The Get Out of Vietnam Award
By the fall of 1970, Brody’s condition had stabilized, and he started to make arrangements to return to school. In October, Renée gave birth to a boy. He was named Michael James Brody III—the fourth generation of Brody boys to be named Michael—but he was called Jaime. Six weeks later, Brody returned to the University of Colorado with his wife and child in tow. The family rented an apartment in Boulder and were able to blend into the anonymity of the student body.
As 1970 became 1971, newspapers printed lists of key events that had occurred during the last twelve months. Sometimes these are depicted as “Best of” or “Worst of,” or given as awards for prestigious or dubious conduct. One paper nominated Brody for the “Most Publicized Non-Event of 1970.” According to the paper: “By merely announcing his intention to give away his Jelke oleomargarine fortune of $25 million or $3 million or $100 billion (depending on whom you believe) and writing a few bum checks he created the biggest furor since Rudolph Valentino’s funeral.” A Texas paper, as part of its awards of dubious achievement during the preceding year, gave Brody the “Jack Benny Philanthropy Award,” so named because of the comedian’s reputation for thriftiness. Brody was honored for promising to give away his fortune “(which he obviously didn’t have) and then not doing it.” The same paper honored President Nixon with the “Get Out of Vietnam Award … for his work in getting us out of Vietnam…and into Laos and Cambodia.”
On January 4, 1971, Nixon announced that the end of the Vietnam War was “in sight.” Massive bombings of North Vietnamese supply camps in Cambodia and Laos started two weeks later. The war escalated in early February, with more airstrikes. South Vietnam invaded Laos on February 8 supported by United States air power. Brody struggled and withdrew from classes the day after the invasion of Laos. The family decided to return to New York, but it had become clear that the marriage could not continue. The periods of Brody’s depression appeared to be deeper and longer. Brody would not stay away from the drugs, which were everywhere.
On the trip east, the young couple and their child made a detour to El Paso, Texas, and then across the river to the City of Juarez. Michael and Renée filled out papers. He swore that he was a resident of Juarez, and his name was placed on the city’s official residency list. Within two hours, they were in court. Five minutes later, the judge announced, in Spanish, that they were divorced. He signed an order, and the clerk, after stamping it and affixing a gold seal, handed them the decree. A Mexican divorce by mutual consent. It took about two hours. It cost $200, American. After the hearing, which took about the same time as their marriage ceremony, Michael and Renée sat on a bench outside the court house, silently. Jaime soon cried, and the family, now divided, continued driving east to New York. Once there, Renée took Jaime to her parent’s house in Ashokan. Brody rented an apartment in Woodstock, about ten miles away. Michael visited Renée and Jaime daily, and, within a few weeks, the couple had reconciled and were living together.
Following the invasion of Laos, the anti-war movement again turned violent. At around 1:00 a.m. on March 1, 1971, one of the telephone operators at the United States Capitol switchboard received a call from a man who spoke in a low, hard tone. “This building will blow up in 30 minutes. You will get many calls like this, but this one is real. Evacuate the building. This is in protest of the Nixon involvement in Laos.” The explosion occurred in a men’s lavatory on the ground floor of the Senate wing. There was extensive damage to seven rooms. No one was injured. The bombing was credited to the Weathermen Underground Organization, the new name for The Weatherman, the radical offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society that had orchestrated the Days of Rage.
Nixon called the Capitol bombing a “shocking act of violence which will outrage all Americans.” The national politicians reacted in a similar fashion. The New York Times summed up their reaction: “Senators and House members described the bombing as outrageous, sacrilegious, tragic and the work of a revolutionary or a madman.” George McGovern, a senator from South Dakota who was contemplating running for president in 1972 on an anti-war platform, had a slightly different view. He called the bombing “barbaric,” but he attributed it to America’s “Vietnam madness.” “The massive bombardment we are continuing year after year against the peoples of Indochina has its counterpart in the mounting destruction of humane values in our own land,” McGovern explained. “It is not possible to teach an entire generation to bomb and destroy others in an undeclared, unjustified, unending war without paying a terrible price in the derangement of our society.”
