University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The "I'm Alone Case" A Tale from the Days of Prohibition

Volume XXIII  ·  Spring 1968  ·  Number 3
The I'm Alone Case: A Tale from the Days of Prohibition

Papers relating to the professional career of William Roy Vallance, 1910 graduate of the University of Rochester, came to Rush Rhees Library in 1964 and 1967. From 1918 to 1957, Vallance was assigned to the British Empire desk in the office of the Solicitor of the Department of State. His distinguished career is reflected in the papers covering important aspects of international affairs such as early radio and telegraph law, international claims, visas and immigration, the International Joint Commission, violations by foreigners of U.S. prohibition laws, and other timely topics.

The personal papers in the Vallance collection include material on significant law organizations such as the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the New York State and New York City Bar Associations, and particularly the Inter-American Bar Association. In 1940 Valiance, joining with other lawyers of the Americas, founded the latter organization and served as its Secretary-General until his death in 1967. In retrospect the Inter-American Bar Association will no doubt emerge as his most lasting accomplishment.

From 1929 to 1935, Valiance served as counsel to the American arbiter mediating the I'm Alone case. An account of the sinking and subsequent arbitration of that rumrunner, drawn from his papers, appears below.


The attempt to replace American drinking habits with strict abstinence is often considered one of the more intriguing episodes in U.S. social history. Prohibition, with all the legal and international ramifications it involved, comprises one of the more interesting features of the Vallance papers.

The Constitutional Amendment ratified in January, 1919, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or consumption of alcoholic beverages, created a source of income for hundreds of hardies who were willing to risk their skins to moisten thirsty American throats. The impossibility of policing American borders without assistance became bitterly clear to United States officials, who in the early 1920's pressed neighboring countries and Britain into treaties inhibiting the exportation of liquor from their territories. Although most of the vessels which smuggled liquor in by sea were owned by Americans, their owners commonly cloaked them in Canadian or British West Indian registry. Enforcement treaties with Canada and Great Britain, therefore, were most diligently sought and jealously protected. In 1924 Canada agreed to exchange clearance information on suspected smugglers and to prevent the clearances of vessels for ports where their cargo was already known to be contraband.

In a second treaty signed in the same year by the United States, Great Britain and Canada, Britain was allowed to bring into U.S. territorial waters sealed liquors in transit on passenger ships, and the United States was permitted to halt and search British vessels. The stipulations of such search, however, provided that the Coast Guard have reasonable suspicion that the vessel be a rumrunner, and that the search take place within the distance from shore which the suspected vessel could cover in one hour. The second provision, often confused with the twelve-mile limit of a U.S. domestic revenue law, clearly depended upon the speed of the fleeing vessel. This would prove to be one major issue of factual controversy in the I'm Alone case.

After the "one hour's distance" treaty, the fishermen, whose legal trade had equipped them for the vanguard of rumrunning, were dispersed; scattered too was "rum row," the fleets of rummies hovering three miles offshore, poised to speed into major harbors the minute the Coast Guard relaxed their vigil. According to the New York Times, an estimated one hundred smuggling vessels plied thousands of miles of coastline from Eastport, Maine, to Seattle, Washington. Attempting to patrol them was roughly thirty per cent of the Coast Guard's 12,000 men, five hundred vessels, and three hundred shore stations. But by 1929 the fishermen had long since gone back to their nets and dories, and in their place stood professional, well-armed, and often desperate gangsters.

During the mid-1920's, a schooner-rigged Gloucester fisherman named "I'm Alone" became well known in New England waters for showing her stern to the Coast Guard. The same design which rendered speed needed by North Shore fishermen to bring their catch fresh to market and compete with steam-driven vessels also enabled the I'm Alone to elude the Coast Guard for nearly six years. Allegedly named by a Boston bootlegger who abandoned his syndicate and struck out on his own, the I'm Alone was equipped with two one hundred-horsepower engines and a radio with a range of about 1,000 miles. She frequently escaped Coast Guard detection by intercepting their conversations about her, or by dimming her lights and slipping off to the stern of an approaching patrol boat. After her demise, a New England customs officer grudgingly appraised her as "the most successful rum-runner we ever tried to catch," and indeed during the five years of her stunning success she rankled the Coast Guard as the Bismarck of the rum fleet.

Registered in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the I'm Alone concentrated her activities from 1924 to 1928 in New England waters. Telegrams from U.S. consuls stationed in Yarmouth and Halifax reveal her many departures from those ports, often listing as her destination St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, two French islands off the southern coast of Newfoundland. One agent, who unsuccessfully attempted to establish a beachhead of U.S. authority on St. Pierre, described the saloon-like aroma that hung over the harbor there. The United States enjoyed no exchange-of-information treaty with France; thus, the number of times the liquor-laden I'm Alone cleared from St. Pierre for a West Indian isle she never intended to visit is unrecorded but undoubtedly considerable.

In late 1928, perhaps to secure some of the winter tourist trade, the schooner's owners removed her to the weedy waters of the West Indies. A chart of her clearances, cargoes, and ports of destination from December, 1928 to March, 1929 would lead the unsuspecting to imagine an unprecedented increase of liquor consumption among the residents of Nassau and Bermuda. That the I'm Alone never arrived at her stated destinations, however, reveals that her valuable cargo was finding buyers somewhere at sea, most likely a few miles off the American coast. Desperate to halt the elusive craft, the United States urged British authorities to institute false clearance proceedings against the "rummy." But, while U.S. consular officials and British Honduran customs officers were groping amid clearance forms and legal niceties, a U.S. Coast Guard warrant officer fell upon the greatest prize afloat.

The scramble to bag this booty began March 20, 1929 a short distance from the Louisiana shore near the Trinity Shoals light-buoy, where at 6:30 a.m. the Coast Guard cutter Wolcott chanced to spot the notorious I'm Alone. The cutter approached and ordered the smuggler to heave to. The captain, John T. Randell, asserting that he was at least fourteen miles offshore, replied, "Captain, you have no jurisdiction over me. I am on the high seas outside of treaty waters. I cannot and will not heave to." At 8:00 the Wolcott wired the following message to its shore station:


The Wolcott continued to picket the I'm Alone, ordering her by flags and megaphones to heave to and be boarded. The smuggler repeatedly refused. In accordance with the peculiar conventions which allow maritime enemies to be gentlemen nonetheless, Warrant Officer Paul went aboard the I'm Alone and paid Captain Randell a courtesy call. Efforts to resolve their differences in an hour and a half were fruitless, however, and the chase southward into the Gulf of Mexico resumed.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune of March 25, 1929 printed Randell's account:

About 2 p.m., the Walcott [sic] again came up and said with signals flying, "Heave to or I fire."

