By Peter Carlson
Sunday, August 4, 1991 9:34 AM

William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll

With a cane that he twirled round his

diamond-ring finger

At a Baltimore hotel society gathering . . . -- Bob Dylan "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"

It happened 28 years ago, on February 8, 1963, at a formal affair called the Spinsters Ball. Billy Zantzinger, who had just turned 24, showed up in white tie and tails, with a carnation in his lapel, a top hat on his head and a 25-cent wooden carnival cane in his hand. He also showed up drunk -- exuberantly, boisterously, pugnaciously drunk.

"I just flew in from Texas!" he bellowed as he entered the Emerson Hotel ballroom. "Gimme a drink!"

He got his drink and plenty more, and then, fully fueled, he started joking around with his cane, twirling it in a parody of Fred Astaire, rapping it on the punch bowl when he wanted service, tapping women who waltzed by. It was all in good fun, no harm intended. But as Billy got drunker, the joke turned ugly. He hit a bellhop with the cane, he yanked the chain on the wine steward's neck, he collapsed atop his wife, Jane, on the dance floor, then hit her with his shoe and got in a fistfight with a guest who tried to stop him. And when a black waitress failed to address him as "sir," he hit her across the buttocks with his cane, then hit her again, harder, until somebody grabbed him and she fled in tears to the pantry.

At some point during this chaotic evening, according to newspaper accounts, Billy Zantzinger bellied up to the bar and asked Hattie Carroll, a 51-year-old mother of nine and part-time barmaid, for a bourbon. She was busy and didn't pour it as fast as he thought she should, so he called her a "nigger" and a "black bitch" and he whacked her on the shoulder with his cane. She gave him his drink, but as he sauntered off, she slumped against the bar, looking dazed. "That man has upset me so," she told co-workers. "I feel deathly ill." Her words sounded garbled, like she had a mouthful of marbles, and her worried colleagues summoned an ambulance.

Eight hours later, Hattie Carroll died of a massive stroke. And Billy Zantzinger was charged with murder.

From the beginning, the case was a cause celebre -- a symbol of racism in Maryland, which was still largely segregated, particularly in its southern counties, where Billy Zantzinger oversaw his family's 630-acre tobacco farm. This was 1963, the year Bull Connor's cops fire-hosed black demonstrators, the year Medgar Evers was shot by a sniper, the year a Klan bomb killed four black girls in a Birmingham church, the year blacks and whites fired at each other from cars during the desegregation of Cambridge, Md. In this atmosphere, Billy Zantzinger found himself playing the villain in a racial morality play: He was the "rural aristocrat," as Time magazine put it, charged with murdering an ailing black grandmother.

That description was a bit overstated but not too far from the truth. Billy Zantzinger was the son of a prominent Washington real estate man who had served a term in the Maryland legislature and a stint on the State Planning Commission. His sister had made two debuts -- one at home and one at the Chevy Chase Club -- and both were covered by The Washington Post, which noted that the orchestra played a song written especially for her, which included the lyrics, "Sallie, Sallie, won't you please get off your horse and dance the Charleston with me." Billy too was a horseman; he loved galloping after foxes at the Wicomoco Hunt Club. He'd graduated from Sidwell Friends School in the late '50s, married and taken over the operation of West Hatton, the family farm in Charles County, a farm staffed largely by black workers who, unlike the waitress in Baltimore, did not forget to address Billy Zantzinger as "sir."

In the media, the case was painted in stark contrasts -- white against black, rich against poor, socialite against servant -- and the Washington Afro-American wondered: "Are they really going to try a well-to-do Southern Marylander for the death of a colored woman?"

At the request of the defense, the trial was moved from Baltimore to "neutral" Hagerstown. Zantzinger testified that he was so drunk that night that he had no memory of hitting Hattie Carroll. His defense centered on the contention that Carroll, an overweight woman with a history of high blood pressure, might have suffered her fatal stroke even if he hadn't hit her. The panel of three judges didn't buy it. They found Zantzinger guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to six months in jail.

That sentence outraged black Americans, who saw it as another symbol of unequal justice: A black woman's death is worth six months of a white man's life.

Bob Dylan was outraged too. Sitting in an all-night coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, the 22-year-old folksinger wrote a protest song, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," which he included on an album he called "The Times They Are A-Changin'." And Billy Zantzinger became a symbol of evil to kids who sat cross-legged in college dormitories strumming guitars and singing the ballad's haunting final refrain:

Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace

And criticize all fears,

Bury the rag deep in your face,

For now is the time for your tears. BUT THAT WAS 28 YEARS AGO. And the times, they did a-change.

