Larry Bader, Pioneer Prevaricator
Navy veteran, slick salesman, champion archer and hunter from Akron Ohio goes missing on a fishing trip, leaving behind a wife, 3 children and one on the way. When his boat is found washed up on the Lake Erie shore after a violent storm, everyone mourns the loss of the charming and effervescent personalty known as Larry Bader.
Just a few short years later a friend of his does a double take when he sees a man calling himself Fritz Johnson entertaining crowds at a trade show in Chicago. Johnson was a well known radio and TV personality from Omaha, who got his start in the broadcasting business by perching on the city’s flag pole for one whole month. Strange thing though, Johnson was a dead ringer for the long-lost Larry Bader. Would a person who had faked his own suicide attract this kind of attention to himself? Surely this man couldn’t be the same person… but just to make sure he calls Larry’s brother who comes the next day to Chicago.
What makes this story so interesting is the time in which Larry Bader lived. In 1957 when Larry disappeared, America was well recuperated from WWII and the Korean War was left behind. Folks were enjoying prosperity like no other generation before. Back then you could own a nice home for $17,000 and if you were a fast-talking cookware salesman like Larry Bader you could earn enough to almost pay for it in just one year. The war effort limited domestic production of steel products so during the 1950’s door-to-door salesmen like Larry were making a killing. Salesmen were some of the few driving the great big new cars from Detroit, dressing like they had a million bucks.
I was just a boy when Larry worked for my father. He described the flamboyant Bader as a memorable character that could charm his way into any kitchen, leaving with a signed contract for a ton of new cookware. They would go out and celebrate Bader’s success with a dinner in one of those new “franchise” restaurants, Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dad used to remark how unusual it was that Larry would not only pick the chicken bones clean but he would finish off the bones too! Anything for a laugh, Bader loved drawing attention to himself. Attention was what he got all right, when in 1965 Larry made headlines coast to coast.
That convention at Chicago’s McCormick Place was the perfect place for Fritz Johnson, archer extraordinaire and TV personality, to pitch a Nebraska firm’s archery equipment. Larry’s brother hurries to the show when tipped off by his friend traveling from Akron. When he arrives at the show he is amazed at what he finds. When confronted, Johnson denies ever knowing not only his old friend from Akron, but denies even his own brother. Remarkably, asserting his innocence, Johnson agrees to be fingerprinted. When the FBI compared his fingerprints to Navy records, there was no doubt: “Fritz Johnson” was indeed Larry Bader.
In the eight years since his disappearance Larry had assumed a new identity and married a new wife, Nancy. This whole story created quite a stir in the mid-60’s. This well-known and colorful TV personality, Fritz Johnson, now had 2 lives and 2 wives. Who had ever heard of such a thing? “Fritz” maintained his innocence throughout it all. His lawyer asserted that a recent tumor removed from Johnson’s head must have “affected his memory”. Never mind the fact that just four days after Larry’s disappearance from Lake Erie “Fritz” showed up in Omaha to begin his new life.
We’ll never know the full story as Larry/Fritz died of cancer just over a year later. Did he fake his own death to scam the insurance company? Did he really have amnesia? Was he another Jason Bourne, was it the tumor, or was his amnesia just a hoax? Read the the intriguing scanned newspaper stories (click photo) and you decide: was it Larry or was it Fritz who was prevaricating?