About two weeks later, Nixon gave an interview to a few reporters in EOB 175. He sat in his leather arm chair and spoke easily. He looked relaxed. The Vietnam War was winding down he said. “I seriously doubt if we will ever have another war,” he said. “This is probably the very last one.” He refused to disclose the time table or the rate of troop withdrawals. “But let me say this,” he added, “Those who think Vietnam is going to be a good political issue next year are making a grave mistake.” He had not made any plans about running for re-election, but he was satisfied with the progress of the war. A non-Communist Asia was essential to America’s interests, and the end of the war would not leave those interests unprotected. “We must not forget our alliances or our interests. Other nations must know that the United States has both the capability and the will to defend these allies and protect these interests.” In April, Nixon spoke to the nation in a televised speech carried on all three networks. Vietnamization was working, Nixon explained. As a consequence, he would withdraw another 100,000 troops by December 1 as part of a “total American withdrawal,” but he also refused to set a timetable for the complete withdrawal of all combat forces. Setting a final date of the withdrawal “would serve the enemy’s purpose and not our own.” He added: “In my campaign for the Presidency, I pledged to end American involvement in this war. I am keeping that pledge. And I expect to be held accountable by the American people if I fail.” To many, this meant that he planned to have all Americans out of Vietnam by the next Presidential election. To skeptics, Nixon was dragging the end of war for his own political purposes or in order to achieve his own peculiar world view where the United States would not be weakened by its failure in Vietnam. The slow withdrawal of troops gave the appearance of progress but, at the same time, the air war escalated. Nixon would milk Vietnamization as far as he could—to the next election.
For Brody, as the war continued, the next few months followed a pattern. He would take his anti-psychotic medication for a while, then stop and drift back into the psychosis. He spent time in various hospitals. He scribbled long letters to world leaders—Castro, Brezhnev, Nixon. He played the guitar alone in his room. He kept the door shut and feared the Secret Service. He thought that his phones were tapped. He cried when he thought of the War and how Nixon was continuing it. Renée and he had separated again. Renée bought a ten-year old VW microbus and outfitted the back with a crib and a place to sleep for herself. With Jaime, still in diapers, she drove cross country, first to California, then to Oregon, staying with friends or at communes. Though she still loved Brody, his illness made it difficult for her, and she was overly protective of their son. She thought they needed to get away from Brody and his family, who seemed to blame her for Brody’s problems. When Renée left, Brody went to live with his father, then moved in with his sister. He spent time in hospitals or at his sister’s house, under sedation.
Brody had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, though his drug use, particularly the LSD, complicated the diagnosis. The relationship between LSD use and functional psychosis is unclear. The studies are contradictory. Some suggest no role and others a “possible precipatory role.” LSD use may accelerate the onset of symptoms but does not cause the underlying disorder. Prolonged and repeated usage is particularly dangerous for those who are predisposed to psychoses. Brody's estimates of his LSD usage varied, just as his estimates of his fortune and his bequests varied. He had a peculiar way with math. What is clear is that he did indulge in LSD, PCP, marijuana and other drugs. Usage of a panoply of drugs is yet another factor that can accelerate the onset of symptoms in a person with a predisposition toward psychosis. Whatever the cause, Brody’s schizophrenia also had symptoms of depression. The two maladies are often linked: depression is seen not as a separate illness but as one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. The anti-psychotic drugs made Brody feel lethargic, which led to inactivity and more depression. Brody had turned to drinking, mostly beers but a lot of them each day. The alcohol deadened his mood.
By June, Brody was a long lost memory. He had disappeared again from the news. That month, Bunny Jones, the strong-willed African American woman who wanted to be a record producer, finally opened her recording studio. During the giveaway frenzy, the newspapers had all reported that Brody had promised to give Jones $350,000 to start a recording studio for young black artists. Jones actually wanted $40,000 to $50,000 cash and Brody to be co-signer on a loan. Brody delivered on that promise, funneling $45,000 her way. She used it as seed money to start Astral Studios, located in the Pathe Building at 105 East 106th Street in Harlem (which, during the frenzy of 1970, was thought to house Brody’s office). “Without that money,” Jones explained to the press at the opening of the studio in June 1971, “it would have been a lot longer and a lot harder. That kid did really good.” Jones, who helped Brody giveaway some of his fortune, also told the media at the opening of her studio: “Mike got an awful lot of bad press. I know a lot of checks that didn’t bounce.”
