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Chasing Jack Chase: The Dead End Kid


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Chasing Jack Chase, Part I: The Dead End Kid

By Springs Toledo from Sweet Science

 

 

Isaiah Chase’s birthday was only three weeks away when a white gentleman knocked on the door of 3360 Delgany Street in Denver, Colorado. It was January 7th 1920. The boy was going to be six years old but chances weren’t good that anyone would remember. His mother, Nancy Walters, was black, single, and not sure when her birthday was. She told the census taker she was twenty though she was actually a year older if an earlier census is accurate.

 

 

Only scant details linger about the boy’s father. He was from Missouri, impregnated Nancy when she was a teenager and then left, or died. He represents a specter that dwells beneath the poverty line; a specter that also happens to be the strongest predictor of juvenile delinquency: fatherlessness. It would be expected that the boy at Nancy’s knee reminded her of the man she once knew and loved or thought she loved. Perhaps the strikingly large and maroon eyes looking up at her were inherited from that man. Nancy had given the boy a Biblical name, the name of a prophet, but his surname was his father’s -and like his father, Isaiah Chase would break her heart.

 

 

After Isaiah’s birth in Sherman, Texas, Nancy did what countless young mothers have always done in similar circumstances; she went home to her parents. The boy’s memories began at his grandfather’s house in Denver. Despite an advanced age, Jacob (called “Little”) Walters worked long and hard as an ash hauler for the city. Aunt Rachel was a cook at a hotel and Nancy got a job as a cook for a private household. She probably walked to the wealthy Country Club District a few miles away. Isaiah’s grandmother stayed home. She could neither read nor write, but the boy learned to mind his manners from this old woman who in all likelihood was born a slave.

 

 

Ten years later, the depression had hit and drought and windstorms began in the region that soon ravaged the Midwest. Times were tough. Nancy was living with her sister, now a widow, in the small coal mining town of Walsenburg in southern Colorado. They were a minority among minorities in a community of first and second generation Mexicans. Rent was $10 a month –a bit above average for the area, and both women had to work from dawn to dusk with or without Sundays off.

 

 

Nancy had lost control of her son by then.

 

 

Isaiah was all of twelve years old when first handcuffed by the police. The charge was auto theft. He may have stolen a police car. The Denver Post reported that a patrolman left his car at 14th and Champa streets, went into headquarters for a little while, and emerged to find his car gone. Red-faced, the patrolman searched for an hour before making an alert. The car was found ditched only two streets away. It was a joyride. The next day, Isaiah was arrested.

 

 

Colorado, specifically Denver, had recently revamped its court system at the behest of a reformer judge named Ben Lindsey. Lindsey insisted that a juvenile court be created that would act as parens partriae- “on behalf of” instead of “against” the misbehaving child. Judges assumed the role of father figure and applied a “remedy” with wide discretion as to the length of commitment. One of the criticisms of this model is that minors often served longer terms in the juvenile system than they would have had they been convicted by an adult court. Isaiah was given an ‘indeterminate sentence’ for stealing a car. Despite the fact that it was his first offense, he was sent to the Colorado State Industrial School for boys in Golden. Almost three years later he was released.

 

 

Judge Lindsey’s child-saving theories failed in this case. Isaiah’s natural complexion had barely returned before he was collared again. Burglary was the charge. He was sent back to Golden for another indeterminate sentence with the label “incorrigible” attached to his name. In the spring of 1930, Isaiah was one of only ten African Americans among 290 inmates. In the fall, he escaped and headed thirteen miles east to Denver. The police were alerted. It’s all too easy to envision a reunion of sorts between Isaiah and his hoodlum friends, a reunion that broke up as sirens sent them scattering in every direction. Isaiah was caught and promptly returned to the industrial school to complete his term, plus an extension.

 

 

On New Year’s Eve 1931, Isaiah was picked up for vagrancy in Denver, given a thirty-day suspended sentence, and turned loose. Three days later he was picked up for vagrancy again, given a ninety-day suspended sentence, and was told that he had 6 hours to leave the city. He didn’t. On the afternoon of January 22nd, he and Leonard Hartley (a fellow inmate at Golden) were arrested by the Denver police for a crime that took place within walking distance from where Leonard lived at his uncle’s address. Under questioning, the boys admitted that they stopped a junkman’s wagon in an alley, pulled him out, and attacked him. Isaiah allegedly hit him with a lead pipe. They denied that their motive was robbery but said that they “had it in” for the junkman.

 

 

Isaiah and Leonard were charged with “assault to kill” and held in the city jail.

 

 

The junkman lay in critical condition at the hospital.

 

 

The charge was changed to “assault with intent to rob” and Isaiah served five months and two weeks at the Colorado State Reformatory in Buena Vista. He was released in August. By November he was back at it again. The police, this time in Pueblo, apprehended him as a fugitive with a burglary charge over his head. He was given a break by the judge and turned over to the custody of his mother in Walsenburg. Only a few weeks later, Isaiah broke into a store near his house. Authorities charged him with burglary, he pled guilty, and he was shucked off to the reformatory for another seven months.

 

 

The intake officer asked him for a statement about his crime and Isaiah had a hangdog reply, “I think that it is fair that I be sent to this reformatory.”

 

 

When asked about his father, he offered no name. He said his father was dead.

 

 

Was he?

 

 

Recall that his mother did not reject the surname of the mystery man who impregnated her. She may have done better than that. She gave Isaiah the middle name of James though that name turns up nowhere in the Walters family. Where did this name come from? Nancy told the census taker that Isaiah’s father came from Missouri. An examination of U.S. Census Records in 1920 and 1930 uncovers an African American man by the name of “James A. Chase” living in Blackwater, Missouri. He was a laborer who owned a house and had at least seven children. It is entirely plausible that he crossed the border in the spring of 1913, met and had a brief relationship with the teenaged Nancy Walters when he was about thirty-eight years old, and then left.

 

 

Isaiah probably grew up angry at a lot of things. Not least among these would have been the hazy outline of the stranger who sired him. Look again at this eighteen-year-old as he stands and answers a set of routine questions. He is about to begin a fourth term behind concrete walls and we can imagine the thoughts and feelings swirling in his mind…

 

 

A strange, stern white man asks about his father without even looking up from the logbook.

 

 

…His father?

 

 

A father is meant to teach with a hand that is familiar and firm. He is supposed to protect his son from the snares of the world and raise him up straight and strong. Without him, other influences fill the voids.