I replied to him by megaphone that I had no intention of stopping and that he could fire if he wished.

He said, "I will give you a quarter of an hour to make up your mind."

We still kept on going and a few moments after the time expired the Walcott commenced firing. I do not know the number of shots fired. Several shots passed through our sails and rigging, and one shell passed through the flag, which was flying from the time the cutter came up at first. After firing with his four-pounder a certain number of shots, he opened fire from his quarter ports with a machine gun, or a quick firing rifle. I presume these bullets had been waxed, as one hit me on the right leg just below the hip and partly paralyzed it. I then noticed that he had some trouble with his four-pounder, as she misfired. He then dropped astern.

The Wolcott's account at 3:00 p.m. was briefer:



The Wolcott followed her orders; Randell noted "the cutter trailing us until dark" the evening of March 20. During the day of March 21, the Treasury Department was alerted and sent the Wolcott orders to "use all your forces to seize her" if the commander was certain the original point at which the I'm Alone was hailed lay "within 12 miles." In response, the cutter wired


But help was on the way. In the words of Captain Randell:

By the morning of the 22nd the wind had increased to a moderate gale, a rough sea running. About 7:30 a.m., March 22, we saw another cutter approaching from the south-southwest. I was then in a position roughly estimated as. . . about 215 miles south by east, roughly from the entrance to New Orleans. When the second cutter came up we recognized her as the Dexter. She, after a conference with the Walcott, came up flying the signals "Heave to, or I'll fire at you."

I replied by semaphore and megaphone that I did not consider that he had any jurisdiction over me or my ship on the high seas and that he could fire if he wished. He then commenced to fire shell after shell. First to my rigging and sails, and then opened fire from the bridge with several quick firing rifles. After about twenty shells had been fired, several of which hit the ship in various places, I semaphored to him…that he might fire and sink my ship but I refused to heave to. He then opened fire again both with rifles and guns, cutting my rigging adrift and shell after shell plunged into the ship through our bulwarks…One shell went into the side of the ship. He again called to me, "Will you heave to?"

I replied again in the negative. He [resumed] firing, smashing our fore boom and firing through our main mast…Shell after shell came on board smashing our windows, engines and occasionally hitting the hull below the water line. I roughly estimate that about sixty or seventy shots struck the vessel. During all this time, the men kept firing closer and closer with their rifles, cutting through the cabin house through the ports in the cabin and around myself and my men gathered aft. None of my men were struck except by splinters, which were flying all around…

The engineer reported to me then that the water was over the engine room floor and that the vessel appeared to be settling down. I immediately gave orders to stop the engines and clear away the dories, which although they were of no use, would be something for my men to cling to in the heavy sea. By the time my boats had been put over the side, which was roughly ten minutes, the vessel's forward decks were level with the water. I told my men to jump into the water and cling to the dories and throw overboard [anything] that would help to float them. I believe I was the last to jump from the ship. My bow was then about twenty feet under water and her stern about ten feet in the air and she was beginning to dive.

From that time I have no recollection of what happened to the other men, when swimming toward the cutter Dexter, I felt myself losing strength and gripped the cabin doors, which had floated off…At this time I heard some of my men who were clinging to the door shouting to the Dexter, "throw a line to that man, he is drowning."

Seven hours later the Wolcott's terse cable summed up the incident: "BLACK SUNK. . . .TOTAL PERSONS NUMBER EIGHT AND ONE CORPSE." Halfway between Louisiana and the Yucatan Peninsula in nearly 2,000 fathoms of water, the Union Jack had gone down riddled with bullet holes from American guns, and an international incident was in the making.

The appearance of the Canadian ambassador at the State Department five days after the sinking came as no surprise to department officials. The legal questions alone proved to be complex enough, but as the department scrambled to compose an answer to Ambassador Massey's inquiry, it appeared that even the facts of the case were debatable. For the United States to argue that the Wolcott's original order to the I'm Alone to heave to and be boarded was valid, the I'm Alone's position within treaty waters had to be firmly established. Original estimates and subsequent investigations performed by the Coast Guard fixed the original point of hailing at various places between 8.6 and 10.6 miles, but never farther than eleven miles out to sea. Moreover, U.S. forces assembled an impressive array of evidence, based on Coast Guard experience, building specifications, and testimony of her crew, proving that the unusual speed of the I'm Alone extended her one hour's sailing distance beyond the point at which she was originally spoken, indeed in some cases beyond the point at which the Canadian skipper claimed he was first hailed. Randell emphatically clung to the position that he had been safely outside treaty waters fourteen and a half to fifteen miles offshore. On the surface, there would seem to have been little comparison between the word of a confessed rum skipper and that of a United States Coast Guard officer, but there was one case—and proponents of the Canadian view cited it often—in which a Coast Guard officer, Sigard Johnson, had lied about the position at which he had seized the Coal Harbor, been court-martialed, and later sentenced for perjury.

One question, which understandably was not contested, was the issue of the vessel's activities at the time of sinking. Randell talked freely of his smuggling operations. His Times-Picayune account of the shelling and sinking also described his sailing from Halifax with the I'm Alone in ballast in early November, 1928, his arrival at St. Pierre shortly thereafter, and the loading of 1,400 cases of assorted liquors. Randell related how an employee of the liquor concern had handed him the halves of several one dollar bills and instructed him to proceed to a point thirty miles south of Trinity Shoals lightbuoy off Louisiana. Randell had further complied with his orders and delivered his cargo into the contact boats of a stranger who had produced the other half of his torn bills. Further described by Randell were two other liquor-laden trips from Belize, British Honduras, to Trinity Shoals, the second of which had been intercepted by the patrolling Wolcott. The Distinguished Service Medal and the Croix de guerre—awards for exceptional World War I service—and the lack of sufficient evidence to warrant criminal proceedings notwithstanding, Randell would go down in history as a daring rumrunner.

