It was a year ago this week that our friend and longtime Laurel resident, John Floyd, passed away. We’re still curating his many photos and artifacts as we prepare a special tribute page for him here on our website, and one of the items we were most surprised to find among his files is this 8mm film.
As a 14-year-old in May 1972, John predictably took a home movie camera to record Governor George Wallace’s presidential campaign appearance at Laurel Shopping Center, and captured a two-minute overview of the speech, the shooting, and aftermath of the assassination attempt. We digitized the footage and shared it initially on our Facebook page.
Recorded on May 15, 1972 by John when he was 14 years old, it captures the presidential campaign appearance of Alabama governor George Wallace at Laurel Shopping Center. Moments after leaving the podium, Wallace was shot by Arthur Bremer and left paralyzed for life. The footage is just over two minutes in length. Included are glimpses of Grand Ole Opry star Billy Grammer and his band, Wallace’s introduction, moments from his speech, the shooting, aftermath, and the Laurel Rescue Squad response. The silent footage, which John himself admitted he’d long ago misplaced, can now be seen publicly for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Prince George’s County’s CTV News ran a piece on our discovery, interviewing Richard Friend for the story. The segment appears at the 8:19 mark:
The Summer 2021 issue of Voices of Laurel is here, and it includes a Laurel Chronicles story by Kevin Leonard that we believe will finally close the nearly 60-year-old cold case murder of Carol Replane.
You can download and read the PDF for free, as well as previous issues here. Printed copies of the newspaper will be distributed around town in the coming days.
With the recent news that the Laurel Leader has ceased local coverage, (opting instead to simply pull content from the Baltimore Sun and The Capital in lieu of Laurel-based contributors) local independent journalism is more important than ever. If you like what we do and want to help support our efforts with important projects like this, please consider making a tax deductible gift to The Laurel History Boys, Inc. It will help cover the cost of printing, and allow us to expand content and circulation. Starting with our Fall issue, we plan to include many of the former Leader writers, providing them an outlet to once again share their voices as well.
We are thrilled with the reaction to our newspaper, Voices of Laurel. We’re already at work on the Spring issue! Our intention has always been to produce a free digital newspaper to reach as many people as possible. Frankly, we didn’t expect that printing would even be an option, (at least not anytime soon) so you can imagine how excited we are to have partnered with Laurel-based newspaper printer, Comprint—a terrific organization that has also printed Laurel High School’s student newspaper. They enthusiastically agree with our philosophy of promoting local businesses, and as we are a nonprofit organization, they graciously agreed to print a limited number of copies at a reduced cost. At this early stage, we haven’t received any grants or advertising money, so this printing cost was paid out of our own pockets.
This weekend, we will begin distributing quantities of this inaugural issue to small, locally-owned businesses—and we’ll let you know where you can pick up a free copy. It’s our hope that this will help to further drive customers to support Laurel’s merchants during this tough time.
For those who are new to our work, we are literally a three-man shop: Richard Friend, Kevin Leonard, and Pete Lewnes do everything—there’s no staff or anyone else. Please also note that we do this in addition to our day jobs, so we greatly appreciate your patience and support. The Laurel History Boys don’t charge for anything, except the books that we produce (such as last year’s Laurel at 150.) We rely on crowdfunding and sponsorship ads to cover printing expenses, and we’re actively seeking any businesses or organizations that would be interested in sponsoring tax-deductible ads or grants to help fund the printing of future issues of Voices of Laurel. If you have any connections or ideas, please contact us at email@example.com.
On a related note, those businesses and organizations that kindly supported our Laurel at 150 book will each be receiving free ad space throughout this year’s quarterly issues of Voices of Laurel as an added thank you.
A special note to the small business owners of Laurel: people have already started asking for Voices of Laurel, and we’re looking forward to telling them to visit YOUR restaurant, bakery, barber shop, etc. to pick up their free copy while supporting local small businesses! We’ve got a limited quantity, so please contact us soon if you’d like a few copies to make available for free to your customers.
Many thanks again for your kind words about our work. It’s very gratifying to know that so many in the community support what we do!
If you’ve been following us on Facebook, you know by now that our new book, Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future has been printed and we finally have the full inventory in hand. Kevin and Rich have been hard at work over the past few weeks, packaging and mailing (and often delivering in person) books to all of the early Kickstarter project backers and website pre-orders.