 

The young man standing in the reformatory is no different from any other American boy then or now. Isaiah wants to be strong, but without a guiding force, he mistakes strength for violence. He desires good things, but the hand above him wasn’t big enough to teach patience and industry, so he steals. He yearns to define himself, but the most important role model in his life, his father, is long-gone. Other influences filled the voids. Isaiah sought out peers just as empty as he was and together they went astray with stunted definitions. Confusion pointed to frustration, and frustration to anger and recklessness. All of this eventually led to the rejection of those values that seemed to have rejected him.

 

 

Isaiah’s path led to crime; but it began with a void and perhaps a cry. A father is not supposed to abandon his offspring.

 

 

“What is your father’s name?” The officer asks.

 

 

Isaiah shrugs his shoulders.

 

 

“Where is your father?”

 

 

“He’s dead.”

 

 

He may have meant something a bit more specific: He’s dead to me.

 

 

Isaiah ran afoul of the law nine times between the ages of twelve and eighteen. This places him in a category since identified by criminologists as the ‘chronic 6%’. These delinquents are arrested at least four times and are responsible for a disproportionate amount of serious offenses. Instead of aging out, they often continue their criminality into adulthood.

 

 

Isaiah’s many aliases demonstrate his lifestyle and as a result, reassembling his record makes for a tough chase. His name is identified here as “Isaiah Chase,” there as “James Walters.” It is also listed as “Isaiah James Chase” and “Jack Walters.” One gets the impression that he didn’t know who he was, and he clearly had little faith in his future.

 

 

Isaiah and his friends smoked and drank bootleg liquor and did what they wanted, when they wanted. One of his associates was a thirty-three year old convicted murderer known as “Snookums.” In September 1933, police and railroad officers broke up a ring of car thieves, burglars, and boxcar thieves operating at the Santa Fe train yards in Colorado Springs. A fence was at the thieves’ headquarters late one night haggling over the price of 60 pairs of corduroy pants and 42 pairs of shoes when the police crashed in. They recovered the loot, obtained five confessions, and held eleven in custody –including Snookums. “Isiah Chase” was arrested at the scene and confessed to the boxcar burglaries. He also confessed to stealing a Willys-Knight sedan and ditching it.

 

 

This time the judge threw the book at him. Still technically a minor, the criminal justice system graduated him early from the juvenile level and sentenced him to 5 to 10 years. Isaiah found himself in the big house –the State Penitentiary at Canon City.

 

 

Whether he gave a damn is not recorded.

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CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 2: A Candle in the Glove

By Springs Toledo from Sweet Science

 

Isaiah Chase was finally released from the Colorado State Penitentiary on a cold December day in 1935. It is unknown whether Nancy Walters had the money or the means of transportation to visit over the previous two years, but she may have been there to greet him as the iron doors opened. There, with flint-faced guards lingering nearby, perhaps mother and son were reunited.

 

He was now one month shy of his twenty-second birthday. As he stepped outside and took in the brisk mountain air, did he allow himself to feel a glimmer of hope? If so, that hope would be shadowed by bleak reality. In the Dust Bowl just east, nature itself rebelled with drought and wind after farmers spent years over-plowing and over-grazing the prairie. Experts met in Pueblo that month and estimated that the Southern Plains lost 850,000,000 tons of topsoil. It had blown away, blotting out the sun and further crippling the economy. One in four Americans were unemployed at the height of the Depression. It was worse for Isaiah’s demographic -50% of African Americans couldn’t find work. And here he was an ex-convict. Still, hope doesn’t stop glimmering when the sun turns black. There were 18 lynchings in 1935, yet it would be the last year in American history where such numbers climbed higher than 8…

 

America’s redemption, a long time coming, was coming along. Isaiah’s was too.

 

YOUNG JOE LOUIS Early in 1936, a professional boxer calling himself “Young Joe Louis” began appearing on undercards in and around Walsenburg, Colorado.

 

He fought as if making up for lost time.

 

Prone like any novice to throw wild roundhouses and slap a lot, this unknown fighter tried his best to win. What’s more, he tried his best to knock his opponents over the ropes and into those abandoned mine shafts littering the landscape. His best wasn’t so good at first. He won a four round fight at St. Mary’s auditorium in Walsenburg on January 30th that was booed by a crowd that felt the other guy won. Four days later he scored a knockout in the third round of a six-rounder at Raton, New Mexico. After that he earned a draw and then beat an Italian veteran out of Chicago named Nick Broglio.

 

He trained every day and improved quickly. By the end of June he won the Colorado State Middleweight Title. By the end of August he won the Colorado State Welterweight Title and boxing figures were raising eyebrows. Jerry “the Greek” Luvadis, Jack Dempsey’s old chief second, was training him by the time he faced sixth-ranked welterweight Jackie Burke that September. Louis sacrificed his end of the purse to satisfy Burke’s financial demands and bring him to Walsenburg. Promoter Babe Shosky was confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee to any unsatisfied fan after the show.

 

Almost everyone in the small town came out to see the Louis-Burke bout. It didn’t disappoint.

 

“Young Joe Louis,” declared the World-Independent, “was not only a smart boxer but surprised fans with his whirlwind attacks against Burke, driving him time and time again against the ropes.” Jerry the Greek was instrumental in the corner, finding Burke’s weakness “without a minute’s hesitation” and then advising Louis how to exploit it. Burke won the first round –and that was it. Louis became the welterweight and middleweight champion of the whole Rocky Mountain region.

 

Burke was crestfallen. “I was really beat,” he said afterwards. Louis set his sights on world welterweight champion Barney Ross. “I’m going to keep on going until I reach the top,” he said, “and I don’t intend to stop and I’m willing to take on all comers.”

 

Young Joe Louis was Isaiah Chase, starting over.

 

Fighting under that soubriquet was good for marketing. Heavyweight contender Joe Louis was making headlines and breaking down a color line in place since Jack Johnson’s heyday. There was just one problem -“Young Joe Louis” was in fact three months older than Joe Louis. So Chase cooked the books. He pushed his birthday up one year later than it actually was. He had another good reason to conceal his name -if his lengthy criminal record got out his fan base would be as dry as that soil blowing all over God’s country. Sometimes he had to lie outright. After his third fight, a local reporter asked him what his Christian name was. Isaiah answered “Billy Chase.”

 

He had several fights in his hometown. It would not have been surprising to see Nancy in the audience, proudly watching her son make something of himself. By the spring of 1936, neighbors might have rushed over to her apartment with a copy of the Walsenburg newspaper. “He is considered one of the finest battlers this city has ever had,” it read.

