Last we read, Socialist City Electrician Harry Strong was being fingerprinted and questioned by Police Chief Charles Boettcher in Mayor Charles Barewald’s office in connection with wiretapping the Mayor’s office. It was evident that Strong and Bracher would not be suffering from regret any time soon.
At first, Strong refused to speak. When he did eventually talk, Strong initially said he only placed the device in the mayor’s office at the command of Alderman Bracher. He argued that he had to follow the directive as Bracher was one of his bosses. Strong stated that he had worked on the light fixture one week earlier when the mayor was out of town. The device he created came from parts found in city hall, an old phone from his home, and two dry cell batteries.
Strong also admitted he knew he was breaking the law—not by installing a secret device to listen to the mayor’s conversations, but by violating a city ordinance and state law forbidding running additional wires through a light fixture, as it created a fire hazard. At the end of the conversation, Officer Passno returned to say the fingerprints on the Dictograph and Strong’s fingerprints was a match.
Alderman Bracher was brought into the Mayor’s office next. Strong identified Bracher as the man who ordered him to install the device. Bracher was then released. He immediately went into a meeting with his legal counsel—who happened to be Socialist City Attorney U. A. Screechfield. Strong soon sought counsel from Screechfield as well. Mayor Barewald immediately issued a statement that this was a conflict of interest on the part of City Attorney Screechfield.
Over the next several days, the mayor and police chief accused all Socialist adermen of being in on the plot. Bracher responded by saying the police chief’s office had also been bugged. Strong eventually stated that wasn’t true, but he was in the process of planning to plant one in a clock when caught. The other Socialist aldermen denied knowing about the devices or plans, although the Socialist headquarters was rumored to be active with meetings during this time with aldermen and city workers present.
By January 30th, the commotion had not died down. Socialists now turned on Strong and Bracher, denouncing their behavior and calling for a Socialist investigation. Mayor Barewald retained his own legal counsel for himself and the city in the person of attorney W. M. Chamberlin. Barewald stated a distrust of City Attorney Screechfield as the reason behind his decision to hire Chamberlin.
Hundreds packed the City Council meeting on February 2, 1921, waiting for some resolution to the situation, but once again the public left disappointed as only city business was presented at the meeting. In mid-February, Mayor Barewald and Attorney Chamberlain presented information to Scott County Attorney John Weir in an attempt to remove Alderman Bracher and Electrician Strong from their positions. Those proceedings failed and charges were never brought against the men.
Under these unusual circumstances, life continued at city hall. Each side continued to accuse the other of wrongdoing. Rumors began to circulate about new employees being hired to work in the city. These individuals were from out of the area and the rumors were they were actually radical Socialists being brought in to take over the party. Conservative Socialists who had joined the Socialist party to help local citizens began to worry.
(Stay tuned for Part IV!)
(posted by Amy D.)