Madison in the Sixties – the last week of July, 1962.
The sad saga of the disgraced former Madison police chief Bruce Weatherly comes to a tragic end on Wednesday July 25 when his wife, Inez, shoots him in the stomach with his own .38 caliber revolver at their home in his native San Antonio, Texas. “I just shot your daddy,” Mrs. Weatherly tells her daughter as she comes downstairs to call police before driving across town to her mother’s house, where she is arrested. Weatherly, 49, dies about an hour later. Mrs. Weatherly, 43, tells investigators she did it because Weatherly had been drinking heavily and was “sick, sick, sick. I couldn’t stand it any longer,” she says, “God forgive me.”
Weatherly was the renowned young reformer in charge of the San Antonio police department when he assumed command in Madison on New Year’s Day, 1949. But he quickly became a divisive leader here, an aloof and rigid perfectionist who alienated many of his officers and fought frequently with Mayor Ivan Nestingen and the City Council over his budgets and authority. And he was so suspicious that he put listening devices throughout police headquarters in the new City County Building and even bugged his own home at 222 Princeton Street.
In 1956, the Madison Policemen’s Protective Association – to which all members of the force belonged, including supervisors and managers – voted unanimously to expel Weatherly for breach of trust and conduct detrimental to the association. Then a former officer filed 13 charges of misconduct against him, including improper association with his secretary and being drunk at the Edgewater Hotel. After a week-long public hearing, the Police and Fire Commission dismissed all charges as unproven.
But in January, 1959, Weatherly smashed his squad car into a gas tanker while driving his secretary home after drinking with her all day at the Hoffman House on E. Wilson Street. Police would long refer to the location, the intersection of South Stoughton Road and Milwaukee Street, as “Weatherly’s Corner.” Weatherly suffered a head injury and was hospitalized on and off for more than two months.
It was Mayor Nestingen himself who filed the formal complaint against Weatherly, charging him with conduct unbecoming an officer and other offenses. And all the while Mrs. Weatherly – as vivacious and charming as he was rigid and withdrawn – supported and defended him.
Finally, in April, 1959, after another week-long public hearing before overflow crowds, the Police and Fire Commission voted 4-1 to sustain the charges, and dismissed him. Weatherly failed to get the decision overturned on appeal, but he did prevail on a worker’s compensation claim, as the State Industrial Commission ruled he was injured in the line of duty, and that the city didn’t prove he was drunk.
Weatherly took a job handling security for North Central Airlines. But his head injuries were serious and lasting, and Weatherly developed a drug dependency and drinking problem. He finally he had himself committed, at least briefly, to Mendota State Hospital in 1961.
The family moved back to San Antonio, where Inez recently sought to have Weatherly committed to a state mental hospital for drug addiction before he agreed to private treatment. He seemed to get better, and had recently accepted a State Department position reorganizing the Brazilian police force. The couple was soon to leave for São Paulo.
Charged with murder with malice and facing the electric chair, Mrs. Weatherly ignores the advice of her lawyer and appears before the grand jury for two hours. She knows what she’s doing; on September 20, the grand jury drops all charges.
The weekend after Weatherly is killed, July 27–28, is set to be special on the UW campus – it’s Summer Prom and a Union Theatre jazz concert by the Cannonball Adderley sextet featuring Nat Adderley and Yusef Lateef. But it’s not to be.
Early Friday morning, UW president Conrad Elvehjem, 62, is already at work at his Bascom Hall desk. The first alumnus to become president since Charles Van Hise moved into Bascom Hall in 1903, Elvehjem shared another distinction with Van Hise – they were both prominent scientists. Van Hise was a leading geologist/metallurgist. Elvehjem, an internationally renowned biochemist, who isolated the vitamin niacin in 1937 and discovered it could cure the debilitating dietary disease pellagra. He’s about to share a third distinction, as the only president besides Van Hise to die in office.
Already troubled by high blood pressure, Elvehjem is also suffering under the stress of his controversial dismissal of School of Medicine dean John Z. Bowers. At 8:15 a.m., he has a heart attack and dies an hour later at Madison General Hospital, with his wife, Constance, and son Robert at his side. The Daily Cardinal remakes its front page and is out hours later with an “extra” edition; prom and concert are canceled.
UW Vice President Fred Harvey Harrington, who is set to start as the new president of the University of Hawaii in September, is in Kyoto, Japan, teaching an American Studies seminar in the month before he moves to Honolulu. He rushes home, and on July 29, the Regents’ Executive Committee makes him acting president; two days later, hours after Elvehjem’s simple graveside service at Forest Hill Cemetery, they make the appointment permanent—but need the Hawaii regents to release him from his contract. They do, and on August 6, the full board unanimously confirms Harrington as the fourteenth president of the university.
Before the university created the position of provost and then chancellor a few years later, the president was the local as well as the statewide face of the university, and this sudden transition from Elvehjem to Harrington affects the city in two ways. The scientist Elvehjem would not have named as chancellor the three humanities-based educators—Robben Fleming, William Sewell, and Edwin Young—whom renowned historian Harrington does; all three have a major impact on the city during the protest era. And Harrington was made for this time; aggressively expansionist, he accelerates the university’s growth, putting ever-greater pressure on city land use and housing. It was a selfless thing for the Hawaii regents to let Harrington out of his contract fewer than seven weeks before his starting date; had Elvehjem died just two months later, after the school year started, they likely would not have done so, and everything would have changed.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For you award-winning listener-supported WORT news team, I’m Stu Levitan.