Memorial to Isaac Wolf Halbfinger

End of Watch: July 22, 1919
Rank: Auxiliary Officer, Badge No. N/A
Age: 41   Years of Service: N/A
Location of Death: 9th & M streets, NW
Duty Assignment: Second Precinct

 

Circumstance:
Home Defense Officer Isaac Halbfinger was shot and killed as he and his partner attempted to question a man at the corner of 9th and M Streets, NW, during the 1919 Race Riots. The suspect immediately produced a pistol and shot Officer Halbfinger in the chest, killing him.

His partner then struggled with the suspect and was also shot and seriously wounded. The suspect fled the scene through an alley as he was pursued by a witness. Both officers were armed only with riot sticks, not guns. Detective Sergeant Harry Wilson was shot and killed the previous day and several other officers were shot and wounded during the riots.

Biography:
Officer Halbfinger was survived by his wife and two daughters. He is buried in Adas Israel Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Home Defense League officers were volunteer special officers who assisted the Metropolitan Police Department during WWI.

 

Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.

(THE 1919 RACE RIOT IN WASHINGTON D.C. LEFT 9 IMMEDIATE DEAD AND 30 WOULD LATER DIE FROM THEIR WOUNDS FROM THE BRUTAL STREET FIGHTING. 150 MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN WERE CLUBBED, BEATEN AND SHOT. SEVERAL MARINES AND SIX D.C. POLICEMEN WERE SHOT – TWO FATALLY.)

WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 23, 1919, PAGE 1

GEN. HAAN IN COMMAND AFTER WILSON CONFERS WITH BAKER ON RIOTS.

SCORE MORE SHOOTINGS AS FIGHTING IS RESUMED IN VARIOUS PARTS OF CITY’S OUTLYING DISTRICTS.

HOME DEFENSE OFFICER ISAAC HALBFINGER SLAIN BY NEGRO HE ATTEMPTS TO ARREST—G. BELMONT, ANOTHER HOME DEFENSE OFFICER, FATALLY INJURED ALSO BY NEGRO’S SHOT. NUMEROUS OTHER CLASHES RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURIES TO NEGROES AND WHITE MEN—MANY TREATED AT HOSPITALS—SCORES OF BOTH RACES ARRESTED BY POLICE AND MILITARY.

The iron hand of Federal military authority was laid upon the National Capital last night to smother the blaze of race hatred which had made Washington a battleground for 48 hours. Following a conference between President Wilson and Secretary of War Baker over the deplorable conditions in the capital of the nation, approximately 2,000 Federal troops of various arms of the service were thrown into the capital, Maj. Gen. W.G. Haan, fresh from the command of the 32nd Division overseas, was given full authority over the service men.

MURDER OF HOME DEFENSE OFFICER
Despite the stern repressive measures of the military authorities, the smouldering race feeling blazed into action here and there throughout the city.

Before midnight Isaac Halbfinger, an officer of the Home Defense League, had been killed by a negro at Ninth and M streets, NW. G. Belmont, of 603 P street, another Home Defense officer, was shot and fatally injured in the same neighborhood. Numerous minor clashes were reported, and the police and military rounded up scores of negroes and whites for carrying concealed weapons.

FIVE FATALITIES NOW THE TOTAL
Last night’s casualties brought the total of dead up to five. In every hospital in the city victims of the race violence were under treatment.

Throughout the day police had rounded up injured men, some of them who had been for hours without treatment, and hurried them to hospitals.

Edward Havlicek, the marine injured at 15th Street and New York Avenue in Monday’s rioting, was reported dying at the Naval Hospital.

A driving rain that swept downtown Washington in intermittent showers during the evening was an effective aid to the police and military authorities.

The mobs of from 1,000 to 2,000 white men, which had gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue for the two preceding nights were not in evidence. As fast as the crowds gathered they were broken up by the driving downpour. Raindrops were as effective as bullets in dispersing the downtown crowds and sending the individuals scurrying for shelter in doorways and under awnings.

Many of them tired of dodging both rain and policemen, went home.

