Starting work at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API)
Retiring from Alaska Psychiatric Institute
Anchorage Community Mental Health Center
Vincent Van Gogh's biography
His opinion on the state of the mental health system today
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: A lot of interesting subjects, you know. Some people like -- like Pete Bowers, he liked -- he talked to me about music and that sort of thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. But now -- now we're talking about API. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah, API. Well, let me -- let me finish up this little story about I remember somebody -- somebody in Tanana had given me some -- some smoked salmon strips, and so we got in the airport, and I think maybe I did call home and tell my wife what I was up to, that I was back from Tanana, but -- but I was going on -- going on down to Anchorage. And in the meantime, I just shared some salmon strips with him, you know. I said, "I'm hungry. Do you want some of these?" Because I didn't want to go -- I don't even know if they had a lunch counter at Fairbanks at that time. The airports and everything, you know, they are a whole a lot different now. They were more simple then. So anyhow, so we got down to Anchorage -- and I want to do this, and then I promise I'll get to -- I'll get to API. And I was at API. And I was acting superintendent. And I took him in and I sat him by the social work office, and social workers were supposed to process the people in. And I -- and I told them, you know, a word or two, a sentence or two of history, and I said I -- this guy was at Tanana so I brought him down, and he's to be admitted here. So then I went to do some of my other work there, came back along that hall about an hour and a half later, and that guy's still sitting there. And I said, "Hasn't anybody talked to you yet?" And he said, "No."
So I, you know -- I looked in the coffee shop or something, you know, I ain't going to go line them up, but I'd go in the office there that's responsible for it, and I said, "This is unconscionable. I just brought this guy from Tanana, I mean, me and him and the pilot flew in a little air taxi, you know, and we waited in Fairbanks, and so on, and we get down here, and he's been sitting down here longer than that trip took, I think. I mean, I want him admitted and I want him admitted now." And some of the people played some other game, kind of games like that.
One -- one -- one -- one guy was -- well, there was a teacher there. I think this is far enough back and it's trivial enough it's not damaging to anybody. They had a managing board there, the heads of the departments, and the superintendent, and that, and so one time we came up -- I mean they would have those when I was there, naturally, once a month. And so they said, "We've got this problem because we -- this -- this area, some area, the area that's now dedicated for school, that's going to be something else, we got to get that department in there, but the teacher won't move the school out of there. I mean, he keeps dragging his feet and he just -- he's been told several times he ought to -- he's got to move the school somewhere else." So I -- so then I said, Well, I'll take care of that."
After that meeting is over, I called the guy up there, and he was kind of a smirky guy, you know. You know how people are, they got, kind of, a little smirk at you all the time like they are playing some joke on you but you don't know it. I said, "They say there's a problem that they want that for the OT or something. So move." And so he starts giving me some kind of song and dance, and I said, "Well, I just come down here once a week, and it's late in the day now, and so I'll be going back this evening, but next week I'll come down, and if you haven't got moved by then, well, I'll help you." And so when I come back next week, he's moved.
You know, it's only -- it was only a matter, I guess, to drag some chairs and table down the hall. I thought -- I thought that a lot of those things were kind of fun to do and interesting. One night I -- I used to stay -- well, one -- one night I went -- I went down -- I was -- I was up and I was -- I was staying in, like, a motel they had there; you know, they had some quarters for travelling people, and I would say in that motel, but I was in the hospital building.
So I went down in the basement where the children's program was, and -- and I had a key to open any door in the hospital, you know. So I -- so I opened the -- opened the door and went in the children's ward, and as I approached the nursing station, there was one -- one nurse on duty there, and there was probably an aide around there or somewhere, but I don't know where.
And she said, "Oh, visiting hours are over and you can't visit here," and -- or some -- and some other stuff like that. And so I just turned around and went -- went back out. I thought, you know, that's -- I thought I would embarrass her if I said, "Nurse, I'm your acting superintendent." But I just didn't. I didn't. And I never heard anything about it, nobody else ever told me anything about it. I don't think -- I don't know if she ever knew the difference.
But the doors in those wards were locked, especially at night. Especially at night, there was no -- nobody could just walk in there off the street or something, so how did she think I got in there? I thought about it, if I was the kind of person who wanted to play games with people, I would show her my key and say, "Do you know what the heck that key is? That's the key to open all the locks." Because generally speaking, you just -- if you worked in the power plant you had a key to open the power plant and so on. But I thought a lot of those so called problems were kind of simple.
But anyhow, back to API.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So we got a -- we got a -- we got a superintendent who stayed there a year, and then left. And like a lot of people who came here or other places and left, and he left saying, "I don't think you people know what the hell you're doing."
But anyhow, then in -- in '78, the clinic was closed in September, and API had no vacancy. And I -- I worked for the Community Mental Health Center in Fairbanks for from, like, October, November, and December, and then they did have a vacancy in -- at API, and so I went to work there and got onboard there the first day of January of 1979. And -- BILL SCHNEIDER: You had to move your family down?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah, but since -- since they were in school, at that time the kids were in school, of course, it was in the middle of the winter, and that didn't change before we went down. In fact, it got worse. But school gets out in -- the school semester ends, like, the 20th of January, or something, whatever. So -- so we didn't try to move the family. I went down there and worked two weeks, I think, and then went back. And I -- I might have flown down, I don't remember exactly, I think I did. I just flew down and I worked a couple weeks, and then -- and then I flew back, and we had a crew cab pickup, and loaded it with a bunch of stuff. And of course, we didn't -- we didn't need a whole lot of stuff because we had furnished quarters down there at API. But I remember the trip because there was a big blizzard, and it was storming and blowing snow and, of course, slick and all that, no visibility, and I drove in four wheel drive all the way from Fairbanks to API. The worst, most extensive storm I was ever in up here. BILL SCHNEIDER: How long were you at API?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, then I stayed there, I became the director of the admission unit, and did that for the rest of the time that I worked for the state until -- that was October of '86 I retired from state employment. And that was an interesting thing. It was -- it's -- it's just -- it's a kind of a silly thing, but I -- and you'd think I wouldn't say anything bad about it because I benefitted from it, but -- but still, it's still, it's like a lot of things I hear about on the TV and stuff, reading and whatever. I was eligible for retirement before I came down here. I could have just retired, but I wasn't ready to retire, and so I -- besides, there was some personal things. I mean, my wife had some health problems and she needed to be down here. So -- KAREN BREWSTER: So did you enjoy working at API?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, yes. Yes. Very much. And so -- but -- but I'm a little ahead of my story because this is how I left there.
I didn't really know why I was still working. I was eligible for retirement and, well, but I thought the work was important because I was the guy who admitted people and could -- and treated them, and could discharge them if they could make it. And during the time that I was there, we discharged -- 65 percent of the people who were admitted were discharged back to their status quo, and that is either maybe back to work or maybe back to a boarding home if that's what adjustment they had reached. 65 percent of them within a month were discharged. And so I thought that was important enough.
And during that time, we had a -- a change or two, we had a change of superintendents, but I served under three other superintendents after I came here, although if I'd have pressed the matter, I had seniority to have been the superintendent as soon as I came down there. I remember when I was in Fairbanks one time, some -- this -- the administrator said that social worker who works for the Native -- the Tanana Chiefs, that's their social side sort of. I mean, the other side makes the money. Doyon makes the money and -- some people might say, and Tanana Chiefs tries to spend it. I don't know. But anyhow, said -- oh, said, "She's leaving and we're going to have a lunch for her today."
So I said, "Oh, yeah? Well, she just came here a couple years ago."
But our administrator said, "Well, that's par for the course, isn't it?" Yeah, it is. I mean, a lot of people just work a couple years somewhere, and about the time they are beginning to catch on what's -- what's going on, they leave.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. That's right. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So anyhow, here I am in -- now in API admitting people, treating them, discharging them, continue in that position until this, what I thought was kind of silly.
In the '80s, they had a -- apparently Alaska had a recession, and that was lucky for me, in a way. They said, we had -- we had a meeting of the medical staff, and the superintendent said, got a RIF, reduction in force, anybody that's eligible for retirement -- I mean, the state wants people to retire to get them off the payroll. If they will take the retirement, we'll give them three extra years, either you can add three years to your retirement or you can use the three years to qualify for retirement, like if you're supposed to be 55 but you're only 52, you can use it that way. So I said, "Does that apply to the doctors, too?" I figured they'd say no. Because we did not have any what you call merit increases or anything. I mean, we were hired at a salary, and whatever they paid us, that's what we got.
