Follow the link if you missed The Legend of Dan Tondevold, Part 1.
A few folks asked me about my Part 2 article on Dan Tondevold. A couple waited for it and thought I just dropped it or forgot. Others had asked why I took it down after they read some of it, came back later and… it was gone. Well, things took another turn after it was posted- and for the better. While I researched this case on and off over the years trying to find more on Dan, it was only until recently I had learned he was much more than either a stranger, Hugh Berry in disguise or cheap fraudster that killed a man to fake his own death.
“My mother searched for him for years. She even went to a psychic trying to find him.” – Dan Tondevold’s niece, Dona’s daughter
Let me start by saying he is a real person. His name is Dan Tondevold. He had a family who loved him in both life and death. He also did some amazing things, sort of high profile and mingled with those in the upper crust that made me wonder how much Unsolved Mysteries invested in researching this case, or if they really gave a damn in the first place. Accusing someone of not only defrauding a little old lady is one thing, but murdering someone to fake your own death? Of course, if they’re dead and you know it, it’s not like they can “clear the air”. Surely he had family that would have stepped forward and try to do that, but they didn’t. Which adds more suspicion to the story.
But they did.
“I contacted ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ once I saw the episode which was a rerun at the time. I spoke to a few people including the Coroner, but didn’t get very far” – Dan Tondevold’s niece, Dona’s daughter
As I admitted in part 1, the segment on Dan Tondevold stuck with me since childhood. When I posted the story a month ago, the closet person I could find to knowing Dan Tondevold was distant relatives who knew his parents. What I was trying to establish at the very least, was that he was real and no perhaps not a persona taken over by a con artist. While Unsolved Mysteries states they found “a Dan Tondevold in a Las Vegas High School yearbook”, it’s kinda implied that perhaps it’s another individual altogether. Of course had they looked at yearbooks a little a more, like one he was in, they would know of another Tondevold, but more on that later.
Tondevold isn’t a common name, so looking for him wasn’t an extraordinary feat. While rather streamlined and simple, spellings of his name in legal and media records and piecing his life together during the gaps were not straightforward. After speaking with someone last year who was a descendant of the Tondevold family, I learned the name was in fact Norwegian, not Danish and she believes all the descendants come from one individual who migrated to Canada and his descendants primarily settled in Idaho, the Dakotas, Washington, Montana and Minnesota. She promised to do her very best to find out any further information on Dan. Then I forgot about it and researched other cases.
She kept good on her word though, and had reconnected with living Tondevold descendants. To get a better understanding of this, her relationship with them and for the sake of transparency; her maternal grandmother was a Tondevold, so she is one generation removed from the family name. But her grandmother and great-aunt were close, so both she and her mom are close with them. Unfortunately her cousin had only heard about Dan from her mother, who repeated what she had been told. Most of it had to do with the Unsolved Mysteries episode he was profiled in. She did say that Dan’s parents were originally from Idaho and his father was raised in a deeply religious family.
According to her grandmother’s bible, Daniel Sterling Tondevold was born August 26, 1933, to Glenn Sterling Tondevold and Leora Mary Thornen in Lewiston, Idaho. Dan had a sister, Dona Rae Tondevold born August 11, 1935, two weeks shy of being exactly two years younger than him. His father an electrician, found work in Las Vegas sometime after 1940. While there was a post-war boom after 1945, gambling and tourism didn’t take off until after 1950.
Shortly after Dan graduated high school, he and his father had an issue, Dan was gay.
When I first published the article, I incorrectly stated that Dan had also lost contact with his sister Dona due to the fallout between he and mother & father. At the time the best information I could get was from a distant relatives of Glen and Leora, so they likely heard it through the family rumor mill or speculated based on pieces of information they had. Dan not only stayed in contact with his sister, but was active in the lives of his two nephews and his niece. After posting the article his niece got in touch with me and was able to clear up a couple of things. I misspelled her mother’s name as Donna, it’s spelled as Dona. This appeared to be a common problem, and it’s a unique spelling. Census workers and her high school made the same mistake. I understand this well, as often folks misspell my first name as Damien and not Damion. Since I have not got her permission to publish her name yet, I must respect her privacy. According to her, her Uncle Dan was very involved in her life and his two nephews- more on this later as well.
Glenn died in 1959 and Leora died in 1980. I did find substantial corroborating evidence to this lead. I found Glenn’s World War II draft card, the family of four were listed in the 1940 Federal Census and I found Leora’s tombstone. They are both in the Social Security Death Index.