The media's role in the Brody story received a brief mention in Michael Shamberg’s 1971 book, Guerilla Television. Shamberg called the Brody Saga possibly “the most decadent media event of the past half-decade.” According to Shamberg, “the media gobbled up Michael Brody and then tried to blame him for their own indigestion.” But Brody’s story was not over, and the media were about to prove another old newspaper adage, often applied to show business: once a headliner, always a headliner. On December 6, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as the Plastic Ono Band, came out with “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” a number that rocketed up the Billboard charts. The song began “So this is Christmas/and what have you done/another year older/and a new one just begun.” As the song progresses, the Harlem Community Choir sings a refrain that gradually becomes louder and louder. The refrain then ends the song:
War is Over
If You Want it
War is Over
Brody’s depression deepened. At one time, Brody thought that he and Lennon would unite and spread peace and harmony throughout the world, but now Brody thought that Lennon was stealing his idea, his song. And Nixon. He had thwarted Brody’s plan to end the Vietnam War.
About two-weeks after the release of “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” Brody called the White House. He spoke to one of the operators. He wanted to speak to the President. His speech, rapid and anguished, alerted the operator, who forwarded the call to the Secret Service duty desk. Secret Service Special Agent Joseph Villeneuve was working the desk. He switched on the tape recorder, then answered the phone. “Hello, Can I help you?”
“I’d like to speak to the President,” Brody said.
“Can I ask who’s calling?”
“I need to speak to the President.”
“Yes, I understand, but who’s calling.”
“I am planning a protest,” the caller said. “On Christmas day, in front of the White House, I plan to douse myself with gasoline and light myself on fire.”
“The War has to end.”
“Yes, I understand,” Villeneuve said. He was trained to keep such callers on the line and let them talk. “Can I have your name and telephone number?” the conversation moved on, and Villeneuve pressed. “I don’t think the President will speak to you unless he knows who you are. Can I have your name and telephone number in case we get cut off?”
“Michael James Brody Jr.” Brody then gave his telephone number with area code.
Villeneuve recognized the area code as Connecticut’s. “What’s your address?”
“The War has to end,” Brody said. “Next Sunday.” He hung up.
Villeneuve turned off the tape recorder and made a log of the call. Villeneuve was familiar with self-immolation protests against the Vietnam War. Beginning in 1963, several Buddhist Monks in Vietnam used self-immolation to protest aspects of the War. In America, Norman Morrison lit himself on fire outside Robert McNamara’s Pentagon office in November 1965. A few days later, Roger LaPorte burned himself to death outside the United Nations in New York. In May 1970, George Winne, a college student, killed himself in San Diego. Villeneuve mulled over whether a threat of a protest—a suicide—near the White House violated any laws. He made a check and found that the Secret Service had an open file on Brody, started nearly two years earlier when Brody and Renée tried to see Nixon at the White House.
The next day, Villeneuve was again working the Duty desk when Brody called a second time. Villeneuve taped the call. Brody repeated his plan. This time, he sounded more agitated. Villeneuve tried to calm him. “Mike,” he said. “Can I call you Mike?” Brody hung up. Villeneuve logged the call and then contacted the New Haven office of the Secret Service to institute an investigation. Two Secret Service agents appeared the next day to interview Brody.
Brody spoke, calmly, of his plans. “The War,” Brody said several times. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, which was tangled and dirty. He had not bathed in a few days. “The War.” He stared straight into the agent’s eyes when he spoke. “You have to understand, it has to end.”
The interview continued, and Brody mentioned his missile bases, and his fleet of jets ready to bring the troops home. He mentioned he was Christ, and that he would rise from the dead. He would get the Beatles back together, for a concert, to raise money to end the war, which it would. It was his destiny, to be the one to end the war.
The agents took notes and tried to dissuade him. Brody was cooperative, but incoherent. He was not able to stick to a single train of thought. He began to answer questions and soon changed topics. They asked about whether he was being treated by any doctor. They asked about medication, whether he was employed, had a family, who he lived with. Had he ever been arrested? What would his family think? When they learned he had a wife and son—what would they think? They told him that he should think about another way to protest the war, and left him.
For the next day, Brody continued to brood over Lennon’s song, Nixon and the war. Around noon on December 23, after smoking a joint laced with PCP, Brody called the White House again. He wanted to speak to Nixon. This time, Special Agent Jack Renwick was working the Duty Desk. Brody’s plan had changed. He still wanted to protest the War but would not light himself on fire. He would burn just his thumbs as a protest, a gesture of the futility and stupidity of War, all Wars, this War. He hung up, and called back a few minutes later. Renwick got the call. Brody’s plan had changed again. Not his thumbs. Just his little finger. He would burn the tip of his little finger to embarrass Nixon. Or maybe he would burn his middle finger or just show up and give Nixon the finger.
