Streets of Washington, written by John DeFerrari, covers some of DC’s most interesting buildings and history. John is the author of Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats, published by the History Press, Inc. and also the author of Lost Washington DC.
The Jo Del Restaurant at 719 9th Street NW (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Ninth Street downtown was one of the city’s liveliest entertainment zones in the early years of the 20th century, full of theaters like the Gayety Burlesque, which we’ve previously profiled, and a colorful array of exotic restaurants, bars, and diners. “Everything that ever happened in this city happened there. When you came to town you had to strut up and down Ninth Street or you hadn’t lived,” boxing promoter Goldie Ahearn later recalled. But by the World War II years, this had all begun to change. The theaters and restaurants were still there, but they tended toward the seedy. Many of their patrons were the city’s alienated loners, the gamblers and late-night drinkers, the soldiers and sailors at loose ends who sooner or later ended up causing some kind of trouble. “There are eight million stories in the naked city…” says the narrator of the classic 1948 film noir about New York City. In the case of Washington, this sad story, as told breathlessly by the city’s newspapers, is one of them.
Greek restaurants were once commonplace on 9th Street. Some, like the Athens Restaurant at 804 9th Street were prominent and long-lived, but others, including the small storefront at 719 9th Street, were less reputable. As a Greek coffee house in 1946 it was busted by the vice squad for illegal gambling. Four years later, reincarnated as the “Acropolis Club,” it was shut down again for the same reason. By the late 1950s, the joint had been renamed the Jo Del Grill (or Jo Del Tavern), and this is the place that George P. Kaldes purchased in 1957. Kaldes, a 33-year-old World War II Army veteran of Greek descent, had cashed in a life insurance policy and put up all of his personal savings to gain full ownership of the Jo Del, and in the months after doing so he had been proud that the little place was beginning to show a modest profit.
All that came to an end in the early morning hours of Friday, December 27, 1957. Around 2 am, police were summoned to a ghastly scene; two men lay dead in pools of blood on the floor and another—a blind man—was gravely wounded. Owner Kaldes was one of the dead, and he lay closest to the front door. The Evening Star’s photographer managed to photograph his body through the open door, à la Weegee, before the coroner took it away. The other dead man was Kenny Fisher, a young guitar player, part of a country music combo that provided the tavern’s entertainment. The group’s pianist, Bernard “B.J.” Mainer, was the seriously wounded blind man.
Wounded pianist B.J. Mainer is wheeled out of the Jo Del. The photo has been retouched by The Evening Star to make it more clear when reproduced in print (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
A third musician, drummer Tom Sherwood, tried to explain to the Star what had happened. Two men had come into the bar earlier that night and started drinking. One was in his forties, and Kaldes apparently knew him, calling him “Jack.” This was Henry Clay Overton, an ex-con with a lengthy criminal record who often used the alias Jack Owens. With him was burly 22-year-old Wayne Carpenter, who was supposedly Jack’s son (he was actually a neighbor that Overton had taken under his wing).
The two sat down and began drinking from a bottle of whiskey. The gregarious Overton was full of life and went around talking to other patrons. His young protégé Carpenter wanted to play the drums, and drummer Sherwood reluctantly allowed him to do so, though he seemed to know nothing about drumming. At another point owner Kaldes told bartender Harry Reed that it was okay to give Overton a second bottle of whisky, and he did. By 1:45 am, Overton and Carpenter had been drinking heavily and were the only customers left in the bar other than George Metz, an egg salesman who was Kaldes’ good friend. Kaldes was looking to close up for the night.
Jo Del proprietor George P. Kaldes (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
At this point Overton apparently got into a loud argument with Kaldes over his bill. The charge for the two bottles of Canadian whisky was about $20, but Overton wouldn’t pay more than $10. A fistfight broke out on the sidewalk between Overton and Kaldes’ friend Metz, who punched him in the face and likely broke his nose. According to Metz, the wounded and drunken Overton told him, “I’ll get you. We’re going to get a couple of guns and blow your brains out. You and that big Greek inside too,” and then he and Carpenter left. Metz asked Kaldes if he wanted him to stick around in case the angry pair returned, but Kaldes wasn’t worried about it and told Metz to go home. It was a fateful decision that undoubtedly saved Metz’s life.
About 15 minutes later, after Metz had left and when Kaldes was about to lock the front door for the night, Overton and Carpenter returned, armed with a .45 automatic pistol and a sawed-off shotgun. That’s when Overton opened up, firing at least 11 times with the .45. With bullets flying, the restaurant staff scrambled for cover. Sherwood managed to duck behind the bar with Sue Harrington, the lone waitress on duty, but Kaldes, Fisher, and the blind pianist Mainer were all shot. The bartender, Harry Reed, escaped into the basement.