Or did they?

Billy Zantzinger served his six months and came home to Charles County, where a lot of people -- a lot of white people, anyway -- thought the whole Hattie Carroll thing was blown out of proportion. Billy ran the farm for a while, then went into the real estate business. He moved up-county, to Waldorf, then to the two-acre place in Port Tobacco where he lives today. He raised three kids, divorced his first wife, married a second.

Charles County was changing -- tobacco farms yielding to Washington's suburban sprawl -- and Billy Zantzinger changed with it. The man who once symbolized the county's old rural aristocracy now cut a more contemporary figure, dealing in real estate and driving a Mercedes with the vanity plate "SOLD 2U." For a while, he ran a nightclub in La Plata, the county seat. He opened a little weekends-only antiques shop and he set himself up as an appraiser and an auctioneer. He was active with the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Hawthorne Country Club, and in 1983, 20 years after he went off to jail, he was elected chairman of the board of trustees of the Realtors Political Action Committee of Maryland.

All the while, he cultivated his reputation as a grinning, boisterous free spirit who threw some wild, crazy parties, including his famous annual pig-and-oyster roast. "He's a regular old Southern Maryland boy," said his friend Mike Sprague, a delegate to the Maryland legislature. "Nicest guy you'd ever want to meet." Billy's such a likable guy that when his name appeared on newspaper lists of people who'd failed to pay their county property taxes -- as it did fairly regularly -- a lot of folks would just smile and shake their heads and say, "Billy is Billy."

Nobody ever mentioned Hattie Carroll. It was just one of those things. He didn't mean anybody any harm, they said, and after all, Billy is Billy. Occasionally, a reporter would come around to do a story on the anniversary of the incident, but Zantzinger would inevitably refuse to comment. Slowly, Hattie Carroll was forgotten and Billy Zantzinger, the reluctant symbol, slid slowly into obscurity.

Until Wednesday, April 24, 1991.

That day, Billy Zantzinger became front page news once again. The Maryland Independent ran a story by reporter Kristi Hempel revealing that Zantzinger had been collecting rent for five years from several poor black families even though he no longer owned the houses where they lived. The county had foreclosed on the properties in 1986 because Zantzinger had failed to pay taxes on them. The houses, located in a place called Patuxent Woods, were battered wooden shacks, with no running water or toilets or even outhouses. The tenants had to dump their wastes in the woods, which polluted the water in their shallow hand-pumped wells. Not only had Zantzinger collected rent after losing the properties, he'd actually raised the rent, and he'd even taken some tenants to court for nonpayment. And won.

The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which mentioned Zantzinger's connection to the Hattie Carroll case. Soon, reporters from the Boston Globe, National Public Radio and ABC News were calling Zantzinger for comments. But he refused to talk.

The rest of the county talked, however. "You'd go out to have a cup of coffee or you'd go to a crab house," said Jim Simpson, a state senator from Charles County, "and everybody was saying, 'Did you hear about Billy Zantzinger?' "

With all its historical resonance and symbolism, the Zantzinger case compelled people to reflect on Charles County, and the issue became a kind of Rorschach test of attitudes on race and class. Some people blamed the county government for the problem. Some blamed Zantzinger and called for his arrest. Some, mostly newcomers to the county, were shocked that people still lived in such wretched conditions only 30 miles from the nation's capital. And some people, mostly old-timers in the county, predicted that Billy Zantzinger would get away with it. "He does have influential friends in high places," said Diana Hoxie, a real estate agent who once worked for Zantzinger. "And I've heard people say, very cynically, that they don't expect anything to happen to him."

Connie Dunbar heard that talk too, and it made her mad.

Dunbar, 40, is a gray-haired mother of three and a wholesale flower farmer. In 1980, she'd worked on the census, searching the back roads of Charles County for people who hadn't been counted. She found them living in old buses and bread trucks and chicken coops and shacks where the only running water was the rain that ran in through holes in the roof. Appalled, she began working with a church-based group called SMASH -- Southern Maryland Area Self-Help -- which has fought, with some modest successes, for better housing for the poor.

As weeks went by and Billy Zantzinger wasn't arrested, Connie Dunbar got angrier and angrier. After a month, she took to the phone, calling her SMASH contacts, organizing a demonstration to demand action. "If Zantzinger gets away with this," she told people, "we may as well pack up and move out, because that means everybody else will get away with it."