“Who is this calling?” Renwick asked. Brody hung up. He smoked another joint, then called back about an hour later. The call was transferred to Renwick. Brody rambled on about the War, his plans, Nixon. Renwick kept trying to get Brody to identify himself.
“I am going to kill President Nixon tonight,” Brody said finally, in a calm voice.
“Who is this?” Renwick asked.
“Michael James Brody Jr.”
“What did you say?”
“I am going to kill President Nixon tonight.”
Renwick asked again for Brody’s identification.
“Michael James Brody Jr.”
“What’s your address?”
“Don’t bother to come and get me because I’ll be gone by the time you get here.” He hung up.
Renwick checked the logs for the previous days, then consulted with Villeneuve. Villeneuve listened to the tapes of all of the three calls involving Renwick. Villeneuve recognized Brody’s voice. They notified the New Haven office of Brody’s threat. The New Haven office contacted the United States Attorney’s office in Connecticut. Within an hour, Assistant U.S. Attorney Randolph C. Roeder completed, signed and filed a Criminal Complaint, setting forth Brody’s threatening telephone call and charging him with violating section 871 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Brody was arrested that day. He was brought before United States Magistrate Dion W. Moore. At the hearing, Magistrate Moore reminded Brody of his Miranda rights, including the right to counsel and Brody’s right to have an attorney appointed if he could not afford one. Brody told Magistrate Moore that his income was $2,000,000 per year and could afford his own attorney. He was released on a $10,000 bond, paid for by his father. A preliminary hearing was set for January 11, 1972.
After his release, Brody returned to his sister’s house in Wilson Point, an exclusive wooded section of Norwalk, Connecticut. He’d been living there for several months. Two-years older than her brother, Robin Brody had attended Westover, a posh girl’s boarding school in Middlebury, Connecticut. In late 1964, shortly after her 18th birthday, she debuted at the Debutante Cotillion and Christmas Ball in New York, followed by another presentation at the International Debutante Ball at the Hotel Astor. Robin attended Mt. Vernon Junior College, an exclusive school in the Foxhall section of Washington, D.C. In May of 1966, she became engaged to a junior at Yale who played on the basketball team. Their marriage produced a daughter but ended in divorce after two years. She married again, to Luigi “Coco” Chinetti Jr., the son of a three-time winner of Le Mans, the 24-hour endurance car race held in northwest France. Coco was also a race car driver. Like his father, he drove and designed Ferraris. That marriage also floundered, and divorce followed. In the aftermath of the divorce, Robin rented the Wilson Point house, a plush nine-room brick colonial situated on a piece of land that jutted into the Long Island Sound.
Brody wandered from room to room. He smoked a joint laced with Angel dust. The voices soon returned, and he again believed that he was Christ. He would rise from the depths of hell to save the world. He would stop the war and end hunger and resume his singing career. He hallucinated two men with guns and knives. They were there to kill him. They were Secret Service. They would kill him to stop him from stopping the War. He called the police. Two Norwalk police officers arrived shortly before midnight in separate patrol cars. They searched the house and the yard for the men. They found nothing and promised to keep a watch. One of the officers suspected that Brody was high on something. Brody appeared wired—hyped up, anxious. After the police left, Brody locked the doors and peered out the windows looking for the men. He eventually calmed down and went to his hidden stash and retrieved another joint. He sat in the living room and smoked it. He thought about the War and his attempts to end it. He started a fire in the fireplace and poured himself a glass of wine.
He thought of President Nixon’s Christmas Message, which had been released early by the White House and had been quoted in the morning newspapers, particularly the line that indicated Nixon was working toward world peace. The newspaper accounts indicated that Nixon and his family would spend the holiday at the White House. Brody again started thinking of self-immolation. He would rise from the dead, go to D.C. and confront Nixon. He went to the basement and found a can of paint thinner. He wandered through the first floor of the house, pouring a trail of the liquid from the one-gallon can. He lit the end of the trail and the flame traveled back along the path he had taken. He stood in the middle of the living room as the flames grew, climbing the walls. He tossed the can aside and waited. The walls undulated in the flames, and images appeared to Brody.
