Small town’s biggest secret: Author says Arkansas woman’s 1957 disappearance is full of corruption

Special Reports

Arkansas author shares the story of Maud Crawford, a woman some want to 'brush under the rug'

CAMDEN, Ark. – In Camden, Arkansas, where there’s about 12,000 people, there’s a big white home on Clifton Street where the walls likely keep many secrets.

“The town would be afraid to talk about her,” Camden native Beth Brickell said of the former resident. “Camden just wants to brush Maud Crawford under the rug like she never existed.”

Maud Crawford (photo courtesy: Beth Brickell)

Brickell met Maud Crawford in the early 1950s, which was a big deal for the then junior-high student. Crawford is the town’s first female lawyer, first woman to be elected to city council and one of the founders of Arkansas Girls State.

“We went to her home, and she was very lovely and met each of us, and that’s the only time I ever met her,” Brickell recalled.

What Brickell did not know at the time she met Crawford was that the glass-ceiling-shattering woman would vanish five years later and that Brickell would investigate the disappearance of one of Camden’s most prestigious people.

It was rumored that Crawford, a law partner to United States Senator John McClellan, was kidnapped by the mafia because McClellan was the chairman of a senate committee looking into alleged mob ties to organized labor.

Brickell’s mission for answers started in 1986 after moving to Los Angeles and getting into show business. She returned to Arkansas because of an assignment she received to write a screenplay about Crawford’s mystery.

“I learned within the first week, I learned the case had never been properly investigated,” she said.

The case made Brickell curious. She was planning to stay only a few weeks but realized a much bigger task was at hand.

Courtesy: Arkansas State Archives

Her investigation lasted 16 months. She wrote more than a dozen articles during her that time, which were published on the front page by the then Arkansas Gazette.

“A lot of people were still alive,” Brickell explained. “It seemed like everyone knew a little something about the circumstances of Maud Crawford disappearing.”

She started asking questions, and what she says she found was shocking.

“The motive for murder, which had not been found out in the original police investigation,” she said, noting that the motive points to a person. “That gets us into Mike Berg.”

What could be a motive for murder?

Mike Berg (photo courtesy: Beth Brickell)

Brickell said Berg was the richest man in town and also an Arkansas State Police commissioner.

“He was used to getting everyone to do what he wanted to do, either by bribing him with gifts or by intimidation,” she explained. “Neither tactic would work on Maud Crawford.”

Brickell traveled the country and tracked down interviews. Berg’s aunt, Rose Berg, had a multi-million-dollar estate and likely suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

“In that estate was a large timber track in Hempstead County near Hope, and Mike wanted to cut that timber and keep the profits,” Brickell outlined.

Brickell claims Berg worked with two of his employees to pull off the next step, which she says included getting signatures from Berg’s aunt and eventually taking the land. Brickell also believes Berg promised a portion of the profits to one of the employees but said he fell short to the promise.

ASP Detective Odis Henley (photo courtesy: Beth Brickell)

“He [the employee] went to Maud, who he knew very well as a lawyer and wanted her to help him get the balance of what he felt Mike still owed him. That’s how she found out about it when she learned about this scheme,” Brickell said.

Brickell’s investigation led her to the Arkansas State Police, where she interviewed one of the original detectives, who she says revealed just how much Maud knew and how bad Berg wanted to keep it hidden.

“She [Maud Crawford] could have put him [Mike Berg] in prison and probably invalidated those earlier deeds. That’s what got her killed,” said Brickell. “When she left Mike’s office, Mike was heard saying, ‘I wish that God animal b**** was dead.’ She disappeared six weeks later.”

While Brickell said the state police detective thought that was enough, that turned out not to be the case. In her now published book, she shared the detective’s words as he recalled sharing his findings to the higher-ups in the department.

“I carried all my stuff and went up to Little Rock and told Alan Templeton (head of the state police Criminal Investigative Division) about it. He said, ‘Leave your stuff here.’ And I did. Then he told me there was too much money involved and took me off the case. The next time I was up there and checked the file, my memos about the last information I carried up there (about Mike Berg) had disappeared.”

A spokesperson for Arkansas State Police said the crime scene was documented and it was handled as a missing person’s investigation.

Ever since then, there have been rumors circulating on where Crawford’s remains are.

Brickell said it’s possible Crawford’s remains are in Berg Lake, claiming an employee who worked for Berg filled concrete in a well on the lake the night Crawford disappeared.

“If you put Maud Crawford in a dry well, put concrete on it, then make the water come over the well, and certainly in 1957, no one would come on Mike Berg’s [property],” she said, outlining the scenario. “Remember, he’s a state police commissioner.”

Diagram (photo courtesy: Beth Brickell)

Mike Berg died in 1975.

A conversation with Mike’s grandson was refused.

A nearly-lost legacy

The Crawford house on Clifton Street has been sold a few times. DeWayne Gordon and his wife purchased the home less than a year ago.

Gordon said he purchased the home because of the Crawford history.

“People will be walking down the road, look up and they kind of realize they’re almost to the house and they’ll crossover on the other side of the street,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s fear or superstition.”

The new homeowner said he is keeping Crawford’s legacy alive on the walls with photos of her and newspaper clippings, much to Brickell’s delight.

“I’m so happy that they have treasured Maud and kind of made a museum of her home,” she said.

It’s the only piece of Crawford in Camden. Despite the glass ceilings she shattered as a woman, Camden Mayor Julian Lott says there’s no memorial honoring her legacy. There’s not even a tombstone.

The mayor said he has been told to stand down by people in town because of the people involved.

“When we were trying to find out what had happened, to learn more about the history because I didn’t grow up here, what I was trying to learn about it, I was asked to kind of just stand down, you don’t want to get involved in that,” Lott said.

He also noted that he intends to start honoring Crawford with a plaque.

“Since my moving to Camden, I have been aware of the mystery surrounding the death of Mrs. Crawford, a very accomplished Camdenite,” Lott said in a statement. “I came to office in 2019. While there is no real reason as to why we have not honored her memory properly, we hope to soon trudge a path that honors her legacy for young women, future politicians, and others who make a difference in their local community. It is our intention to honor her memory in this term.”

No charges have ever been filed in Crawford’s disappearance. She is legally declared dead.

For more information about Brickell’s book, head to LuminousFilms.net.

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