And -- and even though I had a lot of seniority, I didn't make any more money than anybody. The superintendent made 10,000 more than any of the others of us, but that was just for extra responsibilities, which is a little large. But -- in fact, very often the least qualified person becomes the administrator. This is one thing that's messed -- messed everything up all over the country, I think. It used to be you got a section gang that works on the railroad, you got to swing a 9 pound hammer. Hell, I got to where I can't even pick up a 9 pound hammer. I mean literally. But I used to could swing one. Anyhow, somebody has always got his back sprained or something, he don't do very good at the work, make him the timekeeper. So -- so it turns out that he's -- he's the timekeeper, he has to pay the guy, so he's the one that's got the money, and so -- so the least qualified very often becomes the -- the top dog. And -- and that's what happened. I mean, we -- we agreed, the medical staff agreed to appoint one of the doctors superintendent because as he got -- complained himself, or -- we wouldn't lose as much by having him to be the superintendent as -- he couldn't do the other work anyway, he couldn't be the -- he couldn't practice psychiatry, I mean, he was not a psychiatrist, so what the hell -- what else is he going to do? Well, be superintendent. Yeah. So that -- that was the last one we had. But I -- I've not identified him.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I ain't casting aspersions on him. Actually, he was a friend -- he was a pretty good friend of mine, and was always kind enough to me, or usually was. But anyhow, here I am in Anchorage, and I guess there's very little to say about it except that mentally ill people came there and were diagnosed and treated and went back to the community, and -- and hopefully were seen and treated as outpatients at the -- at -- at the Anchorage Community Mental Health Center, which -- which was built in those times. And we had -- I mean, it was kind of like the frontline of psychiatry in lots of ways. I mean, we did have a lot of court work, and there was always -- there were -- always was and still is a lot of conflict between people's freedom to do what they want to do and, I guess, public order. And Anchorage -- or Alaska is -- is sort of -- I mean, we're proud of the fact that it's a very free place, and most people -- most people are more concerned about some of their freedom being taken away than -- than they are about seeing that people that are mentally ill get treatment. So the point is, it's hard to get anybody into a mental hospital, it's hard for any individual to get in a mental hospital. It -- it started out, I mean, the idea was originally, you know, I mean, the striking off of the chains in France -- now I forget the name of the guy who did that, but you learned that in grade school. Oh, speaking of France, it's interesting to read Vincent Van Gogh's only account of his own mental illness, or maybe not his own, but -- but using his own statements and so on at the time, for the facts, for someone else to write his biography, wasn't that called Lust For Life, Vincent Van Gogh's biography? I think it was. Well, people had great doubts at that time, and everybody -- everybody knows that he did -- he fell in love with a prostitute who was some -- sometimes a model of his, and he cut off his ear and sent it to her in a box. And he was committed to -- to a sanitorium, or whatever they called it in France at that time. And this is an interesting account of how he recovered and, you know, in the hospital began painting the garden and that sort of thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I think we need to wrap it up.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, oh, yeah.
Well, so I had to -- I had to go to court a lot to try to keep people in the hospital. And that was very difficult.
So the present rule is, the way the system works now is, essentially, it doesn't work. And if anybody's really interested in pursuing that or if anybody happens to listen to this recording, there's a book called Madness in the Streets, it's written by a couple of social workers who documents this -- this -- this whole business, but to kind of parody the thing, if -- if you -- if you're totally mentally ill, you don't know what you're doing and you don't care and you're totally out of control, you're totally psychotic and out of your mind, if you -- if you want to be treated by the present system, then you try to find a Community Mental Health Center, like in the phone book or something, and it's probably got some name like, you know, Happy People Center, or something, or it will have "behavioral" in the name, like the Behavioral Health Center. And -- and you call up there and try to get an appointment, if you can state your problems, you know, pretty clearly and succinctly. And you may have to hold the line a long time, listen to a lot of music that you don't even like, but -- and finally, they'll give you an appointment for, you know, a week from next Tuesday, and then if you will provide yourself with the money to pay the fee and present yourself at the clinic and be clean and neat and well dressed, and behave yourself and sit in the waiting room for two or three hours, they will let you talk to somebody who just got their bachelors degree in psychology or something last week, and then -- and lots of luck on your further course in the so called mental health system. Because essentially, there isn't any. I mean, there isn't any.
It -- it -- a whole lot of people going a whole lot of different directions and don't even -- wouldn't -- most of them probably wouldn't even agree. I mean, some of the things that have caused this are things like the Myth of Mental Illness. I just read in a -- a psychiatric paper, in fact, I still got it in the bathroom, Szasz, Tom Szasz, who wrote the books on mental illness and half a dozen other books with the same theme was recognized by psychiatrists in the UK for his inquiring spirit or something. And he -- he's -- he was a terrible, I think, a malignant intellectual influence. I mean, he was himself a psychiatrist and was getting paid for teaching psychiatry, the younger doctors in Upstate New York or something, during the whole time that he was writing books and giving them names like the Myth of Mental Illness, there isn't any such thing.
BILL SCHNEIDER: A bad state of affairs. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, yeah. And -- and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was one of the things that destroyed, I think, practically the mental health system. It's -- it's a travesty.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. I think, Doc, we need to leave it at that, but --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. Well --
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- there's a lot -- a lot there. DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, yeah. I could and would and will, in fact, from time to time, I mean, if I find some willing victims to go on like this for --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Yeah. Go for it.
KAREN BREWSTER: We appreciate your time.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Thank you.
James von der Heydt - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-32-tp2
Judge James von der Heydt was interviewed by Judge Niesje Steinkruger and Karen Brewster on December 9, 2010 at his condominium overlooking Cook Inlet in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Return to part one of this interview.
Click to section:
Section 1: Being in the state legislature when the Mental Health Enabling Act was discussed, effect of statehood on patients returning from Morningside Hospital, and the many jobs he had in Nome.
Section 2: US Commissioner deciding sanity cases in Nome versus by a jury of six people.
Section 3: Lack of educational preparation for handling sanity cases, and communicating with non-English speakers in hearings.
Section 4: Assessment of the court system in how sanity cases were handled.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Judge, you were in the legislature at the time the Mental Health Lands Bill was passed by Congress.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And -- and the Federal Government wanted Alaska to assume responsibility for its mentally ill people.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Was that an -- was that something that was considered and talked about in the legislature?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Not -- not much. We -- I don't think most of the legislators at the time considered it a very serious thing and it was just kind of passed over. I don't think anything ever happened to it in the sense that it was adopted. That I recall.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you remember anything about people coming back from Morningside to --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- Harbor -- I think they went to Harborview, some of them, in Valdez, and then to Alaska Psychiatric Institute when it was built?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I don't remember that much. They -- they -- they were in -- in, what did you say?
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Harborview. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Morningside. And once they were dismissed from there, they were kind of -- it was kind of they had been medically determined to be cured, and -- and the -- they -- they came back and kind of led a normal life after that, as I recall it. Not necessarily in Nome, but from wherever they were from. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: What happened at statehood, then? Were people sent back from Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Uh-hum. They were.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And tell me a little bit, if you -- if you can, about the -- the different roles that you have. One of the things that maybe we want to talk to you is when I looked at the files in Nome, I saw you had been a Marshal, U.S. Attorney, you had been a lawyer for all those --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: U.S. Commissioner. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Commissioner. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Yes, all those different -- you sat in about every chair in a sanity case.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. That's right. And actually, or in -- in some just general cases, I was the only one, for example, that was ever a commissioner there, and I sat as commissioner in a lot of different values, so to speak. And that's just the way it was. VERNA VON DER HEYDT: He was City Attorney, also.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Really?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I was city -- yeah. There wasn't much of a job that didn't find me. Section 2:
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was that like switching from side to side on those sanity cases? What was it like to be the commissioner on one of those?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, you were the judge then, and you had to decide whether or not the individual was insane and at large, as the statute was read. And sometimes yes, sometimes no. KAREN BREWSTER: Was it an easy decision, or there were challenges to it?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, they almost never had an attorney, even though there were a couple practicing attorneys in Nome, and so you were -- the commissioner was the judge of it, and you just thought, you know, well, this seems silly to me, why should, then you'd let them go, so to speak; or you would -- you would find that they should be incarcerated for a while so something could be decided. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And then, really, you have the -- the judge, as we say, then a jury decided. You didn't have to always decide whether they went to Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: That was a jury decision. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Not always, but usually there wasn't a jury in those kind of cases, at least not in Nome, but they were -- they were taken -- taken care of, so to speak, and -- and it -- and the commissioner would decide, be the judge, and decide whether or not they should be incarcerated. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, then, I'm confused, then. You said you would pick a jury of six people from the street.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum.
KAREN BREWSTER: But then, obviously, there weren't juries. Would it be different kinds of cases?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Like what were the differences? I don't --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Oh, gosh, what were the -- well, they were -- they were the mentally ill cases that we often -- if -- if a person had the family and they'd say, we think George should have a jury, well, there was never any argument about it, you'd -- I'd go out and get six people to be a jury. And the differences were things mostly in what -- what somebody was charged with or why somebody was there in it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when would somebody not have a jury? Can you think of an example?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: When they didn't ask for one. Yeah. They didn't always have to have a jury, then, but then the commissioner decided. And that was in most cases, really. Section 3:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you find -- I'm trying to think how to ask this.