A neighbor, Stanley Rand, noticed the flames around 5:00 a.m. He called the fire department and ran over to the house. He had only seen Robin Chinetti a few times, but he remembered the little girl and he was worried about them. By the time he got to the house, the flames had engulfed most of the first floor. Other neighbors had also appeared to help or watch. Brody was on the porch. The house was burning around him. He would not leave. He was incoherent. Rand and another neighbor had to wrestle him away from the porch. The fire was too intense and Rand could not go inside to search for Robin or her daughter.
When the fire department arrived, Brody was sitting on the lawn, cross legged in a trance. He did not respond to questions from the fire department or the police. The house was a total loss. The fire had consumed all but the brick walls. Brody was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and arson. The police waited for daylight to see if they could find any bodies in the rubble. Neighbors reported that there were others at the house with Brody the night before. Many voiced concerns about the little girl.
The firemen and police searched the charred rubble but found no bodies. At the time of the fire, Robin Chinetti and her daughter were in Greenwich, Connecticut, for the Christmas Holidays. They had left a few days previously and had not heard of her brother’s arrest by the Secret Service. When Robin was contacted by Norwalk police about the fire, she returned immediately. She spoke frankly about her brother to the authorities. During the previous six months, he had been depressed and withdrawn. Robin did not understand much of his conversation. He stayed long periods of time in his room, with the door closed and locked. He would go into long trances. He asked repeatedly not to be disturbed, warning her that anyone who disturbed him could be killed. He spoke of plots, by the FBI and Secret Service. He thought that he would be assassinated. At other times, he thought he was God with powers beyond any man. She gave the police the history of his illness, explaining that her brother had functioned normally until he had his first psychotic break. He had spent most of the last two years in hospitals. She didn’t know if he was taking his medication. She thought so. She didn’t think he was using drugs. She loved him and didn’t think he was violent.
Brody was news again. The reporters were waiting as he was led in handcuffs from the police station. A phalanx of TV cameras recorded the exit. Flanked by two Connecticut State troopers, Brody was disheveled. His face was bloated, and his eyes were wide and darted side to side. Reporters from the New York stations, including a young street reporter from ABC’s Eyewitness News named Geraldo Rivera, put microphones in Brody’s face and yelled questions as Brody was escorted to a waiting car. Brody rambled, spoke quickly and denied he had done anything. He mentioned Nixon and the War. Television and newspapers carried the stories of both the arson and the Nixon threat. Typical of the newspaper headlines were OLEO HEIR HELD IN NIXON THREAT and OLEO HEIR ARRESTED ON CHARGE OF ARSON. Some articles headlined both charges: OLEO HEIR HELD IN $100,000 BLAZE, NIXON THREAT CHARGE or HEIR ARRESTED TWICE: ARSON, NIXON THREAT. In all the stories, the giveaway promises and its aftermath were recounted. Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News introduced the story this way: “Just about two years ago a young man named Michael James Brody achieved instant fame by promising to give away an alleged inheritance of 25 million dollars. The fame faded when he did not deliver.” The report continued with information on both arrests and ended by indicating Brody was “ordered held for psychiatric examination.”
With Brody confined, the federal government’s prosecution slowed pending the results of the examination. Section 871 of Title 18 of the United States Code prohibits, among other things, the making of threats “knowingly and willfully” against the President. Its roots extend to a Feb 14, 1917 Act of Congress designed, according to one federal court, “not only for the protection of the President as the representative and chosen chief executive of the nation, but also to preserve the tranquility of the people and their peace of mind.” The law was passed when the United States was on the verge of becoming engaged in World War I. Over the years, those prosecuted under the act often made alleged threats when the United States was involved in war, particularly controversial ones.
During the Vietnam War, the government attempted prosecution of many under the act for making threats against Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Some of these attempts failed as courts recognized that a broad interpretation of the statute infringed upon the First Amendment’s free speech protection. At a 1966 anti-war rally in front of the Washington Monument, an 18-year-old African American named Robert Watts stated that if he were inducted into the army and made to carry a rifle “the first man I want to get in my sights is L. B. J.” He added that “They are not going to make me kill my black brothers.” A member of the Army Counter Intelligence Corps. had infiltrated the crowd and duly reported Watts’ comments. Watts was arrested and convicted of violating § 871. His case made it to the Supreme Court in 1969, which overturned the conviction. “What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech,” the majority opinion stated. In its view, Watts’ statement was “political hyperbole” and protected.