Canada's distaste for basing her legal case on the activities of a smuggler was evident in her repeated condemnations of the I'm Alone's operations; she concentrated on the principle of sinking any vessel flying her flag on the open seas.

The legalities in the first test of the 1924 treaty proved to be complicated, but basically three laws would govern the interpretation of the I'm Alone case. To prevent smuggling and resulting loss of customs revenue, the U.S. domestic Tariff Act of 1922 permitted the United States to exercise certain authority within a twelve-mile offshore limit. One purpose of the act was to swell the coffers of the U.S. Treasury, a purpose clearly thwarted if the taxable cargo came to rest on the ocean floor. The attempt to impose a domestic statute internationally was undiplomatic at best, foolhardy at worst. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon apparently saw no incompatibility between U.S. jurisdiction twelve miles offshore and the internationally accepted freedom of the seas beyond three territorial miles. He either ignored or was unaware of occasions in the past when Great Britain, often fighting for her economic life, had asserted her domestic laws over all seafarers. On such occasions—notably before the War of 1812 and during World War I—the United States had protested vigorously the infringement of her international rights. Mellon's interpretation of an international incident according to domestic law was quickly supplanted by the views of State Department officials who were better versed in the intricacies of international relations and who were also fearful that Great Britain would turn Woodrow Wilson's World War I protest notes against them.

The second law upon which most of the I'm Alone case would turn was not a written statute, but the internationally recognized right of hot pursuit. In an effort to permit nations to protect their coastlines, this doctrine permitted a vessel of the threatened nation to pursue, overhaul, and seize an offending vessel in international waters provided that the chase began within the three-mile limit, that the pursuit was uninterrupted, and that the pursuing vessel kept the fleeing vessel constantly in sight. The third condition fulfilled the qualification of "hot" pursuit. As to the matter of continuous pursuit, it was expected that Canada would challenge the right of the Dexter to fire on the I'm Alone, since only the Wolcott had continuously pursued the smuggler.

For a long time the relationship of hot pursuit to the special conditions of the 1924 one hour's distance liquor enforcement treaty promised to be the crux of the controversy. Related to this question was the query raised by the Boston Herald and other dailies: does the right to search and seize at one point confer the right to do it at a much greater distance to which the vessel flees before being overhauled? Often unaware of the legal intricacies of violating imaginary boundary lines, the Coast Guard tended to view the question from a simple police point of view. One Coast Guard commandant asserted:

It would be contrary to the simple rules of common sense to hold that a Coast Guard vessel has the right to board a smuggler just inside the treaty distance line, and that, if the smuggler told the Coast Guard vessel to go to the devil and started for the open sea, the Coast Guard craft had no right, whatever, to follow the smuggler across the line, a distance which might only be a mile or so.

The commandant's memorandum to the State Department further elaborated on the alternatives open to the captain of the Dexter at 9:05 March 22, 1929:

One was to take the action he did, and the other was to go back and report that this notorious rum smuggler had defied the power and authority of the United States and that he…simply did not have the nerve to carry out the course of action that the circumstances clearly required.

Attempting to justify the U.S. position from a more legalistic standpoint, Attorney General William D. Mitchell asserted that, given the terms of the 1924 treaty, the bounds within which hot pursuit could originate should be extended by analogy to the limit of one hour's sail. A variety of precedents was advanced in which suspected British rummies — PescawhaNewton BayVinces — had been spoken between the three-mile and one-hour limit and seized outside the latter. In none of these cases did Britain object, although in none of the cases did the seizure occur farther than thirteen miles from American shores. Britain's failure to protest in these cases was officially interpreted in 1929 as implied consent. In essence, the United States was attempting to fuse the rights conferred by one law with the conditions detailed in another.

The legal controversy was not limited even to those perplexing issues, however. Further consideration focused on the issue of whether, even if the chase and seizure were legal, the amount of force employed by master A. W. Powell of the Dexter was warranted. A search of the records in the Departments of State, Justice, Treasury, War and Navy produced precious little precedent material. At issue initially was whether Powell should not have attempted to board the I'm Alone, search her, and, if warranted, seize the vessel and tow her to New Orleans. Such seemed to have been his orders from the shore station. The sworn statement of Frank Paul, master of theWolcott, indicated that he had gone so far as to assemble a party of volunteers for boarding. The same reasons which Paul offered for abandoning the project seem to have influenced his compatriot on the Dexter: the seas were too rough for a small boat, the I'm Alone was too fast to be arrested by such a craft, and, most significantly, there was evidence that uniformed Coast Guardsmen boarding the fleeing I'm Alone would have been taking their lives in hand. In this connection, Paul quoted Randell's reaction to being boarded:

"You can shoot and sink me but be damned if you will board me. If you board me, I will shoot to kill." The Coast Guard's report that the "master had a pistol and had waved it in a threatening manner," although hotly disputed by the master, was seized upon by Mellon and widely quoted in the press. Thus, the desperado quality of theI'm Alone skipper, which, given the nature of his personality and trade, was not unlikely, effectively quashed the boarding argument.

To the military mind, the thought of allowing one's prey to escape is unthinkable. Since boarding the I'm Aloneand capturing her in the conventional manner were out of the question, it appeared to her pursuers that the only means of effectively destroying the smuggler's trade was to destroy the actual vessel itself. Randell swore that "there was no more cowardly act, since the operations of the German submarines, than this act of shooting my ship from under me," and many people agreed in principle. The Justice Department's approach asserted that Randell preferred sinking to boarding; therefore, he presumably should have been grateful for having been granted his wish. More skeptically, the Washington Herald asked whether, in signing the liquor enforcement treaty in 1924, Canada and Britain had anticipated the deliberate sinking of a Canadian vessel and the loss of a Canadian life. The drowned man, whom the Dexter crew tried for over two hours to resuscitate, was dismissed by a commander of the Gulf Division as the victim of Randell's failure to provide life jackets for his crew.

Shortly before the arrival of the Canadian note of protest, the State Department assessed its case as following: supporting the Coast Guard's action were the facts that the master of the I'm Alone should have hove to when hailed by the Wolcott, that he should have contested the legality of the seizure in impartial courts rather than on the high seas, and that the Coast Guard should avoid the reputation of not enforcing the laws of their seas. On the other hand, condemning the Coast Guard's action were the considerations that the amount of force used was incommensurate with the offense which would have been charged, and that in this case the advantages of enforcing U.S. revenue laws were outweighed by the potential loss of international good will. What was most apparent to all was the legal fog surrounding incidents devolving from the United States' efforts to stay dry.