 

Soon enough, her son made his debut in the Mile-High City.

 

 

DENVER Patrick R. Gallagher was Denver’s foremost boxing man. Called “Reddy” because of his red hair and his readiness to put his dukes up, he had been a professional himself at the turn of the twentieth century before writing for the Post. The old featherweight took note of the new prospect and liked what he saw. Young Joe Louis, he said, “is an extraordinary boxer” with a “lightning left hand” and an attitude to go with it; he “doesn’t hand pick his opponents and is ready to fight anybody at any time.” He was a boxer after Reddy’s own heart.

 

“They’re going to send Young Joe Louis into the lion’s den tonight,” wrote Gallagher in December. George Black had a record of 25-10-2 and could boast of a win over future king Tony Zale. He represented a stern test and was considered by a few in-the-know as “the toughest young middleweight in the game today.” If the local welterweight emerged victorious, Gallagher asserted, “we will have with us one of the greatest prospects in Colorado boxing history.” With that, an incognito ex-con entered the ring at Denver’s City Auditorium with 3,000 eyes on him. He was a 10-6 underdog.

 

Over the first three rounds Black was “boxing easily and tying him up.” Experience seemed to be taming youth. The African American calmed his nerves and began to fight aggressively out of a crouch, bobbing and weaving and punching from every angle. Sitting at ringside, Gallagher was struck by their contrasting styles. Black was a stand-up fighter and counterpuncher who seemed “stiff and rigid” whereas “Young Joe Louis” was “very unorthodox and confusing.” They were more opposite than Gallagher knew. Black was a white medical student at Marquette University who would retire at the age of twenty-five. In the early forties, he would be working as a guard at Alcatraz.

 

In the fourth round, Chase landed a left hook to the future prison guard’s flank, followed by a whistling right cross to the chin. Black went down as if he was clocked by a nightstick. He got up at the count of eight and was driven around the ring by a hail of punches. He would go down five more times and was spared from a knockout loss only by the final bell. His handlers told Gallagher after the fight that Black “was absolutely out of his head” since those wicked shots in the fourth round. Black agreed.

 

Gallagher found one flaw in the victor’s otherwise notable performance -the “‘Fancy Dan’ clowning” in the closing minutes. Denver boxing figures all agreed that Louis’s speed and unorthodox style were his strongest assets. “He’s all head and shoulders when he moves in,” said one, “it’s pretty hard to get a clean shot on his chin.” Another noted how well the young fighter varied his style and preferred to fight in close. The sports editor of the Denver Post suggested that “most colored are natural counter punchers” though that soap box he stood on shook less when he recognized that “Louis is a radical exception.” He set a hectic pace, the editor continued, “and was in fine shape at the finish.”

 

Evidently, Chase had given up smoking and drinking -at least temporarily. He probably had no time for it. Five days later he was in New Mexico fighting Eddie Murdock. Murdock, like Black, was leading after the first three rounds when suddenly Louis came out for the fourth with a “changed style.” He led with his right and proceeded to punch Murdock silly before knocking him out in the seventh round.

 

The Associated Press reported that this was his “sixty-sixth” consecutive victory.

 

MYSTERY FIGHTS Joining the Associated Press in reporting that astounding 66-0 record was the Denver Post and The Ring magazine. It has been assumed since then that Louis/Chase had many professional bouts before 1936. Indeed, an article in Walsenburg’s World-Independent dated March 24th 1936 first mentions his having “won 34 of his last 36 bouts by knockout.” This information seemed to have come from Bill Mathews, a local fight manager handling him. In December 1936, that same newspaper states that Louis “started his victory march in Walsenburg some two years ago.” This simply isn’t so. Furthermore, it provides the first clue to the truth. Simply put, Isaiah Chase wasn’t marching anywhere two years earlier except to the chow hall. He was in prison.

 

Isaiah himself offers the best evidence against the claims. Not only did he give his accurate age on intake records only before he was campaigning as Young Joe Louis, he also stated that his occupation was “dry cleaner” in 1932. In 1933, his occupation is recorded as “stationary engineer.” Before 1936, he did not indicate that he was a boxer. In fact, from 1930 until 1936, Isaiah Chase was locked up about 82% of the time. If he entered the professional ranks at the age of 16, that would have left him no more than fourteen scattered months of freedom to train, find and maintain a relationship with a manager, and fight approximately thirty-two times in a state that was no hotbed of boxing activity.

 

Scouring the World-Independent during the time that he was not locked up in 1932-1933 reveals a lively local boxing scene headed by Babe Shosky. There is no mention of “Young Joe Louis” or any variation of Isaiah Chase’s known aliases. He is first mentioned in the sports section of his hometown newspaper on January 29th 1936 –about a month and a half after he was released from prison. “Young Joe Louis,” the article announces, “a Walsenburg negro, newcomer, will take on Bill Pryor of Pueblo.” There’s nothing ambiguous about the word ‘newcomer’. It is also significant that he fought a four-rounder. New prizefighters typically begin their careers in scheduled four round fights.

 

The evidence grows and looks agreeable until a question peaks out like a mole in a garden: How on earth could a tenderfoot defeat established boxers like Jackie Burke and George Black?

 

The answer takes us further along to the truth.

 

The best theory about the mystery fights is this: they took place behind concrete walls. They were not professional bouts. It was not uncommon during this era for the press to publicize a fighter as “unbeaten” notwithstanding the fact that most of the said victories were at the amateur level. In fact, the Colorado State Reformatory and the Canon City Penitentiary had boxing programs. Many of the bouts held at the reformatory were open to the public. At Canon City, boxing was very popular and regular contests were held in the prison auditorium. According to the Warden’s biennial report, “the success of these contests is due to the many admirers inside and outside the institution.”

 

Chase almost certainly learned the Sweet Science as an inmate and compiled many “wins” before turning professional early in 1936. Manager Mathews may have scouted the prison boxing program and recruited him. This would give Chase a head start, which would explain why he had his first bout so soon after his release. Once his charge proved to be a prospect, Mathews would want to protect his investment, so he told the press that “Young Joe Louis” had been campaigning and winning during those years that he was actually incarcerated. It wasn’t quite a lie. Chase could have easily engaged in thirty-odd boxing matches in a ring and before a crowd in 1934-1935. Reporters may have been tied in enough with Mathews to go along with the story because nowhere in the World-Independent or the Denver Post is a specific claim made that the undocumented wins were professional wins.

 

Thus it is. Chase learned how to box while incarcerated and gained experience fighting other inmates in supervised matches. His professional career, however, began with a four round fight at a high school auditorium in Walsenburg, Colorado on January 30th 1936. Anything else is unlikely.

