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Alfalfa's Tragic Early End

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Carl Switzer had become famous as a kid by playing Alfalfa in the Our Gang series of short comedy films. (For people more familiar with the t.v. reruns they probably know them as The Little Rascals.) When he graduated from Our Gang he got some small parts in some big movies, and a few that weren't as big. But he got older and worked less frequently in movies. He befriended Roy Rogers after appearing on his t.v. show. He did some other television work, but he began to make most of his money breeding and training hunting dogs and leading hunting parties. It's a cliche that life isn't easy for former child stars, and Switzer was no exception. He had money and legal troubles. He was arrested for illegally cutting down trees that he intended to sell as a Christmas tree. He got into a bar fight and ended up fighting the police who came to break it up. His wife filed for divorce.

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He was shot at in January of 1958. A man was arrested whose wife Carl had been seeing. He had a previous arrest for attempted murder, but denied he shot at Switzer. Then in January 1959 Carl had a disagreement with Bud Stiltz. Carl had been training a dog for Stiltz when it ran off. Stiltz demanded Carl either return his dog or pay him what it was worth. Carl put out a reward for the dog's return. When someone brought the dog in he gave them $35 in cash and $15 in drinks. Carl was later drinking with his friend Jack Plott and decided that Stiltz should refund him the money he spent getting the dog back. Switzer and Plott showed up at Stiltz's house demanding money.

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The version that Stiltz told the police was that Switzer and Plott attacked him and hit him on the head with a clock. Stiltz then retrieved his gun to protect himself. Switzer tried to wrestle the gun away and it accidentally discharged, barely missing Stiltz's stepson Tom Corrigan. Stiltz then says Switzer pulled a knife and said he was going to kill Stiltz. When Carl came at him, Stiltz fired and hit Switzer in the groin. Switzer bled to death before he got to the hospital. This was the version that was given at the coroner's inquest, and the killing was ruled self defense and Stiltz was free to go. The interesting thing about this version is that the knife that was found at the scene was a pen knife. Stiltz had a previous conviction for perjury. The biggest blow to Stiltz's version is what his stepson Tom told police that night, and reiterated years later. He says that Switzer and Plott did show up and start a fight. Stiltz was hit with a clock and Stliltz pulled a gun. Carl and Stiltz fought over the gun and it went off.

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This is where Tom's story differs significantly from the story that allowed Bud Stiltz to go free. He said Switzer never pulled a knife. He says that the bullet hit the ceiling a shrapnel from that hit him in the leg. At that point Carl said "Well, we shot Tommy. Enough of this." He and Plott turned and started to leave. That is when Stiltz shot him. Stiltz then threatened to shoot Plott, but backed off when his wife pleaded with him and he heard sirens approaching. Corrigan described it as murder, not self defense. You would think death would end the drama in a man's life, but not for Alfalfa. His ex-wife delayed his funeral by refusing to allow the coroner to release his body. Her attorney gave as a reason that she had "no further interest in her ex-husband, dead or alive." She almost gives the murderer who lied his way to freedom a run for the money as the villain of the story. Poor Alfalfa, who was an alcoholic mess but surely deserved better than this, was 31 when he died.

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© 2022 Gracchus Gruad

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