The mystery of James Fiddles

You might say James Fiddles is an international man of mystery.

Not quite on the scale of Austin Powers or 007 James Bond, but folks in Queensland, Australia, would sure like to know more about him.

Fiddles of Pasadena was one of thousands of American troops stationed in Australia during World War II.

Attached to the 126th Infantry, 32nd Division, Fiddles and other Americans came to Nerimbera, in Queensland to recuperate after fighting the Japanese in New Guinea in 1942.

While there, troops built St. Christopher’s Chapel on the banks of the Fitzroy River and competed in a variety of athletic contests at a nearby arena. It was in the arena where Fiddles made a name for himself, winning an award for rope climbing.

Eight other American servicemen – most from Wisconsin or Michigan – won awards, too. All their names were added to a plaque commemorating their achievements.

When the arena was finally torn down several years ago, the plaque was transferred to St. Christopher’s.

Over the past 18 months Brian Morris, an 80-year-old resident of Queensland, has made it his duty to track down the nine men. Morris, a teenager during the war, said he made friends with several Americans stationed in Australia who manned a gun emplacement on the coast overlooking an oyster bed owned by his father.

On July Fourth every year, residents of Nerimbera, Rockhampton and other nearby towns gather at St. Christopher’s to remember Americans who briefly lived there.

Last year, Morris attended the ceremony.

“Looking at the names on the chapel walls, I decided to trace the men who had given so much in defense of this country,” Morris said.

Ultimately, Morris wants to have the life story of each of the men become part of the chapel’s archive.

Since setting out on his search, Morris has found eight of the nine – some living, some dead.

Among them were average Americans like:

– Leonard Christian of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, who won the 440 dash. He returned to the United States and worked for 25 years at the American Motors plant in Racine, Wisconsin before his death in 1993;

– David R. Dake, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, who won the broad jump, returned to battle for three tours in the South Pacific, before coming home. After working at a Boeing plant in Florida, Dake, who is still alive, became a Pentacostal minister before he returned to Wisconsin, and;

– Lyle U. Smith, of Tacoma, Washington, who lost his life in battle.

But, figuring out what happened to James Fiddles, the lone Californian in a group of Midwesterners, remains a riddle, Morris said.

“His name is not common, but he has proved to be the most difficult to trace,” Morris said.

Morris believes his last hope to find Fiddles lies in the San Gabriel Valley. He’s praying that someone can connect the dots and solve the mystery of the champion rope climber and Australian hero.

Thursday’s column

There’s no margin in cop killing.

Just ask members of the Avenues gang, affiliates of the Mexican Mafia, who got rolled Tuesday up by the LAPD, the FBI and an alphabet soup of local, county and federal law enforcement agencies.

It stemmed from the Aug. 2, 2008 killing of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante. A guard in the county jail, Escalante was gunned down in front of his parents’ home in the Cypress Park neighborhood just northeast of downtown.

Cops have charged three affiliates of the gang with the killing, and are seeking a fourth. The arrests didn’t keep the LAPD and the feds from using every weapon at their disposal to crack the Avenues’ hierarchy, many of who happen to be incarcerated.

The list of crimes detailed in the 222-page federal indictment includes murder, robbery, witness intimidation, money laundering, weapons possession and dealing drugs like crack and speed.

| Link: Copy of Avenues Indictment

It could put some of these guys away for life in federal prisons away from the corrupting influence of county jail and state prison.

If the indictment is any indication, members of the gang don’t fear police. They don’t fear the prisons and certainly don’t fear Joe Citizen.

Among their mottos is “Avenidas don’t get chased by police, we chase them.”

Another motto, “Avenidas don’t just hurt people, we kill them.”

As for those named in the indictment, several have had federal cases before, including Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, who was a defendant in a large scale case against the Mexican Mafia brought by the feds in 1995.

Some of the acts mentioned in the federal indictment unsealed Tuesday were chronicled as far back as 1999.

Much of the new case appears to have been made with wiretaps. Men and women were captured on tape discussing things as mundane as where they should live or as sinister as creating lists of who should be killed.

A lot of it was done by tapping the cell phone of Richie Aguirre who was doing time in Kern Valley State Prison, but was able to smuggle in a phone nonetheless.

As such, gangsters aren’t the only ones to have to answer for what appears in the indictment.

Gun control advocates should explain how exactly gun control works. Gang members seem to have an endless supply of what are essentilly illegal semi-automatic assault weapons at their disposal.

State and local law enforcement officials have to do some serious soul searching as well.

Sheriff Lee Baca for one should explain how it is that drug smuggling is occurring in the county jails.

State prison officials should explain how the Mexican Mafia is allowed to hold executive level discussions while incarcerated. They might also want to explain how drugs and cell phones get past the screws and into the joint.

These are the same prison guards that nearly bankrupt this state with their outrageous pay, benefits and retirement plans. These are the same prison guards who look the other way when racial tensions flare and prison riots break out.

How much do you want to bet none of this Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or whatever political apointee heads up the state prison system?

Guys like defendant Richie Aguirre know the real score when it comes to state prison guards. During one wiretapped conversation he advises a young woman to stay out of the profession.

“Aguirre told an unidentified female that she should not become a prison guard because they become corrupt and are used to smuggle narcotics into the prison for the inmates.”