The Death of the Fromes – What Happened on that Texas Road in 1938? (21 cents)

A true story:

It’s 1938, and Hazel Frome and her 23 year old daughter Nancy set out on a cross-country automobile trip from San Francisco to South Carolina, where Hazel’s other daughter is living with her Marine husband.  They never get there. North of El Paso, on the road to Dallas, their badly tortured bodies are discovered.  Not far away, their Packard sedan has been abandoned.  What happened?  Who did this?  And why?

The case apparently was intensely covered by the media.  In part, because the victims were members of a successful family (Hazel’s husband was one of the top officers of a very large manufacturer of explosives – selling to private industry, the government for public works projects, and (secretly) the military.  A cross country trip by unaccompanied women was rather rare in 1938, and today’s highway and freeway system did not yet exist.  And why the Fromes took such a southern route, by far not the most direct, raised other questions.

Clint Richmond digs into this case in his new book, “Fetch the Devil”, scheduled to be published this summer.  It’s a fascinating study – if sometimes a bit more detailed than necessary.  We learn about Hazel and Nancy, we follow their trip and their stay in El Paso while their car is repaired, and the final leg of their journey as reported by several witnesses.

We see the effort put into solving the crime over a three year period, both the successes of the various enforcement bodies involved (the sheriff of El Paso, the sheriff of the county in which the body was found, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and local police and investigatory departments in Los Angeles and the San Francisco area.  We also learn about the turf wars between these various agencies – a fascinating report itself.

And, most surprisingly, we learn about an extensive Nazi spying network in the United States of the late 1930s – led by the various German consulates in the country (which were shut down after the start of World War II at the end of 1942), and a large number of agents not only in this country, but in Mexico, several of whom had made contact with the Fromes while they were in El Paso.

The entire case is an intriguing one.  So many possibilitieThe s, with so much focus on the Nazi spies, and the administrator of an explosives company.  I couldn’t wait to get through to the end of the book to learn about what happened.  What a great job, I said to myself, the author has done (not that his grammatical style or writing is perfect) in keeping this mystery going so late in the book.  I looked forward to the final chapter.

And then?  Then…….

the last chapter came and went, and we learned that this crime has never been solved.  And although Richmond has his own theory as to what happened to the Fromes, it is only just that – a theory – and not one that has been tested by any investigation.  I must admit to having been very disappointed when I realized that the Fromes death would have to remain the mystery it has been for the past 75 years.

I do recommend the book.

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