 

Anything else would be less remarkable.

 

By Christmas Eve 1936, “Young Joe Louis” had advanced from preliminaries to main events and was demonstrating the passion of a great fighter. He was trumpeted as the top welterweight and middleweight of the Rocky Mountain region -and a sports idol of the same state that once convicted him.

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CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 3: Unredeemed

By Springs Toledo

 

 

On Christmas Eve 1936, a 6’0 Olympic bronze medalist arrived in Denver to test the mettle of “Young Joe Louis” and his puffed-up record. His name was Eddie Peirce and he was announced as the middleweight and light heavyweight champion of South Africa.

 

The fight would be Louis’s third in ten days and he wanted no rest. He was training almost obsessively -chopping wood to increase power and running seven or eight miles every morning on trails winding through the oak-lined hills and valleys of the Spanish Peaks. He seemed to be trying to counterbalance the secrets he kept by sheer commitment. If he kept winning, his lack of professional experience wouldn’t matter and his troubled past might be forgiven. His commitment was paying off. He won a few state and regional titles and defeated several top fighters around the old buffalo plains in a dazzling first year.

 

Spectators filtered through the doors of the Windsor Gym to watch his opponent train. They were impressed. Sure, Louis’s power caused George Black to stiffen up, in Reddy Gallagher’s words, “like a wooden Indian” but he had such an easy time thus far in his career that questions still floated around him. Local fight fans couldn’t decide if he was the next big thing or a flash in the pan. The Denver Post asked and then answered the question “can Louis take it?” Yes, he could, Gallagher predicted. All the same, he favored the white man to win their match.

 

If Gallagher was a betting man, he’d have done all right.

 

Louis had been told that New York had emissaries in the City Auditorium with lucrative offers waiting on the wings. He also knew that this Peirce was bigger, more experienced, and as worldly as he himself was a hick. Looking out from the ring at the biggest crowd he ever saw, Louis’s mouth must have gone dry. His skinny legs must have trembled just a little.

 

A contingent of his fans from Walsenburg was there. They told Gallagher that Louis covered up for the first couple of rounds and allowed Peirce to take over. Unlike any previous opponent, Peirce “wasn’t bothered at all by Young Joe’s unorthodox style.” He simply stepped inside and countered while the younger fighter “fanned the breeze” with missed shots. Louis lost the fight at close quarters, said Gallagher, and Peirce opened him up with body shots. In the third, he crashed three rights onto Louis’s chin –and Louis blinked, stood his ground, and kept right on punching. Louis tried to adapt by dancing around the ring behind a stabbing jab. It was not enough. He couldn’t keep him off. Peirce took eight of the ten rounds and handed the undefeated Coloradan his first defeat.

 

In the dressing room after the fight, Peirce rubbed his aching arms and shoulders and acknowledged that Louis was “a very good puncher.” The question posed the day before was answered emphatically: Young Joe Louis could take it. Manager Mathews was neither surprised about his courage nor concerned about the loss. “He had to lose sometime,” he remarked, “and I think it will do him a lot of good.”

 

It didn’t. It was a disillusioned and less confident fighter that continued on. By the end of 1937, he had at least fifteen more fights in five states that included two decision losses and one by knockout.

 

And then it all went to hell.

 

Since his release from prison in December 1935, Isaiah Chase had formed new attachments but failed to disconnect old ones. On Friday night, January 7th 1938, he and a friend were in Colorado Springs breaking into the Alpine Dairy on South Nevada Avenue and stealing $5 in sales tax money. Next they hit the Kelsay Lumber Company and took a pinch bar, metal shears, and $1.21 in pennies. The pair was arrested the following night and charged with “burglary with force.” The Colorado boxing commission announced that if convicted, Young Joe Louis would face the loss of his titles and permanent suspension.

 

Four days later he was convicted. The sentence was six-to-eight years and it came with a promise printed in the Colorado Springs Gazette. The judge perused his lengthy prior record and warned Chase that if he ever appeared in court again on a felony charge, he would not see freedom again until arthritis set it.

 

Once again the iron doors of prison slammed shut behind him.

 

Only now did Chase state his occupation as “Pro Boxer” though he also said that he was 22 years old. He was actually 23.

 

After processing, he was escorted to an eight-by-nine cell. The walls never changed. Neither did the sounds –the clinking shackles and clanging doors; humming chatter between the narrow glance. The smell didn’t change either. His eyes would have scanned the scene for a familiar face and he soon found one in a diminutive bootblack-turned-thief by the name of Paul Bowers. Bowers was right there with him from crime to conviction. He was also part of the ring of thieves convicted of the boxcar burglaries five years earlier.

 

Chase had years ahead of him to stare at cinderblock. He’d lay on his cot and those pangs of regret he carried around all day would float up to the ceiling. During sleepless nights he’d keep time by the guard’s footsteps in the corridor and reflect on who he was, where he wanted to go, and where he could go. Stripped of his state titles, he’d be lucky if he wasn’t stripped of his boxing license as well. Then what?

 

Sometime during the week of January 16th, a solemn face over a uniform appeared at his cell door. Chase sat up and peered through bars. The voice he heard was subdued: “I’m sorry to inform you that your mother has passed away.” The words fell on him. His concerns about titles and licenses turned to glass and shattered at his feet.

 

He was truly alone now.

 

Gone was the defiant, cold expression of the 19-year old in 1933. A mug shot taken towards the end of this sentence shows a man ill-at-ease, his eyes almost pleading for another chance. On May 27th 1941, he was released on parole with a state-issued five dollar bill in his pocket, a suit of clothes on his back, and a railroad ticket. He stepped outside those walls and breathed in that mountain air. Spring was in bloom. He would try again to find a glimmer of hope.

 

It was the Colorado Boxing Commission that gave him his first break. It turned out that they did not permanently suspend him because his boxing career soon resumed. Still campaigning as Young Joe Louis, Chase wasted no time. On June 30th, he was scheduled to face a white fellow Coloradan named Roy Gillespie at Denver. Like Chase, he lost his father early. Gillespie’s father died when he was a boy, and before he turned eighteen he took out a boxing license. He had a reputed 77 bouts under his belt.