For the second time in 28 years, Billy Zantzinger had become a symbol that could move people to protest. ON THE DAY OF THE DEMONSTRATION, a fierce sun pushed the temperature up near 100 degrees, but a few dozen protesters appeared at the county government building anyway. Representing SMASH and the NAACP and the League of Women Voters and several local churches, the protesters carried signs that read "SHANTYTOWN" and "JUSTICE IN PAX WOODS" and listened as speakers demanded that the county enforce the state housing code and build low-income housing and, above all, that it prosecute Billy Zantzinger.

"If it was anybody other than Zantzinger, maybe I'd look at it differently," Golden Evans, president of the Charles County NAACP, said in an angry oration. "I have no sympathy for him because of the case back in Baltimore when he hit the black lady with a cane and killed her . . . I guarantee if I had been collecting rent on county property, I know where I'd be! I'd be in the Baltimore House of Corrections! Five years he collected rent on county property and nobody did anything about it!" Evans looked out toward Thomas "Mac" Middleton, president of the county commissioners, who was in the audience. "I'm gonna tell you, if you-all let him off with a slap on the wrist, then you-all ought to go to jail!"

"That's right!" somebody yelled back.

"He should be brought to justice!" Evans continued. "He should be charged with a felony -- fraud, theft, you name it! I don't know how you-all let him get away with it!"

When Evans finished, Middleton stepped forward to respond. The county, he said, had moved portable toilets and dumpsters into Patuxent Woods and was providing bottled water to the residents. The government was also trying to find new places for them to live, which wasn't easy. More than 2,200 Charles Countians were already on a waiting list for federal housing vouchers, and many of them, he added, lived in conditions as bad or worse than Patuxent Woods.

As for Zantzinger, Middleton assured the protesters that the state's attorney, Len Collins, was investigating the case, and that Collins was a "junkyard dog" of a prosecutor. "You look at 'L.A. Law' and all those shows on TV and you see how many cases are dismissed because of technicalities," he said. "Do you want us to act real quickly on this thing so that -- "

"Yes! Yes!" Evans yelled. "Because everything he did was wrong!"

"I assume that it's wrong too," Middleton said, "but I want to make sure he's done something. And I have a lot of faith in Len Collins . . ."

"Don't you believe that he's got your money pocketed?" Evans asked.

"Yes, I do," Middleton said.

"Then what else does he need to do wrong for you to research it?"

"We need the proof on it," Middleton said. "We need the assistance of the state's attorney."

"I hope you're right," Evans said, sounding unconvinced.

"I hope so too," Middleton replied. "I'm not going to speak of Mr. You-Know-Who because I don't want him, if he gets off, to sue the county for libel."

"I'll take that chance," Evans shot back. TO UNDERSTAND WHY BILLY ZANTZING- er provokes such passions, it helps to realize that the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation lies very close to the surface in Charles County.

Settled in the 1600s, the county was built on tobacco plantations, where the work was done by black slaves and the profits were banked by white owners. Emancipation did not change that situation much: Slaves became sharecroppers and life went on as always. "On the Eastern Shore and in southern Maryland, the Negro lives under much the same conditions his ancestors knew," observed the Maryland Writers Project guide to the state, published in 1940. "Dependent largely upon the generosity of a white employer or landowner, he is generally described in the phrase, 'Sure, I love niggers, the old-fashioned kind, that knew their place.' Of the 16 recorded lynchings in Maryland since 1885, 11 have occurred in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore."

For literally centuries, almost nothing changed in Charles County, including the population. The first census, compiled in 1790, counted 20,163 residents; the 1950 census counted only 3,000 more. (Today there are more than 100,000, most of them in the new commuter suburbs.) Well into the '60s, Charles County was a place where everybody knew everybody else and everything was strictly segregated -- schools, churches, buses, movie theaters, restaurants, doctors' waiting rooms, amusement parks, even the county fairs. It was a cruel system of public humiliations, designed to break a people's spirit. Salome Howard, now 69, grew up in it. She remembers going fishing with her sister near the seafood restaurants on the Potomac, the ones with the "whites only" signs. "We'd hear the music and the laughter and the tinkling of the dishes and the silverware," she said, "and all we could do was look in there."

