A Commemorative WWII Series, Part 3
A Commemorative WWII History Series
Part 3: The Case of the Betty Grable Extortion Letters
|Actress, singer, and
dancer Betty Grable in an
— Associated Press
It was early 1943. FDR and Churchill had just met at Casablanca to set a goal of unconditional surrender. Daylight bombing of Nazi Germany was beginning. Japanese forces on Guadalcanal collapsed. And Betty Grable received a letter of extortion.
Dear Miss Grable,
This is an extortion. Under threat of your life or great bodily harm, gather $25,000 in uncut diamonds and mail them in 2 envelopes addressed to
Jonathan C. Wild, Esq.,
5th and Figueroa
Miss Grable was just coming into her own as a movie star—Down Argentina Way and Tin Pan Alley were box office hits and she’d just started working on her favorite Sweet Rosie O’Grady. She was just months away from insuring her legs with Lloyd’s of London for $1,000,000. Now this.
But wait: the FBI was on the case.
Why? Because the letter had been transmitted through U.S. mail, violating the Federal Extortion Act, enacted 73 years ago this month.
Our agents in L.A. set a trap, but the extortionist didn’t show. A month went by, then:
Dear Miss Grable:
On March 19 at 9:40 A.M. come North on Gower Street and 1/2 block south of Santa Monica Blvd. I will be waiting leaning on the cemetery wall. Bring $5,000 or you will not be alive on the 20.
This time the trap was sprung...and recorded on the high technology of the day: a 16mm camera with a telephoto lens. Exact charts were made to plan the surveillance; agents were disguised as gardeners and grave-diggers; others were equipped with high power binoculars, portable walkie-talkies, and radio-equipped cars. At 9:40 am, a shiny blue sedan approached the drop spot and tossed a brown package out of the window (see the series of photos below). When 18-year-old Russell Eugene Alexanderson made a grab for it, his life as an extortionist was over.
Or was it?
After pleading guilty and being sentenced to Army induction...and after the Army refused to induct him as “unsuitable”...Alexanderson was sentenced to 5 years’ probation. And what do you know: he immediately sent Miss Grable another extortion note—this one for $500. This time we picked him up and sent him straight to jail.
It was a lot of fuss for a small-time wannabe criminal, but American soldiers, sailors, and Marines in tough war zones around the world would not have been happy if anything happened to their All-American pin-up girl.
· Part 1 of the WWII Summer Series
· Part 2 of the WWII Summer Series: Special Intelligence Service
· FBI History during WWII
· More Byte Out of History stories
Laying out the operation
Capturing the action on a 16mm
camera with a telephoto lens
Getting ready to toss the “pay-off package”
from our shiny blue sedan
Covering the scene with powerful binoculars
and portable radios
Recording Alexanderson leaning on the
cemetery wall as he promised
Closing in on the criminal as he tries to
make a break for it.