Kangaroo Court

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The Trial of '42
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Track Name
Kangaroo Court
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Austin Cates Arrives at the Courthouse

The Trial of '42 is track 19 of the 27 tracks on the Carbon Harbor soundtrack album.

Kangaroo Court is track 23 of the 27 tracks on the Carbon Harbor soundtrack album.

In a previous post I wrote about some of the intricacies of Carbon Harbor's oil rich history and promised to continue. I had left off after mentioning the downfall of those days and how it had all started with the trial of 1942. This post is about that trial, but, first, I need to offer some more background.

Prior to the heyday of Carbon Harbor's oil industry, the most powerful man in town was Austin Cates. Like Walter Sundquist, who came after him, he never held any official office, but he was very much in control of the town. Being the beneficiary of a locally historical family line and their agricultural wealth, he had opted out of the agriculture business and chose instead to become a real estate magnate. His primary goal in Carbon Harbor was to buy up all that was not already owned by the oil company. To this end he was able to leverage The Great Depression as his most vicious yet effective tool.

In the early years, after the crash, the oil business had not yet attained the full potential it would later reach under the tutelage of Walter Sundquist. Though oil employed many in town, there was also a full range of businesses and services that allowed Carbon Harbor to be as self-sustaining an economy as could be expected from any reasonably prosperous small town. These businesses were owned by local families, many of whom had been in the area for as long or longer than the Cates family. However, after the crash, as times got hard, the town began to implode and nearly all faced the threat of defaulting on home and business mortgages. As banks began to fail, Austin Cates stepped in, buying up land and businesses and then leasing them back to their previous owners, for whatever toil and favor he could extract from them.

At first he may have seemed like a savior to some, but the town soon came to realize they were living in a modern serfdom, and most, if not all, of its citizens came to despise Cates for the ruthless landlord he was and the devious taskmaster they had become beholden to. He was the most hated man in Carbon Harbor.

Except for the oil business, Austin Cates owned and ran nearly everything, and he did so at arms length, by virtue of a cadre of trusted henchmen, allowing him to keep up a front -- though it didn't fool anyone -- of simply being a local photographer. Though his portrait business suffered due to the poor economy and his being so hated, he maintained independent relationships with the oil business, the railroads and the town's three newspapers. He was actually a good photographer, though only a few could have appreciated it at the time. Only decades later would it be clear that Austin Cates had, in fact, left behind a substantial gift to the town in the form of a pictorial, historical record of a small town in its glory days. In addition to this, there had come to be the rumored existence of a darker aspect of his craft, which was pornography, though what little record of this that may have existed did not come to surface until the trial of 1942. However, as it was rumored at the time, Cates had allegedly offered some of the poorest of families, those falling the furthest behind in their rents, an opportunity to "catch up," by allowing themselves or their daughters and sons to be models for his pornographic trade, and he "guaranteed" the results would never be seen in the West. Whether he had in fact kept faith with his promise or whether his trade was all simply rumored to begin with, nothing is now clear, other than the fact that several photographs were found and used as evidence in his trial. They were relatively discreet nude photos of one of two identical twin girls known as Dorothy and Lana Hinckley. Both were underage at the time, and at the trial it was believed they were photos of Dorothy. 

But these were not the photos that ultimately landed Austin Cates in prison.

Things began improving for the town, slowly at first, after Walter Sundquist arrived in 1934. As Carbon Harbor's chief emissary to the oil company headquarters in San Francisco, he was able to convince them to bolster their network of railways and pipelines in order to make Carbon Harbor the primary port of outgoing shipments of Northern California oil -- particularly to China and Japan. After hiring a British engineer, Wesley Clinton, and making him the master of the harbor, the two worked hand in hand to make Carbon Harbor the second most powerful and efficient oil exporting hub outside of Los Angles Harbor. Sundquist was by no means a "do gooder." His efforts had little to do with rescuing the town from the grip of Austin Cates, but that was exactly what he had managed to accomplish. The rising tide of Carbon Harbor's oil floated nearly all boats. By 1940 Carbon Harbor was well on its way out of the Depression. Oil and money were flowing and jobs were going unfilled until newcomers came to town to seek them, and local residents and businesses were soon back on their feet, making profits and climbing their way out of debt to Cates. Still, Walter Sundquist paid little attention to Austin Cates until Cates attempted to send one particular photo to the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a photo of the Kyokuto Maru, a Japanese oil tanker, sitting in Carbon Bay, taken on Good Friday, in April of 1941.

So where was the problem?

American sentiment toward Japan was in steady decline after the start of the Japan-China war in 1937 and there was growing pressure in Washington DC to shutdown the relationships of such cartels as Associated/Mitsubishi, the very cartel that was placing Carbon Harbor on the map with an even bigger footprint than was warranted by its actual size as a small town. Associated fought hard to keep the pressure off, and, while Wesley Clinton kept the oil flowing, Walt Sundquist and others in San Francisco made many a long train trip, assuring Washington that Mitsubishi was one of the finest foreign companies that Associated had ever done business with. Of course, few, anywhere, leave alone Carbon Harbor, knew that Sundquist and Associated's CEO were majority share owners of Mitsubishi Oil. Meanwhile, the men on the docks could see for themselves which ships were entering their harbor from where, but they didn't discuss these matters in their homes or outside of town.

Despite Associated's efforts, the pressure in Washington only grew and soon the demands to shutdown oil shipments to Japan could not be ignored. President Roosevelt signed on to an embargo, in October 1940, that, among other things, forbade further shipments of American oil to Japan.

So what was the Kyokuto Maru doing in Carbon Harbor in April of 1941? The answer to that was to stay in Carbon Harbor for many decades to come. In the meantime, Austin Cates had managed to show up on Sundquist's RADAR. Cates had to be dealt with. There was no question about that, only about how to do it.

Months passed. Meanwhile, a budding love relationship had developed between the Harbor Master, Wesley Clinton, and a young woman in town, Dorothy Hinkley. Most everyone knew they were "an item." Some in town were privy to rumors that Austin Cates, a widower, was also bragging and "broadcasting" around town that he'd had his way with Dorothy, and intended to make her his wife, even though she was nearly the same age as his only son, Warren. It was rumored there was an all out rivalry growing between the hated landlord and photographer, Austin Cates and Wesley Clinton, the hero Harbor Master of Carbon Harbor. The rumors persisted until late in 1941, on the eve of World War II, after neither Dorothy Hinkley nor Wesley Clinton had been seen by anyone in town since December 5th, 1941. At first it was assumed that they had eloped, but, when their absence extended from days to weeks to months, darker suspicions emerged. Then, in the Spring of 1942, the severely decayed body of Wesley Clinton was found floating in Carbon Bay. Dorothy was never found.

The Trial of 1942 began in mid-June. There had been numerous false starts, due to problems with jury selection. The men in town kept leaving to join in the war. Finally, a jury was selected. The jury Foreman was Walter Sundquist. Suddenly, "everyone" in town knew about the love triangle of Austin Cates, Wesley Clinton and Dorothy Hinkley. There were no problems finding witnesses who had heard of Cates' exploits in pornography and his rivalry with Clinton for the hand of Dorothy Hinkley -- still missing and presumed dead, though no body was ever found. But the photos of her were found and produced as evidence. It was an open and shut case.

At last, hated and despised, Austin Cates had his day in court and lost. He was found guilty for the murder of Wesley Clinton and sentenced to life in San Quentin. Despite the coming hardships of war, the town was free. There was only one problem. As hated as he was, Austin Cates had never murdered anyone.

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