A Dangerous Pastime
On television all over the world, poker is no longer a subculture but mainstream. Back in its infancy in the 70’s and still to this day, poker players came from all walks of life in every shape, size, ethnicity, and gender. It is a competition, but it is a competition to win your opponent’s money which brings a timeless adage into play: “Money is the root of all evil.”
His afro was bushier, his moustache more fuller drooping down like a fu manchu, and his complexion was coarse. He didn’t wear glasses, but his eyes were steely. Wearing a lumberman’s shirt, he was boisterous. Despite his friendliness, he had a hard look. You could tell by his demeanor that patience was not his virtue and playing tight was not in his playbook. This image of Weird Al reminds me of Terry from my days in the $2 lowball game at the Recreation Card Room in Vancouver, WA when I was 20 years old. He was also the 1st murderer I had ever met.
The cardrooms in Washington State were limited to 5 tables, 5 card games, and a $2 limit. It was considered to be a marketing tool and had to close at 2 am when liquor could no longer be sold. That opened the market for after hours games. In Oregon, poker games were a misdemeanor whereas in Washington, it was a felony. It made sense to go across the Columbia River. One of the games I went to was in North Portland. It was a dilapidated house, but we had a table, chips, cards, and players and the game was on. I don’t recall Old Man Charlie, but I heard he used to carry about 3 thousand cash on him regularly. His body had been moved but the police tracked the scene of the murder to the basement where we played. He had been sleeping when he was stabbed 17 times and robbed. Terry’s girlfriend turned state’s evidence and he was sentenced to life.
The Oregon City Motel
The $2 limit games became too small and there was action in a motel in Oregon City. The only reason it was so far away, I surmised is that the Portland police were not keen on poker games in their city. It was 30 miles from Vancouver. It could have been the Bates Motel, but the parking lot was a large dirt and gravel area. It was late in the morning and we were down to 3 of us. Skyrocket, due to his propensity to run up his chips and then explode was winning most of the chips. Big Ron was 6’8, 300 lbs., a bad player and a poor loser. He had recently been released from prison for murder. Yes, he had a bad temper.
The pot had been raised pre-flop by Skyrocket and there was an ace on the flop but not much else. I wasn’t in the hand, but I felt this might be the last hand. After they both checked to the river, Skyrocket bet Ron’s $100 remaining chips. Ron went into the tank for 5 minutes. It was obvious he didn’t have much. When he finally grudgingly called, Skyrocket said, “I only have an ace, no kicker.” To me that sounded like a slow roll, so I said, “Of course, that’s good.” As I’m watching Skyrocket pull in the pot, I hear an edgy voice ask, “Do you want to bet your f**king life, it’s good?” I turn my head to my right, and Ron has a brass knuckle with razors on the end of each knuckle a few inches from my face. As tired as I had been, my amygdala sprung into action. I know there is a loaded shotgun 20 feet away propped up in the corner of the room. The problem is I had never held it, nor did I know where the safety was located. That 1 or 2 seconds it took, may very well seal my fate as he was physically too heavy for me to handle. All this took but 1 second, and I said in a calm, cool tone, “No I don’t.” Ron put down his arm and said, “Ok, then” but he looked disappointed. I did borrow a .22 from a friend when I returned to the game that night, but I didn’t think that was going to be enough.
Another night I was playing with Dan. He was cross-eyed and could have played a pirate. He was about 6 feet and slightly overweight with a thinning hairline in his mid-thirties. He was a bad player but didn’t complain as he kept rebuying. After he finally went broke, he left only to come back a couple of hours later. He asked if anyone wanted to buy a box of sterling silver. It was dark out by the trunk of his car, but I could see a very large number of flatware, so I asked him how much? He said $500. I didn’t know the value of the sterling silver although I would in a couple of years but that’s another story. I decided it didn’t matter because Dan couldn’t win, and I had been the one beating him. After he went broke, he left again and this time he came back with a trunk full of hollow ware. Although the hollow ware took up the space of the entire trunk, I realized it was less silver and offered him $400 which he accepted. It didn’t take long for me to felt him again. I thought I had a great night. I put the silver up in the back of my closet and was exhilarated by the cash I had won. The silver would become a silver lining, but the Dan saga would become a horrific tale.
Several months had gone by when I heard Dan stabbed a player in downtown Vancouver. If he would stab someone right on the street, I wondered what he could have done in a remote, dark parking lot? I considered myself lucky and to not put myself in jeopardy. Then the terrible news broke one night. A friend name Diane was telling me that a mutual friend was fighting for her life with ¾ of her lungs blown away. Darlene and another girl were dealing blackjack to Dan in a remote house in the woods. He said he was going to his car to get more money. Coming back with a shotgun, he had both girls lie face down and shot them both at point blank range. The other girl never moved but Darlene was able to crawl to her car and drive a mile to the nearest neighbor for help. That was over 40 years ago, but Darlene has been happily married and made a success of her life.
I can’t remember his exact name, but it was a name that was Ivy League. He was a 6’4” college basketball player of mixed parentage, handsome and an engaging smile. He was so cautious that he would chide me when I took off as soon as the light turned green. You’ve got to allow for the drivers that are trying to beat the red light, he said. We partnered up in a couple of after hour games, but poker was not his forte. I could see he wouldn’t even be able to repay the $1500 he owed me, and we went our separate ways.
Several months went by and then I heard about his painful end. He had gotten mixed up with a father and son who were passing stolen money orders. They found out he was turning state’s evidence and brutally tortured him. When the authorities fished Carlton out of the lake, his knees were disjointed and one of his eyeballs was popped out of the socket. The father and son were sentenced to life when one of the girlfriends turned state’s evidence.
I heard he was killed by a machine gun when his game got hijacked but I was never able to verify this story.
Herbert J Coddington III
I developed a loose theory that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to name someone the III as they may have problems developing their own identity. These next 2 people are examples.
Herb was an antisocial poker player. He had no social skills at the table and would overreact aggressively to anyone that was smoking near him. He soundproofed his cabin in Lake Tahoe, where he took a teenage model to sexually assault and murdered her chaperone. They tracked him by his license plate.
Ernest Scherer III
I labeled him a sociopath early on. I had lost $20k in 20 minutes after just starting a game and then I had to go into a meeting. I wrote a marker to cover the $20k I owed Ernie. When I came back out, the game had broken and Ernie yells at me for his money and complained because I was keeping him from watching the opening kickoff. To say the least, I lost it with him.
I had just lost 20k and he was upset he missed a kickoff.
He and his father had a strange relationship. They both played a couple of times together in my game. The father played very tight, too tight. Ernie was exactly the opposite. They both played their normal game regardless of the opponent. The father didn’t show any emotion on his son’s reckless play. Ernie was extremely polite to his father which seemed contrite and out of character. He obviously did not want to upset him but was being overly cautious. One time Ernie was losing about $25k in a very good game at my place, the Bike. His father was playing at the Commerce Casino and preparing to go to the airport to fly home to Northern California. Ernie insisted on cashing out to drive him to the airport. If it had been me, I would have paid for his taxi or hired a driver.
The brutality of the manner in which he butchered his parents would churn anyone’s stomach. After 3 months had gone by and he hadn’t been arrested, he thought he may have gotten away with it. There was never any sign of remorse or mourning. I’m sure his only regret was he was so close to getting his hands on $1.5 million.