RAIN AN EFFECTIVE AID
Late in the evening only scattered knots of white men in the neighborhood of Ninth and Seventh streets between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, and scattered groups of negroes along Seventh Street north of H Street were demanding the attention of the soldiers and police.

Riot calls from various points in the outlying negro sections however, kept the police reserves and the mobile reserves of the troops rushing about. In many instances these alarms were the result of overwrought nerves or panic. Up to midnight none of them had developed seriously.

RIOT CALLS STILL MANY
Several times the cavalry galloped through the streets to answer calls for assistance and found on their arrival that they were not needed.

CAPITAL LIKE ARMED CAMP
Within a few hours after President Wilson had called Secretary of War Baker to the White House to discuss conditions in Washington the National Capital was practically an armed camp.

The Secretary of War on his return to his office called in Chief of Staff General March and Major Pullman, superintendent of police. Maj. Gen. Haan was at once designated to take charge of the military situation and troops were ordered from Camp Meade to reinforce the provost guard, which failed to prevent a reign of terror Monday night.

Additional marines were ordered up from Quantico and a detachment of blue-jackets was brought ashore from the Mayflower and Sylph, lying in the Potomac.

ACTION TAKEN BY CONGRESS.
Washington’s reign of terror brought prompt action from the Federal authorities.

While the President was ordering protective measures through the War Department, three resolutions were introduced in Congress dealing with the situation. Representative Clark of Florida, presented a resolution vigorously attacking the District of Columbia government and the police department and demanding an investigation of the riots and the attacks on white women by negroes which preceded them.

Representative Emerson, of Ohio, introduced a resolution calling for a declaration of martial law in Washington, and Representative Vaile, of Colorado, in a resolution called upon the President to take charge of the situation.

TRUCKLOADS OF MUNITIONS
Swiftly and decisively military authority took hold of the situation following Secretary Baker’s instructions to Gen, Haan. Motor truck loads of arms and ammunition were hurried to police headquarters in the District building, and khaki-clad officers superintended the distribution of vicious looking army revolvers and cartridges to the service men on duty.

Gen. Haan promptly established his headquarters in Maj. Jullman’s office, and with Col. R.M. Beck, his chief of staff and Lt. Col. Milliken, his assistant chief of staff, began at once the disposition of the troops at hand.

U.S. SAILORS GO ON DUTY
Before nightfall half a hundred sailors in shore blue, led by Lieut. Robert Martin, of the Sylph, and Ensign Moore, of the Mayflower, had been assembled. With automatic pistols strapped to their right thighs, and twirling night sticks they swaggered out into the downtown district, as a physical demonstration of the power of law and order.

Soon the Federal troops began to appear in every section of the city. Throughout the seven so-called “interior” precincts, Gen. Haan distributed his men to cover the danger points which had been marked by serious outbreaks in preceding nights of the rioting.

SOLDIERS ASSIST THE POLICE
With every policeman who walked a beat, there appeared two men in khaki, armed with service rifles and service ammunition or with, pistols and nightsticks. The soldiers were out “to assist the police,” their orders said, and they were ready for the job.

In many neighborhoods, which the police had marked as dangerous, the appearance of the soldiers was followed by an apparent falling off in the crowds on the street.

The sullen spirit among the negroes in the northwest which had been in evidence all day, while it by no means disappeared, was less in evidence.

MANY CLASHES DURING DAY
The smouldering fires of race feelings blazed fitfully throughout the day yesterday. Here and there throughout the negro section in the northwest individuals and small groups of white and colored men clashed. There was no general disturbance before nightfall, but the feeling of sullen resentment was plainly apparent throughout the negro section.

During the afternoon a group of colored men and several whites became involved in a argument at Seventh and T streets, the heart of the negro section, and the scene of some of the hardest fighting of the night before.

Words led to blows, and soon guns were out. P.D. Scott, colored, 27 years old, of 907 U Street, was struck in the left leg by a bullet. He was treated at Freedman’s Hospital. The police were unable to find any of the principals in the affair.