It seems to me that there was a kind of careful caretaking view by the court. In other words, it wasn't a heavy-duty adversary, these cases were not a heavy-duty adversary kind of case.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. No.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Is that right? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Right. Because sometimes there was no other lawyer in Nome either. So you would -- so the commissioner would make a decision.
I was commissioner for a while, and there were others that were -- that were the commissioner, and -- and they were pretty competent people, and could say -- to say in good faith, I don't think that there's anything wrong with George, why he should go to jail, he didn't do very much, you know, so -- so you're discharged. And then there maybe was something that was much, much more serious. We had a -- JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Well, I have to ask you, Judge, was there anything in law school that prepared you for doing sanity cases?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. What about you?
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Not me either. And I still don't think there is.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. KAREN BREWSTER: I'm wondering about the Native versus non-Native component. And Nome's a mixed community. And how many cases were Natives or how many were Non-Natives on the sanity cases? Do you have a sense of that?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: It was about 50/50 is my thoughts. There weren't just -- there just weren't a great overabundance of the sanity cases, we had them occasionally, but once in awhile they were involved with the Native, and once in awhile it was a Caucasian. They were all treated the same. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you ever use interpreters? Did you have people that -- that didn't understand English and they had to have assistance?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes, once in awhile. I remember a case I was trying before the District Court, and the -- we had the Judge, Judge Hodge, had -- had brought an interpreter in because he didn't think that the -- that the case was being heard right, and it -- and a juror who was Native had stood up and said, he's not interpreting right, and he pointed to the interpreter. So that -- that threw the case into a tizzy, of course. And so they -- the judge took him in chambers and talked to him, and he said, no, sometimes I don't understand how to interpret it into the -- into Inupiat. So that happened once in awhile. Not often. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How about in the sanity cases, do you ever remember people that didn't speak English?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Oh, yes. Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And how would -- how would you handle those as a marshal or a commissioner or --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, you'd usually have -- have appointed a lawyer for them. Section 4:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Judge, did you feel like for the people that were mentally ill, did you feel like generally their interests were being served by the system that was evaluating?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, I really did. Nobody was pushed through. And almost entirely when -- when a person in that position, the family came to their rescue, came into court with them and -- and would -- and would say, you know, we're -- I'm his mother or something, and so we're here just to see that everything's all right. And that was fine, when I was commissioner, it was a fine system. It worked. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: It sounds to me like the system really did act as a filter somewhat.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Some went, some did not.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Right. Uh-hum.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you feel like the system continued to work after you moved on to becoming a Federal Judge? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Oh, yeah, there was commissioners after me, and so as far as I know, uh-hum. And, of course, when after -- after I was commissioner, I was in private practice, and then when -- when I left private practice, why, that's when we left Nome and went to Juneau, and I was appointed by Governor Egan to the Superior Court. So... JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Is there anything else about these sanity cases and your vast experience that you think is a good thing for us, other people to know about what happened in Alaska?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, what happened in Alaska was I -- what I always felt was a very fair proceeding. No -- nobody was brought in to a proceeding to involve mental -- mental ability. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: A good due process system?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum. Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: That you saw.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, I saw it. And I tried to very -- very sincerely to be part of it in the sense that that's the way we treated the people in the court with -- with due process -- sincerely with due process. Nobody got railroaded, nobody got pushed and, you know, aside or anything for any reason. Everybody, as far as I can recall, got -- got fair shakes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Thank you for your time today.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Thank you. Thank you for coming.
KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much.
Judge James von der Heydt - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-32-tp1
Judge James von der Heydt was interviewed by Judge Niesje Steinkruger and Karen Brewster on December 9, 2010 at his condominium overlooking Cook Inlet in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. His wife, Verna, joined in on part of the interview. Judge von der Heydt talks about his experience as a Deputy Federal Marshal based out of Nome in the late 1940s where he was charged with retrieving people for sanity cases and if found "insane and at large" transporting them to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon. He also talks about the court process in Nome for determining mental illness, especially the roles of US Commissioner, attorney, doctor, and the use of a jury trial.
Part two of this interview.
Click to section:
Section 1: Working as a deputy U.S. Marshal based out of Nome from 1945 to 1948.
Section 2: How the von der Heydts met, and were married in 1952.
Section 3: How he ended up in Nome and how he got the job as deputy US Marshal.
Section 4: Transporting people to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Section 5: Story about a particular patient who was transported to Morningside Hospital, and obtaining a signed release agreement from the hospital to be returned to the court system in Alaska.
Section 6: Being careful when removing someone from a village to make sure it was really necessary.
Section 7: Role of the US Attorney and jury trial in commitment cases.
Section 8: Process and procedure for determining someone to be "insane and at large" and committing them to Morningside Hospital.
Section 9: Role of doctors in determining whether someone was sent to Morningside Hospital, and method of investigation the marshals used in villages.
Section 10: Making decisions about whether a person would be set free or sent to Morningside Hospital, and how the court functioned in Nome.
Section 11: Being a private attorney in Nome defending people accused of being "insane and at large.
Section 12: Removing people from their families to take them to Morningside Hospital.
Section 13: Traveling to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Section 14: Traveling to villages to pick up people, and a particularly funny incident that happened related to chocolate pudding.
Section 15: Flying to Diomede Island and the pilot wondering which island to land on, and how people were selected to serve on the jury for sanity hearings.
Section 16: Doctors who testified at sanity hearings in Nome, and holding of prisoners in the Nome jail.
Section 17: Types of cases heard under sanity hearings, how alcoholics were handled, and investigation and report writing duties as a Deputy Marshal.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: I'm Niesje Steinkruger and I'm here with Judge James A. von der Heydt and Mrs. von der Heydt, and we're in Anchorage, Alaska, and it's December the 9th, 2010. And we're in their home today.
Judge von der Heydt, we have been working -- a group of us have been working on a project related to sanity cases from about 1900 to 1960, and I was out in Nome and I ran across your name so many times. Can you tell me, you were a Federal Marshal?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: For about three years?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: '45 to '48.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Deputy U.S. Marshal for about three years, and then my boss was the Marshal for the Second Division, his name was Ben Mozee, M-O-Z-E-E, and he was the boss of the marshals in the Second Division. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And the Second Division was --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Was --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- the Second -- what we call the Second Judicial District now?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Second Judicial Division. Yes. Yes. Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And can you tell me, as a marshal, what was the kind of work that you did?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, just about anything that came up. I -- most of the time I was -- I was a deputy in Nome, I was a bachelor, so I was chosen very often by the marshal to do the travelling. And I did quite a lot of travelling over the first three or four years that I was with the Marshal's Office, out down to Hooper Bay and -- and clear up to Barter Island, and places in between where marshals worked.
We'd get a phone call or something that somebody had misbehaved or somebody had assaulted somebody, and the marshal always looked and me and said, Jim, you're the one to go, you know. So I'd get a -- they would always charter a plane for -- for -- for me, rather than to try and get there by umiak or by some other process. And we'd -- I'd take leave at Nome Airport and we'd fly up, say, to Kotzebue or Point Hope or somewhere like that where I would get -- the plane would land and wait for me. And that was an interesting life because word would go around, you know, that the marshal was --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: You were coming.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: -- that the marshal was coming.
And -- and I remember that one time I was going to Unalakleet, and word went around that the marshal was coming, and there wasn't a soul that lived in Unalakleet that wasn't at the airport when my plane came in and to see what I looked like. And -- and I did -- I did stay in Unalakleet. And I had the most interesting experience of not being able to, hold on, stand on my feet on the ice. The ice was real slick, and I got out of the airplane and went like this, and of course, my dignity was gone at the same time, but they all -- they all clapped or laughed and so forth, and I got up and I took care of my -- my walking a little more carefully. And -- JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Would you have wards?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, yes, usually. There was some times we would just get a report that someone had -- had misbehaved or had assaulted or some -- somebody had assaulted his wife or something like that, and so the marshal would just send me over there to say, well, find out what happened, and if any charges should be filed, why, the -- the commissioner will go on your recommendation when you get back. And once in awhile they were serious. And so I would go down, just like I say, Unalakleet. And I went there fairly often as a deputy. And I would stay in Unalakleet with Charlie Trager who owned the -- owned the big trading post there. And I would stay with them and he and his wife Yula (phonetic) and they had a couple children. And it was a interesting life to -- to go to Unalakleet because Charlie was -- was maybe 80 something then, and Yula, his wife, was about 40, and then they had two little kids, two small kids, so -- so he -- he did other things besides be a father. And -- and it was an interesting time to go to Unalakleet. And he -- and Charlie Trager who owned the trading post in Unalakleet ran -- ran a really respectable business, and the people of Unalakleet patronized the store very well.
And then one night, when I was not in Unalakleet but I had been very shortly before, the trading post burned to the ground. And they found out that somebody had thrown trash in a trash container in a back room of the trading post, and it wasn't out, in the sense of fire, and it caught the building on fire, I think it was quite a large building, but it burned the building to the ground.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Wow. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And so Charlie Trager was, of course, crushed at --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Of course.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: It was a great loss for him and his family.