We’re finally caught up with our mailings, so anyone who’s placed an order recently should be receiving their copies very soon. We greatly appreciate the patience of everyone who’s ordered the book—even before the pandemic, it’s no easy task for two guys (who both have day jobs) to handle the logistics of shipping several hundred books, but we’ve managed to get it done!
Like many of you, we were looking forward to a number of opportunities to sell the books in person this year, including at the Main Street Festival. But the COVID-19 shutdown—a significant historical moment in its own right— brought the City of Laurel’s 150th Anniversary events to an end before they really even had a chance to begin. We’re grateful and proud to have completed this important book in time to share with those of you who also wanted something tangible and lasting to mark this 150th anniversary of our home town.
We’re hopeful that many of the City’s cancelled events will merely be postponed until it’s deemed once again safe to hold them. But until then, we’ll continue to take orders for the book online at laurelat150.com and mail them out as quickly as possible.
Join the Laurel History Boys this Saturday at Partnership Hall at 4 pm! This free presentation is part of the City of Laurel – Government‘s 150th Anniversary celebration, and features readings and images from our new book, Laurel at 150!
The Laurel History Boys will present a lively and sometimes amusing recap of Laurel’s 150 years using photos, artifacts, and documents at the Laurel Police Department’s Partnership Activity Center. How much do you know about Laurel’s history?
We’re excited to launch the Kickstarter campaign for our new book, “Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future”.
Commemorating the City of Laurel’s 150th anniversary next year, this 200+ page hardcover volume is a decade-by-decade visual journey through Laurel’s past—a collection of historical highlights covering the pre-1870s through the 2010s.
The Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing cost runs for 20 days only, and is your opportunity to reserve a copy of this important book in the process. Please pre-order now and help support this project by sharing the link.
Among those in the crowd were Brian Knapp, one of the top private collectors of Led Zeppelin memorabilia in the world. Brian brought a few amazing Laurel Pop Festival mementos for show and tell, including ticket stubs, advertisements, and the official program—all of which are extremely rare.
Another special guest was acclaimed producer and screenwriter Allison McGourty, who is working with the band itself in producing the first official Led Zeppelin documentary. She produced the award-winning documentary series, American Epic. Traveling all the way from Great Britain, she certainly had the longest journey to the North Laurel Community Center!
It was a fantastic night and the perfect way to celebrate an important event in Laurel’s history. That so many people came out on a weeknight (in a heavy thunderstorm, no less) is a testament to that, and we appreciate it.
One of the many great stories we received leading up to this event was this one from Michael Wilson, whom we learned has had one of the rarest Laurel Pop Festival posters in his possession for the past half-century.
“There was one at both main entrances to Laurel Race Course. This is the one from the entrance on Rt. 198. My friend Tommy (unfortunately, no longer with us) and I climbed on the top of his van and “liberated” the billboard as members of Sly and the Family Stone cheered us on from their stretch limo. We went over an talked to them and they invited us back to their hotel to party. It was stellar!!! Most of the world had no idea we even had the billboard, until many years later. Tommy and I co-owned it for 40 years, sharing its location from my house to his. After he passed away, I of course got it permanently and it resides in my music room in Billings, Montana, where I moved to 30 years ago.”
Many thanks again to everyone who came out to support this fun event, and especially for your donations which helped cover the rather extravagant rental fee that the North Laurel Community Center required, in spite of the numerous free presentations we’ve given at their request in the past.
On a related note, the Laurel History Boys are now a registered non-profit organization in the state of Maryland—which we hope will go a long way toward opening more doors for funding these types of things and allowing us to keep our presentations free to the public. We’re still navigating the red tape involved with establishing tax exemption, etc., but are very proud to have assembled our very first board of directors. They include Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt, Howard County Historical Society Executive Director Shawn Gladden, and the great Jeff Krulik himself. With their help, we’re looking forward to bigger and better things!
Fifty years ago this month, the legendary Laurel Pop Festival took place at Laurel Race Course. Headlined by a practically unknown Led Zeppelin, the concert spanned July 11th and 12th and included a who’s who of top acts—many of whom would go on to perform at Woodstock just one month later… and eventually into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Join the Laurel History Boys on July 11th—fifty years to the day—for a special presentation in recognition of the historic concert. There will also be a screening of filmmaker Jeff Krulik‘s fantastic documentary, Led Zeppelin Played Here. The film, which focuses on an enduring local legend that has Led Zeppelin playing before approximately 50 confused teenagers at the Wheaton Youth Center that January of 1969, also includes rare footage of the Laurel Pop Festival. A special question and answer session with Jeff will follow the screening.