NEGROES STONE AUTOMOBILE
A disorderly crowd of 25 or 30 colored men held forth on Rhode Island Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth streets, during part of the day, hooting and throwing stones and bricks at passing automobiles. E.F. Jaehnuke, of 2206 Flagler Street, passing through Rhode Island Avenue in his auto was forced to run the gauntlet, a shower of stones struck his car. He was struck on the shoulder and his wife was struck on the arm.

Edward French, colored, 23 years old, of 1519 23rd Street, was shot during an altercation at Georgia Avenue and W Street. He was treated at Freedman’s Hospital. The bullet passed through his arm and lodged in his right side.

FOUND SHOT IN HEAD
Early in the day John Grassley, employed in the Eckington freight yards, was found lying in the yards with a bullet wound in his head. He had been shot in a general altercation at Seventh street and Florida avenue. Grassley was treated at Casualty Hospital.

All day the aftermath of Washington’s night of terror straggled into police stations and hospital. Phillip Reyo, colored, 35, of 1723 N Street, NW, was taken to Washington Asylum Hospital with a badly battered head. He suffered the wounds in the fighting around Seventh and N streets. He was held for robbery. George W. Lee, 40, of 1018 Seventh street, injured in the same clash, was taken to the Washington Asylum Hospital for treatment.

WOUNDED SOLDIER A VICTIM
Albert H. Holden, a wounded soldier from Walter Reed Hospital, was treated at the Emergency Hospital for a badly cut leg. He was struck by a bottle thrown from a street car by a negro at Ninth and N streets in the course of night before last’s fighting.

A street from a street car at Seventh street and Pennsylvania avenue claimed William H. Thomas, of 1914 Nailors road northwest, as a victim. He was wounded in the left thigh and was taken to the Naval Hospital for treatment.

SHOT FROM AN AUTOMOBILE
Earl Martin, 16 years old, of Bristol, Va., was shot in the left leg during the early morning fighting at Seventh street and Pennsylvania avenue. He was treated at Casualty Hospital.

Marshall Biser, white, 18 years old, of 1018 South Carolina avenue southeast was shot from an automobile which, with six or eight negroes, was cruising about the northwest. He received a bullet in the left arm.

Jacob S. Bond, 19 years old, of 1954 Columbia road, was taken to the Emergency Hospital during the day for treatment. He had been badly bruised with a club in the hands of a negro.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 23, 19, PAGE 1
NEGRO ESCAPES AFTER KILLING WHITE MAN; WOUNDS ANOTHER.

An unidentified negro alighting from a street car at Ninth and M streets northwest, shortly after 10 o’clock last night shot and instantly killed Isaac B. Halbfinger, a paperhanger, 458 Q street northwest, and seriously wounded Benny Belmont, 603 P street northwest. The negro escaped.

Both men were taken up by pedestrians and rushed to the Emergency Hospital. Halbfinger was dead when he was picked up and Belmont is in a serious condition at the hospital, where his death is momentarily expected. Halbfinger was a member of the Home Defense League and Belmont was a volunteer officer.

ALIGHTED FROM A CAR
According to eye witnesses, the negro alighted from a car at Ninth and M streets, and was approached by both special officers. When only several feet away, the negro fired two shots at the men. One of the bullets struck Halbfinger, piercing his heart, while the other went wild. Belmont grappled with the negro, who shot him in the left breast near the heart.

That Belmont was shot at close range is shown by the powder burns on his clothing. Immediately after the two men were shot, K.E.Boehm er, a naval provost guard, rushed to the scene and picked Halbfinger up. The negro then shot at the sailor, the shot going wild.

J.B. Waldman, who was near the scene at the time of the shooting, pursued the negro into a dark alley between M and N streets, where he escaped.

RIOT CALL TURNED IN
A riot call was immediately turned into the Second precinct, and all available reserves, including two troops of cavalry from Fort Myer, military police, Home Defense League men and headquarters detectives. The men surrounded the block and searched roofs and backyards, but up to an early hour this morning the murderer had not been captured.

Soon after the shooting a negro giving his name as John Boston was arrested near the scene of the crime. He was taken to the Second precinct, and when searched a .32 caliber revolver with two empty chambers was found on him. He was not suspected with the murder, and was charged with carrying concealed weapons. Boston told the police that he was carrying the revolver for protection.