 

Five men were knocked out in the preliminaries that Monday night in Mammoth Gardens. The Louis-Gillespie bout was upgraded to main event status due to a cancellation and it proved to be more brutal than anyone was prepared for. The balding twenty-five year old middleweight, who had bummed a ride to see his mother the day before, was knocked down in the first round. He went him down twice more in the second round for two counts of nine. Chase heard the crowd yelling “stop the fight!” after he knocked Gillespie down the second time. Gillespie might have heard it too, because for the next three rounds he fought back hard and on even terms against the faster, lighter man. What happened next was examined and re-examined by the police. “Staggered by hard blows to the chin,” the Post reported, Gillespie “collapsed on the ropes.” The referee noticed his glazed eyes and stopped the action at about one minute into the sixth round. Chase helped the stricken fighter to his corner, where Gillespie lost consciousness and fell onto his stool. Two doctors examined him and called for an ambulance.

 

Sports editor Jack Carberry talked to Chase the next morning. “I, over many, many years in which a reporter’s job has carried me to countless scenes of tragedy,” he wrote, “never met a boy whose sincere sorrow over what occurred, touched me more.”

 

Gillespie spent Tuesday hovering near death in the Denver General Hospital. An operation was performed to remove a blood clot on his brain and his temperature climbed to 109 degrees. The winner of the match had since returned home to Walsenburg. Local police soon showed up at his door to take him into custody at the order of the investigating detective in Denver. Paroled only a month earlier, Chase was back behind bars.

 

The next afternoon at 12:10, only hours before Joe DiMaggio safely hit for his forty-fifth consecutive game and broke a sports record, Roy Gillespie died in a hospital bed.

 

Both events made front page news.

 

Chase was ordered transported from the Huerfano county jail back to Denver to stand before a coroner’s jury. “Young Joe Louis,” wrote Carberry, “-and life’s breaks have been pretty much against him as of late –was in there doing his best to make a comeback –to earn a few dollars. A very few dollars I might add.”

 

The day before the bout, Gillespie told his mother that he was promised $40 for the fight; that is, forty dollars less the manager’s cut of 40%, less the licensing fee of $5, and less $2 per second. That left his corpse with less than $20, which his mother hadn’t received as of Wednesday. Chase’s purse was about the same. He too had yet to receive it.

 

The city pathologist testified that the dead boxer had suffered a brain hemorrhage on some previous occasion, most likely in a boxing match. The victim, he said, probably suffered a temporary loss of vision and the loss of control of his arms or legs at that time but didn’t grasp the danger. No one else did either and he was cleared to fight.

 

Chase was exonerated and set free.

 

Undoubtedly, he was shaken by what he had done to Roy Gillespie. This experience changed him. When he reached his peak two years later, Chase was asked whether he liked to fight. His answer? “No.”

 

After the tragedy, he may have started pulling his punches. He went on to win a decision and then dropped one to a man he had already beaten -a man who should never have beaten him. Did he have another identity crisis? He seemed ambivalent about using the Young Joe Louis moniker again and alternated between that and a variation of his given name. As 1941, a year of tragedies, closed, Isaiah Chase bid it good riddance. By the end of January he left Colorado for the Pacific Coast and began calling himself a name that he would use for the rest of his life -Jack Chase.

 

California was breeding and attracting some of the most dangerous fighters in the country during the early 1940s. Chase, who the now-deceased Reddy Gallagher quipped entered “a lion’s den” when he fought Eddie Peirce, was headed into a war zone.

 

He went armed -not only with his fists, but with the determination of a man who had nothing else.

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CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 4: Californ-I-Am

By Springs Toledo

 

Six thousand fans were on their feet at the Legion Stadium in Hollywood on April 24th 1942 watching Jack Chase trying to tame Costello Cruz. Cruz was fighting like a “wild man” and it’s easy to see why. He had not been defeated as an amateur or professional and no fighter worth his salt lets the vaunted zero go easily.

 

A loss is rarely just a loss to a fighter. Some, like Cruz, follow a warrior’s code that is as severe as it is ancient. For them a boxing match becomes a demonstration of worthiness and defeat a non-option. The ancient Aztec, like the Zulu, like the Samurai, like the Spartan, was compelled to fight to the bitter or glorious end. They thought nothing of injury and pain, or even death. By defying his humanity, the warrior declares something existential -he declares his worthiness and so proves his worth. Madness? Perhaps, but it is compelling. The next time you hear a fighter say “I’d rather die than lose,” or “he’s gonna have to kill me,” watch him closely. Such words are not always mere bravado. There are those who mean it.

 

Cruz did not want to lose.

 

He would anyway.

 

The man slinging leather at him also followed the warrior’s code –and this created optimum conditions for a good fight. The victor in these types of engagements is not determined by will because each often cancels out the other. When all is said and done, they are usually determined by skill or luck. Chase showed no hint of being a lucky man, though he had skill to spare.

 

Cruz was practically out cold on the ropes and was down for a count of four just before the end of the fifth round. As the bell rang for the sixth, he was still wavering in the breeze when Chase came out behind what the Los Angeles Times called “a volley of jolting blows.” The crowd thought it was all over and began heading for the exits when suddenly Cruz “unleashed a vicious attack, sending Chase running for cover” -and the crowd running back to their seats. Chase pounded out a victory and with that, set off the first rumblings of a West Coast reputation.

 

Big Boy Hogue was in his way. Hogue was a grinding type of fighter who joined his twin brother Shorty as gatekeepers of the middleweight division. Chase kept Hogue at bay behind a high-speed jab and dropped him for a nine count in the third round. Then he switched from left to right and cut his eye. Hogue managed to bore inside and land enough short punches to score a flash knockdown. Chase took the decision. After beating Bobby Birch twice in a row, he would reduce Tabby Romero to a bloody mess and win every round. By November, Chase had been a headliner on six cards at the Legion Stadium in Hollywood and sold it out every time.

 

There was talk that he was ready for Henry Armstrong himself.

 

Then he faced The Ring magazine’s number one middleweight contender, Archie Moore.

 

The “Old Mongoose” wasn’t old when Chase met him. He was entering his prime. Moore had dropped anchor in San Diego after an Australian tour and was already an established ring general. But he did not feel so secure. He had recently undergone emergency surgery and pundits and other fighters looked at that cauterized scar on his abdomen and saw an invitation. “I practiced very hard at picking off left hooks to my body,” Moore said, “as everybody in the fight game knew about my operation and would be shooting for that weak spot.” He was punching harder now and had just cleanly knocked out Romero six rounds earlier than Chase. He then went after Chase himself to prove that he was back at full power. “If they can’t buy you after spoiling his twenty-two straight wins,” his manager said, “they never will!”