The line between true threat and protected speech is often hard to discern. Any contextually credible statement to kill, injure or kidnap the President violates the statute if a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be taken as a serious intention to inflict bodily harm or to take the life of the President. However, if the statement appears to be “political hyperbole, innocuous talk, jest, or the like,” it is protected by the First Amendment. A person can be convicted of violating the statute if he intended to make the threat even though he did not intend or have the ability to carry it out.
Whether Brody could be convicted under section 871 was unclear. His statement to Special Agent Renwich on its face appeared to be a true threat. Yet many questions remained. His statement was arguably protected speech—part of his anti-War efforts. Brody was many miles away in Connecticut and had made the alleged threat as part of a series of phone calls where he expressed his plans to stage a protest. He also may not have made the statement knowingly. He was under the influence of an hallucinogen, and he may not have comprehended the meaning of the words he had uttered. A larger question loomed over everything, however—Brody’s sanity. The Secret Service agents had many questions about Brody and his motives. When they interviewed him, Brody provided various explanations for his calls, none of which reflected any true intent to do harm. He said the calls were done to impress friends, that he had been drinking or that they were made to gain publicity. But the Agents also wondered about his sanity. At times during the interview, Brody insisted on being called Apollo. At other times, he insisted he was Jerry Garcia or Irving Ashby, the jazz guitarist. The United States Government decided to wait for the psychiatric examination that had been ordered by Judge Harold H. Dean of the Norwalk Circuit Court when Brody was arrested on the arson and disorderly conduct charges.
Brody was sent to Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newton, Connecticut, for psychiatric observation. Dr. Yuksel E. Yurugor, the Southwest Unit Chief at Fairfield Hills, examined Brody upon admission. It was about 3:20 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Brody was hyperactive and repeatedly demanded to be left alone. When Dr. Yurugor asked questions, Brody became easily upset. He rambled about his body—that it was purified, and that he was Christ. He wanted peace, that’s all he wanted. His speech was irrational. He ranted about the War and Nixon and the Beatles. Yurugor made a note that Brody’s behavior was “bizarre.” He ordered that Brody be given anti-psychotic medication. About an hour later, Yurugor returned to follow up. Brody’s condition had not changed. He was still making irrational statements. Yurugor made a note in the chart that Brody was “very disturbed, agitated, confused, disoriented, completely out of touch with reality.”
Brody stayed at Fairfield Hills under observation for the next 30 days. On January 13, 1972, Brody twice called the White House from a payphone inside Fairfield Hills. The calls were transferred to the Secret Service. Brody did not identify himself but threatened retaliation in the first call if the United States continued the prosecution. In the second call, he apologized for all his past indiscretions. The United States Government thereafter asked that Brody’s bond be increased to $75,000. The request was denied. The Magistrate did not think that Brody was a threat to flee. Brody’s moods fluctuated during his stay at Fairfield Hills. For the most part, he was hostile and irrational. He believed that the government was plotting against him and had enlisted his doctors. He refused to engage in therapy. He spent hours writing long letters—to Nixon and Lennon and others. He had no memory of the fire or its cause. His irrational thoughts continued, and he still saw himself as Christ, with everyone plotting against him. According to Dr. Yurugor, Brody during this time “showed looseness of association, ambivalence and he was suspicious, grandiose and paranoid.”
The state and federal cases against Brody moved forward, with each focused on his sanity. The Circuit Court had scheduled a January 31, 1972, hearing to delve into Brody’s mental condition at the time he allegedly committed the arson. Dr. Yurugor and another Fairfield Hills psychiatrist testified. They both believed that Brody was schizophrenic and paranoid. Dr. Yurugor further believed that Brody lacked the capacity to understand the charges against him. The fact that Brody was psychotic, however, did not mean that he was legally insane. In 1967, Connecticut had adopted, by statute, the American law Institute insanity test set forth in the Model Penal Code. An accused could not be found guilty if he “lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law” because of a mental disease or defect. Neither psychiatrist believed that Brody was legally insane under that definition. Brody was clearly mentally ill but certainly not legally insane. The court ordered that the criminal arson charges proceed.