Canada's first protest was lodged informally on March 27, five days after the sinking, when Ambassador Vincent Massey paid Secretary of State Kellogg a call and politely requested a full report of the incident. During the visit, according to Kellogg's memorandum, Massey theorized that the 1924 treaty probably precluded chase or seizure outside one hour's sailing distance and that the matter would have to be settled according to international law. The following day Assistant Secretary William R. Castle's preliminary report on the facts of the case was delivered to the Canadian embassy. Among other things, the report supported the Coast Guard's original sighting point as inside eleven miles and mentioned the belligerence of the captain as a major factor in the Coast Guard action.

Nearly two weeks later on April 9, Ambassador Massey presented Secretary Stimson, who in the meantime had succeeded Kellogg, with Canada's formal note of protest. It condemned the Dexter's actions on several grounds. Adhering to the rum skipper's version of the initial sighting, Massey declared that the I'm Alone was spoken outside the limit of one hour's sail from shore. Secondly, since the chase began outside territorial waters and theDexter had not pursued continuously, the Canadians rejected the applicability of hot pursuit. Thirdly, destruction of the vessel and loss of life were unwarranted, the note asserted. To support this assertion, Massey observed that neither patrol boat had attempted to board the I'm Alone, the captain had not brandished a pistol and was indeed not as belligerent as alleged. The fact that the seas were too rough for boarding, Canada continued, constituted even more reason against destroying the boat and throwing the crew to the mercy of the sea. TheDexter should first have endeavored to cripple the smuggler's rudder.

Anticipating the American retort that pursuit had originated within treaty waters, Massey quoted a statement made by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes to the British Ambassador on July 19, 1923, designed to overcome Britain's reservations about the proposed treaty eventually signed the following January:

It may be confidently asserted that there would be no disposition on the part of the American authorities, and the special agreement would not justify any attempt to seize a British vessel, save within the limits proposed, and when it was clear that the vessel concerned was directly involved in an attempt to introduce its illicit cargo into the territory of the United States.

That Massey appended several oral objections to his written note is revealed by Stimson's memorandum of their interview. Massey was also concerned, wrote the Secretary, about placing the crew in irons, the failure to inform Randell of the death of his seaman Mainguy, the mutilation of the British flag, the use of rifle fire, and especially the refusal to allow Randell immediate access to the British consul at New Orleans. Although these complaints were not technically a part of the official protest, Stimson understood that courtesy among friendly nations required that they be answered.

Massey and Stimson agreed privately that arbitration would undoubtedly be the most sensible instrument to settle the dispute, but the wheels of state grind slowly and they were not the only personages involved. Before common sense could prevail, the United States was obliged formally to answer the Canadian protest and receive Canada's reply. If the two nations were still divided by their interpretations of the facts and legalities of the case, as stipulated in the 1924 treaty, the case would then go to arbitration.

An initial stumbling block to preparing the U.S. reply was the discrepancy between the diplomatic and military minds. Treasury Secretary Mellon accepted without question and passed on to State the pronouncements of his Coast Guard officers. Dissatisfied with the lack of evidence, Kellogg, and later Stimson, demanded additional evidence to corroborate the Coast Guard version. A mountain of affidavits, clearance papers, telegrams and, above all, interdepartmental memoranda began to accumulate, until eventually enough investigatory material had been amassed to form the basis of a formal reply to the Canadian protest. Mellon justified the Coast Guard action on the grounds that the smuggler had defied the authority of the United States. In a more legalistic vein, Attorney General Mitchell argued for extension by analogy of the right of hot pursuit from the three-mile to the one-hour limit of the 1924 treaty. He cautioned against relying upon domestic statutes, such as the Tariff Act of 1922, in the realm of international law and suggested recourse to arbitration.

Even as State Department officials, including William Roy Vallance, worked on drafts of Stimson's reply to the Canadian government, advice was still being sought from other departments involved. One Coast Guard admiral, commenting on such a draft, advised John D. Hickerson of State:

Are we not quite too profuse in our expressions of gratitude? For example, "profoundly grateful" and "deeply grateful." It seems to me we have comparatively little to be grateful for. Surely the Coast Guard is not grateful for the hour's steaming distance treaty, which, as a matter of fact, is of comparatively little use to us. It is perfectly well known that the treaty for exchange of information, etc., is of practically no help in stopping smuggling. Therefore, why should we open up the note with such profound expressions of gratitude?…

The suggestions about the representations in behalf of a notorious rum runner are pertinent, but presented, it seems to me, a bit too politely. Cannot more be made of that weakness in the Canadian stand?

The State Department understood better than the Coast Guard the legality of Canada's "representations on behalf of a notorious rum runner" and played the issue down. Moreover, the courtesy and profuse expressions of gratitude were retained in the final note. Hickerson's memorandum to Stimson enclosing the final draft warned that the Treasury Department would not be pleased with the last paragraph suggesting arbitration. Hickerson suggested that the Secretary arm himself with President Hoover's approval before releasing the note to Canada and eventually to the press. The suggestion for arbitration was retained and eventually accepted by Canada, thus promising a peaceful outcome to a ticklish affair.

Delivered April 17, the U.S. reply to Canada reiterated her previous stand on points of fact and law in the case, and answered Canada's direct charges. A good part of the U.S. reply depended upon its interpretation of the 1924 treaty which, Stimson's note declared, permitted pursuit beyond territorial waters. Since the I'm Alone was sighted 10.8 miles from shore, and since the vessel could muster a speed of at least twelve knots, Randell was clearly within the one-hour sailing area when hailed. In any event, the U.S. reply continued, his failure to heave to and be searched belied his contention that he was outside treaty waters; if he were, he had no reason to run. Maintaining that hot pursuit was justified because the chase originated within treaty waters, the note went on: "If the arrest would have been valid when the vessel was first hailed, but was made impossible through the illegal actions of the pursued vessel in failing to stop when ordered to do so, then hot pursuit is justified…" Furthermore, the chase could be considered continuous because the Wolcott and the Dexter belonged to the same unit. The Dexter would not have been needed had the Wolcott's gun not jammed. As to the amount of force employed, the United States contended that boarding was impossible, and cited Randell's own words to this effect. The Dexter's gunmen could not have disabled the I'm Alone without imperiling the crew; therefore, there was no alternative to sinking the vessel. Randell's surrender would have obviated the destruction of the smuggler, and, since the captain refused to capitulate, not the United States but he must bear the responsibility of loss of ship and one seaman, Leon Mainguy. If Canada still could not agree with the U.S. view of the affair, the Secretary concluded, the United States recommended arbitration as provided in the 1924 treaty.