Did you or anyone you know attend these events in 1969? Do you have photos, ticket stubs, or other memorabilia? Please come and share your stories!
Please note that while our presentations are always free to the public, we are asking for a suggested donation of $5 per person to help cover the rental cost of the facility. (Unfortunately, despite the countless free presentations Kevin has given at the North Laurel Community Center, they weren’t willing to waive the $360 rental fee—even for a nonprofit organization). Worse, it was disappointing that the City of Laurel completely gave us the runaround on the usage of Partnership Hall—another facility at which we’ve given free presentations in the past. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning to rent either facility in the future.
Petty politics aside, the 50th anniversary of the Laurel Pop Festival is something to celebrate, and we want to do it right.
Come out to see the film and hear the stories, and then join us afterwards at Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern on Main Street!
In the early morning hours of Monday, October 18, 1965, Maryland State Trooper Robert Long was one of two officers at the Waterloo Barracks dispatched to a call in Laurel. Undoubtedly, he was unnerved to receive this particular call. As it turned out, the address, (14015 Bramble Lane, Apt. #T2) was that of his next door neighbors—the Hargis family.
The call was concerning the family’s four children.
The quiet, Fox Rest Woods apartment complex, built just the
previous year, certainly hadn’t experienced anything like what happened that
Sunday night. Nor has it ever since, thankfully.
The ground floor terrace apartment had been home to Denver and Charlene Hargis and their four children. The family had only lived there for four months, having relocated from the Belair community in Bowie.
Denver David Hargis wasn’t your average Laurel citizen. Born in Key West, Florida in 1921, he grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas, where he spent two years in the Navy before going into law school. He took an interest in politics, and eventually became a three-term mayor of his hometown. He was eventually elected as a U.S. Representative from Kansas, and served one term in Congress from 1959 to 1961. He was defeated in his re-election bid, and spent the next six years as a consultant with both the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce.
Charlene Hargis was born Charlene June Greer in 1928 and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She married Denver in 1951, and enjoyed working for her husband as a secretary during his term in Congress.
Mr. Hargis, however, didn’t plan on staying in Laurel for long. He and Charlene—45 and 37 years old, respectively—separated only a month after moving into the Fox Rest Woods apartment. That July, Mr. Hargis moved in with another woman in Vienna, Virginia—a 24-year-old divorcee named Betty Crotts, and her two sons.
Charlene and the kids—Sandra Lee, 12; Michael David, 8; Debra Sue, 5; and Brenda June, 2—were left behind in Laurel.
There’s nothing on the record about what officially caused the couple’s breakup. What is clear, however, is that it ultimately led to Mrs. Hargis’ breakdown.
Shortly before midnight, she picked up the telephone in her Laurel apartment, and called her estranged husband. When Betty Crotts answered, Charlene spoke:
“Tell Denver I killed the children.” After a brief pause, she added, “No… I’ll tell him myself.”
Charlene had actually just called Denver a few minutes earlier, and had even seen him in person that evening. With all four kids in tow, she showed up at Betty’s doorstep with an ultimatum. According to Crotts, “She asked him, did he want to stay with me or go back with her and the kids. If he wouldn’t come back, she said she was just going to leave and hurt the kids.”
It was a few hours later, as Denver and Betty watched television, that the first phone call came. After a dismissive conversation, Denver explained that he would not be coming home to Laurel. The second phone call came “about two minutes later” according to Crotts.
Two minutes that were spent doing the unthinkable.
Mr. Hargis had never taken his wife’s threats seriously. He’d later claim that she had threatened to harm herself and the children several times in the past, but never believed she would actually follow through. But there was something about the way she spoke on this particular evening, however, that changed his mind. Maybe it was the way she simply hung up after relaying the chilling message.
“Call the police,” he instructed Betty. As she later testified, “He was going to go there himself, but he was afraid he couldn’t make it in time. He said she might be serious this time.”
Sadly, Charlene Hargis had been deadly serious.
When Troopers Robert Long and Thomas Ingram arrived at the apartment
on Bramble Lane, there was no answer at the door. Peering through a bedroom
window of the ground floor unit, they could see the bodies of two children in
their beds. Long quickly retrieved a crowbar from his police cruiser and forced
the patio door open.