Brody’s family quickly arranged for a transfer to the Silver Hill Foundation, a private psychiatric facility, in nearby New Canaan. He became a patient there on February 2. The federal court was also interested in Brody’s sanity for a different reason. Brody’s attorney, Emmanuel Margolis from Stamford, had shown Brody’s medical records from Fairfield Hills to Assistant United States Attorney Roeder. Roeder filed a Motion for Judicial Determination of Mental Competency in order to find out whether Brody understood the proceedings against him and could assist in his defense. Roeder represented in the motion that the United States had “reasonable cause to believe the accused may be presently insane or incompetent.” The court ordered the additional tests. Brody’s treatment at Silver Hill would last five months. During that time, the United States began deportation hearings against John Lennon based upon a 1968 conviction for possession of marijuana in London. Nixon had decided that Lennon’s anti-war stance was a matter of national security. Lennon fought back, alleging (quite correctly) that the FBI had placed him under surveillance and that the deportation was a pretext to silence his anti-war actions. The case lingered as Nixon ran for re-election against George McGovern, who was advocating an immediate end to the war. Whenever it appeared that McGovern’s poll numbers were climbing, Nixon let it slip to the press that Kissinger was scheduled for another round of secret talks with the North Vietnamese. By using the peace talks as a political sword, Nixon was able to argue that his administration needed to continue in order to bring the war to a close. Soon, McGovern was being depicted as the advocate for “amnesty, abortion and acid.” Amnesty for the draft dodgers, abortion for the promiscuous and acid (or pot) for the hippies. It was 1952 all over again, when Nixon attacked Adlai Stevenson for being soft on Communists.
Brody drifted from the headlines back into anonymity. He became a distant memory. “Whatever happened to Michael Brody, the oleomargarine fortune heir?” a reader wrote to the Tucson Daily Citizen in March 1972. “All that money apparently went to his head,” the paper replied, then explained his December 1971 arrests and his confinement in a private mental hospital. Brody made progress at Silver Hill, and Brody’s attorney kept pressing both the state and federal prosecutors to dismiss the charges. He was successful. In May, the state dismissed the charges. The arson case would have been hard to prove. There was little evidence, and Brody was ill. The prosecutor had more important cases. In early July, the United States dismissed the federal case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roeder gave the press a short statement. “I have seen the hospital records,” Roeder said. “There were medical problems.”
Brody did not stay long at Silver Hill following the dismissal of the federal charges. On July 27, he was released for a 45-day outpatient trial. Dr. James Katis, the Clinical Director, had concluded that Brody’s psychosis was in remission and that Brody’s thought process was appropriate and normal. Brody would continue on medication, and Dr. Katis would see him weekly. Brody had also promised not to take recreational drugs. Michael and Renée’s off-again-on-again relationship was soon on again. They rented a house on the outskirts of Woodstock, New York. Their son, Jaime, was walking and talking and entering the terrible twos. Michael and Renée had finally made it, perhaps not to the farm with the dog and the chickens Michael spoke about at his first press conferences, but close to it. With one son, they were working on the 14 children he wanted. But the idyllic life Brody envisioned was proving to be far more difficult. The lack of money and any ability to earn income was weighing heavily on his mind. He now regretted the giveaway. He could have used his inheritance to buy a house for his wife and child. The trust income was modest, and Brody had incurred large medical bills for his hospitalizations. Still larger were the legal bills to defend the criminal charges and the civil suit brought by the owner of the Norwalk, Connecticut house. That civil suit was eventually settled, again with the income from Brody’s trust fund. Michael and Renée were essentially broke, living from one quarterly trust fund payment to the next. Michael landed a job as an orderly in a hospital in nearby Kingston but it didn’t last long.
As summer became fall, Michael asked the Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Company in Chicago to loan him money to buy a house for his family. He wanted to use his future trust income as collateral. Under the terms of the trust, the Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Company, as trustee, had considerable discretion, including the ability to advance monies. Vice-President Lyle Veitch traveled to Woodstock to meet with Michael and Renée at their rented house on Glasco Turnpike. A taciturn man who looked and talked like a banker, Veitch was 53 with a round face and a receding hairline, which he combed straight back. He had a dimple in his chin, like Kirk Douglas. He played a good round of golf and had a passion for bridge. He’d been with the bank for over twenty years and had worked his way up to Senior Vice President of the Trust Department. He wore a charcoal gray three-piece suit. One of Brody’s great grandfather’s favorite expressions was, “Never throw good money after bad.” It was also one of Brody’s grandfather’s favorite sayings, and Veitch knew the saying and the concept well. Veitch did not like what he saw at their house, which was sparsely furnished, filled with bags of unopened letters from supplicants and decorated with posters of rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both of whom had died of drug overdoses. The advance was not approved.