A MYSTERY REVEALS A NASTY MESS
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." An hysterical wail swept the packed church. "Oh, sweet Jesus," a woman moaned. The mourners filed by the open coffin, and the choir sang, Shall We Gather at The River. Ernie Knox was dead.
Ernie Knox died in Provident Hospital, Baltimore, at 6 o'clock in the morning, Wednesday, October 16. The deceased was a Negro, age 26, the youngest of 10 children. By profession he was a hod carrier and a professional boxer. He was a member of the Simmons Memorial Baptist Church, the 19th Masonic Lodge and the Northwestern Investigating Bureau, Inc. He was also a human being, and this is what too many people who were involved seem to have ignored.
Ernie Knox died of subdural hematoma, hemorrhage of the brain, having incurred the fatal injury during a fight with Wayne Bethea at the Coliseum, Monday night, October 14. Bethea had a $500 guarantee. Knox got a purse of only $243, which was 15% of the gross gate paid by a sparse crowd of 869. A few hours after the announcement of Knox's death, Dr. Charles S. Petty, assistant medical examiner for the city, came up with startling news. He said that Knox, who supposedly weighed 178 pounds the day of the fight, weighed only 153 when his body was submitted for autopsy.
Knox had fought as a heavyweight and, according to the rules of boxing, a heavyweight must weigh 175 pounds or more. Bethea weighed 205 pounds on the day of the fight, the Maryland State Athletic Commission reported. The difference between 178 pounds and 205 is considerable, but not unusual among heavyweights. As long as a man weighs 175, he can fight any licensed opponent over that, even if the opponent weighs 300. But a man who weighs less than 175 has no business boxing an opponent weighing more than 200.
Dr. Petty's finding at once prompted State's Attorney William J. O'Donnell and the Baltimore grand jury to investigate the discrepancy between Knox's announced weight on Monday and the weight of his corpse on Wednesday. Subpoenas have been issued and witnesses called, and even though the grand jury conducts its investigation in secrecy, it is possible at this time to present some of the facts in the tragic affair, including facts of which even the grand jury may not be aware.
All told, Ernie Knox had 21 professional fights. Of these he won 10, lost eight and drew three. In his last five bouts, if the figures are to be believed, he fought as a legitimate heavyweight. On one occasion he scaled 183 pounds. By fighting Bethea, Knox and his manager, Mack Lewis, were hoping to get into the big time. Lewis, who lives in Baltimore and works for the Internal Revenue Service, has never had a fighter who made it big. According to Joseph Sheppard, a well-known Baltimore painter and a faculty member of the Maryland Institute of Art, Mack Lewis has never been the type of manager to put a boy in. a fight in which he did not belong. Sheppard is so interested in painting boxers that he works out as an amateur himself in order to bring greater understanding to his work. As a matter of fact, he occasionally sparred with Knox, whom he knew well. On the Thursday before the fight, Sheppard happened to be in the gym when Knox weighed himself. The scales read 178. That figure sticks in his mind because he remembers that Knox did not want to weigh any less than that for Bethea.
At one o'clock Monday, the day of the fight, Knox, Bethea and the other fighters on the card at the Coliseum weighed in. Among those present were Leon Yarneth and Phil Jachelski, commission inspectors (Jachelski is a Baltimore police sergeant who was moonlighting against department rules), Drs. Evan Gilkes and Charles Tommasello, commission physicians, D. Chester O'Sullivan, commission chairman, and Jack Cohen, executive secretary of the commission. Representing the promoter, Civic Sports, Inc., a curious outfit about which there will be more later, were Sylvan Bass and Henry Moulden. Civic Sports was founded by Benny Trotta, an old pal of Mobster Frankie Carbo. Also present was Bobby Gleason of The Bronx, Bethea's manager. As a regular practice, boxers strip to be weighed, but last week after the grand jury met, Gleason said in New York that both his fighter and Knox stepped on the scales wearing trousers, shorts, socks and shoes. "With those clothes on," Gleason said, "Knox weighed 184 pounds. They credited his clothes with weighing six pounds and made his weight 178." If Ernie Knox had lead weights in his pockets, no one bothered to check.
Whatever his weight, Knox looked fit when he entered the ring in the 10-round main event. Bethea, a plodding boxer who likes to stay on top of an opponent, seemed out of shape. At the end of every round he was breathing hard. For the first four rounds Knox held his own, slipping away and jabbing his opponent. But then Bethea began to bull Knox against the ropes, where he scored with his right uppercuts to the body and short left hooks to the head. The blows were not hard but they were insistent. Early in the ninth round Bethea hit Knox with a looping right to the head. Knox stumbled back against the ropes and slid to the canvas. Accounts disagree as to when Knox arose, but it was no later than the count of four. After giving Knox the mandatory eight count, Referee Tom Kelly let the fight resume. Knox tried to clinch, but Bethea knocked him to his knees, and the referee counted him out.
Knox tried to get up to walk, but he could not. Three men, and it is uncertain who they were, tried to lift him up to force him to walk. At ringside was Lee Halfpenny, a former lightweight boxer who now works for the YMCA public health service and teaches boxing there. The clumsy attempts to make Knox walk prompted Halfpenny to jump into the ring. "I thought I could be of some help maybe, but by the time I got there they had put Knox down," Halfpenny recalls. "Then I went over and talked to the boy. I said to him, 'You can hear me. Now take a long, deep breath.' His eyes opened and he looked right at me."