Even as he represented a kind of normalcy and stability, broadcasting legend Paul Harvey’s personal story was unusual. Murder, the Ku Klux Klan, perhaps a secret marriage, a grand jury probing the possible theft of atomic secrets–all of these things are part of the rest of Paul Harvey’s story.
Paul Harvey Aurandt was born on September 4, 1918, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was Harry Harrison Aurandt, a Tulsa police officer, and his mother was Anna Dagmar Christensen, a Danish immigrant. The Aurandt family traces its lineage back to Johannes Aurandt, born in Hohenstein in about 1590. He died in about 1637. Paul Harvey’s direct ancestor also named Johannes Aurandt (1725-1808) came to America in the 18th century and settled Pennsylvania. Harry Harrison Aurandt, Paul’s father, was born in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania in 1873. Harry’s father, William Aurandt, died when Harry was less than two years old. Harry eventually moved west and met Anna Dagmar Christensen, who had immigrated to America from Denmark. They were married in Princeton, Mercer County, Missouri, which is on the Iowa border. At some point, they moved to Witchita, Kansas, and from there to Tulsa. Their daughter, Frances, was born in 1909.
In Tulsa, Harry was a police officer and apparently was fairly saavy at the job. He became secretary to the police commissioner. His wife Dagmar was something of a social maven, frequently appearing “Here, There, and Everywhere in Social Tulsa,” (which was the name of a society column in the Tulsa World).
On December 18, 1921, when his son Paul was three years old, Harry Aurandt was off duty with a friend, Chief Detective Ike Wilkinson. They went rabbit-hunting. As they drove,
they observed a car standing facing south; after proceeding a short distance past this other car the car in rear followed and passed the car occupied by Wilkinson and Aurandt, and as they passed Wilkinson and Aurandt observed three revolvers protruding from the curtains inclosing the car and heard a command, accompanied by oaths, to stop their car. In response to this command Wilkinson and Aurandt guided their car to the side of the paving and stopped; the car from which the command to stop had been given drove past them and stopped immediately in front of the car occupied by Wilkinson and Aurandt, at a place about 17 to 20 feet from where their car stood. The lights of Aurandt’s car were on, so that the space around the car ahead was illuminated.
[Two men emerged from the car] both with revolvers in their hands [and began shooting].. . . Wilkinson, while preparing to alight, was severely wounded in the thigh and leg, which caused him to sink back into the car seat. During the drive preceding the shooting Wilkinson had a small bore shotgun, looking for rabbits to shoot as they drove along; during the affray he attempted to shoot at [one of the bandits] with this shotgun, but the gun snapped and the shell failed to explode, and while he was in the act of trying to use the second barrel a shot from [the assailant’s] revolver knocked the gun out of Wilkinson’s hands.
Cook v. State, 226 P. 595, 27 Okl.Cr. 215, 217-18 (1924).
Aurandt was wounded in the lungs and liver. Despite being so gravely wounded, Harry Aurandt drove himself and Wilkinson away from the scene to a residence about a mile and a half distant. Aurandt and Wilkinson were taken to the hospital as Tulsa city police and the Tulsa County sheriff formed posses to track the assailants.
Harry Aurandt died in the hospital two days after the incident.
The aftermath of the shooting turned into one of the most bizarre series of events in Oklahoma history. Four men were identified as suspects: Alvis Fears, Tom W. Cook, Bill Dalton, and Frank Shelton. Fears and Cook were “well-known to the authorities.” It is not clear whether “Shelton” and “Dalton” aliases or not.
Within hours, three of them, Fears, Cook, and “Dalton” were taken into custody. As word spread that the suspects had been apprehended, a crowd began to congregate around the Tulsa courthouse. It was soon evident that the crowd, estimated at 1,500 or more, intended to lynch the suspects.
Tulsa County Sheriff W.M. “Bill” McCullough told the mob that the suspects had been removed to a place of safety. The Tulsa World reported: “It was then proposed that a committee go through the jail to make sure.”
The committee consisted of a Presbyterian minister, a Methodist minister, and three other men. The Presbyterian minister, the Rev. C.W. Kerr, had been the Aurandts’ pastor.
The Sheriff let the committee into the courthouse and after a thorough search, Rev. Kerr reported that there was no sign of the inmates. He then gave an impassioned speech in which he urged the crowd not to “blacken the reputation of Tulsa,” and that “the law must be allowed to take its course.” Kerr was persuasive and the crowd stood down and dispersed.
Sheriff McCullough had personally escorted the prisoners to Macalester, Oklahoma, earlier in the day when he had heard rumors of the intended lynching.
The bizarre events had only just begun.
The Tulsa World, in a strangely written story, reported on Harry Aurandt’s funeral:
The casket had just been lowered, the last words of the chaplain had just sounded, when swiftly, before the two or three hundred men and women gathered around the tent erected over the grave had time to make a movement, the white procession crossed the gravel road and passed single file through the aisle between the Knights Templar and the members of the police force. No one had seen them come nor knew they were there. On each uniform was the black and red insignia of the KKK.
Entering the tent open at one side, they circled the grave. The leader laid the flaming cross that he carried upon the casket, each of the 11 dropped a rose upon it. They made crimson splotches on the massed pink and white flowers that heaped the coffin. Ministers, Masons, Knights Templar, uniformed policemen, and civilians stood in dazed silence as the Ku Klux Klan cross the road again and were gone. Without a word the crowd slowly broke up and by the time people had reached their cars there was not a trace of any of the 12 white sheeted figures.