 

News coverage of the bout was as terse as the bout itself. “Winning convincingly,” the Associated Press reported, “Archie Moore, San Diego middleweight, tonight handed Jack Chase a 10-round lacing.”

 

All told, Chase would fight Moore in six roaring battles. You can bet that Chase was winging left hooks at that weak spot until his arm looked like a shepherd’s crook. In the second match, they fought at Lane Field in San Diego under an angry sun. Moore remembered a trick that he learned from the old-timers and maneuvered Chase into its glare. Even so, Chase was tougher that time out, dropping Moore for a nine count despite the sun in his eyes and despite the fact that both those eyes would be closed by the fifteenth round. The third match was a different story altogether. “Chase was a good fighter,” Moore remembered, “and by this time he was able to figure out my style.” Chase took eleven of fifteen rounds. Eddie Muller of the San Francisco Examiner could barely contain his admiration:

 

“We can’t recall when we saw two fighters as near to perfection as were Chase and Moore. They know what boxing gloves were made for. In clinches they didn’t bang away with reckless abandon; if they found an opening they punched; if the opening wasn’t there, they tried to make one.”

 

The spindly legs of Chase were particularly impressive. Muller watched him negotiate around the ring “with the grace and ease of a ballet dancer,” every move “a picture.”

 

Moore made $500 dollars in losing to Chase. After deductions, he was left with far less. “Here I was piddling around against tough competition,” he complained, while stars like Sugar Ray Robinson were making 200 times that amount against competition that looked like pickpockets next to Murderers’ Row.

 

mURdEreRs’ RoW

Bookie Jimmy Ryan had a favorite fighter. He’d typically lay 3 to 1 odds on San Francisco’s Eddie Booker. However, a few days before Booker was scheduled to face a rising Jack Chase, Ryan wasn’t so sure. He had taken an anonymous jaunt to the gym where Chase was training and came out concerned. He’ll be “no cinch,” he said, “The guy handles himself like he knows what it’s all about.” The fight was scheduled for fifteen rounds and was California’s first ‘marathon bout’ in thirty years. It was for the State Middleweight Title. Booker had a sterling record of 61-3-8. Chase was fresh off a month-long break and was ready to begin yet another year with an exclamation point. Now residing in San Francisco, he could walk to the Civic Auditorium from his apartment.

 

A crusty old manager from the 1920s sat next to Eddie Muller at ringside and watched a clinic. “I’ve been watching ‘em for a long time,” he told the reporter, “but this Chase really showed me class. He’s a thinker. He makes moves for a purpose.” Chase’s manager knew this already. He threw down $200 at 1 to 3 odds and cleaned up. Booker took only four of the fifteen rounds.

 

As he walked home, Jack Chase carried another state title with him. Fans began filling seats to see the fuss. No less than Governor Earl Warren, future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, came out for one of his fights and sat in the press section. The victory over the dreaded Eddie Booker was among the most remarkable achievements of Chase’s career but Booker only presented the opening argument. If Murderers’ Row had a chief justice, it would have been Charley Burley.

 

Burley’s style was as complex as tax law. His uncanny sense of timing and distance allowed him to throw shots at blind spots, and he was intelligent enough to lull his opponent into a false sense of security and then do irreparable harm. He would often enhance his leverage by leaping into his shots, and the force of delivery was enough to anesthetize anyone, including full-blown heavyweights.

 

Chase stood in the corner across from Burley one month, two fights, and one tonsillectomy after defeating Booker. He was still recuperating on the night of February 19th. No one remembered the last time Chase had been knocked out but when Burley slung a right cross in the second round, he went down like it was yesterday. He had the grit to stand up as the count reached nine and then returned the favor in the fourth by knocking Burley down. Over the next six rounds, Burley blasted away and Chase’s lights were flickering and dimming so much he probably thought a prankster was in the Legion Stadium. He lost the decision, though finishing on his feet in a fight like that against a force like that was no small victory by itself.

 

In the summer of 1943, Chase faced Aaron “Tiger” Wade. Wade was a chunky and powerful fighter with a vicious left hook. He was “feared,” according to insiders, “by most of the so-called topnotchers.” Even Burley resorted to being cute with him –hopping on a unicycle to take a close decision. Boxing fans on the lively coast were in for a surprise. Back in 1936, when Chase was fighting as Young Joe Louis against George Black and Eddie Murdock, he gave away the first three rounds. The same thing happened here. Like a baseball player watching the first pitch sail over home plate, Chase took his time making calculations and then adapted accordingly. What he came up with was almost counterintuitive. He went inside with “short, jolting blows” against a stronger man and dominated that range and the fight.

 

The box office at the aptly-named Coliseum Bowl opened at 11am on the day before Chase met Lloyd Marshall. Back in 1934 and 1935 while Chase was cooling off in the clink, Marshall was winning two Golden Gloves championships in Cleveland and by this time, he had defeated Charley Burley and punched Costello Cruz loose from his warrior’s code.

 

The early betting said even money.

 

The day of the fight saw the odds tilt toward Chase at 10 to 8, which was unsurprising due to his well-publicized recent accomplishments. This was before television. It was an era when watching a fight meant leaving the house and buying a ticket. Gamblers like their eyes. They trust them. Given that, the betting public will pick a fresh and local plum over a rumor of the same. They go for what they know. But in the next morning’s paper, “Mr. Boxing” himself, the omniscient Eddie Muller, came out in favor of Marshall. He predicted that the larger man’s “harder punching” and “ability to fight at close quarters” would make the difference. Those statements circulated and the betting public perked up –it was Marshall who entered the ring the favorite at 10 to 7 odds. This goes to show that a fresh and local plum is not picked when a veteran grocer speaks against it.

 

Muller should’ve picked both plums.

 

Fans in the San Francisco Bay Area said that Chase-Marshall I was “one of the greatest middleweight fights ever fought here.”

 

Two minutes into the first round, Marshall threw a long left hook that caught Chase and sent him sliding across the canvas on his back. Chase jumped up without a count, grabbed a red cape and became a matador. He immediately deferred to the power of Marshall and stayed away while jabbing. In the fourth round, he got caught again with a left hook, and Marshall followed this one with a right cross. Chase spun into the ropes of his own corner, bounced off and sagged down. Seven seconds later he got up. Marshall proceeded to demonstrate how well-rounded he was by outjabbing and outboxing the sleeker Chase from rounds five through nine. Chase fell behind and then began fighting more aggressively. In the ninth round, he was moving again and outclassed Marshall who was beginning to tire. In the fourteenth round, Marshall turned on the heat and connected with a right cross and left hook that landed “wrist deep into the title holder’s stomach.” Two uppercuts later Chase was “dazed and bewildered.”