In subsequent weeks, Mellon furnished Stimson with replies to Massey's oral objections. To prevent prisoners from influencing each other's testimony, the Coast Guard was under orders to keep prisoners apart from each other; thus Randell did not learn immediately of the death of Mainguy. As to the matter of shackling the crew, Mellon asserted that such measures had been ordered as general practice several months prior to March, 1929. The captains of both cutters further explained that placing the prisoners in irons was necessary to allow their limited crews to perform their nautical chores and get some sleep at night. The use of rifle fire was explained as an attempt to intimidate the I'm Alone's crew, to disable the vessel without sinking her, and to damage the rigging without using three-pound shot. Three-pound shot, it was feared, could have brought down the mast and spars and thus endangered the skulls of the crew. As for keeping Randell from the New Orleans British consul, Mellon insisted that his officers were merely following orders to turn over all prisoners to the customs authorities. Randell had answered questions voluntarily, the Secretary continued, and, at his request, had been put in touch with the consul immediately after his interrogation.

Massey apparently did not press these issues further. Strong exceptions, however, were taken to the U.S. formal reply. The United States' note had, among other things, implied that the 1924 treaty was worthless if U.S. authority were not implicitly extended beyond the territorial three-mile limit. The alleged worthlessness of a treaty was rejected by Canada as insufficient legal grounds for violating it; moreover, the Canadian reply pointed to the effectiveness of the treaty as evidenced in the dispersal of "rum row" and the reduction of smuggling to one eighth of its 1924 proportion. The four cases cited by the United States as precedents for seizure beyond treaty waters were not internationally recognized as precedents, Canada argued. She nevertheless employed them to support her claim for the efficacy of the treaty. Under that treaty, Canada contended, the United States had been able to reduce smuggling drastically, while only finding it necessary to exceed treaty waters on four occasions.

Blaming the loss of ship and one sailor on Captain Randell was rejected by Canada on the grounds that it assumed that he had been hailed within one hour's distance, and that the chase had begun within that limit. Since both assumptions remained to be proven, Canada argued, the United States was not justified in basing her case on them.

Furthermore, Canada was far from convinced that the amount of force used was authorized. Could not the pursuit have been continued, as the Wolcott skipper allegedly had urged the Dexter captain? The impression conveyed to observers, Massey's reply contended, was that the Coast Guardsmen had assayed not to halt theI'm Alone, but to punish her. Given the Coast Guard outlook, the historic elusiveness of the I'm Alone, and the galling defiance of her master, Canada's contention does not appear to have been unreasonable.

In the meantime, the dramatic sinking on the high seas aroused a good deal of speculation among international lawyers and a great deal of interest with the public. After turning the task of protesting over to the Canadians in late March, the British government eschewed further official responsibility for the I'm Alone. Britain enjoyed amodus vivendi with the United States under which, in exchange for waiving the three-mile limit in certain instances and providing customs information in others, her familiar passenger liners, which were anything but "dry," were permitted inside U.S. territorial waters. The British press, however, was not one to allow a flammable issue to pass unheadlined. "BRITISH SEAMEN IN MANACLES," "BRITISH FLAG FIRED UPON BY AMERICAN COAST GUARD" screamed her front pages. Ironically, the pub prattle provided by the incident no doubt increased ales sales throughout the British Isles.

In Belize, where the climate was warmer and tempers more conducive to action than debate, the American consul G. Russell Taggart felt a pressing need of police protection. One American observer wrote that the British Honduran governor found the U.S. conduct" 'most exTRAWdinory' [sic]" and "had a difficult time keeping his monocle adjusted while he pondered over the idea of mustering the Territorial Defense Force of British Honduras and commencing an invasion of the U.S.A."

In Canada, the I'm Alone case added to an already pervasive feeling of resentment toward the United States. In addition to the 1924 liquor enforcement treaties, Canada had agreed in 1927 to require Canadian liquor exporters to post bond in double duties on their exports. The following year further measures had been taken to discourage the re-exportation of illicit liquor, especially from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Canada would prevent the storage in Canadian warehouses of liquor imported by dealers other than authorized provincial authorities. Furthermore, to inhibit border smuggling, at her own expense Ottawa had recently investigated police measures in an effort to improve the patrols on her side of the line.

Canada, then, had been very cooperative. The U.S. government, many Canadian citizens argued, had taken advantage of her neighborly good will in many areas. Annoying to Canadians was the persistently high tariff on foreign goods. Canada was losing to the United States her salmon in the Columbia River and her water through the Chicago drainage canal. Skeptics of the proposed St. Lawrence Seaway wondered whether the United States would commandeer more than her fair share of the electric power promised by that project. The premier of Québec, who threatened to engage in piracy if abuses were not rectified, thundered that the U.S. Federal Radio Commission had usurped control of all the wavelengths in North America. Thus, in the classic manner of second-string powers who see themselves bullied by the varsity nations of the world, Canada interpreted U.S. actions as the suppression of a legal, Canadian industry for the sake of a U.S. domestic issue.

Ultra-sensitive to the American muscle which had bent their government to agreement, Canadians believed that the United States poured too much energy into forcing other countries to conform to its wishes, and not enough into reconsidering the advisability of the law, the Volstead Act, which had caused such international consternation. The ultimate insult to the proud Canadian diplomatic corps was that, in "requesting" compliance of the Canadians, Treasury Department prohibition officials shunned proper, diplomatic channels and instead went themselves straight to the Canadian government.

The issue of prohibition had already split the Canadian press into two camps. Those newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, the Manitoba Free Press, and the Ottawa Citizen, which favored prohibition, tended to play up the notoriety of the I'm Alone and play down the legal issues of her case. Other papers, echoing sentiments of members of Parliament, lambasted the United States with epithets such as "ruthless," "ungrateful," and "hypocritical." Citing John Randell's distinguished war record and calling him "modest," the Montreal Star labeled the shackling of the I'm Alone crew the "stupid action of an ignorant and angry man, drunk with a little authority." Held in lowest esteem was the shelling of the Union Jack.

