“He’s a no-account son-of-a-bitch”

Original NY Times Article

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.

William Zantzinger, immortalized by Bob Dylan as a racist murderer in “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll“, died this week. In 1963, drunk and rowdy at a Baltimore hotel, he ordered a drink from Hattie Carroll, a 51-year-old black woman who worked at the hotel. She wasn’t quick enough, and he repeatedly struck her with his cane. She fled into the kitchen, told her co-workers she felt sick, and died of a stroke the next day.

He was charged with murder, but the charges were reduced to manslaughter based on testimony that his actions did not lead directly to her death. He was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $625.

His obituary in The New York Times today took Dylan to task for taking “some liberties with the truth,” and quotes writer Clinton Heylin, who said Dylan’s portrayal of Zantzinger “borders on the libelous.” But the Times only mentions one error of fact in Dylan’s song, the fact that Hattie Carroll had eleven children, not ten, which as the Times pointed out would not have fit the meter of the line as written.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table

I think those lines are probably worth the rewrite. He also misspelled Zantzinger’s name, leaving out the “T.”

Heylin, in his book, says Dylan’s song “verges on the libelous, depicting [Zantzinger] as a privileged son who killed a black maid, Hattie Caroll, by striking her with his cane at a Baltimore “society gathering,” escaping with a nominal sentence because of his political connections.” Rather, Heylin says, Zantzinger “got drunk at a party and began tapping people with a wooden carnival cane,” including Carroll, whom he describes as “a 51-year-old barmaid with an enlarged heart and severe hypertension.” He also says that Zantzinger didn’t have much in the way of political connections, although he and the Times disagree on what they were.

Dylan’s song does leave you with the impression that Zantzinger beat her to death with his cane, which was not the case. But Zantzinger did commit a crime. He assaulted and verbally abused an older woman because she didn’t bring him his drink quickly enough. The commission of that crime contributed to her death. It’s not that different from a store owner having a heart attack when a robber points a gun at him and demands money. That robber would be charged with felony murder, and while it might be reduced the way the charges against Zantzinger were, the responsibility remains the same. Heylin’s description is an outrageous understatement of Zantzinger’s behavior, and the six-month sentence was unjustly light. Dylan’s song is not only a brilliant piece of songwriting, it is as factual as one can expect a song to be, verging on journalism.

Zantzinger was a piece of work. In 1991, he pleaded guilty to collecting rent from black families who lived in shanties he didn’t own, shanties without running water or toilets. He did this for years, over the protests of community groups, even taking some of the tenants to court. It took an investigation by The Washington Post to stop it.