 

“Then,” Muller tells us, “out of clear sky Chase let fly in desperation with a left hook which landed on Marshall’s jaw and sat him down near the ropes for a count of nine.” Chase finished strong enough to take the last round and the fight was declared a draw. “He’s a good fighter and a smart one,” Marshall admitted afterwards.

 

The build-up to the rematch was easy because fans in both camps disputed the draw. They didn’t have to wait long for a resolution. The rematch was held only a month later and would pull in a whopping $17,753 and fifteen cents. On the undercard was a heavyweight named Clarence Brown, a protégé of former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. When Brown was given a dubious decision over someone named Bob Smith, the crowd jeered. Johnson, now 65, moved to center ring and did a shadow boxing routine to lighten things up. It went over like a lead balloon.

 

Chase-Marshall II picked up where it left off –in a hurry.

 

Chase was the aggressor this time around, while Marshall, despite claims that he was in better condition for this bout, seemed puzzled. Chase was leading alternately with both hands and was digging short shots inside. Despite their eyes, the gamblers were betting 10 to 7 on the wrong man right up until the sixth round. In the ninth round, both fighters met in the middle for an exchange that lasted for a full thirty seconds as the screaming crowd rose to its feet. Chase took command at the end of the exchange with his jab and stayed in that posture for the rest of the fight.

 

In the last two minutes of the eleventh round he “cuffed Lloyd around with little reciprocation.” In the thirteenth, he did “a paint job” on Marshall. In the fourteenth, it was “target practice.” In the last round, Chase gave him “a thorough going-over.”

 

A humbled Muller admitted that Chase outpointed Marshall with “ridiculous ease.”

 

Eddie Booker. Charley Burley. Aaron “Tiger” Wade. Lloyd Marshall. The annals of boxing history have lifted a purple curtain on these fighters. Along with Holman Williams, Bert Lytell, Cocoa Kid, and Jack Chase himself, they’re eight fingers in the black fists of Murderers’ Row. Years after the last of them faded away, Jim Murray remembered them as “the most exclusive men’s club the ring has ever known.” They were so good and so feared, he wrote, that they had to have their own tournament. All of them lost now and then but that’s all right -America likes scars. She pins medals on them. Travel to the opposite end of the world and the very idea of struggle is beautified. You can drop a vase in Japan and they’ll fill the cracks with gold. Murderers’ Row had tarnished records, Murray snapped, “because they tarnished each others!”

 

They exalted each others.

 

Burley beat Chase. Marshall beat Burley. Chase drew with Marshall. Booker beat Marshall. Chase beat Booker, then beat Marshall in a rematch. Fans were almost guaranteed a doozy when these men clashed. Murderers’ Row, Murray wrote, “put on better fights in tank towns than champions did in Yankee Stadium.”

 

As history rang the final bell on 1943, twenty-nine year old Jack Chase held a victory over two International Boxing Hall of Fame fighters and was the second-ranked middleweight on the planet.

 

Was he proud?

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CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 5: Fade to Black

By Springs Toledo

 

William Faulkner once said “the past is not dead, it isn’t even past.” Jack Chase might have added that it is especially so when you drink too much booze.

 

Chase, his live-in girlfriend, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade were sitting in a bar on Fillmore Street in San Francisco the night after Christmas 1943. Just before midnight, Chase shot Wade in the left shoulder with a .32 caliber pistol. All three, including Wade, said it was an accident. Chase had reached in his pocket for cigarettes and somehow the gun fell out of his shirt, hit the table, and went off. Or so the story went. The police confiscated the gun and noticed that the serial numbers had been filed off. Chase was arrested and charged. It was his third setback, the third time he sat in a jail cell since boxing gave him a second chance.

 

Chase was freed on $1,000 bail and eventually cleared of the charges, but the curtain rapidly descended on his career. He turned thirty on January 27th and lost a step just as things were heating up. In 1943 he went 3-1-1 against fellow members of Murderers’ Row. In 1944 he went 1-8-1. It wasn’t for lack of trying. After losing a ten-rounder against master boxer Holman Williams in a showcase of skills that old-timers in the crowd raved about, Chase demanded a rematch over twelve rounds and got it exactly two weeks later. This time, he moved less and missed more. Williams eclipsed him as the premier middleweight of the west.

 

He was face-down on the canvas after Charley Burley’s rapid-fire right hands put him there in April. Earlier in the bout, Chase had to find it in him to beat the count. Now the count beat him and he needed help getting to his corner. It was the first time he suffered a knockout in almost seven years.

 

Insiders saw it coming. A few days before the Burley fight, Chase was in Los Angeles sparring with a squat heavyweight named Turkey Thompson. That was his first mistake. His second mistake, according to the word on the street, was in somehow offending the 218 lb. Thompson. Thompson retaliated with a colossal blow. Chase was unconscious for thirty minutes and woke up with a dislocated jaw. He was lucky he didn’t wake up dead.

 

He met Williams for the third time in Denver only two weeks after losing to Burley. Chase was going backwards in this fight for the first six rounds, then in the seventh he and Williams stood toe-to-toe with Chase appearing to get the better of it. By the eighth, the damage was mounting. Chase’s left eye was closed shut and that was the least of it. The Denver Post’s Jack Carberry witnessed a disturbing spectacle from ringside:

 

“[Chase’s] jaw, which was re-dislocated in the sixth, began to hurt frightfully. He would put his hands up to protect it. You could read the pain on his features.”

 

Williams reminded Carberry of a Yankee machine gunner as he shot that jab at Chase’s eye, and the sickening sound of wet leather smashing into a swollen hematoma made him wince. After Williams noticed Chase favoring his jaw, he aimed for that. Ringsiders thought that Chase might faint from the pain. In the thirteenth, he fell through the ropes and climbed back in as the referee’s count reached eight. Chase went down again in the closing minutes. Somehow –God knows how- he got up and finished fifteen rounds.

 

All told, he fought Williams no less than four times that year and couldn’t defeat him. He faced Cocoa Kid in October and lost every round. Chase may have had trouble anyway with supreme stylists like Williams and the Kid but it was clear that he had slowed down. His style relied on swift feet and as nature stiffened his joints, he could no longer move in and out fast enough to escape the ferocity of his peers on Murderers’ Row. Burley stopped him again and Lloyd Marshall managed to outpoint him to even up their series. Tiger Wade recovered from his gunshot wound and gave Chase a thrashing until he suffered an injury in the last round. Either a raking glove or a punch or both temporarily paralyzed an optic nerve in Wade’s eye, forcing a stoppage.

