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Sensational, gripping, unpredictable: Imperial Hotel manslaughter case of 1958

The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was the scene of a generally forgotten manslaughter case in 1958

TOKYO (TR) – This November marks the 130th anniversary of the opening of the luxurious Imperial Hotel in Chiyoda Ward.

Since its start, the hotel has seen just about everything imaginable — the current pandemic, earthquakes, fire, one Olympic Games (another postponed) and two rebuilds, one at the direction of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

One overlooked incident involved an American businessman who was accused of fatally beating a male acquaintance in a drunken brawl inside a suite more than 60 years ago.

During the year-long trial, hotel staff members, bar hostesses and a former U.S. Congressman were called to testify.

Each step of the case made headlines — and a look back reveals why: It was sensational, gripping and unpredictable right until the very end.

“The whole thing is fantastic”

On the morning of May 8, 1958, T.A.D. Jones Jr., 45, was found collapsed in the suite with bruises across his body, a cut lip and a swollen left eye. He was confirmed dead that afternoon.

The interior of the room would later be deemed a crime scene, and it certainly looked the part: Blood was splattered on the walls, shards of glass were scattered on the floor and a lamp lay broken.

The results of an autopsy revealed that Jones died as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage due to contusions around the left eye and left ear.

Jones was the president of oil firm T.A.D Jones Co. His vice president was his brother-in-law, Joseph P. Crowley, 48, with whom he was sharing the suite. Three days before his death, Jones arrived in Japan with Crowley and accountant Frederick M. Kissinger, 62, to purchase an oil tanker.

On May 11, Crowley gave Tokyo Metropolitan Police his version of events that led up to Jones’ death. He said the evening before started off with dinner at the Tokyo American Club. Among the attendees were himself, Jones, Kissinger and Ben Guill, vice chairman of the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Joseph Crowley was arrested in Tokyo on May 21

“After dinner we went to several night clubs,” Crowley said while adding he returned to the hotel with Jones and Guill at around 3:00 a.m.  A little less than three hours later, Kissinger, who was also staying in the suite, awoke him after hearing a loud crash. “He said he had found Jones lying over the lamp,” Crowley said. “His lip was cut, so I called a doctor.”

The police didn’t buy it. On May 21, Crowley was arrested on suspicion “of having inflicted the injuries which caused Jones’ death” after a drinking binge, inspector Tsunetoshi Shirakawa told reporters. The inspector added that Crowley had a bruised right hand.

Upon his arrest, Crowley denied the allegations. He said he had sprained his hand during a fall in a bathtub. “The whole thing is fantastic,” he told reporters, wire service AP reported at the time.

Crowley spent 21 days in jail prior to his indictment on June 9. Two days later, he was released on bail of 300,000 (then the equivalent of 833 U.S. dollars). Wire service UPI reported that he “successfully evaded reporters and photographers who had staged a daylong wait outside exits to the jail section at Tokyo metropolitan police headquarters.”

Later that month, Crowley reiterated his innocence. “I absolutely did not have anything to do with it,” he was quoted. “This is the first time I ever got into trouble while I was sleeping.” He went to say that he had lost not only his brother-in-law but also a good friend. “It was bad enough to have lost him but to be accused of having caused his death is absolutely unbearable,” he said.

Yale man

After graduating from Yale, Crowley married Jones Jr.’s sister Betty. He then rose up the corporate ladder at T.A.D. Jones Co., which was based in New Haven, Connecticut.

The scandalous nature of the case caused it to routinely make headlines in the U.S. But that was not the only reason; another factor was a football connection.

Jones was the son of Thomas Albert Dwight (or T.A.D.) Jones, a former All-American quarterback and coach of the Yale football team. The junior Jones also played for the Ivy League school. Meanwhile, Crowley as well starred on the gridiron for the school, having scored five touchdowns as a halfback in a game against St. Johns of Annapolis in 1931.

Joseph Crowley was released on bail on June 11

Stateside papers could not get enough of the connection. “Japan Holds Ex-Gridder in Kin’s Death,” read a headline for an AP story in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 21. Exactly one month later, the Delaware County Daily Times declared, “Ex-Yale Grid Star Denies Any Part in Jones Death.”


