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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Another Fatal Car Accident – and a Mystery

      365 Selected Chess Endings by Norman T. Whitaker was coauthored with an Expert named Glenn Hartleb; Hartleb died in an automobile accident a few months after the book came out.
      Prior to my being discharged from the US military in 1967 I played in a small tournament in North Carolina and Whitaker was there hawking the book. He told us that if we learned everything in the book we’d be a master. Of course a lot of us bought a copy. Whitaker’s claim of making one a master was hype. Or was it? I can’t truly say because I never learned everything in the book.
      Hartleb and Whitaker were returning by car from a tournament in the US Southwest and while Whitaker slept, Hartleb allowed their travelling companion, a 16-year old without a license, to drive. The result was an accident that instantly killed Hartleb and left Whitaker on crutches. The driver was not hurt. At least that’s has always been the story but…was there really a 16-year old driver?
      I discovered Hartleb’s obituary published 7 Sep 1961, Danville, Yell County, Arkansas. Yell County Record newspaper ... Man Killed In Wreck Near Ola. A Florida man was killed in a one-car accident on Highway 10 about six miles east of Ola last Thursday afternoon. State Trooper Richard Powell identified the victim as Glenn E. Hartleb, 45, Tampa, Florida, a passenger in the car. The driver of the car, a Volkswagen, was Norman Whittaker, about 70, of Washington, D. C. He was taken to the hospital at Russellville with head injuries. Powell said the driver of the car apparently lost control of it [and] hit a bridge abutment and over turned.
I found this Google image of a bridge on Route 10
approximatley 6 miles east of Ola.  It could be the one
that was hit in the accident.

      Of Whitaker and Hartleb, Sam Sloan wrote: “I was beginning to wonder whether Whitaker and Hartleb might be homosexual. They were, after all, two men traveling all over the US in Whitaker's Volkswagen Beetle playing in chess tournaments, with no woman ever around.”
      According to Sloan, Whitaker told him about the car accident. He said that after the US Open in San Francisco, as they were driving back, they were crossing Arkansas. Whitaker and Hartleb had been driving all the way and both were tired. They had a 16-year-old boy in the car with them. Whitaker said that while he was asleep, Hartleb, being tired too, decided to let the boy drive. The boy did not have a driver’s license. Shortly after Hartleb put the boy behind the steering wheel, the boy drove into a ditch and crashed. Hartleb, in the right front seat, was killed immediately. Whitaker, asleep in the back seat, was seriously injured. The boy who had been driving escaped uninjured.
      Whitaker told Sloan that he was maimed for life and would never walk again. He reserved his worst remarks for the doctor in Arkansas who had treated him. He said that the doctor was a quack. His prognosis that he would never walk normally again proved not to be true; when I saw him in North Carolina he was on crutches.
     Apparently Whitaker was the source of the story that an unnamed 16-year old was driving, but according to the Yell County Record newspaper, Whitaker was the driver and there’s no mention of a 16-year old passenger.


  1. Hard to believe an accident in a Beetle that was serious enough to kill the front seat passenger and seriously maim the back seat passenger left the driver uninjured. But stranger things have happened.

  2. An excerpt from Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest by Frank Brady has an interesting tale about Fischer, Whitaker and Hartleb.

  3. Whitaker was a compulsive con man, swindler, and thief. Nothing he ever said should be accepted without independent verification. Good chess player, though.