By Brad Dison
Leland was a young and inexperienced newspaper reporter for the Houston Press. Leland was awestruck by the Houston Press’s senior crime reporter Harry McCormick. Dressed in the oft romanticized reporter style with his pressed suits and tilted fedora press hat, Harry went to great lengths to get a story. Leland always kept a watchful eye on Harry so that he could learn how to become a great reporter himself.
One night, Harry invited Leland out for a beer after work. Hungry for any opportunity to advance his reporting career, Leland gladly accepted. Although there were plenty of local places to have a beer, Harry drove them far out of town. They eventually reached their destination, “a sleezy speakeasy behind an even sleezier grocery, if you can believe it.” Harry warned Leland to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut no matter what transpired. Harry and Leland walked into the speakeasy and sat at a small table. After a few minutes, a man wearing old, dirty overalls and an old, crushed felt hat, sat down at their table. The man greeted Harry and gave Leland a nod. The man looked Harry and Leland over but “said virtually nothing.” The man sat for just a minute or two before he got up and left the speakeasy. A few minutes later, at Harry’s direction, Harry and Leland also left the speakeasy.
Back in the car, Harry asked Leland, “so, what did you think of him?” “Who?” Leland asked. Harry replied in disbelief, “You didn’t recognize Raymond Hamilton?” Leland was stunned. He and Harry had just sat down with one of the country’s most wanted criminals. Raymond and his associates were responsible for a string of murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, jailbreaks, and car thefts, as well as holdups of grocery stores, gas stations, and various other businesses. Harry warned Leland sternly that he could not tell anyone of their meeting, ever.
Late in the evening of March 18, 1935, just a few days after their meeting, Harry stood on a Houston street corner. Ralph Fultz, one of Raymond’s partners in crime, pulled up beside Harry and forced him at gunpoint into the car. Ralph drove Harry to an undisclosed location where Raymond cautiously waited. For two hours, Raymond told Harry of his various crimes and his close calls. He told Harry of one particular close call when a policeman fired a shotgun at him. He allowed Harry to feel the bullet fragment which was still lodged in his neck near his Adam’s apple. Raymond kidnapped Harry so that the trusted reporter could tell the public the “truth” about Raymond. “I never killed any man,” he claimed. Raymond hoped that this lie would garner some sympathy and make the public less likely to turn him in if they saw him. Following the interview, Raymond and Ralph returned Harry to his car. Before the kidnappers left, Harry had Raymond place his fingerprints on the windshield of his car so he could substantiate his story.
As the sun rose on the morning of March 19, people walking by Harry’s car found Harry bound and gagged. Before Harry allowed anyone to untie him, he made sure someone photographed him bound and gagged. Harry knew the photograph would draw attention to the story. Police verified that the fingerprints on Harry’s windshield were made by Raymond. Harry got the story of his career and newspapers throughout the country ran the story. Raymond’s lie helped him little as police caught up with him a short time after Harry’s interview. On May 10, 1935, Raymond was executed in the electric chair at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas. Raymond Hamilton was a member of the gang most often referred to as Bonnie and Clyde.
Leland kept his word to Harry for over fifty years, but Leland eventually shared his secret. He told of his and Harry’s meeting with Raymond. Leland explained that Harry brought him along to the speakeasy so Harry would have a witness if anything went wrong. He also explained Harry’s kidnapping; “Harry could not interview a criminal on the lam without being guilty of collusion, so he set up his own kidnapping so he could interview one of the countries most feared murderers.”
Leland’s reporting career prospered and he eventually earned the moniker “the most trusted man in America.” He broke the news to America of some of the most memorable moments of the twentieth century including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and John Lennon, as well as details of the Vietnam War, the Moon Landing, and a myriad of other important events. For more than fifty years, Leland kept secret his and Harry’s meeting with Raymond Hamilton, as well as the events surrounding Harry’s kidnapping. Leland was the middle name of “the most trusted man in America.” You and I know him as Walter Cronkite.
Longview News-Journal, March 19, 1935, p.1.
The Weekly Schuyler Sun, March 21, 1935, p.1.
“Walter Cronkite meets Raymond Hamilton.” Accessed April 27, 2020.