(Break in recording.) Section 2:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Mrs. von der Heydt, when did you go to Nome?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: I went to Nome in May of 1952, and we were married in Seattle in 19 -- in -- on May 21st, and that was a Wednesday, and then we went on to Nome on Monday, whatever date that was. So -- JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you meet Judge von der Heydt when he was in law school?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yes. He was in law school, and I was working at management consultant firm, Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and they are still going strong. And they always had a very lavish Christmas party at a private club, and there were cocktails and a live orchestra before dinner, before a sit-down dinner with linens, table linens, very lavish, and then dancing with the orchestra after dinner. And at the time I wasn't dating anyone, and a friend came along, and so whoever was single in the office could go, whether they had a spouse or not, or a friend. Anyway, I was just going to go. And one of the girls came along and said, my boyfriend, my date for the party, won't know a soul at the party, and he wants me to get a date for a friend of his. And she said, I know him too. And she said, do you want to be his date? And I said, well, yes. I thought that would be nice. And so that's when we met. And -- KAREN BREWSTER: This was in Seattle or --
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: No, this was Chicago.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, Chicago.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Chicago. Uh-hum. And I remember during the evening, someone asked him where he was from, and he said Nome, Alaska, and I thought, why in the world would he ever say Nome, Alaska, when his mother lives in Oak Park and his brother and family live in Glen Ellyn. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: But he was a Nome boy, wasn't he?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Well, he had been in Nome for some years, and then went back to law school, and that's when we met. And when I got back to the apartment, which I shared with a friend of mine, she said, well, how was your blind date? They were a very good reputation at that time. And I said, oh, he was really nice, I liked him. And Jim said that when he got back to his roommates, they said, well, how was the blind date? And he said, oh, she was a lovely young lady, I really liked her. So it just turned out perfectly. We've been happy and loving each other all these years. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And was the first you had been to Alaska was after you were married and you moved to Nome?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. Well, in those days, travelling wasn't as easy and it was very expensive. And I had gotten -- when he was in law school and knew him, he had gotten to know my father, my father had passed away but my mother and two brothers and their families, and I got to know his mother and his stepfather, and his brother and his family. So we knew each other well.
And my mother was -- said, well, I know you find -- found the husband to be that you want, and she said, I hate it that you're going so far away, but she said, I'll be gone long before -- I'll be gone before I know what's -- anyway, she -- I'm not saying this right. Anyway, she said, I'm glad to know that you're happy with Jim and that gives me peace of mind. She was wonderful about it.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Oh, that's sweet.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Yeah. She was a wonderful lady. Section 3:
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say, maybe we can step back a second and ask him a little bit about how he got to Nome and his background.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When you -- you first came, you worked -- I know you worked on the Tok Bridge.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: But how did -- was it that you got to Nome and became a Federal Marshal? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, I had a friend who was a practicing dentist in Nome in those days, and -- and he wrote and said come on -- I was working down the highway, and he said -- wrote me a note and said, come on over to Nome, there's some good jobs here and you'll find it an interesting place. His name was Max Kennedy, he's gone now.
But anyway, so I packed up my little suitcase down on the highway near -- near Tok, and up to Fairbanks, and then flew across to -- to Nome. And had a job there with Sommers (phonetic) Construction Company and it worked out very well. And liked -- liked Nome, and it was an inter -- Nome is a very interesting place to live; still is, and was in those days.
So I turned out to be rather happy and contented in Nome. Could find no reason why I should ever leave Nome. You know, I had that kind of in my mind. And then it suddenly occurred to me, you know, you're still quite a young man, I was in my -- probably maybe 22 or three or in that range, and I said you better -- you better have some thoughts in your mind about what kind of a career you want just besides driving a truck around, and I thought that -- James, that's a pretty good thought. And so I -- so I -- I left Nome, and I had applied to several -- to three law schools because I had -- having worked in the Marshals Office, my interest in the law was kind of whetted.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did you -- how did you get to work in the Marshals Office? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, during -- when I was working the construction work, driving the truck in Nome for the construction company, Sommers Construction Company, they were building, finishing off Marks Air Force Base for the Air Force there in World War II, and it's now the Nome Airport. And so I was walking down the street, and the job -- the job had ended when -- when the -- when the armistice to Japan was reached. And so there was -- the war was over, in other words. And so I -- I was kind of wondering whether I wanted to stay in Alaska, whether I wanted to stay in Nome and so forth, and I had -- I had in the meantime come to know the son of the U.S. Marshal. And I ran -- he said, well, Jim, what are you going to do now? And I said, well, I just don't know, I have to find out. And he said, well, he said, my dad's looking for a deputy. And so he said, he's down in his office right down here in this old Federal Building, and tell him that -- that I sent you in. And so I went in and I -- there was somebody there. I later knew his one -- a deputy, and he went in and told the Marshal, Ben Mozee, that there's a young man out here that -- that his son has sent, so I went into the -- to the Marshals Office and sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. And he said, well, he said, it's fine, I'd love to have you as a deputy, because he was short. And I said, well -- well, that's fine, and that's fine, I'll give it a whirl. And so he -- he reached in and pulled out his desk -- a desk drawer and took out a huge .45 revolver, and he pushed it across the desk and he says, you may need this. And I nearly fell out of the chair. And -- and so anyway, I took the revolver, I had a little house there in Nome at that time, back and put it in the bureau drawer, and never had occasion to use it, but it was kind of an interesting happening. And so that's -- that's how I got in the Marshals Office and began to get into that kind of work.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did they have a badge then? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Yeah. A thing that went on your belt. As a matter of fact, I got an inquiry, what was it, Verna, about a year ago or not, that did I know what happened to the belt -- to the badge that I had -- excuse me -- when I was a -- when I was a deputy. And I said, well, I turned it back in to the Marshals Office in Nome, it's what you're supposed to do, but nobody could find any of the badges, so apparently people had made off with them, but they were the regular U.S. Marshals badge, and you usually wore it on your belt, rather than up here. Section 4:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you remember, Judge, when you were a marshal going to pick up people that were accused of being mentally ill?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, it was called they were insane and at large.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Exactly. That's what I've seen in the -- I've seen those words.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah, that's the termination for it. Yes. And I was a -- I accompanied, usually with another marshal, another deputy, people with that problem out to Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon. And it was quite a trip because you -- we flew first from -- from Nome to Fairbanks, and then Fairbanks to Seattle, and then we would take the train down to Portland, Oregon, where Morningside Hospital was, and turn the individual in. They were basically individuals that, for the most part, were totally harmless, but didn't understand what was going on in their lives. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And do you -- where, after the court proceedings, where did they stay in Nome until you could travel?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, it depended on the individual because Nome -- because there were places in Nome where they -- the marshal could just overnight a person, for example, like that. Or if they were really considered dangerous, in a sense, why, then, they stayed in the jail, until the transportation was arranged.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Uh-hum. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And then we escorted them out. And...
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Were they usually handcuffed? Do you remember?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I don't remember. They -- they generally were quite docile. They were people of not quite understanding maybe what had happened to them, or why they were being taken somewhere, but they didn't -- they didn't have to -- they didn't seem to have a resentment that made them dangerous. For the most part. There were one or two that my colleague and I that -- that usually did the escorting were a little bit on the uneasy side with, but that didn't turn out to be very meaningful either, so it was a easy trip, usually.
Of course, we had to fly from Nome to Anchorage, and Anchorage to Seattle, and then take the train down to Portland where Morningside Hospital was. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: So did that take, like, a week round trip?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Not -- maybe not a week, but it took several days. And we -- and we overnighted in -- in Portland after we had delivered the individual, the mentally ill individual to Morningside Hospital. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: That hospital has burned down now. What do you remember about the hospital itself?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I remember it was quite a large building, and its chief function was the handling of -- of individual -- mentally ill individuals, both from Alaska and -- and Washington, or excuse me, both, from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon were taken there. And sometimes we would be surprised, we'd escort a person down to Morningside in Portland, Oregon, and get a plane a few days later, and the fellow had been released already and would beat us home. So the medical staff at Morningside Hospital in those days was not particularly interested in serious medical treatment, I'll put it that way. Section 5:
KAREN BREWSTER: Or was it that the person, perhaps, was sent there for a reason other than mental illness? Was that -- did that happen?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, that wouldn't be right. They shouldn't be there under any circumstances unless they had been declared mentally ill and in need of treatment. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you see people that had alcoholism, problem with drugs?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Not so much drugs in those days, but some of the -- some of the people in Nome that we took out had alcohol problems, yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you ever take any children out?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. No.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Females? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. But I -- a female, we never -- I never took out a female as a single. There were at least two, another fellow with me, if I -- we were taking out a female, because -- and they were -- some were -- some were real characters and some weren't.
And we had one -- I don't want to deviate if you don't want me to, but -- JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Oh, go ahead.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, we had -- I can still remember Mabel who was a -- whose last name I've long forgotten.
