Monday, March 11, 2013

American Paratrooper Hanged by Great Britain

Karl Gustav Hulten
Killer's crime spree occurred during World War II
by Robert A. Waters
In 1945, a blitzed-out Great Britain was in no mood to molly-coddle a cold-faced killer.  Even if he was American.  So, on March 8, at Pentonville Prison, AWOL paratrooper Pvt. Karl Gustav Hulten, 23, of Boston, Massachusetts, dropped through the gallows trap-door and met his ignominious end.  His crimes were so atrocious that even the United States government never protested the execution.
British army veteran George Edward Heath had been wounded at Dunkirk.  After being discharged, he spent the last part of the war trying to support his wife and two children by driving an unlicensed taxi.  On October 7, 1944, Heath’s body was found in a ditch at Knowle Green, Staines, Middlesex.  He’d been shot in the back, and his cab stolen.  At first, no one recognized him, so the press dubbed him the “cleft chin man,” after his one outstanding feature.

It didn’t take long for Heath’s wife to identify her husband from news accounts, and soon constables went looking for his taxi. Finding it parked on a busy street, British police waited until Hulten came back to the car, and arrested him.

Since he was an American, investigators turned him over to the U. S. Army.  But the military quickly handed the deserter back to British authorities. 

English detectives soon learned that a few days before, Hulten and a stripper named Elizabeth Jones had embarked on a seemingly senseless crime spree.  They met in a bar, and the American’s gift of gab entranced Jones.  She loved to hear him brag about his Mafioso friends (a lie, of course) and the Nazi bastards he’d killed in battle (another lie, of course).  In truth, Hulten was a coward of the worst sort, attacking only defenseless women or shooting an unarmed man in the back.

Part of the D-Day assault force, Hulten had abandoned his unit and stole a military truck to make his getaway.  After hooking up with Jones, the deserter felt the need to impress her, so together they began their brief life of crime.

While driving the purloined Army truck, he noticed a teenage girl riding her bicycle in West London.  Hulten, looking for a big score, snatched the surprised teen's purse. 

The pitiful take on that haul did nothing to slake the couple’s taste for money, so Hulten decided to rob a cab.  He stopped his truck in front of the first taxi he saw, and, brandishing his gun, ran toward the cabbie demanding money.  He hadn’t noticed an American army officer in the back seat—when the serviceman pulled his own handgun, Hulten raced back to the truck and fled.

Soon Hulten and Jones spied a girl walking down Edgware Road.  Toting a suitcase, she was en route to Paddington.  When Hulten offered her a ride, she accepted.  It came close to being her last ride.  Hulten smashed her head with a crowbar, strangled her, and attempted to drown her.  She barely survived the unprovoked assault.  But again, the girl had little money, so the love-struck couple was still broke.

Their next crime resulted in the death of cab-driver Heath.  This robbery netted a measly eight pounds.

Hulten’s final crime was almost laughable.  Jones informed her paramour that she'd always wanted a fur coat.  So, sitting outside a hotel, her lover waited for a likely mark to emerge.  Sure enough, a woman in a fur coat soon exited the building.  Hulten ran up, grabbed the coat, and attempted to pull it off her.  She fought, and the AWOL American ran back to the cab he’d stolen from Heath.

A few hours later, British investigators, staking out the taxi, caught the braggadocios “mobster” and “war hero.”

Hulten and Jones were quickly tried and sentenced to death.

Five months later, Elizabeth Jones’ death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

On March 8, 1945, as American troops swept toward Berlin on the western front and the Russian army on the east, Hulten was hanged.  Outside the prison, Mrs. Violet Van der Elst and some 200 protestors demonstrated against the death penalty.  “You let the girl off, but you let the man hang,” Van der Elst shouted.  “It’s a damned shame.”  She demanded that officials let her go inside the prison and visit Hulten before his execution, but authorities denied her request.  She then commandeered a passing garbage truck and tried to break through the police barricade that lined the prison walls.  Van der Elst and the hapless driver were arrested.

Despite requests for mercy from Hulten’s wife and mother, British authorities avenged the death of the innocent cabbie.

Nine years later, Jones was released from prison, and disappeared into the ash-bin of history.

Violet Van der Elst died in 1966, 21 years after Hulten’s execution.  A former washerwoman, she’d married the Belgian painter, Jean Van der Elst, and inherited his fortune.  She wrote books condemning the death penalty, and ran unsuccessfully for political office on three occasions.  She squandered her fortune, and died penniless.  But Van der Elst did live long enough to see the death penalty forever abolished in Great Britain.

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