By Peter Carlson
Page:     w10

    William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
    With a cane that he twirled round his
     diamond-ring finger
    At a Baltimore hotel society gathering . . .
  - Bob Dylan
  "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"
    It happened 28 years ago, on February 8, 1963, at a formal
affair called the Spinsters Ball. Billy Zantzinger, who had just
turned 24, showed up in white tie and tails, with a carnation in his
lapel, a top hat on his head and a 25-cent wooden carnival cane in
his hand. He also showed up drunk - exuberantly, boisterously,
pugnaciously drunk.
    "I just flew in from Texas!" he bellowed as he entered the
Emerson Hotel ballroom. "Gimme a drink!"
    He got his drink and plenty more, and then, fully fueled, he
started joking around with his cane, twirling it in a parody of Fred
Astaire, rapping it on the punch bowl when he wanted service,
tapping women who waltzed by. It was all in good fun, no harm
intended. But as Billy got drunker, the joke turned ugly. He hit a
bellhop with the cane, he yanked the chain on the wine steward's
neck, he collapsed atop his wife, Jane, on the dance floor, then hit
her with his shoe and got in a fistfight with a guest who tried to
stop him. And when a black waitress failed to address him as "sir,"
he hit her across the buttocks with his cane, then hit her again,
harder, until somebody grabbed him and she fled in tears to the
    At some point during this chaotic evening, according to
newspaper accounts, Billy Zantzinger bellied up to the bar and asked
Hattie Carroll, a 51-year-old mother of nine and part-time barmaid,
for a bourbon. She was busy and didn't pour it as fast as he thought
she should, so he called her a "nigger" and a "black bitch" and he
whacked her on the shoulder with his cane. She gave him his drink,
but as he sauntered off, she slumped against the bar, looking dazed.
"That man has upset me so," she told co-workers. "I feel deathly
ill." Her words sounded garbled, like she had a mouthful of marbles,
and her worried colleagues summoned an ambulance.
    Eight hours later, Hattie Carroll died of a massive stroke. And
Billy Zantzinger was charged with murder.
    From the beginning, the case was a cause celebre - a symbol of
racism in Maryland, which was still largely segregated, particularly
in its southern counties, where Billy Zantzinger oversaw his
family's 630-acre tobacco farm. This was 1963, the year Bull
Connor's cops fire-hosed black demonstrators, the year Medgar Evers
was shot by a sniper, the year a Klan bomb killed four black girls
in a Birmingham church, the year blacks and whites fired at each
other from cars during the desegregation of Cambridge, Md. In this
atmosphere, Billy Zantzinger found himself playing the villain in a
racial morality play: He was the "rural aristocrat," as Time
magazine put it, charged with murdering an ailing black grandmother.
    That description was a bit overstated but not too far from the
truth. Billy Zantzinger was the son of a prominent Washington real
estate man who had served a term in the Maryland legislature and a
stint on the State Planning Commission. His sister had made two
debuts - one at home and one at the Chevy Chase Club - and both were
covered by The Washington Post, which noted that the orchestra
played a song written especially for her, which included the lyrics,
"Sallie, Sallie, won't you please get off your horse and dance the
Charleston with me." Billy too was a horseman; he loved galloping
after foxes at the Wicomoco Hunt Club. He'd graduated from Sidwell
Friends School in the late '50s, married and taken over the
operation of West Hatton, the family farm in Charles County, a farm
staffed largely by black workers who, unlike the waitress in
Baltimore, did not forget to address Billy Zantzinger as "sir."
    In the media, the case was painted in stark contrasts - white
against black, rich against poor, socialite against servant - and
the Washington Afro-American wondered: "Are they really going to try
a well-to-do Southern Marylander for the death of a colored woman?"
    At the request of the defense, the trial was moved from
Baltimore to "neutral" Hagerstown. Zantzinger testified that he was
so drunk that night that he had no memory of hitting Hattie Carroll.
His defense centered on the contention that Carroll, an overweight
woman with a history of high blood pressure, might have suffered her
fatal stroke even if he hadn't hit her. The panel of three judges
didn't buy it. They found Zantzinger guilty of manslaughter and
sentenced him to six months in jail.
    That sentence outraged black Americans, who saw it as another
symbol of unequal justice: A black woman's death is worth six months
of a white man's life.
    Bob Dylan was outraged too. Sitting in an all-night coffee shop
on SeventhAvenue in Manhattan, the 22-year-oldfolksinger wrote a
protest song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," which he
included on an album he called "The Times They Are A-Changin'." And
Billy Zantzinger became a symbol of evil to kids who sat
cross-legged in college dormitories strumming guitars and singing
the ballad's haunting final refrain:
     Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace
    And criticize all fears,
     Bury the rag deep in
   your face,
     For now is the time for
   your tears.
 BUT THAT WAS 28 YEARS AGO. And the times, they did a-change.
    Or did they?
    Billy Zantzinger served his six months and came home to Charles
County, where a lot of people - a lot of white people, anyway -
thought the whole Hattie Carroll thing was blown out of proportion.
Billy ran the farm for a while, then went into the real estate
business. He moved up-county, to Waldorf, then to the two-acre place
in Port Tobacco where he lives today. He raised three kids, divorced
his first wife, married a second.
    Charles County was changing - tobacco farms yielding to
Washington's suburban sprawl - and Billy Zantzinger changed with it.
The man who once symbolized the county's old rural aristocracy now