KAREN BREWSTER: That's okay, we don't need the last name.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Okay. Anyway, who -- who was escorted out by -- by me alone, she was quite harmless, and someone had told her in the year or so before that she had Auburn hair. And so when we -- when you'd be on an airplane or on a taxi or something, she'd stand up and say, "I have Auburn hair," she'd say, and be -- and it was funny in a way and sad in another way. And -- and she was very much aware of this fact that she had Auburn hair, and would very much say it, but she'd stand up, like in a railroad station or something and tap on a glass and say, "I have Auburn hair," she'd say to all these people were, you -- you do, they'd all say. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And were you wearing a marshal's uniform or did you go in plain clothes?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, we didn't -- yeah, just plain clothes. Uh-hum. But she was -- she was -- Mabel I particularly remember because she -- she wanted the world to know she had Auburn hair. I don't know who told her but somebody a year before or so told her she had Auburn hair, and that really stuck with her. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you have to get a warrant or a document signed at Morningside --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- and return that to the court?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. My recollection is that we -- that I had to get a release from them of their -- any -- any danger culpability on behalf of the hospital that may occur, and none ever did that I know of. And they would -- they would sign that, and then I'd take that back to the marshal in Nome. There are probably a file there somewhere of those releases in it. Uh-hum. Section 6:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you have occasion when you were the marshal to go to any of the villages, like a petition would be filed with the court alleging that someone was insane and at large, and then my understanding is the commissioner would issue a warrant for that person. If they weren't -- or if they were in Nome or they were in a village, then would you go to the house and get the person?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, we'd -- it depended a lot on the particular circumstances. Some -- some were -- were just not -- they weren't -- I don't mean this as a -- as an insult, but they weren't worth the trouble they were going to be. They weren't that -- that bothersome, that -- that much of a problem.
And so we talked -- we usually talked to the officers or the important people of a certain village and say, now, we're not going to take Mary away because she'd be away from home and would not know what in -- what at all to do. And so she -- so she's going to remain here, and usually they were happy with that. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And then -- and then the village would find some way to care for her?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Uh-hum. Yeah. Right. Usually. And a lot of times there were, you know, these villages, people could be cruel. There were enmities against certain individuals, and maybe they weren't really mentally ill, but somebody wanted to get them out of town or something like that, so we had to be real careful of how we handled these cases. And then they -- they weren't easy. Section 7:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Later when you were the U.S. Attorney, were you the person that would put on the evidence, call the -- because they were jury trials, weren't they? Six-person jury trials?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. If -- if -- if they requested it, but almost nobody -- no one did.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Really?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. No, nobody requested a jury trial to see whether they should go out. There was -- as I said, they were very docile, very -- very kindly and just kind of not understanding what was going on sort of people. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And then would -- as a U.S. Attorney, would you question the petitioner?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: For the judge -- I guess it was a commissioner, not a judge, wasn't it?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah, it was a U.S. Commissioner then. We had a regular judge also, but the commissioner handled cases like that.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And --
KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- the commissioner at that time was like a magistrate? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: The commissioner -- the commissioner had limited authority, and -- and had cases that were specifically within the commissioner's jurisdiction. There -- they used to say that everything that the Congress passed that had anything to do with Alaska was always given to the commissioner as -- as a person that had to handle it. And it was a lot of truth because I was a commissioner in Nome for, I don't know, maybe most of a year at one time. And -- and they -- they -- the commissioner landed, he had to do all the weddings, he had to do the divorces, he had to do all the various responsibilities that came up in people's lives. And one time I had a young man come in and a young lady, and I was Commissioner in Nome, and they came in the office and he said that they wanted to get married. And so I said, well, all right. And -- and I said, bring her in and I'll fill out the documents, and if you want me to, I'll marry you. Yes, they wanted me to marry them. So -- so I did. And they were gone -- they left, they lived somewhere in Nome, but I didn't see much of them. And about a year later, he came in, I had looked up and he was standing at the counter, and he said -- he said, now, we've been -- we've been married for a year and we want to renew the certificate. We like it.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: So sweet.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: That's very sweet. Section 8:
KAREN BREWSTER: What I was going to say is that for those of us who aren't familiar with the whole court proceedings and process, if maybe you could walk us through the whole process of how, as a marshal, you would -- what the paperwork was that would send you out and how it went through the court system. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, it usually went to the marshal -- the Marshal in Nome first, Ben Mozee who I mentioned earlier. Then I was one of three or four deputies that would go, and he would choose mostly me because I was the only single one. She hadn't found me yet. And anyway, hello, dear.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Hello, love. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And -- and -- and anyway.
KAREN BREWSTER: So once you brought somebody to Nome for a court proceeding, how does that work? What happens?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, you called the commissioner first, and said, I have a defendant that needs to be arraigned, and he'd say, well, three o'clock today, so yes, you'd take them in and he'd do the arraignment proceeding. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did it start with a sanity case?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: With a sanity case, it usually started with someone who would complain to the marshal about somebody's conduct or -- or lack of conduct. And then -- then we'd get a call, and I -- I or the other deputies would go out to the village, whatever it was, anywhere in the Second Division, and -- and see what was going on. And if it was some kind of -- a really serious problem going on, then we would bring that individual back to Nome where they would be a resident of the jail until they figured out what to do with them. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Why would you -- it seemed to me that the numbers are quite high in the '50s, as I looked over the years in Nome, the numbers of sanity cases.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you have any thoughts about why that was?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. And of course, it's something generally, now that you mention it, that I was kind of more aware of but wasn't so much aware of at the time, that these -- we were seeming to have quite a few of these kind of cases. But... JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Was the person that was insane and at large, were they seen by a physician?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did that happen?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, they were referred by the commissioner to the -- to the doctor in Nome who looked -- who have examined them and figured and decided whether they were really inco -- insane and at large, and they were pretty careful just to let somebody go, but then -- but then it was the doctor's responsibility. And they would be held until they could be taken out to Morningside. KAREN BREWSTER: And so there was a trial that the doctor would testify?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Now, I wouldn't call it a trial, really, but the doctor was a chief witness that testified that the individual was -- was not mentally well, and he --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Would you call it a hearing?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. I guess so. Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Were there ever any other witnesses to say on the other side?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: On a very rare occasion, very rare occasion, uh-hum. The individual was, as I said before, pretty -- they were pretty -- pretty docile, pretty -- everything was going okay, they didn't know why, but it seemed all right to them sort of an attitude.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Would there be other witnesses besides the doctor?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: There could be. There could be, but not very often. Section 9:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And did the doctor try to figure out if there was some other cause besides -- besides mental illness?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, I really don't know. The doctors were -- they were busy with other things, and they would -- they would take control of and interview the individual, and decide whether they should be either released or taken in custody down to Morningside. And more often than not, it was go to Morningside because the doctors were usually, I think, a little bit timid about just letting somebody with that kind of a charge go free for fear they were -- you know, they might harm someone. KAREN BREWSTER: And these doctors were probably not psychiatrists?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Not -- not that I know of. They were just sort of ordinary MDs that -- but they -- they came to Nome as a -- as a ward, so to speak, of the Methodist, Women's Methodist Church, as a -- to -- to take care of problems like that. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: So the Women's Methodist Church, like, sponsored doctors to come there?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Uh-hum. And the doctors came to Nome usually sponsored by and financially supported by the Women's -- and I -- Women's Methodist Union Church or something, where they actually paid -- paid money and so forth to support the doctors, when they were there, financially. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How long did they stay generally?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, as long as the doctor wanted. Some stayed for some years, and we had a couple of doctors that were not too happy with -- with that kind of an assignment and they -- weren't there very long. But it was -- it was kind of depending a lot on the individual case. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When you would go out to a village or even someplace in Nome to investigate, did you get involved in talking with the family or the neighbors about the person to kind of figure out what was going on?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Yes. Yes, we would, because we had no way to know really why we were there. And we would talk to the parents or the husband or wife or something, if it -- if it was a continuing or growing problem with the particular individual. Section 10:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: One of the things over the years I've noticed in Fairbanks in doing sanity cases is that the weather is a factor in terms of the person being able to care for themselves --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- and protect themselves. We're talking about doctors maybe being afraid to let someone out. Was the weather in Nome one of the factors, you know, whether the person could care for themselves? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Strangely enough, I don't remember that it was. I don't think so. The doctors were -- that came under the auspices of this Methodist women's organization were quite fine people and competent.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: What about the mentally ill people, was the weather a factor in -- let's see, how do I want to say this -- were the -- was the commissioner or the marshal, were you concerned sometimes about whether the person could care for themselves if it was winter? JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum. Yes. But we were -- we were usually in -- it was our job to decide whether -- whether or not the individual should -- should be sent out, or -- or set free. So, I mean, it either ended there or we took the person out to Morningside.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: In those days, how would -- how did the court get money? Were there fees involved in supporting the court?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. Through the marshal. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did that work?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: The marshal was the -- was the money manager for the court there, not only the Territorial District Court, but the Commissioner's Court. And for what needs they had, they would -- the money was provided through a Washington office to the marshals. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And then were --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I mean, the marshals, not a deputy. The marshals.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And so then how did the money go to the court?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, the money would go to the court as needed, as I recall. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And did the court charge certain fees to get -- to make copies or to file petitions?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, commissioners were -- were given the responsibility of -- of charging certain fees for certain services, and -- and as I said, the commissioners were given by Congress the responsibility to take care of anything that nobody else could do or would do. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: In Alaska?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: In Alaska, yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When the -- when the court, like when you had this court hearing --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- did they record it like we do today?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: We had court reporters as such, individuals. We didn't have someone who was just -- just there, so to speak. And then later on, we had real court reporters --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Uh-hum.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: -- who -- who recorded, like, the drawing of juries and all that sort of thing. And -- and reported when a case went to trial, they recorded the trial, and had to prepare a record if -- if the case was appealed. Section 11:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When you went into private practice in Nome, at that time you were married, right?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Not -- not in the beginning, was I?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Was I --