Among the rank and file of Canadians, the 1924 enforcement treaty was extremely unpopular. To them it appeared one-sided; Canada owned no passenger ships and thus did not stand to gain from the sealed liquor clause which benefited Great Britain. Canadian delegates to the Ottawa Conference, Massey wrote to Stimson, had hinted that, by enforcing its authority outside treaty waters, the United States was exceeding the spirit and the letter of the 1924 convention. With his inimitable nose for news, Drew Pearson announced in the pages of the Baltimore Sun that even before March 22, 1929, Canada had intended protesting violations of the one hour's limit. The Halifax Chronicle's call for clarification of that treaty expressed the sentiments of Canadian moderates.

The growing feeling in Canada that she was coming increasingly under the aegis of the U.S. Treasury Department was appreciated in several corners of the United States. Noting that the hair of the I'm Alone's chief engineer had turned gray during the ordeal, the New York Times questioned the severity with which the Dexterhad handled the rummy. Could not two armed Coast Guard cutters, the editors asked, have captured an unarmed schooner without destroying it? The New York World firmly stated that a chase begun anywhere but inside territorial waters constituted a violation of freedom of the seas. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Baltimore Sun and the New York Telegram and Herald Tribune. Several papers, such as the Philadelphia Public Ledger and Inquirer, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the Boston Herald, reserved judgment until a thorough investigation of all views had been completed. Still others — the Philadelphia Record, the WashingtonPost, and the United States Daily — saw only that American authority had been unduly challenged. And the Rochester Times-Union opined that "[Randell's] ship would not have been sunk if he had acted as an honest and sensible man when the revenue cutter fired across its bows."

Within the U.S. government factions were forming also. Columnist Frederic William Wile interpreted Mellon's hard line stance as an effort to improve his standing among the drys, and indeed his popularity in the Anti-Saloon League did rise. Although Congress contained some "doves" — Fiorello LaGuardia, whose constituency was decidedly wet, and Fred Albert Britten, who likened the sinking to an act of war—there was also a good number of vociferous "hawks." Loudest of these was Representative Hamilton Fish, whose patriotism led him to suggest that, if Britain demanded damages for the I'm Alone, she be pressed to exchange her Caribbean possessions for U.S. liquidation of her war debt. Fish declared:

If it is true, as indicated by some of the reports, that part of the cargo was narcotics it would not have been too harsh a treatment to have sunk the ship with the crew, for people who smuggle narcotics are human fiends and should be classed with murderers…The American public has had its patience exhausted as regards technicalities in dealing with the smuggling of aliens, narcotics and rum under foreign flags and is particularly incensed that English ports off our coast and in the Caribbean Sea are made centers for such illicit traffic, in utter defiance of the laws of our country and disregard of international amity…The logical and natural extension of the Monroe Doctrine calls for the elimination of all European possessions in the Caribbean Sea.

Fish concluded by asking that the Coast Guard not be reprimanded, even if they were wrong in their actions against the I'm Alone, since during World War I Great Britain had violated American freedom in a similar fashion.

Despite such unsolicited advice, the State Department proceeded calmly, bracing itself for the arbitration tribunal. Although some quarters, notably the New York Times and Senator Thomas J. Walsh, contended that the I'm Alone case indicated the importance of joining the World Court, which was more effective in pronouncing on international law, Senate bitter-enders had long since barred such a course. No one, however, not even the most ardent patriot, ever considered that the United States would go to war with Canada; nothing but a peaceful settlement was ever contemplated, and the wheels of arbitration were put in motion immediately after Canada accepted the U.S. invitation to mediation.

According to the 1924 enforcement treaty, a two-man commission, one from each contesting nation, was to be appointed to decide the case. Willis Van Devanter, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was appointed in August, 1929, and the Canadians, after the death of their first choice, Eugene LaFleur, settled upon Lymon Poore Duff. Duff was a distinguished lawyer, a Supreme Court justice who had represented Canada on many occasions. His devotion to legal duties was perhaps most dramatically illustrated in his refusal to accept the proffered Prime Ministry. Each judge was assisted by able counsel: former Senator George Wharton Pepper, William Roy Vallance, and others for the United States; John E. Read, whose position was comparable to that of Solicitor General, W. N. Tilley, and Aime Geoffrion for Canada. In an unusual move to provide for direct cross examination, the tribunal called for the testimony of actual witnesses instead of the ordinary sworn statements. The tribunal was authorized to subpoena witnesses and prescribe penalties for false testimony. The two nations agreed on a schedule providing for agents' statements, the Canadian memorial, the U.S. reply, and rejoinders from either side, and called for a decision within ninety days of the conclusion of the hearings. Initially the issues to be decided were whether the pursuit and sinking of the I'm Alone were justified, whether the Canadian government was aggrieved, whether damages should be paid, and, if so, how much. In case of a deadlock, which did not occur, there was further recourse to the Claims Commission established in 1910.

The principles of international law upon which the United States planned to base the right of its officers to sink the I'm Alone two hundred miles out to sea were tenuous at best. Even if Senator Pepper and his staff could prove that the vessel was hailed inside treaty waters, there was great doubt as to whether the judges would classify a chase begun outside territorial waters as "hot pursuit." Most international lawyers were of the opinion that an impartial tribunal would find more justice in Canada's charge than in her neighbor's reply. For the United States to avoid an embarrassing rebuff in the arena of international justice, she was thus compelled to seek a new approach.

The Louisiana seizure on June 22, 1929 of a railroad car loaded with liquor labeled "rice" was the first break for U.S. attorneys. Although the I'm Alone was registered officially by the Eugene Creaser Shipping Company of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Vallance had long suspected that, as with many rumrunners, her real owners were citizens of the United States. Despite a Canadian corporation law which required a company to maintain its books at its place of business, the Eugene Creaser Shipping Company's books had mysteriously disappeared and with them the list of shareholders in the company. Vallance's files showed that as early as February, 1927 the British Board of Trade had urged Canada to review the I'm Alone's numerous false clearances and particularly to investigate the true ownership of the schooner. There was reason to believe, the Board explained, that a Boston bootlegger named Magnus was the actual owner. Vallance knew that if he could prove U.S. ownership he could seriously weaken, and perhaps destroy, Canada's case, for Canada would then find herself in the untenable position of claiming damages for Americans. The seizure at Gueydan, Louisiana was the first clue.