In Charles County, the schools weren't fully integrated until 1967, 13 years after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation. Salome Howard taught in the black schools for 14 years, and she recalls bitterly that everything from the books to the buses came hand-me-down when white schools bought replacements. While she was teaching, Howard joined the NAACP, and she tells great stories of desegregating restaurants and holding a "shop-in" at a grocery store that wouldn't hire blacks.

In the '70s, she became president of the local NAACP, and she remembers informing her membership that the Z in W&Z Realty stood for Zantzinger. She didn't have to say much more than that. People remembered. "I thought, He'll never get any of my money," she said, and her members felt the same way.

This May, after the Patuxent Woods story broke, Howard was eager to join the demonstration that Connie Dunbar was organizing for SMASH. She took the top of a cardboard box and made a sign that summed up her views in one word: "SHAME."

On the way to the demonstration, she stopped at a liquor store to buy a lottery ticket and heard people talking about Zantzinger. "They said he should go to jail," she reported. "Every time his name comes up, people think about that time when he hit the woman with his cane because she didn't serve him fast enough."

"WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IS WRITE A story about the poverty-stricken areas of Charles County where this wealthy playboy was collecting rent, right?" said Eloise Crain. "That's not the story, not dredging up Billy's past. I don't know what you gain. . . If there was less talk about racial issues, there'd be less racial issues."

She lit another unfiltered Camel and took a deep drag. She's 70, with gray hair and a wonderfully weatherbeaten face, and she takes a feisty pride in using her deep, smoke-cured voice to speak her mind. "Every time you pick up the papers, the colored want something else," she said. ". . . I'm from the old school, where you only got what you worked for."

As she said that, she was sitting in a mansion she got by marrying into one of the most prominent families in Southern Maryland. The "Robert Crain Highway," Route 301, was named after her father-in-law, who was a corporate lawyer and Democratic Party power broker, as well as the proprietor of Mount Victoria, a 15,000-acre tobacco and grain plantation in Charles County. Eloise Crain moved there more than 40 years ago, when she married Bennett Crain, who was also a lawyer and prominent Democrat. A decade after his death, she still lives there. It's not as big as it used to be -- she's sold off some land -- but there's still a full mile's drive from the white gates that say "Mount Victoria" to the white house that sits high on a hill overlooking vast fields tended by her tenant farmers.

Billy Zantzinger used to live nearby, back when he was working his family farm, and Crain believes he got a raw deal in the Carroll case. "She died by a heart attack, not by him -- that came out in court," she said. "Billy was drunk, he was wrong, but is he going to have to pay for that for the rest of his life? And it's not just Billy, it's his children and grandchildren. He's been made into Peck's Bad Boy."

She was sitting in a room decorated with a dusty deer's head, stuffed foxes and pheasants and dozens of family photos, most of them in black and white. Three huge dogs lay at her feet. Somebody knocked at the door and they leaped up, barking furiously. It was a man looking to rent a place to live -- a room, one of the outbuildings, anything. He sounded desperate. She took his number, said she'd call him back. Then she sat back down and talked about Billy Zantzinger.

"The reason I think he got a bum rap is, he was drunk. He could have done it to a white person. Would there have been such a furor?" She doesn't think so. "I wouldn't condemn him." She won't condemn him over Patuxent Woods either. If the county government didn't realize that it owned the land, she said, then maybe Billy didn't realize that he'd lost it. "Was he notified?" She blames the "ineptness" of a county government that acted as a slumlord for five years without realizing it. "Where the hell was the county? What kind of railroad are we running?"

Many people in Charles County agree with her. Billy Zantzinger has a lot of friends there. He's a friendly fellow who mixes easily with all kinds of people. "He bridges the gap between the very important, very rich people and the rural blacks," said Diana Hoxie. "He's lived very closely with black people all his life. I don't think there's any racial prejudice in him at all." "He's a very likable person," said Sen. Jim Simpson, who has known him for 15 years. "Billy is Billy, that's the best I can tell you. I guess he's somebody that F. Scott Fitzgerald would write about . . . He's a free spirit type of person. He's unpredictable."

"He'd give you the shirt off his back," said Del. Mike Sprague, who has partied with Zantzinger in Charles County and out at Billy's place in Bethany Beach. "If you met him in a lounge or something, you'd like him. He's always smiling."

Sprague believes that the media distorted the Hattie Carroll case. "They made it sound like he was Rhett Butler riding around on a white horse with a whip," he said. "He was just an unfortunate victim of his times because in the '60s, with integration going on, that played well." Sprague's no fan of the Bob Dylan song either: "If Paul Anka wrote it, I'd be concerned," he said. "But that's just my personal opinion."

