The Available Documentation

by Albert Haim

Several Bixophiles have written asking me to discontinue the discussion of Bix's sexuality in the Forum. They tell me that the Forum should be devoted to issues of music, not of Bix's private affairs. I agree with them and I have posted several times, as have others, on the need to respect privacy. Other Bixophiles, who also think that the discussion of this subject must be terminated once and for all, have written and have supplied additional information about the arrest episode of April 1921 in an effort to bring the subject to closure. The information they provided, which in some cases includes actual photo copies of available documentation, is not in exact agreement with the account of the episode in Geoffrey Ward's "Jazz: A History of America's Music."

I am caught between strong contradictory forces. On the one hand, my ethical principles compel me to scrupulously guard Bix's -and anybody's- private affairs from public scrutiny and speculation. On the other hand, my rigorous training as a research scientist drives me to vigorously investigate and search for the "truth".

After a lot of soul searching and in the interest of fairness, accuracy, completeness, and final closure, I decided to post here transcriptions of the only two available documents - the Davenport police blotter for April 22, 1921 and the grand jury deposition of Preston R. Ivens, the father of the girl in the incident. In addition, and with his permission, I also provide the essence of a conversation I had with Geoffrey C. Ward, the author of "Jazz: A History of America's Music", the companion book to Ken Burns' Jazz TV series for PBS.

I have seen photographs of the two documents mentioned above. The Davenport police blotter for 1921 still exists and has been archived. I have been informed that the Scott County proceedings prior to 1940 have been purged. Copies of the deposition had been obtained many years ago.

Police Blotter [April 1921]. [Exact transcription from photograph of original document.]
Date -22; Name, Leon Beiderbecke; Arrested By, Len & Halligan; Crime, Lewd & lascivious act with child; Age, 18; height, 5-7; Complection [sic], Dark; Occupation, Student; Nationality, Am; Remarks, Held to G.J. [grand jury] $1500 bond - Scott Court.
[Note: My understanding is that Bix was close to six feet tall and of light complexion.]

Deposition. State of Iowa vs. Beiderbecke. [Exact transcription from photograph of original document.]
Preston R. Ivens being first duly sworn on oath says: I live at 3030 Grand Ave. Davenport-Scott County, Iowa. I am a student at the Palmer School. On April 22, 1921 my little girl came home, told me that a man took her in the garage, said some awful things to her. I ran up to the garage, then called up the police but could get no clue. Next day I saw 2 boys whom I had seen when I went to the garage. I asked if they saw a man take a little girl into the garage the day before. They said yes & told me it was the Dft [defendant]. My little girl told her story to me & later to the chief of police & the County Attorney. She said he asked her to show herself. The little girl is 5 years old. In consideration of the childs [sic] age & the harm that would result to her in going over with this case I would request that no action be taken by the Grand Jury. I consulted with Dr. Eliot & Dr. B. J. Palmer & Dr. Craven & they all besides Mr. C. H. Murphy thought it best to drop the case for the betterment of the child.
Signed: Preston R. Ivens.
[Note: Palmer School of Chiropractic is still in existence; Mr. Ivens did not complete the program. The Ivens's residence was about 15 blocks away from the Beiderbecke's residence.]

I had a telephone conversation with Geoffrey C. Ward, the author of "Jazz: A History of America's Music" on December 18, 2000. Mr. Ward informed me that the data about Bix's arrest for "lewd and lascivious act with a child" was from a photograph of the Davenport police blotter for April 22, 1921. No information about the age and sex of the child was provided in the blotter. The identification of the child as "apparently just a fellow teenager, a girl from down the street" was provided to Mr. Ward by the late Mr. Philip Evans during a telephone conversation several years ago."

This is all I know about the episode of April 1921. As far as I am aware, there are no other serious events in Bix's life that have not been disclosed. I believe that this is the sum total of material that has not been in the public domain. I will not analyze the documents nor will I speculate about their meaning or some of the puzzling aspects. However, some clarifications are in order.

For the benefit of readers from overseas, I give a brief and general explanation of the Grand Jury system in the U.S.A. The rules vary from state to state, but some features are common. Basically, when an individual is arrested, depending on the nature of the charges, he/she may be bound over to a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a group of about twenty citizens called to determine whether evidence exists to warrant the trial (by a Petit Jury, 12 men/women who decide on the guilt or innocence of the defendant) of a person accused of a crime. Unlike the trial by a Petit Jury, Grand Jury proceedings are secret. The only person present during depositions by witnesses and by the defendant is the District Attorney. Witnesses and accused testify one at a time behind closed doors. There is no judge present. After the jurors are sworn in, the indictments proposed by the District Attorney are laid before them and witnesses are called. The defendant may be called, provided he/she waives his privilege against self-incrimination. On the conclusion of the hearing, the Grand Jury deliberates in private and decides whether the evidence provides reasonable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime of which he is accused. Of course, the Grand Jury can decide that insufficient evidence has been presented and the case is dismissed. When the proceedings are concluded in favor of the defendant, the records are sealed. This means that they are not available to anyone without a Supreme Court order on good cause shown.

Clearly, Bix was arrested, released on bail, and his case was sent over to the Grand Jury. The case was dismissed. Those are the facts. What are the claims? According to Mr. Ivens, his daughter told him that an unidentified man said "something awful" to her and asked her "to show herself." What is the basis for the allegation by Mr. Ivens that the man was Bix? Apparently, only the word of two unidentified boys seen by Mr. Ivens near "the garage." Clearly, all the evidence brought in by Mr. Ivens was nothing but hearsay. The charges were dismissed and, according to the U.S. legal system, an individual is innocent until proven guilty: Bix is innocent. Let there be closure on this subject.

As far as I am concerned, the information related to the arrest neither adds to or subtracts from my understanding or appreciation of Bix's music. However, it provides a possible explanation, as stated by Richard M. Sudhalter in "Lost Chords" (p. 803: "prompted the family to ship the boy off to Lake Forest") and by Geoffrey C. Ward in "Jazz: A History of America's Music" (p. 83: "they packed him off to Lake Forest") for the decision of Mr. and Mrs. Bismark Beiderbecke to send Bix to Lake Forest Academy. Bix's academic work was unsatisfactory, he was drinking, and he was hanging out with jazz musicians. The arrest -although without a conviction- could have been an additional factor in the parents'decision to enroll Bix in Lake Forest Academy. This event turned out to be a defining moment in Bix's life. As pointed out by Geoffrey Ward during a telephone conversation we had on 12/21/00, Bix's enrollment in the Academy had profound consequences in Bix's life as a musician: Chicago and jazz were a short train ride away and jazz history was changed as a consequence.

It is with profound regret that I am posting the copies of the documents in question. I trust that no further speculation will be forthcoming in the forum about this unfortunate aspect of Bix's life. Our enjoyment and study of Bix's luminous music and our searches for heretofore undiscovered recordings and films are sufficient to keep us occupied for a long time.

Albert Haim

I am grateful to Mike Heckman for his expert technical advice: his explanations of complicated and subtle legal matters were very helpful. I also acknowledge the help of three Bixophiles who provided information about the existing documentation, judicious advice, and strong moral support. Finally, I thank Geoffrey Ward for several illuminating discussions.

Posted on Jan 7, 2001, 12:04 PM

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