 

Knowing Chase, this is suspicious.

 

Like the rest of the human race, Chase had his devils and his angels. Sportswriters who spoke to him seemed to like him -at times they would get protective when he had no cause to deserve it. They glossed over his crimes and his criminal record and readily acknowledged his good manners. Eddie Muller of the San Francisco Examiner never even mentioned the Wade shooting in his column. The Denver Post sports editor wrote that “Jack Chase is a gentleman to his fingertips.”

 

He does not fit neatly into anyone’s box; he was too complicated for such niceties. We all are. Dig deep in any man’s history and you’re sure to come up with surprises. Chase, for example, sought to better himself in ways other than boxing. In early February of 1944, a fellow passenger on a Los Angeles train noticed him reading a book. The passenger quietly leaned in and saw the title -it was the Iliad. Homer’s ancient masterpiece is a bloody memorial to themes like glory in battle, consequences of ego and rage, homecoming, and destiny. How appropriate. His description of the central warrior of the epic could just as well describe Chase (“Achilles of the swift feet”).

 

By 1946, Chase was thirty-two years old and fighting less. He briefly retired “to his books” according to the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps the Iliad had something to do with it. “Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men,” Homer wrote,

 

Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,

Now the living timber bursts with new buds

And spring comes round again. And so with men:

As one generation comes to life, another dies away.

 

This veteran wasn’t dead yet. He was diversifying. When the wind scattered old leaves across lawns, he was ready with his rake. “Let Jack Chase (Former Calif. Boxing Champion) Fight Your Lawn, Landscaping Problems,” read his business card, “PERSONAL SERVICE, REASONABLE RATES, GUARANTEED SATISFACTION.”

 

On the occasions that he did lace up his gloves, those swift feet of his were stuck in mulch. A teenager with thirty fights beat him with, of all things, a jab and speed. Twice. In their next two matches, Chase evened the score, albeit just barely. Press row saw all the signs of an aging fighter –he was clinching more and moving less, swelling up more and punching less.

 

It was his will that saw him defeat Costello Cruz again and then battle Archie Moore to a stand-off at the end of 1946. These performances earned him a place on the third rung of the light heavyweight ladder. Alas, such heights are precarious when your balance goes. He lost his next three and fell down the ladder.

 

The last time he fought in Colorado was at Mammoth Gardens in what turned out to be a haunted homecoming. A St. Louis preacher named Deacon Logan was in the opposite corner. “Both fighters incurred the displeasure of the audience” reported the Denver Post, after it became clear that neither was trying to hurt the other. The “waltz without music” was declared a no-contest forty-five seconds into the sixth round. The Colorado boxing commission fined both $200 and suspended them for 90 days for “not giving forth their best efforts.” Chase’s unwillingness may not be hard to explain. The last time he fought hard at Mammoth Gardens, Roy Gillespie collapsed and died.

 

Chase continued on, but it made less and less sense. He’d don his blue silk trunks to fight for purses almost as small as when he began. Soon, his career came full circle. His first win was at a high school auditorium back in Walsenburg and his last was at a high school field in Oregon twelve years later, a lifetime later. High schools, small auditoriums and fields, armories, union halls; these are the places where has-beens meet never-weres in matches that are only competitive because the respective skill sets (one declining, one never advancing) finally meet in the middle. It’s boxing’s pension plan.

 

Jack Chase retired from the ring for keeps in 1948.

 

An enduring complaint of aficionados is that so many notable fighters of the golden era were not filmed. Not so in Chase’s case. He appeared in a film called So Dear to My Heart (1948) and then in the noir classic The Set-Up (1949). Hollywood not only bit him but shot him with an arrow. He was married for a time to Lillian Randolph, a cast member on the Amos ‘n Andy radio show.

 

The gym was as close as he ever got to a permanent home, so it is no surprise to learn that he became a trainer. Boxing historian Hap Navarro was the Assistant Matchmaker at Hollywood Legion Stadium in 1949 and watched Chase work with the popular Art Aragon. “Chase,” he remembered, “had a soft-spoken but very effective way of instructing Artie during the sparring sessions in the Legion's permanent ring.” In 1958, he moved to Spokane, Washington where he became something of a wintery sage for a new generation. He earned rave reviews as a “superior teacher” by the Spokane Review for his work with a local heavyweight. He also trained an undefeated middleweight and a lightweight named Kaley “Kelly” Sonners who won five of six by knockout before going off to Vietnam where he was killed in action.

 

It was poignant to learn that he worked for Goodwill Industries. Goodwill is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for the less privileged -including young men just released from prison. He drove a truck for them for fourteen years until illness forced him out in the fall of 1971.

 

The illness was fatal.

 

He sat alone in his apartment on South Pine Street and waited, though he wouldn’t wait long.

 

On March 23rd 1972, the fifty-eight year old former boxer slumped in his chair. His visage, mashed and marred under brows heavy with scar tissue, betrayed his vigorous past. That past swirled in his mind like the morning mist atop the Rocky Mountains. This is Jack Chase of Murderers’ Row, good enough to defeat the best of that fabled set, ducking none. This is the fresh-faced “Young Joe Louis” who rose up out of southern Colorado in the 1930s like one of those black blizzards and buried his competition. This is Isaiah, a fatherless boy whose striking maroon eyes looked up with promise at his mother.

 

Boxing rescued Isaiah, of that there can be no doubt. It offered an alternate route to the dead end that seemed to be preordained for him; a dead end that he was careening toward until the day an anonymous trainer at a state reformatory taught him how to wrap his hands. After that, his definitions began to change for the better. He became something special. Like those other black men exalted and condemned by their remarkable skills, battling among themselves on the West Coast, he was never granted a world title shot and never got rich. But boxing gave him something better. It gave him something –heroic- to reach for.

 

He battled desperately in that ring, as if everything depended on it. It mattered that much. Now and then he made a mistake and was knocked down. If he was too hurt to get up with dignity, he’d crawl to his feet without it. It mattered that much. Somewhere along the alternate route he chose decades earlier, somewhere between a wayward son’s rage and a great fighter’s singular glory, he learned how to care. Perhaps his redemption, a long-time coming, had come along and those scars on his soul were healed by the scars on his face. Who can say?

 

Spring’s new buds were beginning to burst outside the window when he slumped in that chair. There, with old regrets lightened, I hope, by a pride that swelled his chest

 

…Jack Chase breathed his last.

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