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: No, you were -- it was after -- after you were U.S. Attorney and you resigned.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: President Eisenhower had been elected, and you resigned as U.S. Attorney and then went into private practice.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Okay. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And then when you were in private practice sometimes did the court appoint you to be the lawyer for the person that was accused of being insane and at large?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Always. I was the only practicing attorney in the Second Division.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Always.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: So -- so I got all the cases. They had what they called C Fund, which was a fund that was -- was collected by the clerk of court for fines and forfeitures, and that money was used to -- to support the commissioner's office financially when there was a need for, like, the appointment of a lawyer or the appointment of a psychiatrist or a doctor or something. That -- that would be used -- they would use C Fund to pay for the individual that was appointed. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you remember how much you got paid to represent a person accused of being insane?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. I really don't. I'm sorry, but --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: I bet it wasn't very much.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, it wasn't a lot of money. No, that's true. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And if you were the lawyer for that person, did you go to the jail to meet with them?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did you come about -- or did you meet at the courthouse?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: If they were not released -- If they were not released on bond, I did go to the court -- to the jail, excuse me, go to the jail, and they had a room there for -- a private room where I could -- as the attorney for the individual, where I could talk to them and interview them and see what was going on, so to speak. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you ever have a person who was accused of being insane and at large who fought, didn't want -- you didn't think they -- they didn't want to go to Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Once in a great while, but as I say, they were pretty docile under those circumstances. Strangely so, sometimes. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And did people go to Morningside and -- do you remember, and stay there for the rest of their lives?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Some did. Some -- some stayed there and died there. And there are some graves in the Portland cemetery of individuals that were taken to Morningside under those circumstances and were there until they -- until they died, and were interred in the cemetery there in Portland. Section 12:
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was it like when you went to a village and you went to a home and you had to remove somebody from that home? What was that experience like, from the reactions of the family?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, most of the time you were there because of the complaints the family had made about this individual, and so we'd go to in town and visit and they'd say, well, Joe just can't live here anymore, we don't want him around, and so forth. And that -- that's the reason. He didn't get along with his parents and he didn't get along with his siblings, and so forth. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: So there must have been some consensus in the family --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- that they couldn't do it anymore?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Right. Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ever hear back how people felt about having a family member be so far away in Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes. There was some -- some that felt that it was -- that they were deprived of the contact that was -- would really have been the best if they hadn't been taken away. If you know what I mean. KAREN BREWSTER: And how do you -- how do you respond to that?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, the response of the marshal, of course, was that we had an order from the commissioner to take them, and -- but they -- a lot of them didn't stay there very long.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Really?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Uh-hum. A lot of them were released after they had been to Morningside for a few weeks or something, and -- and was probably best. They'd go back home and everything would be all right again, I guess, for the most part. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Were there any folks that you remember being through that system more than once? You know, where they repeated and had to go back to Morningside?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, on a very rare occasion, there might have been one or two in the years I was there. Section 13:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When you -- when you would transport people from Nome, you must have had to overnight in Anchorage or Seattle?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Yes, and we always took -- I always took them to the local jail, wherever it was, where they were given a bed and food, and so forth, overnight, and then I'd come and collect them the next morning, and we'd continue the trip on out. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And did the Marshals Office give you travel vouchers, or how did you have the money -- how did the money part of it --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: The marshals wrote -- wrote -- had the authority to write the tickets, so to speak, for -- for transportation of myself and -- and the individual going out, and maybe if there were two of us, they would -- they would write the tickets and sent us on our way. In other words, they'd pay for it. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And the -- did you ever have to use any transportation other than airplanes?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Oh, taxis. We used taxis quite a lot when we were in a -- like in Portland, from the airport to Morningside Hospital, and -- and that sort of transportation. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And the train?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And we did the train, we did the train frequently. If we got into Seattle from -- at the airport in Seattle from -- from Nome fairly late, we would take a train, an overnight train from Seattle to Portland, and then -- and have the individual with us at that time. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And would it be a sleeping car?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. We'd have sleeping accommodations. And took -- those trains in those days, and I don't know why, it isn't that far, but it took overnight to go from Seattle to Portland. And we would, of course, get off in the morning in Portland and go -- and get a cab or something on to -- on to Morningside. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And you'd have the mentally ill person in one bunk --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: That's right.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- and you'd be in another?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: That's right. But there was rarely just me. We -- there was almost always -- we almost always, there were two deputies together because on the rarest of occasion, there was a problem with one of them, but it didn't -- JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you carry a firearm?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I didn't because I didn't know how to use it. Strike that. Section 14:
KAREN BREWSTER: What about the transportation on the village end? Did you run a dog team, umiaq, or was it always airplane?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, I took -- I took umiaq several times from -- like, to go down to Unalakleet with a -- with a bush flyer, and take a -- an --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Umiaq.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: -- umiaq down to another village somewhere, and get -- and pick up somebody. And usually the one that I picked up was -- was there because he heard I was coming, and so I always sat backwards when we came into this place where this fellow was so they couldn't see who it was in the big parka. And so and then I'd get out and I'd say, come on, here -- here -- I had --let's see I had John Teapot (phonetic) and Peter -- Peter something else, a Native name, that I had to go after, so to speak, because they -- they took -- they took an umiaq and went by umiaq down to another village, and so forth, where they had relatives, so you'd have to go get them, so to speak. KAREN BREWSTER: And you said your jurisdiction went all the way to Kaktovik, Barter Island?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: From Barter Island up -- up the coast to -- to -- Barter -- that went from Barter Island down the coast to -- oh, dear.
KAREN BREWSTER: Unalakleet or --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, past Unalakleet. It was down toward --
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, you said Hooper Bay.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Hooper Bay. That's right. From Hooper Bay to Barter Island. KAREN BREWSTER: So how would you get to Barter Island to transport somebody?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Usually in a plane, in a --
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Charter.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: A charter. Charter. Yeah, uh-hum. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ever have to go out to King Island or Diomede Island?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: I went to both, yeah. King Island is a wonderful place. If it was by some of the remotest chance in the world you should have a chance to go to King Island, you should by all means go. It's built -- the houses and things are built on stilts on the cliffs of King Island, and it's a fascinating place.
I also went to Diomede a couple of times. And I -- that's my -- that's my oatmeal story. I went to Little Diomede -- Little Diomede --
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Chocolate pudding. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: -- and to get -- and to get -- to pick up a prisoner, and as it turned out, as Verna just said it was choc-- and while we were there, Ben, he was the only White man on the island, said, wouldn't you like some chocolate pudding? And I said, well, that sounds good. So he gave me a great, big serving and he took a can, canned milk, everything was canned milk, and poured it over and gave me, and so I found this was quite a difficult thing to -- to consume all that. And -- and so the next stop was at Cape Prince of Wales, and the lady there when I got there, so you always went to there since she was the school teacher, that's where we always went to stay overnight. And -- and so after I got there, she said, well, you sleep up in the attic, and that was all right. And then she said, and wouldn't you like some chocolate pudding? And she picked up a big spoon and glopped some of this chocolate pudding in a bowl for me, and I had just come from Diomede where I had a bowl of chocolate pudding that I could hardly finish. So there were funny things that happened, too. Section 15:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: I saw some of the --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Verna, what, do you have any thoughts?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: The pilot talking about which island.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
We had a -- Wien operated a -- Wien Airlines operated flights out of Nome to some of the villages, and we had one who can remain nameless, I guess, who took me first when I first went out to Diomede Island. And you know, it's two islands, one is Russian, one's American.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Right. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And so we were flying out there, and in the horizon appeared these two islands, and this pilot who was brand new in the job looked at me and he said, now which one is ours? And I said, what do you mean which one is ours? This one is ours. Because in those days the Russians would shoot at the plane if it was an American plane that went out over their island. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: I saw, when I looked at records, Diomede and King Island, that there were cases out there, and -- and then I would see some cases where the jury would find the person was sane?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: They didn't always find that they were insane.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. No, not at all. Huh-uh. No, they sometimes said, well, we -- and that depended, of course, on the doctor's testimony. And the doctor testified that he didn't really feel that the -- the person was -- was mentally ill and needed to be hospitalized, and a jury would -- it was a six-person jury, would usually go along with that, and he would be -- the individual would be discharged and go back to Diomede or wherever he was from. And you never heard of them again. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: How did you get the jurors? How did -- how did --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: The marshal went out and just took -- took people off the street.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: You did that?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah, when I was a deputy, I'd go out in the street in Nome and I'd meet Joe Smith and I'd say, we need you to come on, go into the Marshals Office here, you're going to be a juror in a case, if it was like a mental -- a mental hearing. And he'd be, oh, I don't want to go. Yes, you do. Go ahead, I'm telling you to go. So you would collect twelve -- six individuals under those circumstances, and they'd all be there and be the jury for -- to hear whether, of course, it was mentally ill or insane and at large as it was called then, and that's where you got the juries for that.