cut a more contemporary figure, dealing in real estate and driving a
Mercedes with the vanity plate "SOLD 2U." For a while, he ran a
nightclub in La Plata, the county seat. He opened a little
weekends-only antiques shop and he set himself up as an appraiser
and an auctioneer. He was active with the Chamber of Commerce, a
member of the Hawthorne Country Club, and in 1983, 20 years after he
went off to jail, he was elected chairman of the board of trustees
of the Realtors Political Action Committee of Maryland.
    All the while, he cultivated his reputation as a grinning,
boisterous free spirit who threw some wild, crazy parties, including
his famous annual pig-and-oyster roast. "He's a regular old Southern
Maryland boy," said his friend Mike Sprague,  a delegate to the
Maryland legislature. "Nicest guy you'd ever want to meet." Billy's
such a likable guy that when his name appeared on newspaper lists of
people who'd failed to pay their county property taxes - as it did
fairly regularly - a lot of folks would just smile and shake their
heads and say, "Billy is Billy."
    Nobody ever mentioned Hattie Carroll. It was just one of those
things. He didn't mean anybody any harm, they said, and after all,
Billy is Billy. Occasionally, a reporter would come around to do a
story on the anniversary of the incident, but Zantzinger would
inevitably refuse to comment. Slowly, Hattie Carroll was forgotten
and Billy Zantzinger, the reluctant symbol, slid slowly into
    Until Wednesday, April 24, 1991.
    That day, Billy Zantzinger became front page news once again.
The Maryland Independent ran a story by reporter Kristi Hempel
revealing that Zantzinger had been collecting rent for five years
from several poor black families even though he no longer owned the
houses where they lived. The county had foreclosed on the properties
in 1986 because Zantzinger had failed to pay taxes on them. The
houses, located in a place called Patuxent Woods, were battered
wooden shacks, with no running water or toilets or even outhouses.
The tenants had to dump their wastes in the woods, which polluted
the water in their shallow hand-pumped wells. Not only had
Zantzinger collected rent after losing the properties, he'd actually
raised the rent, and he'd even taken some tenants to court for
nonpayment. And won.
    The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which mentioned
Zantzinger's connection to the Hattie Carroll case. Soon, reporters
from the Boston Globe,  National Public Radio and ABC News were
calling Zantzinger for comments. But he refused to talk.
    The rest of the county talked, however. "You'd go out to have a
cup of coffee or you'd go to a crab house," said Jim Simpson, a
state senator from Charles County, "and everybody was saying, `Did
you hear about Billy Zantzinger?' "
    With all its historical resonance and symbolism, the Zantzinger
case compelled people to reflect on Charles County, and the issue
became a kind of Rorschach test of attitudes on race and class. Some
people blamed the county government for the problem. Some blamed
Zantzinger and called for his arrest. Some, mostly newcomers to the
county, were shocked that people still lived in such wretched
conditions only 30 miles from the nation's capital. And some people,
mostly old-timers in the county, predicted that Billy Zantzinger
would get away with it. "He does have influential friends in high
places," said Diana Hoxie, a real estate agent who once worked for
Zantzinger. "And I've heard people say, very cynically, that they
don't expect anything to happen to him."
    Connie Dunbar heard that talk too, and it made her mad.
    Dunbar, 40, is a gray-haired mother of three and a wholesale
flower farmer. In 1980, she'd worked on the census, searching the
back roads of Charles County for people who hadn't been counted. She
found them living in old buses and bread trucks and chicken coops
and shacks where the only running water was the rain that ran in
through holes in the roof. Appalled, she began working with a
church-based group called SMASH - Southern Maryland Area Self-Help -
which has fought, with some modest successes, for better housing for
the poor.
    As weeks went by and Billy Zantzinger wasn't arrested, Connie
Dunbar got angrier and angrier. After a month, she took to the
phone, calling her SMASH contacts, organizing a demonstration to
demand action. "If Zantzinger gets away with this," she told people,
"we may as well pack up and move out, because that means everybody
else will get away with it."
    For the second time in 28 years, Billy Zantzinger had become a
symbol that could move people to protest.
 ON THE DAY OF THE DEMONSTRATION,a fierce sun pushed the temperature
up near 100 degrees, but a few dozen protesters appeared at the
county government building anyway. Representing SMASH and the NAACP
and the League of Women Voters and several local churches, the
protesters carried signs that read "SHANTYTOWN" and "JUSTICE IN PAX
WOODS" and listened as speakers demanded that the county enforce the
state housing code and build low-income housing and, above all, that
it prosecute Billy Zantzinger.
    "If it was anybody other than Zantzinger, maybe I'd look at it
differently," Golden Evans, president of the Charles County NAACP,
said in an angry oration. "I have no sympathy for him because of the
case back in Baltimore when he hit the black lady with a cane and
killed her . . . I guarantee if I had been collecting rent on county
property, I know where I'd be! I'd be in the Baltimore House of
Corrections! Five years he collected rent on county property and
nobody did anything about it!" Evans looked out toward Thomas "Mac"
Middleton, president of the county commissioners, who was in the
audience. "I'm gonna tell you, if you-all let him off with a slap on
the wrist, then you-all ought to go to jail!"
    "That's right!" somebody yelled back.
    "He should be brought to justice!" Evans continued. "He should
be charged with a felony - fraud, theft, you name it! I don't know