Sprague laughed when he talked about how often Billy's name comes out in the local newspaper's list of people who've fallen behind on their property taxes. "Billy has been toasted for delinquent property taxes just about every year," he said. "But continued on page 24 ZANTZINGER continued from page 15 there are five pages of people who do that. Billy just happens to be one of them."

Sprague hasn't made up his mind about the Patuxent Woods controversy. "Where was the fault?" he asked. "Whether it was with Billy or the county, I don't know." He is a bit chagrined that Zantzinger took the tenants to court to demand back rent, even after he'd lost the property. "I can see him collecting rent till doomsday," he said, "but taking them to court doesn't sit well with me." JOHN SAVOY IS ONE OF THE TENANTS Zantzinger took to court for late payment last spring, nearly five years after he lost title to the property. Zantzinger won the case too, getting a $240 judgment. Nobody ever asked him to prove ownership.

Savoy can still hardly believe it. "He carried me to court and he didn't even own the place," he said softly. He doesn't rant and rave about Zantzinger as some of the people in Patuxent Woods do. Maybe it's because he's 61 years old and too tired to fight. Or maybe it's because he always got along pretty well with Zantzinger, even cut his lawn a few times. Billy paid pretty good, he said -- $35 a day. "I never had any trouble with him."

Savoy, a former construction worker now living on public assistance, was sitting on an old couch in his four-room apartment on the bottom floor of a beat-up old wooden house in Patuxent Woods. He shared the place with two daughters, a son and a 5-year-old granddaughter. On the wall over his head hung a yellowing Mother's Day proclamation, a gift to his wife, who died last year. His granddaughter, Lakeisha, skipped through the living room and disappeared into the makeshift bathroom where a plastic bucket served as the family's toilet. The smell of urine hung in the air.

"I been here 14 years," Savoy said.

For 14 years, he heated the place by burning wood in a stove made from an old 55-gallon oil drum, and he drew the family's water from a shallow well out front. This spring, though, the county tested the well water, decided it was unfit to drink, and began providing the residents with bottled water. "I told 'em I drank it for 14 years and it didn't bother me," he said, "but they said, Don't drink no more."

For 14 years, John Savoy lived in Patuxent Woods and he never once asked Billy Zantzinger to install running water in the house. "I talked to the people who lived here and said, 'All of us should go over there and ask him.' I talked to them and they said they'd go but they never did. When the time come to go, they said, 'I got something else to do.' " And John Savoy figured there was no point in going alone: "If just one goes over there, he'll say, 'The rest of 'em got no complaints.' "

Besides, getting running water would no doubt mean a rise in the rent, which had already gone from $165 to $200 a month. "If he put water in, he'd raise the rent to $500," Savoy said. "And I wasn't getting enough money to pay for it." DAYS WENT BY AFTER THE SMASH DEM- onstration at the county government building and still Billy Zantzinger hadn't been arrested.

"We're reviewing the allegations," said Len Collins, the state's attorney. "It's a pending investigation. That's all I can tell you."

But that wasn't enough to stifle the rumors. There were rumors that Collins wasn't even investigating the case, and rumors that the county's records were so disorganized that it couldn't prove it had foreclosed on the property, and rumors that the county commissioners wanted to avoid a trial because it would reveal embarrassing information about them. But most of the rumors were based on the premise that Billy Zantzinger was too powerful and too well-connected to be arrested. After all, hadn't he been chairman of the realtors' PAC, a group that donated to the local pols' campaigns? And wasn't he a friend of Sen. Simpson? And a friend of Del. Sprague?

The county commissioners denied pressuring the prosecutor, and so did Simpson and Sprague. "That's an absolute fallacy, for Chrissake," Sprague said. "Nobody would try to intercede on behalf of anybody like that. The state's attorney is an aggressive young man and he wouldn't lay down on something like this."

But still, the rumors persisted. "OKAY, SLOW DOWN NOW," SAID LEO Smith. "It's easy to miss."

Smith, 73, a bald, bespectacled retiree and SMASH activist, was sitting in the front seat of Connie Dunbar's pickup truck, serving as navigator for a tour of local poverty pockets. Dunbar was driving down Route 5 in downtown Waldorf. She slowed down, easing past a Pizza Hut and a strip shopping center that housed a dentist's office, a tanning parlor and what used to be the office of former congressman Roy Dyson.

