In the 1950s, the stereotypical 65-year-old woman was said to enjoy cooking, knitting, decorating, keeping a clean house, and spending time with her grandchildren. Maud Crawford may have looked the part of an older domestic goddess, but she was instead a woman ahead of her time.
Valedictorian of her high school class, Maud also achieved the highest score on the bar exam despite not attending law school. In 1927, only ten years after women were able to practice law in Arkansas, she became the city of Camden’s first female attorney and later became the town’s first woman to serve on the City Council. The trailblazing Maud was also active in many service organizations, having served as President of the Camden Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, the American Legion Auxiliary, and Pilot Club International, the sister organization of Rotary International before women were admitted. She was also named Camden’s “Woman of the Year” for 1954.
Maud Crawford’s feats were amazing. It is not, however, her accomplishments for which she is remembered. It is instead her disappearance, still a mystery after over 60 years.
For over 40 years, Maud Crawford worked at the Gaughan Law firm in Camden, Arkansas, which later became the Gaughan, McClellan, and Laney law firm. She began as a stenographer but quickly proved she had a great legal mind. After passing the bar, she was a lawyer at the firm for nearly 30 years.
The McClellan in the firm was an inactive partner, Democratic United States Senator John L. McClellan, who had lived in Camden.
Maud’s area of legal specialty was title work and estate management. One of the estates she handled was that of her neighbor and friend, Rose Berg. Rose’s husband, Henry Berg, was a multimillionaire businessman. When he died in 1950, his estate was valued at approximately $20 million, much of it in oil, timber and land holdings.
Maud had drafted and witnessed Henry’s will, in which he left his entire estate to Rose, with 1/4 of the estate’s interest going to his nephew, Henry Myar “Mike” Berg, upon Rose’s passing. Henry and Rose had no children.
Rose, however, is believed to have later amended the will which was also witnessed by Maud. Rose is believed to have bequeathed the entire estate, then valued at over $25 million, to three nieces. Mike Berg was believed to have been omitted from the will.
In 1957, Rose Berg, plagued for years from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, was declared incompetent, and Maud was appointed as the executor of her will, as well as her guardian.
Maud spoke to her cousin on the telephone at about 8:30 p.m. on March 2, 1957. When her husband Clyde arrived home at 11:00 p.m., he found the house and her belongings intact, but no sign of his wife. When Maud had failed to return by the following evening police began a search, but their efforts turned up few clues as to what could have happened to her.
At the time, Senator McClellan was chairing a Senate investigation into organized labor’s alleged links to the Mafia. The investigations were highly publicized and, because of her ties to McClellan, Maud’s disappearance was believed linked to organized crime. Although no evidence was found suggesting such involvement, for nearly 30 years Maud Crawford was presumed to have been one of the many victims killed by the Mafia whose remains were never found.
In 1986, however, a new theory was espoused in the disappearance of Camden’s noted woman.
In 1986, reporter Beth Brickell wrote a series of articles about Maud’s disappearance. The 19-article investigative series was published in the Arkansas Gazette, now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the primary newspaper of the Natural State.
The articles, which Brickell later made into a book, turned the focus away from organized crime. Instead, one of Camden’s wealthiest and most powerful men was implicated in the disappearance of the town’s most accomplished woman.
Brickell’s articles implicated Rose Berg’s nephew Mike Berg, who was the Arkansas State Police Commissioner and a multimillionaire businessman.
If Henry Berg’s will was written as believed, he would have been omitted from 3/4 the fortune. If Rose Berg had amended the will as believed, he would receive nothing. Neither scenario was suitable to the already wealthy nephew as Brickell’s articles contend he believed he was entitled to his aunt’s entire estate. Normally, such a dispute would have been simple to settle. However, when Maud disappeared, Rose Berg’s will did as well.
Brickell found numerous questionable deeds were created for Rose’s estate in 1950, but not recorded until 1954. A deed filed in the Hempstead County Courthouse in Hope, Arkansas, transferred timber assets belonging to Rose to Hugh Moseley, a timber owner who worked for Mike Berg. A second deed with the same date transferred the identical timber holdings from Moseley to Mike Berg.
Several other deeds found in the Ouachita County Courthouse in Camden transferred additional assets over a period of years from Rose Berg to Mike Berg. In particular, one deed with a questionable signature of Rose Berg, conveyed large acreages of timber in fifteen counties, as well as properties in Camden and an estimated 150 active oil royalties to Mike Berg. Between all of the deeds, Rose handed over 21,000 acres of valuable land to her nephew. Rose’s friends and family did not believe she, in her diminished state, could comprehend what she was signing and that the deeds were faulty. They believed Mike Berg had done a dirty deed by tricking his ailing aunt into giving him her fortune.
Brickell’s articles contend that Maud concurred, believing Mike Berg took advantage of his aunt’s incompetence. At the time of her disappearance, Maud was believed to be attempting to make the deeds null and void and to have Rose’s will stand as either originally written or as Rose had amended. The nieces believed to have been named in Rose’s amended will said Maud, shortly before her disappearance, told them she, as executor of Rose’s estate, intended to bring a lawsuit against Mike Berg to expose the fraudulent deeds. Before she could take action, however, she disappeared, as did Rose’s will.
Mike Berg ended up receiving his aunt’s entire fortune after settling a claim with her nieces, by granting each $187,500 in exchange for a relinquishment of all claims to their aunt’s estate. He died in 1975 without ever being charged with any involvement in Maud’s disappearance nor with any sort of financial fraud.
Thomas Gaughan was a partner in Maud’s law firm and a friend of Mike Berg. Brickell’s articles contend that he and Maud also clashed over Rose Berg’s estate as Gaughan believed Mike was entitled to it all. Brickell believes Gaughan may also have had involvement in, or knowledge of, Maud’s disappearance.
Brickell’s articles also stated that Odis Henley, the original detective assigned to Maud’s disappearance, found evidence of Berg’s involvement. He claimed when he notified his superiors, he was removed from the case and all of the files he had compiled had vanished. The detective also determined that 1-2 months before Maud disappeared, she went to Berg’s office and accused him of pilfering his aunt’s estate by taking advantage of her diminished mental capacity.
Shortly after the articles were published in 1986, the case was reopened. Investigators sought to interview Mike Berg’s bodyguard, Jack Dorris, whom the lead detective believed was involved with Berg in Maud’s s disappearance. However, ill with cancer, Dorris died before he could be questioned.
Investigators believe Brickell’s findings but the reopening of the case produced no further clues to support them.
In 1969, the Ouachita County Probate Court ruled “It is the finding of the Court that Maud R. Crawford is deceased and has been dead since March 2, 1957, as a result of foul play perpetrated by person or persons unknown.” Maud’s husband, Clyde, died the same year.
All of the suspected participants, witnesses, and investigators are now also deceased.
No charges were ever filed against anyone and Maud Crawford’s remains have never been found.
Maud Crawford’s home, 430 Clifton Street, in Camden, Arkansas.
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More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:
Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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