Investigations into the Gueydan case revealed further smuggling activities in nearby Abbeyville, where evidence was uncovered to prove that the I'm Alone was the mother ship from which the contact boats hauling the liquor ashore received their precious cargo. Intensifying their search in November, 1929, the New Orleans Customs Bureau, working closely with Vallance, uncovered a series of coded telegrams sent through New Orleans from Belize to New York City. The cables were subpoenaed and turned over to a crack State Department cryptoanalyst who unscrambled the garble and revealed two significant pieces of evidence: the dates of the outgoing telegrams tallied perfectly with the I'm Alone's clearances from Belize, and the oft-repeated

"YICKY, YEDEB, AKBUZ" were code words for "ALCOHOL, BOURBON, MALT." Moreover, the quantities of the I'm Alone's liquor cargoes as listed in her clearance papers corresponded exactly with the cabled quantities of "yicky," "yedeb" and "akbuz."

The telegrams set prohibition agents onto a trail which led from a beauty parlor through back alleys to a New York apartment occupied by Dan Hogan. Hogan was further implicated in the I'm Alone's smuggling operations by a New Hampshire library book found in a contact boat, the Cheri, chased ashore from the I'm Alone by the Coast Guard. Although the Cheri was burned by her pilots to destroy the evidence, the book survived, revealing the name of the borrower, who identified Hogan as a fellow passenger on the charred contact boat. In late 1929, Hogan and eleven others, including one Marvin J. Clark, were indicted on charges of conspiring to violate the customs and prohibition laws.

In February, 1930, testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Vallance based his request for extended funds on the strong possibility that U.S. operators owned the I'm Alone. Evidence which would prove conclusively that the conspirators were also the owners of the smuggler was still missing, however, and the conspiracy charge, even if the government won the case, would have no effect on the legal issues considered by the tribunal.

While the suit against the conspirators was being prepared, other government officials were bartering with a Boston gangster, John B. Magnus, for information regarding ownership of the I'm Alone. Magnus was serving time in jail for bootlegging, which led State Department officials in June, 1929 to propose offering him parole in exchange for information. The Attorney General disapproved of such tactics, but as former employees of Magnus came forth with increasingly incriminating evidence pointing toward Magnus as the one-time owner of the I'm Alone, Senator Pepper renewed his appeal to pressure the bootlegger. The record is blank between July 30 and September 11, when a memorandum presumably from Vallance to Joseph Potter Cotton, an Undersecretary of State, described an interview with Magnus. Magnus admitted having owned the I'm Alone directly or through dummy Canadian companies from the time she was built until November 29, 1928. In March, 1928, he continued, Dan Hogan had offered him $8,000 for the schooner. Furthermore, Magnus declared, he believed that Hogan was at least a partial owner of the rumrunner when she went to the bottom of the Gulf.

Tracking down this lead produced relatively little evidence compared to the bombshell that fell in the government's lap at the end of 1931. Two years earlier, Marvin J. Clark had been indicted with Danny Hogan and the other ten Gueydan conspirators, but he had failed to appear for sentencing and agents had been hunting him ever since. In the summer of 1931, a major part of the State Department was engaged in having Clark extradited from Canada, where he had gone to be married. Operating under an alias in December, 1931, he was arrested on a minor charge and recognized as one of the Gueydan conspirators.

Clark appeared to be at the end of the line. Although known as "the czar of smuggling," he hardly conformed to the stereotyped image of a desperado. During his brief and dramatic career, he had kept in touch with his folks in Missouri, often investing the earnings of his illegal trade in his father's dairy business. To his mother he had sent a "steel Brooder house for baby chicks," instructions on heating it, and an initial flock of five hundred chicks. To his younger brother Roy, who had been serving in the Navy in

1928 and 1929, Marvin had been a typical older brother. He had warned Roy about "taking sick" after arriving home from the tropics, advised him to marry his Nicaraguan girl friend (Marvin would pay all expenses), but not to remain in Central America, since it was not a "white mans country." Marvin had regretted missing Roy at "Thanksgiven" in 1929, and suggested that, after he got out of the service, they drive to Missouri for some rabbit hunting. Suprisingly enough, in a letter dated December 15, 1929, Marvin had urged Roy, "After you have gone home and visited the old folks and you are not satisfied to remain there you should join the Coast Guard for a while…" By 1932 the thousands of dollars Clark had had stashed away in Staten Island safety deposit boxes, and which he had so generously shared with his family, were depleted or stolen by an angry ex-mistress. Marvin was newly wed and apparently adored by his young wife, but down on his luck and, in his own words, "guilty in a more or less degree." On March 19, 1932, Clark pleaded guilty to the Gueydan smuggling charges.

Fortune, in the form of fact-starved investigators, often smiles on cooperative criminals, however. Marvin J. Clark was fortunate enough to possess information to prove that Americans owned the I'm Alone, and he was clever enough to know that he might buy his freedom with this news. His price for the story was high; basically he requested immunity from all charges prior to his confession and amnesty for all persons implicated in his tale. The government considered Clark's price steep, but, as Vallance suggested in a memorandum to Assistant Secretary James Grafton Rogers, Clark's testimony was essential. Furthermore, he stated, it would behoove the government to extract it before his sentencing in the Gueydan case. Knowing that the sentence was apt to be light, Vallance reasoned that, if not pressed until after the sentence, Clark might elect to spend a few years in jail rather than make "disclosures which would bring upon him the condemnation of his confederates." Moreover, with the threat of a maximum sentence hanging over his head, Clark could be expected to be more cooperative in the hope of being rewarded for good conduct with a lighter sentence. At length an agreement acceptable to both sides was reached, the sentence postponed, and Clark given ample time to tell his tale.

Through the story Clark told, all the pieces of the government's puzzle fell into place. In the fall of 1928, the story went, Danny Hogan and Frank H. Reitman invited Clark to join them in purchasing the I'm Alone. He agreed and chipped in $5,000, matching Hogan's $5,000 which, with Reitman's $10,000, totalled $20,000. As the nautical expert of the group, Clark journeyed to Lunenburg in November, 1928, where he made contact with the titular Canadian owner, Cristian Iversen. The new "owner" was to be a Canadian named George Hearn, a man whom government officials had long been attempting to link with the affair. After inspecting the boat and agreeing on $18,000 as a fair price, Clark handed over the money to Iversen, who deposited it in a local bank. Iversen wrote out a bill of sale, but registered the schooner in the name of the Eugene Creaser Shipping Company, and George Hearn, who acted as agent for the company, received from Clark $500 for his services. His business transacted, Clark returned to the States.