"Okay," Smith said, "turn down that little dirt road."

Dunbar turned down the road, which ran alongside a Sunoco station. The truck bounced over huge potholes, kicking up red dust. In a hundred yards, it went from 1991 to about 1931. Half a dozen tiny wood houses sat in a little clearing, their dirty white paint peeling in the hot sun. Only one had indoor plumbing. The rest were served only by an outhouse and a well with a hand pump.

Outside one house, a woman held her toddler's hand. She wouldn't give her name, said it might get her into trouble with the landlord. "You have to live somewhere," she said, and she'd lived here for eight years. She pays $105 rent. The one house with plumbing goes for $50 more. "My roof leaks, but they tell me they won't fix it because the rent is so cheap," she said. "I'm on a waiting list for low-income housing. I been on it since '85. Next year I should come up to the top."

As Dunbar drove out, she took a long look at a dilapidated old barn, trying to see if it was inhabited. It wasn't. Her days working on the 1980 census had taught her a lesson: "Don't ever assume," she said, "that a structure doesn't house somebody, be it a truck or a barn or whatever."

"There was a guy living in a packing crate near the sheriff's office in La Plata," added Smith.

The tour continued. There was a sagging shack and three battered trailers behind a row of industrial buildings in Waldorf. A tar-paper house hidden down a dirt road in Hughesville. A former motel filled with poor families in La Plata. A spring off Route 488 near La Plata where people who don't have running water come to fill up buckets and milk jugs.

"We're just showing you a few things that are close," said Smith. "Out in the county there are plenty more."

Statistics back him up. A 1985 survey found that Charles County led the state in homes without indoor plumbing -- 1,120 of the 30,000 dwelling units in the county. Tenants tolerate those conditions because they have nowhere else to go. The county has no public housing program of its own, and the waiting list for a federal housing voucher is more than 2,200 names long. In Charles County, people literally beg to be allowed to rent a shack with a dirt floor and no plumbing.

"That makes it very easy for somebody like Zantzinger to come along and take advantage of people who don't have any other options," Dunbar said. "It's the situation in this county that allows a Zantzinger to flourish."

She drove on. Along Route 301 in La Plata, about a mile from the county government building, Smith told her to slow down and look for a dirt road. She passed a 7-Eleven and a Long & Foster office, then turned down the road. It led to a cinder-block building with windows made of sheets of plastic. A wooden sign read: "The Jenifer Family. Welcome Friends."

Louise Jenifer came outside. She's 51 and lives with two daughters, a son and three grandsons, one of whom was born in April. The place had no running water, she said, but at least the owner let them live there for free. They'd been there a year and a half.

"Houses are hard to find around here," she said. "Every real estate place we went to, they put us on a list. And every time we go to government services, they tell us to wait two years."

"Where do you get your water?"

"Back here," she said. She walked down a hill, then followed a dirt path into thick woods. She stopped and pointed to a stream. It was about a foot wide and maybe an inch deep.

It was 1991 and she was standing about 40 miles from the White House. "ALL RIGHT, I GOT A HUNDRED," SAID Billy Zantzinger. "Who'll go a hundred-ten? Hundred-ten? Hundred-ten?"

He was auctioning off a house he owned in Rock Point, a little two-bedroom brick rambler on the Wicomoco River. He's a big guy, 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, with an impressive potbelly that makes him look a bit like Willard Scott, especially when he flashes his salesman's grin. He wore a red tie and a red hat with "Indiana" in white letters. He leaned against the front of a truck decorated with signs advertising his realty company and he barked numbers into a microphone.

"Who'll go a hundred-ten? Hundred-ten? Hundred-ten?"

Nobody in the audience, which numbered about a dozen people, was interested.

"Hundred-five? Hundred-five? Will you go a hundred-five over there? We got a house on 113 feet of water. Who'll go a hundred-five?"

Still no takers.

"I got a hundred-thousand dollars. Do I hear a hundred-five? Hundred-thousand dollars once. I'm gonna sell it! Hundred-thousand dollars twice. Sold. Thank you."

A reporter walked up, shook Zantzinger's hand, asked if he'd consent to an interview.

"No," he said softly. Then he turned away, picked up a plastic cup, took a long drink, did not turn back.

