed the importance of a good bidding system. Notice the word imagined.

Jonathan Weinstein said...

So they've got the story right then. "Tried to reconstruct" = "made something up that vaguely fit the bidding," I guess.