William Zantzinger, the wealthy and well-connected Maryland tobacco farmer who served six months for manslaughter in the 1963 death of an African-American barmaid and featured in Bob Dylan’s brilliant, angry song about racial and class injustice “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” has died at the age of 69.
The Washington Post adds a telling detail to his life story:
Outside his circle of friends, Mr. Zantzinger did not like to draw attention. But he did in 1991 when he was indicted for collecting more than $64,000 in rent on properties he had not owned for more than five years. He lost the homes, described as rural shacks in the county’s Patuxent Woods subdivision, because of failure to pay taxes.
Nevertheless, Mr. Zantzinger continued to collect rent, suing some when they did not pay and evicting others. He also raised the rent on the properties. The homes were off a dirt road and lacked indoor plumbing.
In November 1991, Mr. Zantzinger pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of unfair and deceptive trade practices. He was sentenced to 18 months in the county jail and fined $50,000. The judge also sentenced Mr. Zantzinger to 2,400 hours of community service and directed him to help groups that advocate low-cost housing.
After all the wretched things he did in his life, I hope he managed to help a few people.
Perhaps predictably, Mr. Zantzinger was no fan of the Dylan song or its composer, whom he called a “no-account [expletive]” who had distorted the facts of the case. He told Dylan biographer Howard Sounes, “I should have sued him and put him in jail.”