Variations | Crime stories back in the day

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“The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected — by your own attention filter or by the media — precisely because it is scary.” — from Hans Rosling’s 2018 book, “Factfulness

IN Jan. 1977, the Marianas District of the U.S.-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands was just a year away from becoming a self-governing Commonwealth under the American flag. Among the top new stories of MV’s first issue of that year was about Saipan’s second jury trial. It involved the island’s “first armed robbery,” and the defendants were three local men: 18, 20 and 23 years old. The fourth defendant, a 17-year-old local man, had already pled guilty and received  a jail sentence of one month. 

The prosecution said the defendants robbed a man and his wife who were staying at Hafa Adai hotel in Garapan. The couple were “robbed at gunpoint by…masked men who forced their way into the hotel room at about 10 p.m.” The robbers “tied [the man] to the bed, [gagged him] and roughed up [his four-month pregnant wife] before stealing a camera and other personal items” which included a tape recorder, a wrist watch and a wedding ring.

The male victim was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and he was on Saipan to write about the NMI becoming a U.S. Commonwealth.  The Honolulu Star-Bulletin quoted him as saying, “It seems to me [that this robbery] proves Saipan is already a part of the U.S.”

Several days after the incident, the four defendants were arrested and “made confessions to the police.” But three of them pled “not guilty” when they were arraigned.

In an editorial, Variety noted that in the U.S., “even Guam, armed robbery is almost a daily occurrence and [the trial of the defendants] is treated as just another ordinary trial. But in the Northern Marianas, which is now the newest part of the United States, the Hafa Adai robbery…is not just another ordinary case and [the trial of the defendants] is no ordinary trial either.” The people of the NMI wanted to know “whether the jury system can protect…society from criminal malcontents from within [their midst]…and…assure justice….”

Variety stated that the prosecution “professes confidence, claiming it was an air tight case.” However, “a spectator among the audience [in the court room] whispered to this writer, ‘Whoever the jurors will be, they will have to live with [the accused] and not the victims and will hesitate in putting [them] behind bars even if the evidence demands it.”

After the prosecution informed the court that the jury had been tampered with, the judge granted the defense motion for a mistrial. The prosecution agreed to drop all charges against the defendants in exchange for a guilty plea to grand larceny which carried a maximum penalty of  $5,000 (today worth about $21,000 ) fine and/or five years in prison.

Also on MV’s front page: “Top TT Cop Arrested.”

The Trust Territory deputy superintendent for public safety, who was from the states, was charged with selling marijuana to a police informant. Under TT law, possession and sale of marijuana carried a penalty of not more than $5,000 (about $21,000 today) and/or five years in prison. Variety sources “believe that the marijuana…was part of police-confiscated marijuana in possession of the TT government.”

Then there was the case of the “Tinian Six”: three Saipan policemen and three civilians accused of beating several persons at a bar on Tinian, resulting in the hospitalization of one man. The three cops were found guilty while the three civilians were acquitted “due to lack of sufficient identification….”

In a separate (and more lurid) case, a local man charged with rape, assault and battery, burglary and robbery entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The prosecution said the man entered the home of a statesider shortly after midnight and shot a man on the nose and raped a woman during a four-hour ordeal.

On Jan. 25, 1977, Saipan police officers raided the house of  a local family near the old airport in Koblerville and confiscated 855 marijuana plants and several firearms with ammunition. Police arrested a 46-year-old mother and her two sons, 20 and 29 years old.

For its Nov. 12, 1976 issue, MV created a news section called “WHO-DUN-IT?” which listed 11 incidents reported to the police in the past week.  These included:

  • The theft of $30 (about $137 today) from a patient at Dr. Torres Hospital (where NMC is now located). The money was in the patient’s wallet placed under his pillow.
  • A Garapan Laundromat was burglarized by three juveniles who stole beer and cigarettes.
  • A warehouse in Gualo Rai was burglarized — $2,000 (worth over $9,000 today) was taken from the safe. Also reported missing were three cases of vodka and whiskey.
  • A spare tire of an emergency vehicle at Dr. Torres Hospital was stolen while the vehicle was parked in the hospital parking lot.
  • “A mysterious case of a disappearing vehicle occurred on Wednesday morning around 12 a.m. The car’s owner [a 45-year-old Chalan Kanoa resident] believes that his car was stolen while he was drinking with a friend. The car was evidently returned when it was time for [the owner] to leave but with a recently dented left front fender. The case is under further investigation.”

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