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The unsolved murder of Walter Wanderwell on December 5, 1932 remains one of California's most unusual homicides.

It happened in Long Beach when Wanderwell, born Valerian Johannes Pieczynski -- a German-Pole, was preparing his two-masted schooner, the Carma for a South Sea adventure cruise.

Wanderwell was a gentleman world traveler whose resume included trips to the wastelands of Siberia, journeys through the darkest parts of the Amazon, treks across the scorching sands of the Arabian and Sahara deserts-- where he witnessed the opening of King Tut's tomb -- and numerous sea voyages.

During World War I, Wanderwell was suspected of being a spy for Germany and was interned in the federal prison in Atlanta. He was also once charged with unlawfully wearing a military uniform to which he was not entitled.

After his release from detention (his ties to Germany were never proved) he met a Broadway chorus girl named Nell, and they were married in Alabama. The marriage failed after seven years.

In Paris, he had met Galcia Hall, a Canadian girl who had run away from a French convent school in search of adventure, and the husband and wife took the young girl on one of the first motor car tours of the European and Asian continents. He dubbed the stately, 23-year-old blonde "Aloha" and it was by that name that she appeared in the press. After his marriage to Nell ended, Wanderwell married Aloha.

The Carma was a 20-year-old craft that had been seized by federal Prohibition agents with a cargo of 300 cases of whiskey when Wanderwell bought it for $2,500 and began recruiting a crew for a South Sea cruise of "adventure and riches." The ship was described in the press as being "about as seaworthy as a cardboard raft," but Wanderwell managed to skirt Coast Guard regulations by listing the dozen adventurers who had paid about $200 for the trip as crewmembers.

Most of the seven-man, five-woman "crew" had never set foot on an ocean-going craft, and just two of the men were qualified as able-bodied seamen. The group intended to be self-sustaining during the trek by selling paintings and poetry created along the way. The Wanderwells were also negotiating the film rights to the trip.

Wanderwell also wanted to use the trip to publicize his idea for an international police force that would make war obsolete. He had been trying to interest the League of Nations in the idea without success. The trip, he thought, might help create international interest in the idea. Viewing the League of Nations as an international government, Walter wanted to be the head of the League’s police force. To do so, he organized the Work Around the World Educational Club, or WAWEC. Wanderwell assumed the title of the Captain Commanding, with multiple unit leaders around the globe under his direct command.

To join, members had to swear off alcohol and tobacco and adhere to a military-like dress code. The initial sign-up fee was $5, which quickly rose to $200 when WAWEC proved to be a popular idea.

On December 5, 1932, Wanderwell was alone in the cabin he shared with Aloha and their two young children. Aloha was in Hollywood making arrangements to sell the movie rights to the adventure, many of the crew was ashore enjoying a last shore leave, and the remainder of the crew -- three men and two women -- was in the galley talking with eager anticipation of the trip that was to begin shortly.

The only incident that had disturbed the preparations for the long sea voyage was the strange disappearance of Wanderwell's revolver that had disappeared several days before. Despite a diligent search by the entire crew, the weapon was never found.

The mess hall conversation was interrupted by a face appearing in the open porthole. The man, dressed in a gray coat with the collar pulled up and a cap covering his eyes, inquired about Wanderwell's location. The crewmembers directed the man to Wanderwell's cabin. The crewmembers subsequently testified that they heard Wanderwell greet the man, but that his tone was more one of surprise than anger.

They all testified that they did not hear any conversation, but just a few moments after Wanderwell's greeting, they heard a single gunshot.

Racing to the cabin, the crew found no sign of the man in gray, but found Wanderwell already dead on the deck. He had been shot through the back. The single bullet passed through his heart. Robbery was not the motive for the murder, for Wanderwell's wallet containing $600 in cash was still in his pocket.

At the time, there was serious speculation that the womanizing Wanderwell had been killed by the husband or lover of a woman he had seduced, while others guessed that Wanderwell was murdered by agents of a foreign power who feared the WAWEC’s growing strength.

Police quickly centered their investigation around a former WAWEC crewmember who had led an attempted mutiny against Wanderwell during his last voyage from Buenos Aires to San Francisco. That crewman, a Welsh “soldier-of-fortune” named William “Curly” Guy had been placed in irons aboard the ship and deposited, along with his wife, ashore in Panama. Guy recently caught up with the Wanderwells and threatened Wanderwell with violence when the captain refused to return money that Guy had paid for passage to the United States.

After four of the five crewmembers aboard the Carma identified Guy as the mysterious man in gray, he was charged with killing Wanderwell. Guy, however, had an alibi — he was having dinner with friends miles away when Wanderwell was shot. Six people corroborated his alibi.

Guy went to trial in February 1933 and after a two-week trial, he was acquitted of the crime. The jurors said the eyewitnesses, who hedged while on the stand, could not overcome Guy’s alibi.

Guy was deported to Great Britain after the trial and continued his soldier-of-fortune ways by fighting with the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War, and with the Chinese partisans after the invasion of China by Japan. During World War II he served as a flight instructor and then as a pilot transporting warplanes across the Atlantic. He was also pilot-in-command when Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King flew to England to consult with Winston Churchill. Guy reportedly made more transatlantic trips than anyone else before he was killed in a crash in 1941.

Aloha Wanderwell continued her globetrotting ways, marrying again in 1934. She and her second husband, also named Walter, after heading an expedition to Indochina, settled for a time in Cincinnati, Ohio and later in California. She died in Newport Beach, California in 1996 at the age of 88.

The murder of Walter Wanderwell remains unsolved.

Resources

  • "Guy Acquitted in Yacht Death of Wanderwell," Associated Press, February 17, 1933.
  • "Mystery Aboard the Strangest Craft that Ever Sailed," Lima Sunday News Magazine, April 2, 1933, p.1.
  • "Aloha Wanderwell at the Ritz Theatre in Person," The Indiana Progress, April 17, 1935, p.4.
  • "Ill Luck Trails Weird Careers of Wanderwell Yacht Party," Nevada State Journal, September 4, 1933.

External links

Note:This Wikipedia entry is adapted from that article by its author and is licensed here in accordance with the GFDL

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