how you-all let him get away with it!"
    When Evans finished, Middleton stepped forward to respond. The
county, he said, had moved portable toilets and dumpsters into
Patuxent Woods and was providing bottled water to the residents. The
government was also trying to find new places for them to live,
which wasn't easy. More than 2,200 Charles Countians were already on
a waiting list for federal housing vouchers, and many of them, he
added, lived in conditions as bad or worse than Patuxent Woods.
    As for Zantzinger, Middleton assured the protesters that the
state's attorney, Len Collins, was investigating the case, and that
Collins was a "junkyard dog" of a prosecutor. "You look at `L.A.
Law' and all those shows on TV and you see how many cases are
dismissed because of technicalities," he said. "Do you want us to
act real quickly on this thing so that - "
    "Yes! Yes!" Evans yelled. "Because everything he did was
    "I assume that it's wrong too," Middleton said, "but I want to
make sure he's done something. And I have a lot of faith in Len
Collins . . ."
    "Don't you believe that he's got your money pocketed?" Evans
    "Yes, I do," Middleton said.
    "Then what else does he need to do wrong for you to research
    "We need the proof on it," Middleton said. "We need the
assistance of the state's attorney."
    "I hope you're right," Evans said, sounding unconvinced.
    "I hope so too," Middleton replied. "I'm not going to speak of
Mr. You-Know-Who because I don't want him, if he gets off, to sue
the county for libel."
    "I'll take that chance," Evans shot back.
 TO UNDERSTAND WHY BILLY ZANTZING-er provokes such passions, it
helps to realize that the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation
lies very close to the surface in Charles County.
    Settled in the 1600s, the county was built on tobacco
plantations, where the work was done by black slaves and the profits
were banked by white owners. Emancipation did not change that
situation much: Slaves became sharecroppers and life went on as
always. "On the Eastern Shore and in southern Maryland, the Negro
lives under much the same conditions his ancestors knew," observed
the Maryland Writers Project guide to the state, published in 1940.
"Dependent largely upon the generosity of a white employer or
landowner, he is generally described in the phrase, `Sure, I love
niggers, the old-fashioned kind, that knew their place.' Of the 16
recorded lynchings in Maryland since 1885, 11 have occurred in
southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore."
    For literally centuries, almost nothing changed in Charles
County, including the population. The first census, compiled in
1790, counted 20,163 residents; the 1950 census counted only 3,000
more. (Today there are more than 100,000, most of them in the new
commuter suburbs.) Well into the '60s, Charles County was a place
where everybody knew everybody else and everything was strictly
segregated - schools, churches, buses, movie theaters, restaurants,
doctors' waiting rooms, amusement parks, even the county fairs. It
was a cruel system of public humiliations, designed to break a
people's spirit. Salome Howard, now 69, grew up in it. She
remembers going fishing with her sister near the seafood restaurants
on the Potomac, the ones with the "whites only" signs. "We'd hear
the music and the laughter and the tinkling of the dishes and the
silverware," she said, "and all we could do was look in there."
    In Charles County, the schools weren't fully integrated until
1967, 13 years after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation.
Salome Howard taught in the black schools for 14 years, and she
recalls bitterly that everything from the books to the buses came
hand-me-down when white schools bought replacements. While she was
teaching, Howard joined the NAACP, and she tells great stories of
desegregating restaurants and holding a "shop-in" at a grocery store
that wouldn't hire blacks.
    In the '70s, she became president of the local NAACP, and she
remembers informing her membership that the Z in W&Z Realty stood
for Zantzinger. She didn't have to say much more than that. People
remembered. "I thought, He'll never get any of my money," she said,
and her members felt the same way.
    This May, after the Patuxent Woods story broke, Howard was eager
to join the demonstration that Connie Dunbar was organizing for
SMASH. She took the top of a cardboard box and made a sign that
summed up her views in one word: "SHAME."
    On the way to the demonstration, she stopped at a liquor store
to buy a lottery ticket and heard people talking about Zantzinger.
"They said he should go to jail," she reported. "Every time his name
comes up, people think about that time when he hit the woman with
his cane because she didn't serve him fast enough."
    "WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IS WRITE A story about the poverty-stricken
areas of Charles County where this wealthy playboy was collecting
rent, right?" said Eloise Crain. "That's not the story, not
dredging up Billy's past. I don't know what you gain. . . If there
was less talk about racial issues, there'd be less racial issues."
    She lit another unfiltered Camel and took a deep drag. She's 70,
with gray hair and a wonderfully weatherbeaten face, and she takes a
feisty pride in using her deep, smoke-cured voice to speak her mind.
"Every time you pick up the papers, the colored want something
else," she said. ". . . I'm from the old school, where you only got
what you worked for."
    As she said that, she was sitting in a mansion she got by
marrying into one of the most prominent families in Southern
Maryland. The "Robert Crain Highway," Route 301, was named after her
father-in-law, who was a corporate lawyer and Democratic Party power
broker, as well as the proprietor of Mount Victoria, a 15,000-acre
tobacco and grain plantation in Charles County. Eloise Crain moved
there more than 40 years ago, when she married Bennett Crain, who
was also a lawyer and prominent Democrat. A decade after his death,
