During the past few days I’ve had another in a long line of very interesting experiences while writing the biography of Chet Helms and I am going to tell you about it. Of course you, my faithful reader and you, my periodic one, will ultimately determine if it was, in fact, an interesting experience or something not worth writing home (or a blog posting) about.
To wit: I am currently working on the long, complicated and ugly story of the time Chet and his partner, Bob Cohen, decided to open a Family Dog franchise in Denver, Colorado, my old stomping grounds. The Denver Dog debuted in September 1967 and immediately began having problems, courtesy of a particular police detective who had publicly vowed to rid the city of each and every hippie who dared to set foot in Denver. Consequently, a concerted, ongoing campaign of harassment against the Denver Dog was launched. I won’t go into the details here, because I sort of want you to buy the Chet book, but I will say that Chet and Bob ended up filing a lawsuit against the police department and the city. I should probably mention at this point that The Mile High City had, a few years earlier, rightfully earned the designation as “The crooked cop capital of the United States.”
So, there I was, writing about this period, buttressed by a thick file of contemporary Denver newspaper clippings and interviews with Bob Cohen and several former Denver Dog employees, when I encountered something I felt needed a bit of clarification. Naturally I did what we all do in such situations – I sought help from Google. I typed in my search terms and, as usual, got a gazillion results which I began to sift through because that’s what we do with our Google search results. Such fun.
Then a funny thing happened. A name caught my eye and I was instantly transported back to 3254 South Holly Street in Denver in 1959 when I was 12-years-old. The name that caused this time-travel episode was Art Winstanley. My family had been residing on Holly Street in a middle-class neighborhood of ranch houses for a couple of years when a new family moved in a few doors down the block. The new family consisted of a young Denver policeman, his young wife and their young child. Despite the fact the policeman and his wife were, in my eyes, practically ancient, being in their mid-’20s and all, I quickly developed a massive adolescent crush on the latter, a crush I attribute to a case of, not exactly raging, but gently stirring hormones. I distinctly remember dallying like some sort of minor-league stalker in front of their house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the blond goddess, while on my way to play wiffle ball with my friend, Gary Moore, who lived next door to the Winstanleys. I never spoke to the goddess and she never spoke to me. I never spoke to her husband either, but I admired their shiny boat parked in the driveway and the fact that he occassionally dropped by in his police cruiser.
Then one day the shiny boat was gone, the shiny, new car was gone, the blond goddess was gone and their house, along with my heart, was empty. I soon found out why.
Art Winstanley was the first of 45 Denver cops to be arrested, convicted of burglary and sentenced to state prison during the next two years. He was nabbed when, after breaking into a business, he loaded a safe he was unable to crack into the trunk of his car from which it sort of tumbled out at a most inopportune moment. Turns out that he had, like many of his fellow officers, participated in dozens of on-duty burglaries.
Google further informed me that in 2008 Art Winstanley had published a book about his life and nefarious escapades. It is called “Burglars in Blue” and is available from, amongst other sources, Amazon.com. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to when it arrives on my doorstep.
But here’s the best part: Yesterday I did a Facebook search and sure enough, Art Winstanley is a FB member. I sent him a ‘friend’ request to which he graciously reponded and we have since exchanged a few emails. I even told him about my crush on his first wife.
I also asked him if he had any objection to me telling the story of how, while researching an old hippie, I found an old neighbor. He didn’t and so here it is.
I never know where following the trail of Chet Helms is going to take me, but I ain’t jumping off this train any time soon.