Each of the children had been shot once in the back of the head, while sleeping. 5-year-old Debra Sue was the only one clinging to life—but she, too, died within minutes, en route to the hospital. Joann Robison, wife of future Laurel mayor Joe Robison, was in the ambulance that terrible morning, on duty with the Laurel Rescue Squad. It was likely the worst scene experienced by the local first responders in their then thirteen-year history.
Trooper Long later described the scene as “an awful mess.” Reflecting on what he’d seen throughout his career, he said, “With adults, it doesn’t bother you near(ly) so much, but these were just innocent kids.” Surely, the tragedy affected him on a personal level, having lived next door to the Hargis family. The Hargis children, intrigued by their neighbor’s police uniform, had always cheerfully spoken to Long when they saw him on his way to and from work.
In the kitchen of the apartment, police found a .25 caliber Beretta
handgun. Four shots had been fired from it, and a live cartridge was found on
the floor. Denver Hargis recognized and identified the murder weapon. It
belonged to him—he had reported it stolen that Friday. Charlene would later admit
taking it from the Vienna apartment her husband shared with Betty Crotts.
Mrs. Hargis wasn’t home when the police arrived, and they
quickly put out an alert to locate her car. She was soon picked up by Trooper
Robert Foxwell, only a mile or so away in downtown Laurel. She told him that
she’d planned to drive the car into the Patuxent River and drown herself. “I
tried to find the stinking river and couldn’t even do that.”
Questioned by Det. Sgt. Charles Greffen at the Waterloo Barracks, Charlene wasted no time admitting her guilt. He said, “I introduced myself, and before I could say anything, she told me she killed them.”
It was here that Charlene first shed some light on how this
unthinkable tragedy was set into motion. According to Greffen, Charlene told
him she originally intended to kill herself and leave the children for her
husband, but he told her he didn’t want them. “He just laughed,” she said.
She admitted that she’d driven to Vienna the night of the murders to plead with her husband to either return, or to give the family money to move to another city—but he refused to do either. “He said he had another family now—he didn’t want us anymore,” she explained.
Charlene remembered driving back home to Laurel, putting the
kids to bed, cleaning the apartment, and putting laundry in the washing
machine. The only thing she recalled after that, she said, was when “I called
my husband and told him what I’d done. I told him I’d killed the children.”
Charlene was held in the Prince George’s County Jail and
arraigned the next day in Upper Marlboro on charges of first degree murder—four
counts. Dressed in black slacks, a yellow blouse, and a charcoal gray cardigan
sweater, the thin and frail Mrs. Hargis was asked if she understood the charges
against her. “Yes, sir,” she replied, almost inaudibly.
She exhibited more volume when she caught sight of Mr. Hargis and his mistress together. That’s when she became hysterical.
At points during the arraignment, the visibly upset
defendant repeatedly cried out, “I’m guilty!”
Circuit Court Judge Ernest A. Loveless, Jr. appointed attorney Edward J. Bagley to represent Mrs. Hargis; and at Mr. Bagley’s request, appointed Howard L. Stern as co-counsel. They filed pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity on all four counts of murder, and the judge ordered Charlene to Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville for examination.
She tried to slash her wrists while undergoing that
examination. Despite the suicide attempt, psychiatrists ultimately declared her
sane and able to stand trial.
Her trial began on May 5, 1966 before a jury of three women and nine men. Shortly after the start of the second day, it was interrupted by an outburst. Charlene Hargis began to scream: “Stop it! I told you I was guilty, didn’t I?!” State’s Attorney Arthur A. Marshall, Jr., who’d been standing directly in front of Mrs. Hargis, literally jumped in shock when the screaming began. He jumped so sharply, he actually pulled a muscle in his side. Asked about the incident later that day, he said, “I felt like somebody stuck a knife in me.”
A recess was called, and Charlene, “trembling and
weeping,” was led out of the crowded courtroom by an officer. Seated
outside in a nearby corridor were Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts. Mrs. Crotts had
been called as a key witness for the prosecution, while Mr. Hargis elected not
to testify against his estranged wife.
Betty Crotts testified that she and Denver (by now living together in Arlington, Virginia) had arrived home at her previous apartment in Vienna on the evening of October 17th and found Charlene Hargis and her four children waiting for them outside. She described the confrontation and Charlene’s later phone calls, “threatening to hurt the kids.”
Maryland State Trooper Robert Long was also called to testify, and he relayed the horror he’d discovered that morning in his next door neighbors’ apartment.