WIFE IS INFORMED
Half an hour after the murder Mrs Halbfinger and her two daughters, having been told of the shooting of her husband, came to the Second precinct, and were taken to the Emergency Hospital in an automobile by several home defense league men, where they received a second shock, as the police at the station told them that he had only been wounded.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JULY 24, 1919, PAGE 2

CAUTION WITH GUARDS

PULLMAN WITHDRAWS MOST OF HOME LEAGUERS FROM DUTY.

SOME MADE SPECIAL OFFICERS.

AUTHORITIES UNABLE TO PROVIDE MEN WITH PISTOLS—HALBFINGER AND BELMONT FACED DEATH ARMED ONLY WITH NIGHT STICKS—LITTLE HOPE FOR RECOVERY OF BELMONT.

Following the shooting death of Isaac W. Halbfinger and the serious shooting of Benjamin Belmont, both members of the home defense league, who were shot while on duty at Ninth and M streets Tuesday night, the police authorities have virtually eliminated the volunteers from active participation in the policing of the city. The policy of withdrawing the men was adopted by Maj. Pullman and Odell S. Smith, in charge of the organization, immediately after the shooting.

“It is always far better to have a uniformed man make arrests and go up to law breakers,” said Maj. Pullman last night in commenting on the situation. “We feel it is desireable to keep the home guardsmen out of the zone of active operations unless special police authority has been conferred upon them.”

FEW ARE SPECIAL OFFICERS

Last night only those of the guards who on account of experience with police methods and the handling of arms have been constituted special officers for emergencies and given badges were doing patrol work. The others were held in reserve for eventualities in the way of serious outbreaks.

The reason for the withdrawal of the guards is that the authorities have definitely ascertained that both of the guardsmen who were shot Tuesday night were unarmed. This was learned last night from Major Pullman, and was in fact, despite their being on duty in a section of the city that since the outbreak of the riots has been a hotbed of gunfire and casualties.

NOT PROVIDED WITH PISTOLS

The department never has lent pistols to guards because there never has been enough to spare. Those guards who were special policemen and possessed revolvers were allowed to carry them. Otherwise, they went unarmed. The men used last night were furnished with revolvers from the store lent the police by the Camp Meade authorities.

When Halbfinger approached the negro slayer, to search him for concealed weapons, he must have known he was taking his life in his hands if the negro were armed and resisted.

NO CHANCE FOR HIS LIFE

His life was sacrificed because he was in a position where there fell to his lot the dangerous duties of a regular officer without any of the means of defense afforded such a man. The same was true of Belmont.

Each, of course, was provided with a baton, a useful weapon on some occasions but utterly useless when opposed to a man armed with a pistol.

Little hope for the life of Belmont was felt by physicians at Emergency Hospital at an early hour this morning. He was fast lapsing into a state of unconsciousness with as temperature of 102. It is believed that he is contracting traumatic pneumonia. If such is the case his life is despaired of.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 1, 1999, page A1
RACE RIOT OF 1919 GAVE GLIMPSE OF FUTURE STRUGGLES

Nobody knows precisely how or where it started, but on a steamy Saturday night, July 19, 1919, the word began to spread among the saloons and pool halls of downtown Washington, where crowds of soldiers, sailors and Marines freshly home from the Great War were taking weekend liberty.

A black suspect, questioned in an attempted sexual assault on a white woman, had been released by the Metropolitan Police. The woman was the wife of a Navy man. So the booze-fueled muttering’s about revenge flowed quickly among hundreds of men in uniform, white men who were having trouble finding jobs in a crowded, sweltering capital.

Late that night, they started to move. The mob drew strength from a seedy neighborhood off Pennsylvania Avenue NW called “Murder Bay,” known for its brawlers and brothels. The crowd crossed the tree- covered Mall heading toward a predominantly poor black section of Southwest. They picked up clubs, lead pipes and pieces of lumber as they went.

Near Ninth and D streets SW, they fell upon an unsuspecting black man named Charles Linton Ralls, who was out with his wife, Mary. Ralls was chased down and beaten severely. The mob then attacked a second black man, George Montgomery, 55, who was returning home with groceries. They fractured his skull with a brick.