Now, the juries for regular case trials were drawn from the -- from the ballots, you know, the voting records. And didn't -- we didn't go through that, but we just picked them off the street when it was for -- for a mental hearing. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Would you go into the shops or the places of business?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Anywhere where we felt could get six people. Yeah. That's right.
KAREN BREWSTER: The bars?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Pardon?
KAREN BREWSTER: The bars?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. Not -- well --
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Board of trade.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Board of trade, yes, but you had to be careful there, of course. But -- and -- and people got to know why -- why you were coming in the bar, and they'd all stand there and say, I'm not going to go, go away. So you're better off on the street. Section 16:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And I saw several doctors's names, Dr. James Tucker.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. A good friend of ours.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you remember Dr. Tucker?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes, I do, very well.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: I do, too.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Do you remember Dr. Tucker?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yes, he and his wife, I knew both of them.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: LaVerne Tucker.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Yeah. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And James Tucker.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: And James Tucker, yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Because I saw medical reports.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Isn't it Bruce?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Bruce.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Bruce Tucker.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Oh, I see, it's James B., I bet I've got it written --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Right. Everybody called him Bruce, so you're right, it was James B. Tucker.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: We called him Bruce, and she was Vernie. And I don't know what her name was, for sure.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: LaVerne, L-A, capital, V-E-R-N-E. LaVerne. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And he must have testified in a number of these --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: He did, yes.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- sanity hearings. And, let's see, a Dr. Fred Langson (phonetic)?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Fred Langson, yes, he was another doctor that came after -- after Bruce, he came to Nome and testified in sanity cases. The doctor, if there was a doctor there, which usually was the case, they were always a witness under those circumstances. They'd be assigned to the -- the commissioner would assign them to the -- to the doctor for examination, and then the doctor would testify later for these individuals.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And where was the jail in Nome?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: On the second floor of the Federal Building.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Really?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Uh-hum. Up above -- up where the old -- old Federal Building across the street from the bay, and so forth, on the second floor was a -- was the Marshals Office and the Federal Jail. And so that -- that's where people were -- were kept until -- if they were -- they -- sometimes they were there, like, if it was a six-month sentence, they'd be there for six months in just the jail upstairs. Other times, if they were more serious defendants or more serious prisoner, they would take them out to, like, Seattle or somewhere for their time. Section 17:
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: I saw a reference to Fairhaven Precinct.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah, that was -- was that on the -- as far as I remember, it was down on the Yukon River, one of the precincts down the Yukon River.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Hmm.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Do you remember, Verna?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: I don't remember that at all. JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Fairhaven Precinct, yes, there was a -- there were Deputy Marshals stationed down there and it was along the Yukon River.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: The -- I saw cases from Golovin.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Did you go to Golovin?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, because they usually came to me. They would bring them into town, and they would -- and they would be brought before the commissioner there, because there was -- I don't remember Golovin yet having a commissioner. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: It appeared when I look at the files that sometimes there were folks, sometimes women, who were depressed, their husbands maybe thought they needed help. Do you remember any of those cases?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No, I don't. They maybe existed because we had all sorts of things happen, so to speak. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And what would happen if it was somebody that was an alcoholic? Would they always go to Morningside, or sometimes --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: No. No.
JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: -- were there other ways of handling it?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: There were other. If it was just alcoholism, there were other ways of handling them, and then they were referred to the doctors. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: And they stayed in their --?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: They stayed, yes.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: Or they would -- they would stay in jail overnight.
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yeah, uh-hum.
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: And then the state passed a law where they no longer could do that. In fact, that --
KAREN BREWSTER: So then what would happen? If they couldn't stay in jail, what happened?
VERNA VON DER HEYDT: It -- JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, they were -- they were just a prisoner that was on bail, they set bail, and they would -- it would be $5 or something like that, and they would get out, and they could -- and they could -- not -- they would not be in custody.
KAREN BREWSTER: Were they sent for treatment anyplace, or --
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: If they were serious cases, yeah. Uh-hum. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: When you were a marshal and you would go and investigate someone that may be insane and at large, did you have to write reports, then?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Yes. Sometimes. Some -- sometimes it just seemed superfluous, but -- but it was what the marshal himself wanted you to do with a certain circumstance. JUDGE NIESJE STEINKRUGER: Uh-hum. Did you hand write those or type them?
JUDGE JAMES VON DER HEYDT: Well, in those days, I could type, so I typed, they are probably in the file somewhere, in the old Marshals Office files, yeah.
John and Louise Maakestad - Tape #ORAL HISTORY 2006-15-30-tp2
John and Louise Maakestad were interviewed by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010at their apartment at the Anchorage Pioneer Home in Anchorage, Alaska.
Return to part one of this interview.
Click to section:
Section 1: Dealing with a patient at Alaska Psychiatric Institute who unexpectedly killed his roommate.
Section 2: The unpredictability of mental illness and the treatment of patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Section 3: Safety issues when working with criminal patients, and other staff he worked with at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
Section 4: Effect of age on memory and quality of current living situation.
Section 5: Early stages of diagnosis of their daughter with developmental disabilities.
Section 6: Services and help their daughter has received in Anchorage.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: -- patient, he was from Boston, and he spoke with an interesting slight Boston accent. And he -- he had very peculiar habits. My name, Maakestad, has a double A, and so he would pronounce it Ma-ak-e-stad, Ma-ak-e-stad, as you see, rather than in the Norwegian, a double A is "Mah." But anyway, it's a terrible thing. One night he went over to his roommate and he had gotten a -- a hunting knife and he cut the other patient's throat, and he was a nice kid. They -- I mean, they were both about 20 -- in late twenties, and see, I can't even remember names, but that's good.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, that's good.
KAREN BREWSTER: We don't want names. JOHN MAAKESTAD: We wouldn't need that or want it. But anyway, I went to -- well, this -- this fellow, one Sunday morning, I came up to conduct the service at API, and there was a circle of -- a clutch of nursing patient -- nursing personnel, and some other people down there, and in -- in the center of attention and being helped was this fellow from Boston. And he had gotten out a third-story window, I think it was, and it was a low building, then, below it, and so the roof was flat, so this Boston boy had run to the edge and he jumped off. I said, what did you do that for? And I used his name or whatever. And he said -- and this is what he told me, he said, I thought I would fly like Superman. You know. And it just shows you the very real mistakes that they make.
Well, this same fellow, then, had -- he was a sleeping giant, you see, and this ugly giant had awakened late at night. I said, why did you cut your roommate's throat like that? And he said, because he snored. Yeah. He snored. His snoring bugged me. Well, that's unexpected. He hadn't, that we -- as far as we'd known, acted so belligerently to -- but -- and then I went into the -- I guess the superintendent called me in to ask me what -- what do you find about this fellow who had cut the throat of his roommate? And I said, well, I had asked him about it and he had complained about snoring. I said I snore, too. You know.
And I was talking to the superintendent and I said, and here is how flagrant he thinks and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's stop for a second.
(Off record momentarily.) BILL SCHNEIDER: And you said to the superintendent?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, I said to the superintendent, he -- he told me that -- he told me this. He said, yes, I cut his throat, and I should have cut about seven more. There were nursing personnel on -- on his ward, you know. Now, he -- he had been reprimanded and restricted, which sounds poppycock, but he was -- I think he -- well, he was under restraint anyhow. I -- I don't want to give the impression that API's security was loose. They -- they had one or two that were on the security unit that were in for murder, and they would spend the rest of their lives in there. Section 2:
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-hum. Now, why didn't they -- why did they stay at API instead of being put in the prison system?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Because they had these strange mental aberrations, and I -- I can't remember specific now just what it might be, but it -- he -- you know, I remember he was a little -- a little fellow, very muscular, and I've forgotten what his crime was. It was murder of some family member or whatever it may have been.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so there are some patients who stayed there because they were never --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- able to go back --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. Chronic.