she still lives there. It's not as big as it used to be - she's sold
off some land - but there's still a full mile's drive from the white
gates that say "Mount Victoria" to the white house that sits high on
a hill overlooking vast fields tended by her tenant farmers.
    Billy Zantzinger used to live nearby, back when he was working
his family farm, and Crain believes he got a raw deal in the Carroll
case. "She died by a heart attack, not by him - that came out in
court," she said. "Billy was drunk, he was wrong, but is he going to
have to pay for that for the rest of his life? And it's not just
Billy, it's his children and grandchildren. He's been made into
Peck's Bad Boy."
    She was sitting in a room decorated with a dusty deer's head,
stuffed foxes and pheasants and dozens of family photos, most of
them in black and white. Three huge dogs lay at her feet. Somebody
knocked at the door and they leaped up, barking furiously. It was a
man looking to rent a place to live - a room, one of the
outbuildings, anything. He sounded desperate. She took his number,
said she'd call him back. Then she sat back down and talked about
Billy Zantzinger.
    "The reason I think he got a bum rap is, he was drunk. He could
have done it to a white person. Would there have been such a
furor?" She doesn't think so. "I wouldn't condemn him."
  She won't condemn him over Patuxent Woods either. If the county
government didn't realize that it owned the land, she said, then
maybe Billy didn't realize that he'd lost it. "Was he notified?"
She blames the "ineptness" of a county government that acted as a
slumlord for five years without realizing it. "Where the hell was
the county? What kind of railroad are we running?"
    Many people in Charles County agree with her. Billy Zantzinger
has a lot of friends there. He's a friendly fellow who mixes easily
with all kinds of people. "He bridges the gap between the very
important, very rich people and the rural blacks," said Diana Hoxie.
"He's lived very closely with black people all his life. I don't
think there's any racial prejudice in him at all."
  "He's a very likable person," said Sen. Jim Simpson, who has known
him for 15 years. "Billy is Billy, that's the best I can tell you.
I guess he's somebody that F. Scott Fitzgerald would write about . .
. He's a free spirit type of person. He's unpredictable."
    "He'd give you the shirt off his back," said Del. Mike Sprague,
who has partied with Zantzinger in Charles County and out at Billy's
place in Bethany Beach. "If you met him in a lounge or something,
you'd like him. He's always smiling."
    Sprague believes that the media distorted the Hattie Carroll
case. "They made it sound like he was Rhett Butler riding around on
a white horse with a whip," he said. "He was just an unfortunate
victim of his times because in the '60s, with integration going on,
that played well." Sprague's no fan of the Bob Dylan song either:
"If Paul Anka wrote it, I'd be concerned," he said. "But that's just
my personal opinion."
    Sprague laughed when he talked about how often Billy's name
comes out in the local newspaper's list of people who've fallen
behind on their property taxes. "Billy has been toasted for
delinquent property taxes just about every year," he said.
"Butthere are five pages of people who do that. Billy just happens to
be one of them."
    Sprague hasn't made up his mind about the Patuxent Woods
controversy. "Where was the fault?" he asked. "Whether it was with
Billy or the county, I don't know." He is a bit chagrined that
Zantzinger took the tenants to court to demand back rent, even after
he'd lost the property. "I can see him collecting rent till
doomsday," he said, "but taking them to court doesn't sit well with
 JOHN SAVOY IS ONE OF THE TENANTS Zantzinger took to court for late
payment last spring, nearly five years after he lost title to the
property. Zantzinger won the case too, getting a $240 judgment.
Nobody ever asked him to prove ownership.
     Savoy can still hardly believe it. "He carried me to court and
he didn't even own the place," he said softly. He doesn't rant and
rave about Zantzinger as some of the people in Patuxent Woods do.
Maybe it's because he's 61 years old and too tired to fight. Or
maybe it's because he always got along pretty well with Zantzinger,
even cut his lawn a few times. Billy paid pretty good, he said - $35
a day. "I never had any trouble with him."
    Savoy, a former construction worker now living on public
assistance, was sitting on an old couch in his four-room apartment
on the bottom floor of a beat-up old wooden house in Patuxent Woods.
He shared the place with two daughters, a son and a 5-year-old
granddaughter. On the wall over his head hung a yellowing Mother's
Day proclamation, a gift to his wife, who died last year. His
granddaughter, Lakeisha, skipped through the living room and
disappeared into the makeshift bathroom where a plastic bucket
served as the family's toilet. The smell of urine hung in the air.
    "I been here 14 years," Savoy said.
    For 14 years, he heated the place by burning wood in a stove
made from an old 55-gallon oil drum, and he drew the family's water
from a shallow well out front. This spring, though, the county
tested the well water, decided it was unfit to drink, and began
providing the residents with bottled water. "I told 'em I drank it
for 14 years and it didn't bother me," he said, "but they said,
Don't drink no more."
    For 14 years, John Savoy lived in Patuxent Woods and he never
once asked Billy Zantzinger to install running water in the house.
"I talked to the people who lived here and said, `All of us should
go over there and ask him.' I talked to them and they said they'd go
but they never did. When the time come to go, they said, `I got
something else to do.' " And John Savoy figured there was no point
in going alone: "If just one goes over there, he'll say, `The rest
of 'em got no complaints.' "
    Besides, getting running water would no doubt mean a rise in the
rent, which had already gone from $165 to $200 a month. "If he put