The rampage by about 400 whites initially drew only scattered resistance in the black community, and the police were nowhere to be seen. When the Metropolitan Police Department finally arrived in force, its white officers arrested more blacks than whites, sending a clear signal about their sympathies.
It was only the beginning. The white mob — whose actions were triggered in large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex crimes by a “negro fiend” — unleashed a wave of violence that swept over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and shot by mobs of both races. Several Marine guards and six D.C. policemen were shot, two fatally.

“A mob of sailors and soldiers jumped on the {street}car and pulled me off, beating me unmercifully from head to foot, leaving me in such a condition that I could hardly crawl back home,” Francis Thomas, a frail black 17-year-old, said in a statement to the NAACP. Thomas said he saw three other blacks being beaten, including two women. “Before I became unconscious, I could hear them pleading with the Lord to keep them from being killed.”

The Washington riot was one of more than 20 that took place that summer. With rioting in Chicago, Omaha, Knoxville, Tenn., Charleston, S.C., and other cities, the bloody interval came to be known as “the Red Summer.” Unlike virtually all the disturbances that preceded it – – in which white-on-black violence dominated — the Washington riot of 1919 was distinguished by strong, organized and armed black resistance, foreshadowing the civil rights struggles later in the century.

Postwar Washington, roughly 75 percent white, was a racial tinderbox. Housing was in short supply and jobs so scarce that ex- doughboys in uniform panhandled along Pennsylvania Avenue. Unemployed whites bitterly envied the relatively few blacks who had been fortunate enough to procure such low-level government jobs as messenger and clerk. Many whites also resented the black “invasion” of previously segregated neighborhoods around Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom and the old downtown.

Washington’s black community was then the largest and most prosperous in the country, with a small but impressive upper class of teachers, ministers, lawyers and businessmen concentrated in the LeDroit Park neighborhood near Howard University. But black Washingtonians were increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the Jim Crow system that had been imported from the Deep South.

Racial resentment was particularly intense among Washington’s several thousand returning black war veterans. They had proudly served their country in such units as the District’s 1st Separate Battalion, part of the segregated Army force that fought in France. These men had been forced to fight for the right to serve in combat because the Army at first refused to draft blacks for any role other than laborer. They returned home hopeful that their military service would earn them fair treatment.

Instead, they saw race relations worsening in an administration dominated by conservative Southern whites brought here by Woodrow Wilson, a Virginian. Wilson’s promise of a “New Freedom” had won him more black voters than any Democrat before him, but they were cruelly disappointed: Previously integrated departments such as the Post Office and the Treasury had now set up “Jim Crow corners” with separate washrooms and lunchrooms for “colored only.” Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan was being revived in Maryland and Virginia, as racial hatred burst forth with the resurgence of lynching of black men and women around the country — 28 public lynchings in the first six months of 1919 alone, including seven black veterans killed while still wearing their Army uniforms.

Washington’s newspapers made a tense situation worse, with an unrelenting series of sensational stories of alleged sexual assaults by an unknown black perpetrator upon white women. The headlines dominated the city’s four daily papers — the Evening Star, the Times, the Herald and The Post — for more than a month. A sampling of these July headlines illustrates the growing lynch-mob mentality:

13 SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN NEGRO HUNT; POSSES KEEP UP HUNT FOR NEGRO; HUNT COLORED ASSAILANT; NEGRO FIEND SOUGHT ANEW.
Washington’s newly formed chapter of the NAACP was so concerned that on July 9 — 10 days before the bloodshed — it sent a letter to the four daily papers saying they were “sowing the seeds of a race riot by their inflammatory headlines.”

Violence escalated on the second night, Sunday, July 20, when white mobs sensed the 700-member police department was unwilling or unable to stop them. Blacks were beaten in front of the White House, at the giant Center Market on Seventh Street NW, and throughout the city, where roving bands of whites pulled them off streetcars.

