The Nation: De Mau Mau

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The scenes evoked grisly memories of the Manson killings. In August, Retired Insurance Broker Paul Corbett, his wife and sister-in-law were found dead, each shot in the back of the head with a .25-cal. gun, in the pantry of Corbett's $100,000 home in the fashionable Chicago suburb of Barrington Hills. A fourth victim, Corbett's stepdaughter, was dead in the blood-spattered kitchen, shot in the chest with a .30-cal. weapon. A month later Machine Designer Stephen Hawtree, his wife and teen-age son were executed in a similar fashion in the basement of their rural home in Monee, Ill. In both instances there was no apparent motive for the slaughter.

Ballistics tests not only linked the two crimes but added two more. Police determined that the same weapons used in the Corbett and Hawtree killings were involved in the murders of Michael Gerchenson, 19, a sophomore at Southern Illinois University who was found shot to death in May on a stretch of highway near West Frankfort, Ill., and Specialist Five William Richter, 23, who was fatally shot in September while sleeping in a pickup truck parked next to an expressway in suburban Chicago.

Fearing that the murders were the work of a Manson-style gang, some residents of Barrington Hills were even said to have started carrying shotguns to cocktail parties. Last week the gang theory gained some credence. Chicago police announced that they had arrested nine black youths who are members of a little-known terrorist group that calls itself "De Mau Mau."

Cook County Sheriff Richard Elrod described De Mau Mau as a group of disgruntled Viet Nam veterans. Racial hatred, he said, "could have been one of the primary motives" for the slayings. "I can see no other apparent motivation." Chicago newspapers were quick to play up the case. Chicago Today, for instance, ran headlines declaring MURDER GANG 3,000 STRONG and DE MAU MAU TAKING OVER FOR THE PANTHERS. Sources close to the black-militant movement, however, called such charges preposterous, saying that De Mau Mau was a loosely organized group with less than 50 members.

They shared an elaborate greeting, a rapid meeting of hands, fists and elbows and a whispered chant in the ear, and a common suffering—a lack of jobs and opportunity. Barry Wright, president of the Concerned Veterans from Viet Nam, had met with some of those charged and says that they were bitter because "they couldn't get decent jobs. The way the whole society had turned an about-face just turned them cold. Some people can deal with it and keep on scufflin' every day. But some people it hurts, it affects them." At the Concerned Veterans headquarters in Chicago, one unemployed black veteran said that he could understand the frustration of the accused: "You go to a job interview, and they ask what experience you have. What you going to do—tell 'em you're a trained killer?" None of which, of course, is any rationale for murder.

At their arraignment last week, the suspects appeared with arms extended in the Black Power salute. But one of them muttered disconsolately to deputies: "I just don't care. I hope I get the chair. I just want to get it over with."