water in, he'd raise the rent to $500," Savoy said. "And I wasn't
getting enough money to pay for it."
 DAYS WENT BY AFTER THE SMASH DEM- onstration at the county
government building and still Billy Zantzinger hadn't been arrested.
    "We're reviewing the allegations," said Len Collins, the state's
attorney. "It's a pending investigation. That's all I can tell
    But that wasn't enough to stifle the rumors. There were rumors
that Collins wasn't even investigating the case, and rumors that the
county's records were so disorganized that it couldn't prove it had
foreclosed on the property, and rumors that the county commissioners
wanted to avoid a trial because it would reveal embarrassing
information about them. But most of the rumors were based on the
premise that Billy Zantzinger was too powerful and too
well-connected to be arrested. After all, hadn't he been chairman of
the realtors' PAC, a group that donated to the local pols'
campaigns? And wasn't he a friend of Sen. Simpson? And a friend of
Del. Sprague?
    The county commissioners denied pressuring the prosecutor, and
so did Simpson and Sprague. "That's an absolute fallacy, for
Chrissake," Sprague said. "Nobody would try to intercede on behalf
of anybody like that. The state's attorney is an aggressive young
man and he wouldn't lay down on something like this."
    But still, the rumors persisted.
 "OKAY, SLOW DOWN NOW," SAID LEO Smith. "It's easy to miss."
    Smith, 73, a bald, bespectacled retiree and SMASH activist, was
sitting in the front seat of Connie Dunbar's pickup truck, serving
as navigator for a tour of local poverty pockets. Dunbar was driving
down Route 5 in downtown Waldorf. She slowed down, easing past a
Pizza Hut and a strip shopping center that housed a dentist's
office, a tanning parlor and what used to be the office of former
congressman Roy Dyson.
    "Okay," Smith said, "turn down that little dirt road."
    Dunbar turned down the road, which ran alongside a Sunoco
station. The truck bounced over huge potholes, kicking up red dust.
In a hundred yards, it went from 1991 to about 1931. Half a dozen
tiny wood houses sat in a little clearing, their dirty white paint
peeling in the hot sun. Only one had indoor plumbing. The rest were
served only by an outhouse and a well with a hand pump.
    Outside one house, a woman held her toddler's hand. She wouldn't
give her name, said it might get her into trouble with the landlord.
"You have to live somewhere," she said, and she'd lived here for
eight years. She pays $105 rent. The one house with plumbing goes
for $50 more. "My roof leaks, but they tell me they won't fix it
because the rent is so cheap," she said. "I'm on a waiting list for
low-income housing. I been on it since '85. Next year I should come
up to the top."
    As Dunbar drove out, she took a long look at a dilapidated old
barn, trying to see if it was inhabited. It wasn't. Her days
working on the 1980 census had taught her a lesson: "Don't ever
assume," she said, "that a structure doesn't house somebody, be it a
truck or a barn or whatever."
    "There was a guy living in a packing crate near the sheriff's
office in La Plata," added Smith.
    The tour continued. There was a sagging shack and three battered
trailers behind a row of industrial buildings in Waldorf. A
tar-paper house hidden down a dirt road in Hughesville. A former
motel filled with poor families in La Plata. A spring off Route 488
near La Plata where people who don't have running water come to fill
up buckets and milk jugs.
    "We're just showing you a few things that are close," said
Smith. "Out in the county there are plenty more."
    Statistics back him up. A 1985 survey found that Charles County
led the state in homes without indoor plumbing - 1,120 of the 30,000
dwelling units in the county. Tenants tolerate those conditions
because they have nowhere else to go. The county has no public
housing program of its own, and the waiting list for a federal
housing voucher is more than 2,200 names long. In Charles County,
people literally beg to be allowed to rent a shack with a dirt floor
and no plumbing.
    "That makes it very easy for somebody like Zantzinger to come
along and take advantage of people who don't have any other
options," Dunbar said. "It's the situation in this county that
allows a Zantzinger to flourish."
    She drove on. Along Route 301 in La Plata, about a mile from the
county government building, Smith told her to slow down and look for
a dirt road. She passed a 7-Eleven and a Long & Foster office, then
turned down the road. It led to a cinder-block building with windows
made of sheets of plastic. A wooden sign read: "The Jenifer Family.
Welcome Friends."
    Louise Jenifer came outside. She's 51 and lives with two
daughters, a son and three grandsons, one of whom was born in April.
The place had no running water, she said, but at least the owner let
them live there for free. They'd been there a year and a half.
    "Houses are hard to find around here," she said. "Every real
estate place we went to, they put us on a list. And every time we go
to government services, they tell us to wait two years."
    "Where do you get your water?"
    "Back here," she said. She walked down a hill, then followed a
dirt path into thick woods. She stopped and pointed to a stream. It
was about a foot wide and maybe an inch deep.
    It was 1991 and she was standing about 40 miles from the White
 "ALL RIGHT, I GOT A HUNDRED," SAID Billy Zantzinger. "Who'll go a
hundred-ten? Hundred-ten? Hundred-ten?"
    He was auctioning off a house he owned in Rock Point, a little
two-bedroom brick rambler on the Wicomoco River. He's a big guy, 6
feet 2 and 225 pounds, with an impressive potbelly that makes him
look a bit like Willard Scott, especially when he flashes his
salesman's grin. He wore a red tie and a red hat with "Indiana" in
white letters. He leaned against the front of a truck decorated with
signs advertising his realty company and he barked numbers into a
    "Who'll go a hundred-ten? Hundred-ten? Hundred-ten?"