The Klansmen advanced toward the scene of burial in single file. Their eyes were glued ahead with soldierly steadfastness. A high wind was blowing and occasionally a strong blast would threaten to blow the flap like masks out of position and expose the face of the wearer. But on all such occasions, the robed figures reached up and held the masks in place. Although they had marched almost halfway across the cemetery, participants in the burial ceremonies were so engrossed they did not notice the approach until the Klansmen were only a few feet away. The twelve figures stopped and remained stationary until the Masonic rites were completed.
When those in charge of the services saw them nearby, they quickly stepped back and allowed sufficient room for the Klansmen to past between their lines. Not a word was spoken as the figures performed their impressive and mysterious ceremonies.
No one in Tulsa has ever witnessed such a ceremony before, nor had they heard of it being performed in any other city. Whether it is part of the Ku Klux Klan’s established rites and ceremonies or if it was inspired locally is a matter of conjecture.
” Was he a member?” “Does the blood red Rose have significance that could be taken to mean that the Klansmen intend to cherish the memory and avenge the untimely death of a brother?”
These were some of the questions that pass through the group of spectators when they had recovered from their surprise and the Klansmen had disappeared.
Tulsa World, December 22, 1921, p. 1
[NOTE: There is no evidence that Harry Aurandt was a member of the KKK. In a book published nine years ago, author Ron Owens offers an observation about the Klan’s ceremony at Aurandt’s funeral:
This was a fairly standard practice of the times and was not interpreted as indicative that the officer had been a member of the KKK. The organization used these occasions to make a public appearance, probably intended a mute statement of their power and numbers, while symbolically paying their respects and announcing their dissatisfaction with the ultimate act of lawlessness, the murder of a law enforcement officer. This interpretation was reinforced when the county sheriff and other law enforcement officers began receiving anonymous letters from the “Invisible Empire” demanding that they decrease they lawlessness or risk vigilante justice.
Owens, R., Oklahoma Heroes: The Oklahoma Peace Officers Memorial (Turner Publishing Co., 2000), page 42.
The reader may decide whether the Klan had standing to be dissatisfied with any act of lawlessness. Other sources have documented KKK appearances at law enforcement funerals in the 1920’s. See for example the description of a Miami officer’s funeral in 1925, where “special seating arrangements were made” for the Klan and “at either end of the casket stood a Knight of the Ku Klux Klan, keeping silent vigil over the form of his departed brother.” Wilbanks, W., Forgotten Heroes: Police Officers Killed in Dade County, 1895-1995 (Turner Publishing Co. 1997), page 36. See also photograph of Klan parade at funeral for a slain Madison, Wisconsin, officer in 1902 at Wisconsin Historical Images.]
A few days after Harry Aurandt’s death, an insurance company ran the following quarter-page ad in the Tulsa World:
(click for larger image)
With several of the suspects in jail and the venue having been changed to Pawnee County, the trial commenced on April 10, 1922. Although the prosecution called a number of expert and percipient witnesses, the testimony of Det. Wilkerson was key to the case.
The jury, after deliberating for fifty hours, convicted the defendants, and then sentenced them to life in prison. But there was more fallout to come.
At the time of Harry Aurandt’s murder, John Calloway Walton was the mayor of Tulsa. In 1922, this Hoosier-turned-Sooner rode a coalition of Socialists, farmers, and labor activists into the Governor’s office. As Governor, he vowed to continue his fight against the Ku Klux Klan, which he had begun while mayor of Tulsa.
Walton carried on his war against the Klan with zeal. He declared martial law in Okmulgee and Tulsa Counties and convened a military court in Tulsa to investigate the Klan. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus in several counties in direct contravention of the Oklahoma Constitution.
Meanwhile, however, Walton had taken the Klan’s secret oath and had appointed some Klansmen to state jobs, believing he could win their support and cooperation.
Walton opposed the death penalty and was extremely liberal with paroles and pardons. Following the conviction of the murderers of Paul Harvey’s father, Harry Aurandt, Walton granted a furlough pending appeal to Alvis Fears, one of the murderers. Fears did not return to prison when scheduled but instead remained a fugitive for some time thereafter, committing other crimes.
Fears was still at large in 1923, when Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals was to hear his appeal in the Aurandt murder together with that of co-defendant Tom W. Cook. The court dismissed Fears’ appeal because of his fugitive status. As to Cook, the court held that much of the evidence relating to his identification was inadmissible hearsay. His conviction was reversed and the case remanded for possible retrial.
In January, 1924, Fears was taken into custody near Tulsa by a force of officers from Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. He and some of the others were charged with robbing a bank in Ashbury, Missouri. One of the others arrested at that time with Fears was Guy McKenzie. McKenzie had been convicted in 1914 of murdering prominent Tulsa lawyer and school board member Charley Reuter. Governor Walton had pardoned McKenzie in 1923.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Legislature had lost its patience with the Governor’s dupliciousness and brought impeachment proceedings against Walton. The Governor sought the intervention of the federal courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The Oklahoma Senate removed Walton from office in November 1923 for, among other things, “illegal collection of campaign funds, padding the public payroll, suspension of habeas corpus, excessive use of the pardon power, and general incompetence.”
I was unable to discover what ultimately became of the murderers.
Coming Next: Did Paul Harvey have a secret marriage? Why was he arrested by federal agents in 1950? The Rest of Paul Harvey’s Story Concludes
March 7, 2009 Saturday at 11:42 pm