The car sat sideways on M-99. Snow fell from the sky and the sun shone brightly, making the sight even more odd. Tire tracks around the vehicle told a story, though those passing by didn't know what the tale was, at least not on January 11, 1945.
Floyd Modjeska approached the car to check on the driver. He noted that it was on fire, making things even weirder than they already were. The ignition was off and the person in the driver's seat had been shot. There were footprints in the snow, that did not belong to him.
MLive reports that after he flagged down another driver, Kyle Van Auker, he went to a nearby farm to call the police. He explained the scene to them, and it was hard for the emergency operator to believe what was being said.
Things like this didn't happen in Michigan.
Police noted that Modjeska underplayed a lot of what was happening when they arrived on the scene. It didn't take long for them to theorize that the reason why the car was on fire was because of the cigarette that the driver smoked before his death.
They also noted that the man driving the car was no ordinary man. He was a state senator, having been sworn in two weeks prior. Before that, he was a three-term state representative. Perhaps more importantly, he was a key witness in a corruption case that was being built against former Michigan treasurer Frank McKay.
The driver who had been killed was Warren G. Hooper, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
Who Was Warren Hooper?
Warren G. Hooper was a well-known journalist and politician in Michigan. He served three terms in the state House of Representatives for the 1st district. During this time, he got mixed up with McKay. The men conspired together to make sure a horse racing bill passed the house. For his trouble, Hooper received a $500 bribe from the former treasurer.
As the crackdown on corruption in Lansing spawned investigations, Hooper was in the crosshairs. He went to special prosecutor Kim Sigler and confessed to his role in ensuring that the gambling bill passed in the house. Part of the deal was that he would testify against McKay, who was incredibly wealthy and wielded great power with unsavory characters in the mitten state.
The Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan reports that Hooper's murder happened just four days before he was set to testify in front of a grand jury. This was believed to be part of the motive to have the senator killed.
Investigators zeroed in on McKay being behind the attack, but could not connect him to it. At least not in a way that would make the charges stick. Fueling the theory that McKay was behind were the words of Hooper's wife, Calienetta. She told police that her husband was afraid of that the former treasurer would do. He was so paranoid that he was staying in a hospital rather than a hotel when he was out of town for work.
None of that was enough to bring charges against the man believed to be responsible for the murder of Warren G. Hooper.
Less than 24 hours after Hooper's body was found, police got their first lead. Another driver reported that there was a maroon car that helped push his car off the road. The witness who came forward with this information, Harry Snyder told police that there was a driver in the car and another man by the victim's vehicle. It wasn't enough to make any arrests.
Another wrinkle came in March, when Sam Abramowitz confessed that he and others were hired for a hit on Hooper. CBS News writes that he claimed that the leader of the Purple Gang, Harry Fleisher, was the one who hired him. The lead was compelling.
Investigators took it seriously and began to look into it.
According to The New York Times, by May 1945, Harry and his brother Sammy Fleisher were being looked at in connection with the murder. Along with them, Mike Selik was brought in for questioning. Police believed that these men would be able to help them nab the real killer and the one they believed was behind the assassination plot, Frank McKay. Abramowitz was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against the others.
The other men were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. But Selik told Sigler that a mistake had been made, that the real killer was given immunity for his crimes connected to Hooper's case.
Lt. Governor Vernon J. Brown told the press at the time: “Many persons will realize now for the first time that the grand jury is dealing with something sinister. It shows what the underworld will do when it finds itself in danger.”
Despite the convictions, nobody has ever been charged for the murder of Warren G. Hooper.