The next time Clark spied the I'm Alone she was bobbing in the murky waters off Trinity Shoals lightbuoy in the Gulf of Mexico. Commandeering the lead contact boat, he approached the smuggler, went aboard and presented Captain John Randell with the matching halves of his torn one dollar bills. From December, 1928 to February, 1929, Clark took off several thousand cases of liquor from the I'm Alone and ran them ashore. His closest scrape with the law occurred when a chase forced him to destroy his pursued contact boat, the Cheri. This trade ended in late March, 1929 when the I'm Alone failed to appear at the rendezvous spot.

Clark thus became a key government witness. If U.S. authorities could have kept him under glass until the time for his testimony before the tribunal, they would probably have done so. Clark preferred freedom, however, changed his plea to not guilty, and began hunting for a bondsman. Immediately he was beseiged by scores of wealthy gangsters eager to place a government witness in their debt. "All of the underworld seems to be working to hinder us," complained an assistant customs agent. Indeed, until Clark's friend, Jerry Woods, raised the required $10,000, it appeared not unlikely that government officials would be compelled personally to escort their prisoner in search of a bondsman.

Unfortunately for the U.S. government, and more so for their star witness, on July 6, 1932, Clark was shot to death in a quarrel unrelated to the I'm Alone case. U.S. lawyers, however, had had the foresight on April 4 to obtain an affidavit from Clark swearing to his story involving Dan Hogan. The collection of evidence—photocopies of the passenger list from the steamer Clark took from Boston to Yarmouth, N.S., of the deposits made in Iversen's account, and affidavits from witnesses—was progressing well and promised to verify Clark's story to the letter. Moreover, the seagoing patron of the New Hampshire library further testified that the I'm Alone's liquor was controlled by Hogan and Clark. Thus, despite Clark's death, the government's case, proving Americans owned both ship and cargo, was clinched.

In the meantime, legal technicalities had delayed the convening of the arbitration tribunal until January 28, 1932. Meeting again in late June the following year, the tribunal considered whether it should investigate the actual ownership of the sunken smuggler, and if so, what effect indirect U.S. ownership under a Canadian flag would have on the case. The tribunal decided that such investigation was proper, but reserved judgment as to how its findings could affect the case. On the issues surrounding hot pursuit, the tribunal was undecided. The sinking of the schooner, the tribunal ruled, was not warranted because it had not been accidental but intentional. On the first major issue before the tribunal—the justification of the sinking—the United States had failed to prove her case.

Bracing themselves for the final session beginning December 28, 1934, Pepper and Vallance mustered all their evidence in support of U.S. ownership. Using Clark's affidavit and corroborating evidence, plus the actual testimony of other witnesses, Pepper outlined the operations of the smuggling syndicate, masterminded by Dan Hogan, reaching from British Honduras and the Louisiana swamps to the shores of Newfoundland. George Hearn he exposed as a figurehead who had merely signed his name to the registry but could thereafter follow "his" investment less closely than could even the U.S. Coast Guard. Hearn's pathetic attempt to claim real ownership was not even defended by the Canadian agent Read. Pepper seized upon Hearn's testimony, however, as proof that, if it were believable, it would incriminate him for smuggling. By pressing for damages, Canada, he announced, would be rewarding a Canadian criminal at best, and American bootleggers at worst.

By this time the Canadians' enthusiasm for the case had subsided noticeably. The logic of Pepper's argument was apparently clear to commissioners Van Devanter and Duff also, for they rejected Canada's claim for $268,386.68. Satisfied that U.S. ownership was proven and that the purpose of the schooner was rumrunning, they recommended no compensation for either cargo or vessel. Since the sinking of the craft was unwarranted, however, the commissioners recommended further that the United States recompense the crew, roughly $10,000 for Mainguy's widow, $8,000 for Randell, who had been part of the hard core unemployed since the sinking, and $1,000 for each of the crew or their survivors. In addition, the United States was called upon to apologize formally to the Canadian government and to pay a "material amend" of $25,000. On January 21, 1935, the Secretary of State, by now Cordell Hull, issued the following statement:

Although the Commissioners find that the mission and use of the vessel at the time of its sinking were unlawful, nevertheless they also find that its sinking by the United States officers was unlawful. The Government of the United States, therefore, tenders to His Majesty's Canadian Government an apology for the sinking of the vessel.

Hull further promised to pay the recommended $50,666, a nominal sum in international affairs, as soon as it was appropriated by Congress.

Despite the prodigious amount of human energy and brain power expended on the I'm Alone case, neither party gained significantly from it. Canada had been exposed as an unsuspecting shield for American criminals. The coastal law enforcement officers of the United States, on the other hand, had been revealed as trigger-happy and even vengeful. The body of international law did not profit appreciably. The right of hot pursuit—the thorniest but most interesting problem—was not resolved, but temporarily assumed to have existed in order that the tribunal could move on to the question of the sinking. Ironically, in the six years required to thrash out this case, the Prohibition Amendment, without which there probably would have been no such case, was repealed and the liquor enforcement treaties rendered dead letters. Most significantly, perhaps, the I'm Alonearbitration represented one more landmark in the friendly relations enjoyed by the United States and Canada, which for over one hundred years had enabled them to work out their differences at the conference table rather than on the battlefield.


Nancy Skoglund is a member of the Department of Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library. She is the wife of Robert Skoglund, graduate fellow in Languages and Linguistics at the University of Rochester. Her current assignment, as the preceding article indicates, is arranging and cataloging the William Roy Vallance papers. Vallance's papers on the I'm Alone case served as the source of her account of the sinking and consequent arbitration of that smuggling schooner.

A resident of St. George, Maine, Mrs. Skoglund holds a B.A. in philosophy from Vassar College. She is presently writing a history of the Know-Nothing movement in Maine to complete her M.A. in American history at the University of Maine.

Additional resources:

  • The register of the William Roy Vallance Papers