As the intrigue of the U.S. v. James R. Hoffa trial played out in Chattanooga’s Federal Courthouse in the early months of 1964, the excitement and secrecy spread to some local businesses and residents who wouldn’t normally be part of such an event.
Like a young barber on Dodds Avenue.
“On January 28, 1964, about 3:30 or 4 p.m. a deputy United States marshal visited me at Coulter’s Barber Shop, 701 Dodds Ave.” the young barber, Bill Knowles, wrote in a diary. “He informed me that two members of the James R. Hoffa jury, which were patrons of mine, had recommended me to perform the necessary barbering services during the time of their sequestered jury service. I asked him if he wanted me to serve only my two patrons. He said, ‘No, the entire 12 male members.’”
Then 30, Knowles now is 73 and is Hamilton County clerk. Back in 1964 he was a little nervous about his role as juror barber, but he knew he had an opportunity not afforded to many.
“I didn’t normally keep a diary,” Mr. Knowles said this week.
Now the diary offers a look into the tight security necessary to keep the Chattanooga trial on track.
In 1962, Mr. Hoffa was indicted and tried in Nashville on charges of violating the Taft-Hartley Act, which bars employee representatives from receiving payments from employers except for wages and other specifically defined purposes. The case ended in a mistrial amid claims of jury fixing, and a new investigation was ordered.
When jury-tampering charges were issued against Mr. Hoffa, the trial moved to Chattanooga. It began in January 1964.
For the next five weeks, U.S. marshals would bring jurors, a few at a time and after hours, to the shop where Mr. Knowles worked with his father-in-law, who owned the business.
“They would have me to lock the door and be sure the TV wasn’t on any kind of news program. They wanted to keep them from the outside world,” he said.
When the trial was over — with Mr. Hoffa convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison — Mr. Knowles said he was visited by several members of the Teamsters Union who wanted to know what jurors said and what had transpired in the shop.
“I guess they were looking for ways to say something had been compromised,” said Mr. Knowles. “But that wasn’t the case.”
After the young barber took the job, U.S. marshals cautioned him, “Just don’t discuss the case,” he noted in his first entry dated Jan. 28, 1964, eight days after the trial began.
“To this I inquired, ‘Will I be permitted to talk to them at all?’ He (the marshal) informed me that I would,” Mr. Knowles wrote.
Later that evening, another marshal arrived with five jurors.
“About 6:50 p.m. a man came to the barber shop door, presented his badge and said, ‘You’ve been cleared for the job.’ As he took the newspaper from my hand, he told me to turn the TV off, and motioned to the jurors to enter. ... I met the jurors at the door, advancing a handshake. They seemed jolly and very happy to be out of their routine.”
The entries show there was at least one stressful moment, but it gave way to humor.
Contributed Photo -- Bill Knowles stands in front of the barber shop in which he worked during the Jimmy Hoffa Trial. Mr. Knowles was the official barber for the jury.
On Jan. 30, while Mr. Knowles worked on the second of four juror haircuts, an automobile accident occurred directly in front of the shop.
“One of the two marshals went outside and immediately took up guard at the front door as the crowd gathered. They didn’t think anyone was hurt, but we proceeded to report the accident. However, before we could contact police headquarters a man came toward the shop door and asked to use the phone — said they needed an ambulance.
“The marshal told the person that the building was under security and asked me to lock the door. I did, but informed the male citizen that I would call the ambulance. The marshal remained at the door until the crowd disbursed; came into the shop laughing; said he sure got tickled when the photographer was making pictures of the accident when all the time the ‘big story’ was behind him.”
With a lighter mood set, Mr. Knowles wrote that he told the jurors and marshals, “‘Yesterday I visited the courtroom to hear part of the case.’ One juror said, ‘I didn't see you.’ I told him that I was afraid to smile at him, as the ‘secret eye’ might swoop down on me.’ To this, they laughed.”
On Monday, Feb. 10, 1964, one of the jurors mentioned to Mr. Knowles that he wanted to come for a haircut the previous Friday night, a night when haircut appointments were inexplicably canceled.
“The juror said, ‘You probably know why they canceled.’ I took it that he thought either the marshal told me or that maybe the news had mentioned something about Friday night. The juror proceeded to tell me that Friday night was a ‘cloak and dagger’ night. He said for some unknown reason the marshals rushed all the jurors out of the hotel and into private cars. I did not further quiz him about the mystery.”
Mr. Knowles said this week he still does not know what occurred that night.
Retired U.S. Marshal Harry Mansfield, 82, who oversaw the marshals handling the jury and who still lives in Chattanooga, said he does not recall anything out of the ordinary with the jury on any night.
“We went to great lengths to see that they were comfortable and that they had what they needed, but still were safe,” Mr. Mansfield said. “If you’re going to be locked up for weeks, you need to get a haircut and have some enjoyment.”
Pat Haverty, now 76 and the lone remaining trial juror, said he has no recollection of the jury ever being mustered into private cars. But he does remember the Marshals Service going to great lengths to take the jury to see Liberace in a performance at Memorial Auditorium.
“They put us all in these box seats — a kind of horseshoe thing of boxes left of the stage all to itself, and it was a great performance,” Mr. Haverty said Thursday. “Almost before it was over, while (Liberace) was still bowing, we were out of there. In the hallway they had blocked off an area, and we used a side door. It was tight as a tick.”
About a month later, on March 2, 1964, Mr. Knowles wrote that he phoned a marshal at the hotel to work out a schedule for the week, but the marshal told him the jurors would not be visiting the shop again because the trial was nearing its end.
“I said, ‘I guess you'll be glad when it is over.’ The marshal emphatically said that he would, and that he would try to visit me before he left town.
“From that time until the verdict was submitted, I did not have any official contact with any juror or marshal,” Mr. Knowles said to end his journal.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...