It wasn't surprising, of course. The last interview Billy Zantzinger granted was to a reporter from the New York Herald Tribune. That was in September of 1963, just before he went to jail. His quoted comments did not improve his public image. He showed no remorse about Hattie Carroll -- "I didn't do anything to her" -- and he scoffed at his six-month sentence: "I'll just miss a lot of snow." He said that he had more respect for some black people than he did for "white niggers." And he added this: "Hell, you wouldn't want to go to school with Negroes any more than you would with French people."

And his wife, Jane, chimed in with testimony to her husband's generosity: "Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here."

Since then, Zantzinger has declined to share his views with reporters, and his relatives have followed his lead. "I'm not going to contribute to another negative story," said his nephew Richard Zantzinger. "I know how mistreated a very kind-hearted man was by the press with stories about this godawful, racist, southern gentleman socialite. That's not what he is at all."

Zantzinger's ex-wife declined to comment too, asking that neither her whereabouts nor her last name, which is no longer Zantzinger, be mentioned.

Was she surprised to hear he'd been collecting rent on properties he no longer owned?

She burst out laughing. "No comment." IF THE COUNTY GOVERNMENT WON'T go to Patuxent Woods, Connie Dunbar thought, then why not bring Patuxent Woods to the county government?

So Dunbar and Leo Smith and other SMASH activists drove half a dozen residents of Patuxent Woods to the county government complex in La Plata one rainy morning in June. First, they went to the courthouse to visit Len Collins, the state's attorney, who agreed to talk to the residents and examine their old rent receipts and whatever else they thought might serve as evidence against Zantzinger.

After that, they walked across the parking lot to the county government building, the office of their new landlords, the county commissioners. It wasn't a long walk, but one of the tenants, George Tolson, lagged behind. He's 58, and after four decades of working the tobacco fields, he's got gout and his ankles are swollen to the size of softballs. He moves slowly and steps gingerly, like a man walking barefoot on sharp stones.

Inside the new government building, a secretary escorted the group into a fancy conference room with a plush pinkish-gray carpet on the floor and soft maroon chairs around a long polished table.

"First of all, an apology," said Mac Middleton, president of the county commissioners. "The county owned six units in Patuxent Woods and didn't know it until January. It's a big operation, the county."

Now, he promised, the county was taking steps to help them. They'd all been moved to top of the waiting list for federal housing vouchers, and he hoped they'd soon be in new quarters. Meanwhile, the county had applied for a federal grant to fix up "the deplorable conditions" in Patuxent Woods. When Middleton finished, the activists and the commissioners argued about the fine points of state housing law, and then Connie Dunbar asked if any of the Patuxent Woods residents wanted to say anything.

Nobody spoke.

"Come on," she said. "Mac won't hurt you."

Middleton laughed. "I don't get mad," he said, "or get even."

There was a long silence, then George Tolson raised his hand. "I'd like to stay there if the house got fixed up," he said in his slow, deep voice. " 'Cause I was born, but I wasn't born with no running water. And I can do without it." IN HIS OFFICE, DECORATED WITH PIC- tures of Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Middleton was talking about William D. Zantzinger.

"There's this eagerness to bring this man to justice, and I can understand it," he said. "To the people in the housing advocates community, this guy is like a mass murderer walking around loose . . . They see him as somebody who abused people even before he lost the units {in Patuxent Woods}. He created that slum situation out there and then he lost it, and he continued to profit from it. They see him as someone who has lived off, has derived an existence off, poor people, particularly poor black people."

Is that perception accurate?

"I think it's accurate," he said. "Knowing Billy Zantzinger . . . Billy's the type of person who . . ." He paused. "I shouldn't be saying this because I don't want the county to get hit with this. Can you turn off the tape recorder?"

Then he told some interesting stories about Billy Zantzinger at work and at play. All of them, unfortunately, off the record.

A lot of reporters have been asking Mac Middleton about Billy Zantzinger in the last few months. They've also been asking Middleton -- a 45-year-old former tobacco farmer who has served as president of the county commissioners since 1986 -- how the government could have owned Patuxent Woods for five years without knowing it. He invariably replies that the county had not yet inventoried its property. But he seems to sense that it sounds like a lame excuse. "I'm ashamed," he admitted. "It's an embarrassing situation."

He is also embarrassed, he said, by the larger housing problem -- the 1,100 families without indoor plumbing, the 2,200 people on the endless list for federal housing vouchers, the inevitable outpouring of public opposition to every proposal to build low-income housing in the county.