    Nobody in the audience, which numbered about a dozen people, was
    "Hundred-five? Hundred-five? Will you go a hundred-five over
there? We got a house on 113 feet of water. Who'll go a
    Still no takers.
    "I got a hundred-thousand dollars. Do I hear a hundred-five?
Hundred-thousand dollars once. I'm gonna sell it! Hundred-thousand
dollars twice. Sold. Thank you."
    A reporter walked up, shook Zantzinger's hand, asked if he'd
consent to aninterview.
    "No," he said softly. Then he turned away, picked up a plastic
cup, took a long drink, did not turn back.
    It wasn't surprising, of course. The last interview Billy
Zantzinger granted was to a reporter from the New York Herald
Tribune. That was in September of 1963, just before he went to jail.
His quoted comments did not improve his public image. He showed no
remorse about Hattie Carroll - "I didn't do anything to her" - and
he scoffed at his six-month sentence: "I'll just miss a lot of
snow." He said that he had more respect for some black people than
he did for "white niggers." And he added this: "Hell, you wouldn't
want to go to school with Negroes any more than you would with
French people."
    And his wife, Jane, chimed in with testimony to her husband's
generosity: "Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around
    Since then, Zantzinger has declined to share his views with
reporters, and his relatives have followed his lead. "I'm not going
to contribute to another negative story," said his nephew Richard
Zantzinger. "I know how mistreated a very kind-hearted man was by
the press with stories about this godawful, racist, southern
gentleman socialite. That's not what he is at all."
    Zantzinger's ex-wife declined to comment too, asking that
neither her whereabouts nor her last name, which is no longer
Zantzinger, be mentioned.
    Was she surprised to hear he'd been collecting rent on
properties he no longer owned?
    She burst out laughing. "No comment."
 IF THE COUNTY GOVERNMENT WON'Tgo to Patuxent Woods, Connie Dunbar
thought, then why not bring Patuxent Woods to the county government?
    So Dunbar and Leo Smith and other SMASH activists drove half a
dozen residents of Patuxent Woods to the county government complex
in La Plata one rainy morning in June. First, they went to the
courthouse to visit Len Collins, the state's attorney, who agreed to
talk to the residents and examine their old rent receipts and
whatever else they thought might serve as evidence against
    After that, they walked across the parking lot to the county
government building, the office of their new landlords, the county
commissioners. It wasn't a long walk, but one of the tenants, George
Tolson, lagged behind. He's 58, and after four decades of working
the tobacco fields, he's got gout and his ankles are swollen to the
size of softballs. He moves slowly and steps gingerly, like a man
walking barefoot on sharp stones.
    Inside the new government building, a secretary escorted the
group into a fancy conference room with a plush pinkish-gray carpet
on the floor and soft maroon chairs around a long polished table.
    "First of all, an apology," said Mac Middleton, president of the
county commissioners. "The county owned six units in Patuxent Woods
and didn't know it until January. It's a big operation, the
    Now, he promised, the county was taking steps to help them.
They'd all been moved to top of the waiting list for federal housing
vouchers, and he hoped they'd soon be in new quarters. Meanwhile,
the county had applied for a federal grant to fix up "the deplorable
conditions" in Patuxent Woods.
  When Middleton finished, the activists and the commissioners
argued about the fine points of state housing law, and then Connie
Dunbar asked if any of the Patuxent Woods residents wanted to say
    Nobody spoke.
    "Come on," she said. "Mac won't hurt you."
    Middleton laughed. "I don't get mad," he said, "or get even."
    There was a long silence, then George Tolson raised his hand.
"I'd like to stay there if the house got fixed up," he said in his
slow, deep voice. " 'Cause I was born, but I wasn't born with no
running water. And I can do without it."
 IN HIS OFFICE, DECORATED WITH PIC- tures of Harry S. Truman, John
F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Middleton was talking about
William D. Zantzinger.
    "There's this eagerness to bring this man to justice, and I can
understand it," he said. "To the people in the housing advocates
community, this guy is like a mass murderer walking around loose . .
. They see him as somebody who abused people even before he lost the
units {in Patuxent Woods}. He created that slum situation out there
and then he lost it, and he continued to profit from it. They see
him as someone who has lived off, has derived an existence off, poor
people, particularly poor black people."
    Is that perception accurate?
    "I think it's accurate," he said. "Knowing Billy Zantzinger . .
. Billy's the type of person who . . ." He paused. "I shouldn't be
saying this because I don't want the county to get hit with this.
Can you turn off the tape recorder?"
    Then he told some interesting stories about Billy Zantzinger at
work and at play. All of them, unfortunately, off the record.
    A lot of reporters have been asking Mac Middleton about Billy
Zantzinger in the last few months. They've also been asking
Middleton - a 45-year-old former tobacco farmer who has served as
president of the county commissioners since 1986 - how the
government could have owned Patuxent Woods for five years without
knowing it. He invariably replies that the county had not yet
inventoried its property. But he seems to sense that it sounds like
a lame excuse. "I'm ashamed," he admitted. "It's an embarrassing
    He is also embarrassed, he said, by the larger housing problem -
the 1,100 families without indoor plumbing, the 2,200 people on the
endless list for federal housing vouchers, the inevitable outpouring
of public opposition to every proposal to build low-income housing
in the county.