The charge of inflicting bodily injuries resulting in death is the rough equivalent to manslaughter. Crowley faced between two and 15 years in prison. U.S. Army soldier William S. Girard received a three-year suspended prison term for the same charge over the killing of housewife Naka Sakai by using a grenade launcher to fire an empty casing at her while she collected scrap metal at a firing range in Gunma Prefecture in 1957.

At the opening of his trial at the Tokyo District Court on July 3, 1958, the bespectacled Crowley appeared calm as prosecutor Kenjiro Furukawa claimed that he had inflicted such a severe beating up on Jones in the suite that blood splattered six feet up a wall.

“I deny I had anything to do with it,” Crowley said in pleading innocent before the court headed by three black-robed judges and no jury.

Betty arrived in Tokyo with the couple’s 17-year-old son Douglas the following day. “They came to be with their husband and father for the duration of the trial,” said one of Crowley’s lawyers, Arthur K. Mori, AP reported.

The trial kicked into high gear when the prosecution called witnesses from the hotel to testify later in July. The apparent aim was to show that an intruder could not have killed Jones.

Night manager Shigeru Kurihara said he entered the room at 5:30 a.m. on May 8 in response to a call about an injured guest. This was about one hour before the doctor arrived. “There were bloodstains about two feet square on the carpet…around the telephone stand,” he said. “Glass fragments were on the floor. Behind the sofa there was a towel with blood on it.”

Yoshiomi Nakajima, 39, who was in charge of the front desk, saw Jones lying on a bed in the suite with a blood-soaked towel over his face. Meanwhile, night watchman Kamekichi Ikeda said he observed nothing unusual around the suite around the time of the incident.

Maid Toshiko Takeya said that she arrived at the room at 9:30 a.m. She remembered seeing blood stains on the walls, a pair of bent ice tongs, a broken glass ice bucket and a broken lamp shade on the floor, AP reported.

“I could tell at a glance that he was dead”

Dr. Jo Ono treated Jones in the room. He told the court that he found Jones to have a lacerated lip and swollen left eye. The doctor went on to say that Jones reeked of liquor but otherwise seemed healthy.

Dr. Ono left the suite to retrieve some medical equipment from home before returning to check him twice more. On the third visit, at around 5:30 p.m., he found him to be dead. “I received a severe shock because Mr. Jones’ face had an entirely different appearance from when I examined him in the morning. I could tell at a glance that he was dead,” the doctor said. He went on to say that Jones’ face and parts of his cheek were swollen and reddish-purple, which wasn’t the case that morning.

Though the deterioration in the condition of the Jones seems unusual, the prosecution did not consider that he met with violence between visits by the doctor.

The cabaret Benibasha was featured on the cover of “Midnight in Tokyo”

“I didn’t notice anything unusual”

Though Crowley was officially in Tokyo to purchase the tanker, he spent a significant amount of time in the capital’s nightlife and pleasure quarters. The cabaret Benibasha was one of his regular stops.

In attempting to prove that Crowley injured his hand in striking Jones, prosecutors called two bar hostesses from Benibasha and a female employee from another establishment he frequented to testify.

Junko Nishikawa, 25, said that she and another hostess left Crowley and Jones at the entrance of the Imperial Hotel at around 3:00 a.m. “The Americans were gay and seemed to have an interesting conversation in the taxi. There were no quarrels,” she said.

Described as tall and neatly dress by UPI, Nishikawa also said that she had danced with Crowley for three straight nights. “I didn’t notice anything unusual about his left hand — he didn’t complain of any pain,” she said, AP reported.

Over the roughly 12-hour period from when Jones was found until he was confirmed dead, Crowley left the hotel to visit a Turkish bathhouse, a type of establishment known today by the name soapland.

The operator of the bathhouse was 20-year-old Wakako Tanaka. While there, Crowley received a telephone call from Kissinger in which he learned of the death of Jones. “[He] looked extremely despondent,” Tanaka testified. “[He then] started drinking.” She added that his hand was fine when he first visited the bathhouse earlier in the trip. However, she didn’t treat him the second time due to his learning of the death of Jones.

Crowley continued drinking. Later that night he met the second Benibasha hostess, Fumiko Takeda, 26, back at hotel suite. Takeda was paired up with Guill, the U.S. Maritime Administration vice president.