Guitarist Kenny Fisher (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Mainer was rushed to Emergency Hospital; he had been shot in the back and was paralyzed from the waist down. Drummer Sherwood, waitress Harrington, and bartender Reed, uninjured but all clearly traumatized by the incident, gave their faltering accounts to the police and the newspapers. “I’m still scared. It was all so clear to me,” Sherwood told The Washington Post. “He [Overton] got the guy on my right and the blind man on my left. I don’t know how he missed me.”
But the drama had not yet ended. Overton and Carpenter, believing they had just killed three men, jumped into Overton’s Ford and started driving north. It’s not clear why they headed in this direction since they lived to the south, in Charles County, Maryland, where Overton owned a small barber shop in a strip mall. In any event, they managed to get themselves lost in a leafy residential neighborhood in upper Northwest, just off of 16th Street near the Maryland line. That’s when they came across a young couple sitting in a parked convertible and decided it was time to switch cars.
Mugshot of Henry Clay Overton that appeared in the Star (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post)
Doris Mattingly was sitting on the passenger side of the car. The pretty 19-year-old had graduated from Coolidge High School just the previous year. Earlier that evening she had met her boyfriend, 21-year-old Pfc. Larry Lee Monteith, at the Hayloft Restaurant on H Street downtown. Monteith was a member of the Old Guard at Fort Myer, Virginia, and had proudly stood watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He was also part-time manager at the Hayloft and was scheduled to take over full-time when his enlistment ended. Monteith had driven Mattingly home to her parents’ home in his new Chevrolet convertible, and the two were sitting in the parked car when Carpenter came up on one side and reportedly said “Open up. We’re police.” Monteith was skeptical and asked for identification. Carpenter showed him the .45, and Overton came up on the other side cradling the sawed-off shotgun. Monteith was ordered to move into the back with Overton while Carpenter drove, with Doris Mattingly at his side. The captors and their hostages then took off towards Virginia.
They drove for several hours. The fugitives laughed and bragged that they had killed three men, but Doris sensed that the young man driving the car was in over his head, swept up by the recklessness of the older man, who had a bloodied face and seemed very drunk. “I think the younger boy acted like he was sorry this thing took place,” she told the newspapers. “It seemed to me that he was like a young guy that got into wrong company.” Overton, meanwhile, sitting in back with his finger on the shotgun’s trigger, ran hot and cold. “One time he would tell me I was sweet and the next time he would be waving the shotgun in my face,” Doris recalled. She would later testify that he claimed, “I’ve just killed three people and one or 10 more won’t make any difference.” Young Carpenter apparently tried to control Overton’s aggressiveness as best he could.
Carpenter must have felt sorry for taking Mattingly. After they had passed Richmond, Overton fell asleep in the back seat, and Carpenter decided to pull over and let Mattingly out by the side of the highway. When Overton later woke up, he was more concerned about switching to a new car than the fact that the young woman had been allowed to escape. Pulling the car over again, the killers ordered Monteith to get in the trunk and then took off in search of a new car. From the trunk Monteith heard one of them yell out to another driver, “Stop your car or we’ll blow your brains out.” The other car pulled over, Overton and Carpenter got into it, and they continued on their way south, abandoning Monteith’s car with Monteith still locked in its trunk. Fortunately, it was a convertible, and Monteith was able to cut his way out of the trunk with a penknife through the fabric of the convertible top.
Doris Mattingly answers questions in a Richmond, Virginia police station (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Overton and Carpenter’s new hostage was Arsonia G. Allman, aged 55, a hairdresser from Richmond, Virginia. They drove with her in her brand new two-toned Buick Special as far as Cheraw, South Carolina, where they stopped and tied her to a tree before continuing their escape. Like Mattingly and Monteith, Allman was not physically hurt; she told police that one of the desperadoes talked about knowing a good place to hide out in Texas.
Larry Lee Monteith, shortly after the incident (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
By Saturday, the newspapers were reporting that a nationwide hunt was on for the killer-kidnappers. The FBI printed 100,000 “Wanted” flyers and distributed them to post offices and police stations across the country. Pharmacies were alerted as well; Overton was diabetic and would be needing daily insulin injections. The FBI notice was even broadcast during some of Saturday’s football games, leading to a number of false alerts. The best lead was from a truck stop waitress in Charleston, South Carolina who recognized the pair of men who had had breakfast Saturday morning at her diner from their pictures. Several of the restaurant’s patrons agreed. The police focused the search on SOuth Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Front page of The Evening Star, December 28, 1957.