And Charlene herself quietly testified. She reiterated the same story to the jurors that she’d told police—never offering excuses or seeking mercy; often looking directly into the jurors’ eyes and adding that she wished she were dead, herself.
On May 10th, after deliberating for six hours, the jury convicted Charlene on four counts of manslaughter. Reporters noted that several jurors were in tears at various times throughout the closing arguments, and that most in the courtroom sympathized with the defendant in spite of her horrific crime.
In fact, even the prosecutor himself directed more scorn at
Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts than he did at Mrs. Hargis. In a remarkable
statement to the jury, Marshall said, “She (Charlene Hargis) is a pathetic
sight. She stands here before you by herself when there should be two other people
with her. Two other people who squeezed the trigger as surely as she did.” He
added, “Here we have the story of the eternal triangle—and of an unfaithful
husband, who came here and refused to testify, for his own benefit.”
The defense attorney, predictably, was even more blunt.
Edward Bagley said, “If she shot her husband that night, I would come in and
gladly try this case for her. And I think she would have an excellent chance of
being turned loose by a jury.”
On May 24th, two weeks after the trial, Charlene returned to the Upper Marlboro courthouse for sentencing. She received 10 years in prison for each death, but with the terms running concurrently.
Circuit Judge William B. Bowie stated that the sentence was “as lenient as possible under the circumstances,” and allowed that Mrs. Hargis would be eligible for parole after 28 months.
Charlene was taken to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup to begin serving her time. By all accounts, she was the proverbial model prisoner—but as the one-year anniversary of the murders approached in September of 1966, so too did her demons. She attempted to overdose with prescription antidepressant and tranquilizer pills she’d been hoarding.
Prison superintendent Alice Blum said that Charlene had confided to fellow inmates several times that “she didn’t know how she could stand it when October came around.”
She fully recovered, but less than a year later, overdosed on pills again. The June 1967 suicide attempt was her third in less than two years, counting the wrist-slashing during her initial psychological evaluation.
The third suicide attempt not only resulted in Charlene being transferred to Spring Grove State Hospital, it prompted prison officials to change the method of administering pills to inmates. Warden James Jordan, believing that Mrs. Hargis had received the pills from other inmates who’d also been hoarding them, ordered that all future pills given to inmates “be crushed to make sure they are swallowed.”
After serving a total of 31 months in prison and the psychiatric hospital, Charlene Hargis was granted parole by the Maryland Parole and Probation Board. She was released to the custody of her parents, where she was ordered to reside with them at their home in Missouri under close supervision of Missouri parole officials. Her parole also stipulated regular psychiatric care at a nearby mental hospital.
Somewhat ironically, it was a deal that Charlene’s court-appointed defense attorney had requested at her sentencing, only to be denied.
Somehow, life went on for both Denver and Charlene, apparently. After he filed for divorce in January 1969, she reverted to using her maiden name. The divorce report—an inherently cold document to begin with—contains a particularly chilling entry. Line #23 asks for the number of children under 18 affected by the decree. The clerk typed, “NONE.”
On March 28, 1969, Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts were married.
Denver and Betty moved to Florida, where he managed a number of title insurance companies before retiring in 1985. He died just four years later, at the age of 67, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His grave is not far from those of his four children—who’d tragically been there for nearly 24 years by the time he joined them in 1989.
Nothing seems to have been written about Charlene in the years following her parole. If there were anymore suicide attempts, marriages, or anything else of note, it didn’t make the news, evidently.
In fact, I found only one brief thing—a terse obituary in the March 5, 2015 edition of the Kansas City Star:
“Charlene J. Greer, 86, Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Died March 3, 2015. No service. Cremation. Langsford Funeral Home.“
The tortured woman who couldn’t bear the anniversary of her children’s deaths ended up having to endure nearly 50 more of them.
Sadly, like so many other tragic tales, there isn’t any moral to this story; or any elements of redemption. It was a horrific act that likely could have been prevented, had circumstances been different. We’ll never know what Denver and Charlene Hargis felt, or what series of events prompted them to make the choices they did.
In today’s news cycles, very few things surprise us anymore. But in 1965, in our small hometown of Laurel, Maryland, this must have been truly shocking on every level.
Walking through the expansive Fox Rest Woods neighborhood today, which still looks very much as it always has, it’s easy to imagine the Hargis children there that fateful summer… and to wish they’d had the opportunity to really experience growing up in Laurel. Or anywhere else.