“Crowley seemed very drunk and sat in a corner saying, ‘How can I tell my wife [that her brother is dead]?'” Takeda, who was dining with Guill that night, told the court.

According to Takeda, Crowley used a phone in the suite to make an international call to his wife. “I wasn’t paying much attention,” Takeda said. “But I had been told Jones died of a heart attack so I wondered why he couldn’t tell.”

Outside the courthouse, Crowley told reporters that Guill had encouraged him to tell his wife about the death of Jones, who was her brother.

A hostess said she left Joseph Crowley at the entrance of the Imperial Hotel at around 3:00 a.m. on May 8, 1958

“Anticipated conquest of some girls”

The defense claimed that Jones died as a result of an accident caused by him flailing around drunk and knocking the lamp, weighing 33 pounds, over onto himself. The claim centered on testimony by Kissinger, who had been cleared in the case. He left Japan in July. Upon his departure, he declined to comment on Crowley’s trial. He returned in August to testify.

Kissinger told the court that he went to sleep before Crowley and Jones. He awoke to the sound of a door closing, a crash of glass and a thud at around 5:30 a.m. on May 8.

“I saw Jones lying on the floor and the floor lamp partly over his body, the shade over his face and his left arm clasping around the lamp,” he said while adding that Jones was incoherent before helping him to bed.

Kissinger added that Crowley and Jones had woke him up before then, at around 3:00 a.m., to continue drinking and discuss the purchase of the tanker.

When asked what else they discussed, he said, “I would say they were discussing their anticipated conquest of some girls.” He went to bed again around 3:30 a.m.

Guill also testified. In addition to being the U.S. Maritime Administration vice president, he was a former Texas congressman. He said that he left Jones and Crowley for his room between 3:15 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. after having a drink in their room. “Honest, I did not hear a cross word between Crowley and Jones and it was a very pleasant evening,” he testified.

After Jones was confirmed dead, Crowley was reluctant to approve the conducting of an autopsy. Guill testified that Crowley said, “I have to take him back and I don’t want to see him all cut up.”

Guill said that he urged Crowley to go ahead with the autopsy “for the benefit of Jones’ family because it would be better to establish whether he died of heart failure or suffocation [as an attending Japanese physician first suggested] rather than that the word gets back he died of intoxication,” AP reported.

T.A.D. Jones Jr. died in a suite at the Imperial Hotel on May 8, 1958

“She was not a mourning wife”

When Crowley took the stand, he was met with a separate accusation: that he had fought with Jones before the pair even arrived in Japan.

Crowley said the claim, made by Fred Inbau, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, was “a complete and total lie.” He added, “I would pay his expenses to Tokyo to tell me that straight to my face.”

Crowley also verbally attacked the widow of Jones. He had told the court that he sent her a condolence message from Tokyo. “I don’t believe Alice Toleber Jones is interested in my guilt or my innocence. She is only interested in having me punished,” he said. “I would be man enough to admit my guilt if I had killed him.”

Crowley said that his second son, Joseph, paid a sympathy visit to the Jones home and found her hosting a cocktail party after her husband’s funeral. His son described her as “plastered drunk.” Crowley said, “She was not a mourning wife.”

Crowley also conveyed that he had received support from the U.S., including from Robert F. Wagner, the mayor of New York City.

When Crowley was awakened by Kissinger at around 5:30 a.m. on May 8, he said, “My words were…’What the hell happened?'” he testified while adding that the interior of the room “was a mess” with “plenty of blood all around.”

“Amazing coincidence”

Such an occurrence was made even more shocking by the fact that the Imperial Hotel was perhaps the premier hotel in the capital at the time, catering to businessmen and well-heeled tourists. Yet the Crowley case was not a first.

That December, defense attorney Mori said that a similar accident involving another American businessman took place not only in the same wing of the hotel but on the same floor two years before.

On May 6, 1956, Thomas Haim, an official in the Naess Shipping Company, was hurt. “The injuries were almost identical with those suffered by Jones Jr.,” said Mori, “except they were on the right side [of his head] instead of the left.”

Mori did not tell the court what happened, only saying that it was an “amazing coincidence.” A letter from Dr. Neal C. Woods, of the Tokyo Sanitarium Hospital, was presented to the court. The letter certified that Haim spent two weeks at the hospital recovering from his injuries.

