fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Murder Shirley Temple?

Hollywood received the Southern Oregon death threat in November 1938.

Ten-year-old Shirley Temple had just about finished filming her 28th movie, “The Little Princess.”

Threats of kidnapping, death and extortion were not new for America’s Sweetheart, but the FBI always took these threats seriously.

Two years earlier, a 16-year-old Alabama boy who had seen one too many gangster movies threatened to kill Shirley if he didn’t receive $25,000. The boy used the alias, Curtis Palmer, a gangster character from the 1936 movie, “13 Hours by Air.”

While confessing to FBI agents, he apparently looked the part, “nervously patting down his oil-slicked hair and fingering his gaudy necktie.”

Just before the extortion demand arrived from Southern Oregon, a 14-year-old girl from a mining town in Pennsylvania sent a postcard demanding: “Send $320,000 to the below address if you ever want to see Shirley alive.” With address in hand, it didn’t take long for the FBI to come knocking on her door.

Our Southern Oregon culprit, Hinton Hardison, was arrested on his 24th birthday, Nov. 26, 1938, at the Civilian Conservation Corps’ Camp Rand, along the Rogue River near Glide.

Hardison, a newly minted “brush marine,” had only arrived in CCC camp from his home in Georgia Oct. 19. Twenty-nine days later, he was mailing his threatening letter to Shirley, demanding $10,000 or he would kill the little actor. He used a fictitious name in the letter, but he also included his camp address.

John Caughman, Camp Rand commander, told agents that Hardison “did not seem quite as quick as the other boys. He’s more of the slow type.”

Hardison was arraigned in Medford federal court on a charge of using the mails in an attempt to extort money. Bail was set at $50,000. After waiving a preliminary hearing, Hardison was escorted to Portland on the evening train to face a grand jury and a very quick trial.

A week after his arrest, Hardison pleaded guilty to federal Judge James Fee. Fee agreed to delay sentencing, while Hardison’s defense attorney, John Mowry, had a chance to question Hardison’s acquaintances in Georgia.

Mowry returned to court asking for probation, saying he had learned that Hardison had been “kicked in the head by a mule when he was 3 years old, and the injury had rendered him mentally deficient.”

CCC physician Charles Sturdevant testified that Hardison “had a mentality of not more than 13 years, and, although he lacked a moral sense of values in human relationships, he had no sadistic tendencies.”

Judge Fee said he didn’t believe a prison term would teach Hardison a lesson and, after sentencing him to five years in federal prison, waived the sentence and instead released him on 20 years of probation — the probation to be supervised by Georgia officials who had already agreed to take responsibility for Hardison’s future acts.

Hardison returned to Georgia, married, and lived a quiet life until 1977.

Two months after the trial, “The Little Princess,” Shirley Temple’s first motion picture in color, arrived to rave reviews for a five-day run at Medford’s Craterian Theater.

It seems nothing could stop the “Good Ship Lollipop” from sailing on and on over the seas of success.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.