KAREN BREWSTER: They were chronic patients.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. There are.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then other people were there short term and were --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- healed and able to go home? JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Yes, that's the way it goes. The strange nature of mental illness, and psychiatrists and psychologists get the different aspects of mental aberrations and problems, and they can do quite well at predicting that other -- that certain people will be -- what -- what is it they call it -- recoverable or they -- you know, they can be -- and you see they were giving this fellow that shot the three teenagers, just a terrible thing, that he wiped out three young people, you know. And he -- some witness -- see, he came by in the early morning and walked through Russian Jack Springs Park there, and he -- he saw their little tent, and he was in there going through their tapes and so on, and -- and the young people came -- came back and surprised him, and so he stood up and he was Almighty God with a gun, you know, and he just wiped the three lives out.
Well, he was, you know, on work release when he shouldn't have been. I mean, there was a slip-up that they misfigured. Section 3:
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you ever feel that your life was endangered or that you were in a difficult position?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: I think -- yes. You know, there's one thing -- now, I was at San Quentin Prison, I told you, and -- and there the chaplain said, now, you have to recognize that if you go inside the walls, we won't rescue you, we can't -- we can't promise to do that. And that goes for all of the security people. They -- so -- but you accept that, you know, as one of the hazards of what you're doing. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about any of the other staff at API in particular, people that --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- stand out in your memory?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. And they can talk about me. And how did you mean?
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, ones that stand out in your memory, people you worked with, and what -- what the staff was like. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Okay. When I came to API, there was an old psychiatrist who was -- he had been on the staff of the University of California, and Dr. Bowman. And he was a very -- he was a very capable man and a very articulate, but he was an elderly man. Like I am now, probably in his 90s or so. And he -- but I admired him in his position.
And how -- I got into a little misunderstanding with one of the head psychologists over some little matter. I -- it was when I was new out there and I -- he -- this little Eskimo boy had told me that he was supposed to get me to read a Scripture at the next staff meeting. And as I say, I was new and -- to the situation.
And so there was -- in department heads, there was an exchange of comments there, and I said, I understand that I misunderstood in this situation, and anyway, he -- Dr. Bowman handled it in such a professional way, you know. And he -- and the head psychiatrist, Dr. Robbins? -- no. I can't say his name right now. But we were good friends, and he understood how I explained how I had been taken in by this Eskimo boy. And part of it was that he was from Shishmaref, and I had known him. Peter Tuktu (phonetic). So -- but that's not a serious matter, but it's one of the realities. Section 4:
KAREN BREWSTER: And what other doctors or staff members you worked with?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: The one that moved to Portland, you thought highly of him.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Oh, yes. Yes. Dr. -- hmm. You know, it is terrible.
KAREN BREWSTER: It's a long time ago to remember. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Memory bank, you know it's there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, you -- no, the thing is, you'll think of it when we leave. That's the way it is.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it often happens that way.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you shouldn't feel badly.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that's fine.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: You've given us a great deal.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That particular administrator was so positive in his --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Can you say his name?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I can't, John. I'm sorry. Oh, boy. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, you know, ask me more, if you have a mind to.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Too many years.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: There are a few, but it's a strange experience for -- you know, I've been -- had a pretty good memory, but -- and I depend on it, and it's just a blank wall there. BILL SCHNEIDER: But as you know, being someone who works in the helping field --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- that -- that this whole aging process is -- is such a natural thing.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And we -- we fight it.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Uh-hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: And we don't understand or accept it. You know, it's like people my age being concerned with all these drugs that will make them more active physically, where they don't accept the fact that their bodies are changing.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You know what I mean?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. Absolutely.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So I would think as a pastor, that this would be something that, you know, would be very, very close to your understanding.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yes. BILL SCHNEIDER: But you do great. I think --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, thank you.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think your life here is a good move. I mean, you're in a secure place.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Thank you. Yes. We -- we both enjoy reading, so we have reading material, and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: I see that.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Loussac Library comes over and brings book. Section 5:
KAREN BREWSTER: I have one more question before we finish.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Sure. Sure.
KAREN BREWSTER: As parents of a developmentally disabled child, you talked about her experiences in Harborview. And I'm wondering your assessment of going through that system of trying to get help for her and -- and how that functioned and did you feel satisfied with that, or did you -- were there challenges and frustrations along the way? JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, quickly, I was pastor at Nome when Muriel was born, and the assessment of Muriel's condition or Muriel's development was in Louise's purview, and so I just more or less looked to her to explain. She'd say, Muriel isn't cooing or doing something. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: And there were early signs that she wasn't developing. I think when I looked back that I should have had more advice --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah, that's what I was trying to --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: -- from the medical people in Nome to take her at least to Anchorage for. At that time, Dr. Helen Whaley was the only pediatric -- pediatric neurologist, because she did see her when she was a year old, and at that time Dr. Whaley, who is a fine Stanford medical graduate, she said, yes, Muriel has severe neurological impairment. But you know, a lot can happen in a year if you have more infant stimulation. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But when you tried to get help for her here in Anchorage, and the services, who did you turn to for help and how did that work?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, actually, that one time when I saw Dr. Helen Whaley, she had come to Nome for consultation for babies and children, and I -- I -- I was frustrated because I felt, now, do I just tell John, I'm packing up, we're leaving, because she's not going to get what she needs here? But I -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: That's what we should have done.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: I was well brought up to think, well, you know --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Hindsight.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: You know, it's hindsight. After normal babies, you keep hoping, well, I'll do what I can for her but, you know, that is -- you need to really get on it. By the time we went to Berkeley, she was already three, and not -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. That was part, a little bit why we chose Berkeley.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, yeah. You know, it was delayed. Now when I see a child that I spot, I just really encourage the parent to immediately find out what they can because you're just delaying help. And it seems like they do -- they do. In the hospitals now babies are born, they are much quicker to spot -- to spot problems but -- Section 6:
KAREN BREWSTER: As she got older and you lived here in Anchorage, and she needed special help or services --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Special education.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- who helped you navigate that?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Well, Dr. -- at Special Ed, Margaret Lowe was her principal, and, you know, she could see that Muriel -- and her behavior became so frustrating to the teachers and to fellow students, that she would act out so much. And it increased to the point when she would hit her -- got into her teens, I just felt we've got to do something because she's so terribly unhappy at home in the family. She would pull her sister's hair and she would just do a lot of acting out. JOHN MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Destroyed property.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. But you know, it was --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: She'd go into the garage and she'd cut some bungee cords that I had in there, she found an old knife on the --
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. Well, anyway.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Just what kind of acting out. KAREN BREWSTER: And is Hope Cottages, is that here in Anchorage?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: That is. She's under the umbrella of Hope -- Hope Resources, Incorporated. They changed the name.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you explain what Hope Cottages is and what those services are?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes, it's for all types of handicaps of mental and physical also, and they must have over 20 group homes, and Muriel's in a very nice one. She has her own -- own room. She's already 51 years old. And it's over there on Lake Otis, and we visit her and we -- we have her with us at least one weekend a month. And she -- she calls this the grampa and grandma group home. Her talking ability is still at about five years old. But we're just pleased that she has a good program. And Hope Resources, I can confer with them any time, because at times, I feel that we need to move further South and how -- how would you manage moving her because that's no small project in itself. So but I think as of right now, her program is well suited to her, so...
KAREN BREWSTER: Do they have activities?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like at Harborview they had activities that the residents did. LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Yeah. They had a real program there. She -- she had been swimming and enjoyed that very much, but her seizures, after 19 years of absence, her grand mal seizures came back, and the neurologist said you better not have her go swimming for a while.
And she's gained too much weight. She has a person that comes in and takes her four hours a day for mental stimulation in the community, they go to the library, they go many different places, and that is helping her right now. But it's an up-and-down program. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.
Bill, do you have any other questions?
BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I think that's good. I appreciate your sharing and appreciate your personal comments, too. I know it's not easy, but this gives us --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Did you ever hear of Dr. Carl Koutsky?
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Koutsky. He was the one I couldn't say. That's the one I thought that was -- JOHN MAAKESTAD: He's the most outstanding psychiatrist that I've been acquainted with. He came from the University of Minnesota, and he passed away here about a year ago. But he was an excellent man.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Did you see that he really put API on the good --
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, he helped, you know. This old Dr. Bowman I told you, the first one here.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: He was a good one. JOHN MAAKESTAD: They had good people that they'd get from University of Minnesota or University of California.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Dr. Koutsky. Well, you thought of his name faster than I did.
JOHN MAAKESTAD: Well, it comes slowly, like you say.
LOUISE MAAKESTAD: Wish we had done this interview 10 years ago.
BILL SCHNEIDER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No, that's great.
Is there anything else that you we haven't asked you about that you had wanted to make sure and talk about?
JOHN MAAKESTAD: No. I -- I'm just very pleased that you're doing the work that you're doing, and I'm trying to put it all together, but I know if it's in the interest of mental health and treatment of -- of associated problems that it's wonderful. Yeah. I'd like to see your program some day.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much.