Mori added that Haim did not know the cause of the accident. He only said that alcohol was not involved, a claim supported by Dr. Woods.

Though the Crowley case was not unprecedented, it should be pointed out that the Imperial Hotel seemed to have had a disproportionate number of these types of situations in those days. In 1962, hotel personnel found Manfred Goldman, 79, fatally stabbed atop a bed inside his room. Attired in a raincoat and wearing shoes, the American had been slashed in the neck and back.

The Crowley trial dragged on. The following February, the prosecution wrapped up its case by seeking four years of hard labor for Crowley. Among its key claims were that Crowley “willfully kept his left hand hidden” during the investigation by police; that doctors found more that 30 bruises on the body of Jones, likely the result of punches and kicks; that Crowley’s pajamas were stained with blood; that he objected to an autopsy and requested that the cause of death be listed as a heart attack, a claim Crowley denied; and that the payment to Dr. Ono — 1,000 U.S. dollars — was excessive.

T.A.D. Jones Jr. was staying at the Imperial Hotel when he died in 1958

“I will willingly eat my typewriter”

The case became so followed that it warranted a mention in the U.S. Congress. On June 4, Frank T. Bow, Republican Congressman, read into the record an article from the English language version of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

The article, written by a writer going by the name of John Robb, mentioned two high-profile cases, one being the Crowley case, the other the murder of Tomoko Takekawa that same year. In it, Robb wondered whether “fairness” was lacking within the Japanese legal system.

“This case has now assumed some of the aspects of a long-run serial story,” Robb wrote, according to the Congressional Record. “It goes on and on, its origins receding farther and farther into the past; its witnesses progressively becoming more and more vague about what actually happened on that fateful night and its protagonists living under a perpetual cloud.”

Robb went on to say that the announcement that the verdict would be handed down later that month was “none too soon.” Robb went on, “There seems to be no conceivable excuse for the period of more than a year which has been required to try a relatively simple case involving an accidental killing.

“Mr. Crowley, one presumes, is fairly wealthy. But what would have been the case if he had been a poor man, unable to pay for a team of lawyers or his interminable hotel bills. Presumably he would have had to stay in jail, waiting the pleasure of the court.”

Robb concluded, “If this is fair, I will willingly eat my typewriter.”

He probably didn’t have to. On June 22, 1959, the trial finally ended with the court acquitting Crowley. Presiding judge Saburo Yashima ruled that Jones died from bruises and injuries suffered while stumbling and falling about his hotel in a drunken state.

Joseph P. Crowley was acquitted on June 22, 1959

“I was confident all along that my innocence would be established,” the former Yale great was quoted, AP reported. He added that he was looking forward to returning to the U.S. to spend time with his two sons and daughter.

When reached by telephone at her hotel room, Crowley’s wife Betty said, “Oh, thank you so much.”

The prosecution had a 14-day window to appeal. However, it chose to drop the case.

The final chapter

The case that seemingly would not end had finally concluded. However, there was one more chapter in the saga.

Two days after the ruling was read, Crowley and his wife departed Tokyo for Honolulu, not waiting to learn if the prosecution would appeal. After spending a few days there, they returned to their home in Hamden, Connecticut.

Crowley then began rebuilding his life, though thing did not go smoothly. On July 23, he resigned as vice president of T.A.D. Jones. He said in a press release that the pressure of his other business activities was too great to continue with the company.

It would appear those pressures continued. On August 10, his son Joseph found his body, attired in trousers and a sweater, stretched out across a bed in their home. Half-empty bottles of barbiturates and whiskey were found nearby.

The coroner said that the results of an autopsy revealed conditions “consistent with barbiturate poisoning” as a possible cause of death. He likely died the night before — his 50th birthday — while his family was at their summer home. No foul play was suspected, AP reported.

Crowley also visited the summer home. But he returned home early for an appointment, he told his family. Neighbors, however, said that his vehicle remained parked in front for several days, meaning he never left for the appointment.

Another of Crowley’s lawyers, Akira Senoh, said that Crowley was “in high spirits” when he left Japan. “This is almost unbelievable,” he said. “This comes as a great shock to me.”

Senoh described Crowley was “a frank, outspoken man, very likable and amiable.” He added, “He confided in me 100 percent, so I defended the case with full confidence. I liked him very much.”