One of black Washington’s leading citizens, author and historian Carter G. Woodson, 43, the new dean at Howard University, was caught up in that night’s horror. Walking home on Pennsylvania Avenue, Woodson was forced to hide in the shadows of a storefront as a white mob approached. “They had caught a Negro and deliberately held him as one would a beef for slaughter,” he recalled, “and when they had conveniently adjusted him for lynching, they shot him. I heard him groaning in his struggle as I hurried away as fast as I could without running, expecting every moment to be lynched myself.”

The Parents League, a black citizens group that had been formed primarily to improve the “colored schools,” printed and distributed about 50,000 copies of a Notice to the Colored Citizens, a handbill that advised “our people, in the interest of law and order and to avoid the loss of life and injury, to go home before dark and to remain quietly and to protect themselves.”

The city’s chief executive, Louis Brownlow, the chairman of the District Commissioners, issued an urgent appeal: “The actions of the men who attacked innocent Negroes cannot be too strongly condemned, and it is the duty of every citizen to express his support of law and order by refraining from any inciting conversation or the repetition of inciting rumor and tales.”

But a crucial event had already occurred that morning that would overwhelm Brownlow’s good intention. The Washington Post published a front-page article that would be singled out by the NAACP, and later by historians, as a contributing cause of the riot’s escalation. Under the words “Mobilization for Tonight,” The Post erroneously reported that all available servicemen had been ordered to report to Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street at 9 p.m. for a “clean-up” operation. It was never clear how this fictional mobilization call was issued, but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as white rioters gathered and blacks began arming themselves in defense. Longtime Post reporter Chalmers Roberts, in his history of The Washington Post, called the paper’s riot coverage “shamefully irresponsible.”

As blacks realized that authorities were not protecting them, many took up arms. More than 500 guns were sold by pawnshops and gun dealers that Monday, when the worst violence occurred. White mobs were met by black mobs up and down the Seventh Street commercial corridor. Black Army veterans took out their old guns; sharpshooters climbed to the roof of the Howard Theatre; blacks manned barricades at New Jersey Avenue and at U Street.

Black men were driving around the city firing randomly at whites. Blacks turned the tables and pulled whites off streetcars. At Seventh and G streets NW, a black rioter emptied his revolver into a crowded streetcar before taking five bullets from police. At 12th and G NW, a 17-year-old black girl barricaded herself in her house and shot and killed an MPD detective. In all, 10 whites and five blacks were killed or mortally wounded that night.

James Scott, a World War I veteran, boarded a streetcar at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW late Monday night and quickly noticed he was the only black man on board. As he headed for a vacant seat, a white soldier barred his way and shouted, “Where are you going, nigger?”
“Lynch him!” yelled another white. “Kill him! . . . Throw him out the window,” others yelled.

“I was being grabbed from all sides. I forced my way to the rear door and was hit by something as I stepped off, which cut my ear and bruised my head,” Scott recalled in a statement to the NAACP. “As the car moved away, the conductor fired three shots at me.”

Finally, on Tuesday, as city leaders and members of Congress realized the situation was out of hand, President Wilson mobilized about 2,000 troops to stop the rioting — cavalry from Fort Myer, Marines from Quantico, Army troops from Camp Meade and sailors from ships in the Potomac. City officials and businessmen closed the saloons, movie houses and billiard rooms in neighborhoods where violence erupted.

Despite the federal troops, white mobs gathered again. But a strong summer downpour doused their spirits and heavy rains continued through the night, effectively ending the riot of 1919.

In the ensuing months, the NAACP and others pushed for hearings into the riot. But the episode became a mostly forgotten chapter of Washington history, largely because conservative Southern congressmen blocked further inquiry.

Sociologist Arthur Waskow, who interviewed riot survivors in the 1960s, said the experience gave them a new self-respect and “a readiness to face white society as equals. . . . The Washington riot demonstrated that neither the silent mass of `alley Negroes’ nor the articulate leaders of the Negro community could be counted on to knuckle under.”

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(THE OTHER D.C. POLICEMAN WHO WAS KILLED IN THE RIOT WAS DETECTIVE HARRY WILSON. HALBFINGER’S KILLER WAS NEVER FOUND.)