The end came for Overton on Sunday night on a stretch of highway near Wrens, Georgia. Overton was still driving the Buick he and Carpenter had stolen from Arsonia Allman Friday night, although he had changed its license plates. Georgia Highway Patrol officers spotted the stolen car traveling north on Route 1. They gave chase, and Overton tried to outrun them, reaching speeds as high as 110 mph. He apparently lost control of the car and crashed head on into another vehicle traveling the opposite direction. The two cars burst into flames, and both drivers were killed instantly. Overton’s final innocent victim was Charley Wray, 42, a North Carolina carpenter who was on his way to his government construction job at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the nation’s promising new space program was just getting underway.
Wayne Carpenter was still at large. He hadn’t been in the car with Overton, and police suspected he was somewhere in the Miami, Florida, area. They found a matchbook and newspaper from Florida (as well as the shotgun that had been used in the killings) in the wreckage of Arsonia Allman’s car. Sure enough, Carpenter was quietly apprehended a day later by Pvt. Larry Wald, an alert rookie cop on the streets of West Palm Beach. Suspicious about a young man with a four-day growth of beard, Wald stopped and questioned Carpenter and quickly surmised who he was. “I guess you know you’re pretty popular down here,” Wald remarked. “Yes, I guess so and I’m glad it’s over,” Carpenter reportedly responded.
The Washington Post and Evening Star offered glimpses into the trauma and sorrow afflicting the families of Overton and Carpenter’s victims. Kaldes and Fisher were both married with young families; Kaldes had four small children, Fisher three. Fisher’s widow, Martha was stunned and scared when the Post’s reporter interviewed her the day after the murders. She still hadn’t told the children what had happened. She talked about how Fisher loved to sing and play the guitar. He had suffered from rheumatic fever as a 12-year-old, and a doctor had told him that playing the guitar would strengthen his hands, and he had been playing ever since. He had given his 4-year-old son, Kenny Jr., a guitar for Christmas, and the boy had been looking forward to learning how to play like his father.
This photo of Kenny Fisher’s family appeared in the Star on December 28, 1957 (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Pandora Kaldes, widow of the restaurant owner, was too distraught to speak to reporters and had been given sedatives to deal with the shock. Her sister told how George Kaldes had been turning the corner on his new restaurant venture. He had bought out his partner just the previous week and had called home about 7pm on the night of the murders to say that business was picking up. It was the last the family ever heard from him.
Pandora’s brother reopened the Jo Del on Tuesday, January 7, 1958, a little more than a week after the incident. It was a grim scene; bullet holes still scarred the walls, and patrons were likely there more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. Pandora Kaldes did not have the stomach for it. Just five days later, she put the place up for sale, posting a classified ad: “Night Club—Due to death of owner, business for sale at sacrifice,” against the advice of her brothers. She wanted nothing more to do with it. (Sadly, the planned sale apparently did not go well. An August 1958 classified notice in the Post announced that a U.S. Marshal’s auction was to be held of the restaurant’s fixtures and furnishings to pay debts. Everything from walnut booths, Formica tables, and bentwood chairs to a Carrier upright deep freeze, Silex coffee brewer, and Chrysler air conditioner went on the auction block.)
Matchcover from the Jo Del Restaurant (author’s collection).
Meanwhile B.J. Mainer, the blind pianist, languished in Emergency Hospital. He had been born blind, but it had never slowed him down. Raised in North Carolina, he had learned the piano at an early age and had moved to D.C. in 1952. He got a job as a piano tuner for the Kitt Music Company and joined a country music group called the Cameron Valley Boys that played every Sunday on radio station WFAX. For six years he played in restaurants up and down 8th Street SE (known in those days simply as “The Street”) and was universally liked there. Just three weeks before the shootings, he had decided to take the gig at the Jo-Del Tavern where his buddy, Kenny Fisher, had started playing. Asked about what he planned when he got out of the hospital, Mainer said he was thinking of opening a music store. “One thing for sure—I’ve got to stay out of the honky-tonks,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends there, but if I live through this one I just don’t want to push my luck.”
Bernard J. Mainer (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
His older sister, Fay Mainer Rogers, who had also been born blind, traveled from Japan to visit her wounded brother in the hospital, and was photographed there by the Star. She brought him a cigarette case and matching lighter from Japan and asked if B.J. was able to eat any sweets, since he loved candy. Unfortunately, the wounded pianist was eating very little. He remained in critical condition as doctors tried to figure out how to help him. One of the bullets had hit his kidney, stomach, and spleen. He underwent several operations, including one in late February in which his heart stopped after he was given anesthesia. Finally, on March 7, more than two months after the shootings, he passed away.
Fay Rogers visits her brother at Emergency Hospital (Source: DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post).