Charles County, Middleton acknowledged, has never enforced the state housing code that prohibits the rental of homes without plumbing and other basic amenities. But there's a reason for that, he said: The owners of the worst shacks would no doubt evict their tenants rather than spend thousands of dollars to bring them up to code. "Do you want to close up every unit in the county that doesn't meet the livability code?" he asked. "Where are these people going to go?"

It's a Catch-22: The county doesn't build low-income housing, and then, because there is no low-income housing, refuses to enforce the livability code.

Still, Middleton professes optimism. The intense interest generated by the Patuxent Woods controversy might, he said, create a coalition that can build low-income housing in the county. "It's time for us to start mobilizing. There's a chance for us to use this momentum to get us going . . . It's on the conscience of Charles County, and I'd like to keep it there for a while."

But the solution won't be easy, he said, because the problem is huge. He told a story: One day, about four or five years ago, a woman drove up to his farm in a car full of kids and asked if she could rent a crumbling one-room building on his property. It was a brooder shed, designed for raising baby chicks, and it was no longer even fit for that purpose. It had no plumbing, the concrete floor had broken into jagged pieces, and most of the front was missing.

"I said, 'Have you seen it?'

"And she said, 'Yes.'

"I said, 'You certainly don't want to move in there, do you?'

"And she said, 'Yes.'

"I said, 'I can't rent anybody that.'

"And she said, 'It's better than where we're living now.'

"I said, 'Where are you living now?'

"And she said, 'In my car.'

"In my car!" he repeated. BOB DYLAN HASN'T IMMORTALIZED Billy Zantzinger's latest controversies in a protest song. Nor has Bruce Springsteen or Tracy Chapman, or even Paul Anka, for that matter. The Patuxent Woods story just doesn't possess the dramatic symbolism that raised the Hattie Carroll story to the level of an anthem. Which may explain why, despite the best efforts of SMASH, the scandal seemed to gradually fade away, an outcome that suited Billy Zantzinger and many other Charles Countians just fine.

Then, a few minutes before 6 p.m. on June 5, 1991, Charles County Detective Eric DeStefano walked up the steps of W&Z Realty and served Billy Zantzinger with a summons charging him with the crime of "deceptive trade practice."

In the document, State's Attorney Len Collins charged Zantzinger with one count of making a "false and misleading oral and written statement" that had served to mislead a couple who had rented a house in Patuxent Woods a year earlier. The charge, a misdemeanor, carried a potential penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"You are summoned and commanded," the document read, "to appear for a preliminary Inquiry in this Court on 1 July 1991 at 08:45 o'clock AM . . ."

At 8:45 on the morning of July 1, a pair of newspaper photographers waited on the courthouse steps to snap pictures of Billy Zantzinger's arrival. Inside, Connie Dunbar was waiting too. Although she had organized the SMASH demonstration demanding Zantzinger's arrest, she felt no sense of triumph now. She was dissatisfied with the charge against Zantzinger and disillusioned with Collins. Why had he pressed only one count? she wondered. If Zantzinger misled one tenant, hadn't he misled the rest too? A couple of days earlier, the county had moved several Patuxent Woods residents -- including John Savoy's family -- into decent apartments, and more were scheduled to move soon. But, as Dunbar pointed out, for every Patuxent Woods tenant who moved to the top of the housing waiting list, there was another family that moved that much closer to the bottom. It was, she acknowledged, depressing. Still, she'd come to court this morning eager to see Billy Zantzinger brought to the bar of justice.

But it wasn't to be. As Dunbar stood near the crowd of defendants nervously waiting for the arraignments to begin, a policeman informed her that Zantzinger would not be coming. He'd hired an attorney who'd filed the necessary papers for him, and consequently he didn't have to appear until his trial, which was now scheduled for September 20.

Disappointed, Dunbar went into the courtroom anyway, just to make sure. The seats, which looked like church pews, filled quickly, but she found a space in the back. The judge began calling out names, and defendants paraded to the bench, where they hung their heads and listened as the judge read charges of disorderly conduct or possession of cocaine.

Dunbar rummaged through the crammed canvas tote bag that serves as her briefcase and pulled out a photocopy of a clipping she'd found in the SMASH office. It was a letter to the editor of the Maryland Independent, denouncing "the inhuman conditions that exist because of poor housing in our county." The letter was dated January 18, 1968.

Whispering, so as not to disturb the endless parade of justice, Dunbar read a passage that mentioned the appointment of an official committee to study the housing problem in Charles County. She laughed grimly. "They've been studying the problem for over 20 years," she said, "but they never solve it."

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