    Charles County, Middleton acknowledged, has never enforced the
state housing code that prohibits the rental of homes without
plumbing and other basic amenities. But there's a reason for that,
he said: The owners of the worst shacks would no doubt evict their
tenants rather than spend thousands of dollars to bring them up to
code. "Do you want to close up every unit in the county that doesn't
meet the livability code?" he asked. "Where are these people going
to go?"
    It's a Catch-22: The county doesn't build low-income housing,
and then, because there is no low-income housing, refuses to enforce
the livability code.
    Still, Middleton professes optimism. The intense interest
generated by the Patuxent Woods controversy might, he said, create a
coalition that can build low-income housing in the county. "It's
time for us to start mobilizing. There's a chance for us to use this
momentum to get us going . . . It's on the conscience of Charles
County, and I'd like to keep it there for a while."
    But the solution won't be easy, he said, because the problem is
huge. He told a story: One day, about four or five years ago, a
woman drove up to his farm in a car full of kids and asked if she
could rent a crumbling one-room building on his property. It was a
brooder shed, designed for raising baby chicks, and it was no longer
even fit for that purpose. It had no plumbing, the concrete floor
had broken into jagged pieces, and most of the front was missing.
    "I said, `Have you seen it?'
    "And she said, `Yes.'
    "I said, `You certainly don't want to move in there, do you?'
    "And she said, `Yes.'
    "I said, `I can't rent anybody that.'
    "And she said, `It's better than where we're living now.'
    "I said, `Where are you living now?'
    "And she said, `In my car.'
    "In my car!" he repeated.
 BOB DYLAN HASN'T IMMORTALIZEDBilly Zantzinger's latest
controversies in a protest song. Nor has Bruce Springsteen or Tracy
Chapman, or even Paul Anka, for that matter. The Patuxent Woods
story just doesn't possess the dramatic symbolism that raised the
Hattie Carroll story to the level of an anthem. Which may explain
why, despite the best efforts of SMASH, the scandal seemed to
gradually fade away, an outcome that suited Billy Zantzinger and
many other Charles Countians just fine.
    Then, a few minutes before 6 p.m. on June 5, 1991, Charles
County Detective Eric DeStefano walked up the steps of W&Z Realty
and served Billy Zantzinger with a summons charging him with the
crime of "deceptive trade practice."
    In the document, State's Attorney Len Collins charged Zantzinger
with one count of making a "false and misleading oral and written
statement" that had served to mislead a couple who had rented a
house in Patuxent Woods a year earlier. The charge, a misdemeanor,
carried a potential penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
    "You are summoned and commanded," the document read, "to appear
for a preliminary Inquiry in this Court on 1 July 1991 at 08:45
o'clock AM . . ."
    At 8:45 on the morning of July 1, a pair of newspaper
photographers waited on the courthouse steps to snap pictures of
Billy Zantzinger's arrival. Inside, Connie Dunbar was waiting too.
Although she had organized the SMASH demonstration demanding
Zantzinger's arrest, she felt no sense of triumph now. She was
dissatisfied with the charge against Zantzinger and disillusioned
with Collins. Why had he pressed only one count? she wondered. If
Zantzinger misled one tenant, hadn't he misled the rest too? A
couple of days earlier, the county had moved several Patuxent Woods
residents - including John Savoy's family - into decent apartments,
and more were scheduled to move soon. But, as Dunbar pointed out,
for every Patuxent Woods tenant who moved to the top of the housing
waiting list, there was another family that moved that much closer
to the bottom. It was, she acknowledged, depressing. Still, she'd
come to court this morning eager to see Billy Zantzinger brought to
the bar of justice.
    But it wasn't to be. As Dunbar stood near the crowd of
defendants nervously waiting for the arraignments to begin, a
policeman informed her that Zantzinger would not be coming. He'd
hired an attorney who'd filed the necessary papers for him, and
consequently he didn't have to appear until his trial, which was now
scheduled for September 20.
    Disappointed, Dunbar went into the courtroom anyway, just to
make sure. The seats, which looked like church pews, filled quickly,
but she found a space in the back. The judge began calling out
names, and defendants paraded to the bench, where they hung their
heads and listened as the judge read charges of disorderly conduct
or possession of cocaine.
    Dunbar rummaged through the crammed canvas tote bag that serves
as her briefcase and pulled out a photocopy of a clipping she'd
found in the SMASH office. It was a letter to the editor of the
Maryland Independent, denouncing "the inhuman conditions that exist
because of poor housing in our county." The letter was dated January
18, 1968.
    Whispering, so as not to disturb the endless parade of justice,
Dunbar read a passage that mentioned the appointment of an official
committee to study the housing problem in Charles County. She
laughed grimly. "They've been studying the problem for over 20
years," she said, "but they never solve it."  -

Unrepentant to the end, Zantzinger told writer Howard Sounes said the song “had no effect upon my life” and called Dylan “a no-account son of a bitch. He’s just like a scum of a bag [sic] of the earth….I should’ve sued him and put him in jail.” But as Sounes points out, he never did, never tried to enjoin Dylan from performing the song, never dared to put his claim that the song was false to a legal test.

This entry was posted in Music, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “He’s a no-account son-of-a-bitch”

  1. I forgot Heydin in Behind the Shades talking about “poor William Zantzinger.”

    Hey, Zantzinger went to Sidwell Friends, how about that!

Leave a Reply