Prosecutors quickly added a third count to the murder charges against Wayne Carpenter. His first trial was in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, for kidnapping and auto theft. Doris Mattingly testified that Carpenter had protected her from Overton’s drunken advances. “Don’t let him kill me,” she said she asked Carpenter, and he supposedly responded that Overton “will have to kill me first.” Monteith’s testimony was very different; he said Carpenter had pointed the .45 pistol at his chest after Mattingly had been released and that he feared for his life at that moment. He claimed it was Overton who had stopped Carpenter, saying “This boy is all right and we’re not going to hurt him.” When Carpenter finally took the stand in his own defense he argued that Overton had put him up to the kidnappings and “had a shotgun pointed at me the whole time.” The jury took just 78 minutes to find Carpenter guilty on four counts of kidnapping and auto theft. Carpenter was sentenced in early May to the maximum two concurrent life terms in prison.
Carpenter’s lawyer began building a case that he was temporarily insane during the actual killings. Carpenter asked to be evaluated psychologically before standing trial in the District for the murders. Everyone agreed that Overton had done most of the shooting; he was the one holding the .45 pistol, which he fired at least 11 times. Carpenter had been armed with the shotgun and had fired it once. Carpenter spent four months of his prison term at St. Elizabeths undergoing evaluation before doctors said he was competent to stand trial. But prosecutors had lost their enthusiasm for the case, given the fact that Carpenter was already serving concurrent life sentences. According to press accounts, they agreed to allow him to plead guilty to a single count of manslaughter, which he did in May 1960.
Carpenter spent prison time in several federal penitentiaries, including a stint at Alcatraz from 1961 until it closed in 1963. After serving fifteen years, he was paroled in May 1973. Having trained in prison as a welder, he moved to California, where public records show that he married Doris Mattingly in September, just three months after getting out of prison. (Mattingly remarried in 1977.) When Carpenter’s release was announced in the newspapers, B. J. Mainer’s mother, Louise—still living in the small apartment in Southeast that she had shared with her blind son—poured out her sorrow to a Post reporter. Fifteen years had only sharpened her personal conviction that Carpenter was the chief culprit in the killing of her son. “It seems like just yesterday,” she said. “He served a very short sentence.”
Henry Clay Overton, however, was the man most people blamed for the tragedy. Back in January 1958, when the shock of the incident was still fresh in everyone’s minds, the Washington Post ran a seven-part series on Overton’s life, painting a picture of him as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character, kind and gentle as a neighborhood barber when he was sober but violent and short-tempered after he had been drinking. One of ten children born to a southern Virginia tobacco farmer, Overton had first been committed to reform school at age 16, charged with being drunk and disorderly. In 1931, shortly after getting out, he stabbed another young man at a party after he had been drinking and arguing (the man recovered from his wounds). He spent another three years in the state penitentiary for that attack. After behaving well in prison and being released, he soon got into trouble again, convicted of housebreaking and burglary in 1935. He served more time, got out, and repeated the whole cycle again in 1938. Convicted again of housebreaking, he served time in Lorton, where he learned how to be a barber. When he was paroled in 1940, the board noted that he “has a lot of good qualities if he can leave liquor alone.” He couldn’t. He was soon arrested again for disorderly conduct and violating his parole.
Overton married in 1943, between prison terms, and managed to buy a farm in Axton, Virginia. His next run-in with the law was for operating an illegal still on the farm, and he served more time in the Atlanta federal penitentiary, where he again behaved well and honed his skills as a barber. In the early 1950s he opened his barber shop in Charles County, near the District, and seemed to settle down. He was well-liked, and parents would bring their small children to have their hair cut by the friendly barber who had a way with kids.
The site of the Jo Del Restaurant today. None of the historic structures in this block have survived (photo by the author).
The Post’s reporter tried to sort out whose fault it was that things had gone horribly wrong. Was it that Overton was ruined as a young man by the juvenile justice system? Should he have been institutionalized less—or maybe more, to keep him off the streets? Could his alcoholism have been treated more effectively? One factor that the Post reporter of 1958 didn’t consider was the fact that Overton had ready access to firearms. A recent survey by The New York Times of incidents in which four or more people were wounded or killed found that many were “sparked by minor, often drunken grievances—forgettable if guns had not been at hand.” Whatever Overton’s weaknesses and trouble with alcohol, he could never have instigated the Jo Del Tavern killings if he hadn’t been able to grab a couple of guns that fateful December night almost 60 years ago, when Washington looked very different but was really much the same as the city of today.
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I am indebted to Michele Casto and Tawnya Jordan of the Washingtoniana Room at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library for their invaluable assistance in identifying and reproducing photographs from the Washington Star collection. Aside from publicly available civil and military records, the chief source for this article was the extensive press coverage the incident received in The Evening Star and The Washington Post.