Dona married and they had three children, two sons and a daughter. Dona Haley died in 1995 in San Joaquin, California.
Turning Tragedy into Triumph
While Unsolved Mysteries did recover the Las Vegas High School 1951 yearbook, I managed to located a Las Vegas High School 1950 yearbook, Tondevold’s junior year. He was in the Thespian Club, and part of the Student Assembly Committee.
That same year, Dan Tondevold appeared in the Tuesday, June 20, 1950 issue of the Reno Gazette-Journal. The Las Vegas resident then 17, was attending an assembly at the old University of Nevada in Reno. He called the Reno Police Department to report that his suitcase containing his suit, socks, shoes and shaving/toiletry items was stolen from old University of Nevada gymnasium. He valued the loss at $250.
Pete Ballard told producers during filming that he located Tondevold’s original resume in Ellen Berry’s personal papers and had listed his hometown as Las Vegas, Nevada. Based on that lead, a researcher with Unsolved Mysteries found multiple photos of Daniel S. Tondevold in the Las Vegas High School 1951 yearbook. They stated he was a senior and president of the Thespian Club. There was a bit more than that. Not only was he President of the Thespian Club, he was a honors student, yearbook reporter, served on the Student Assembly Committee, was in the Biology Club, Chemistry Club and LAIR Club. He was also on the Tennis Team and was the lead in two plays that year. He graduated with Honors.
To outsiders Dan Tondevold’s life appeared to be on track- a young man couldn’t be in a better position at this stage in life. According to some sadly, things couldn’t be further from the truth.
Little is known about Dan Tondevold’s early home life who can speak as a direct witness to what occurred, however, according to distance relatives and through friends later in life- he often stayed at the homes of friends and was kicked out of his parent’s home shortly after graduating high school and he never spoke to his father again. Now in the spirit of fairness, I have not been able to clarify this with his niece. Dan’s sister Dona would have had the best perspective on this. So I caution if this snapshot is entirely accurate, however, his niece didn’t dispute that his relationship with his mother & father was strained. She may not know the specifics either. She said, “my Grandma Leora Tondevold always tried to make contact with my Uncle Dan and for some reason he didn’t want to be in her life”.
According to his niece, Dan spoke to his mother a few times after the death of his father, but they never reconciled.
Again, this could have just been rumors distant relatives heard, perhaps Dan told some friends of a few instances or even his father’s justification to be angry with his son. On the other hand, this wasn’t entirely uncommon in America either. Had Dan’s father Glen had a problem with his son’s sexual preference, enough to sever all ties with him, perhaps his mom Leora tried to reach out after her husband passed away? Maybe Dan wasn’t forgiving? Really all speculative at this point. Likely there is more to the story that Dan just never told. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that he was hurt.
On Saturday, January 2, 1954, 20 year-old Dan Tondevold was arrested and plead guilty on Jan. 13 to extortion. He called Roy Quenzer, a prominent baker and operator of Swiss Arts Bakery in Las Vegas. Tondevold called Quezner and told him he was going to write a series of letters that would “ruin the bakery operator” unless he paid $1,200. He told the master baker to put the money in an envelope and a man named “Danny” would be by to pick it up later that day.
Tondevold arrived as scheduled and picked up an envelope that unknown to him- had little cash and a few scraps a paper inside. As he walked out, he was apprehended by Las Vegas police. Roy Quezner had contacted Las Vegas detectives and they devised a trap. According to both Dan Tondevold and Roy Quenzer, they did not know each other. He told detectives he needed money, however, refused to tell them why he targeted the bakery specifically. He plead guilty eleven days later and according to a later article, a condition of sentencing was for Dan Tondevold to be committed to a mental hospital to receive treatment.
Sometime between 1954 to 1957, Dan Tondevold moved to the Bay Area in California, and was in a rather high profile relationship with Eric de Reynier.
In a rather interesting article in the Oakland Tribune dated May 23, 1957, Tondevold and Eric de Reynier were reported to appear in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Fourth Annual Concours d’Elegance being held that year at the Diablo County Club in Diablo, California.
Concours d’Elegance or “competition of elegance” originated in 17th century French aristocracy prior to the French Revolution. Society’s elite gathered at the parks in Paris on weekends and holidays during the summer. While some traveled great distances, many did not; but since they were staying for a few days, they would bring luxurious horse drawn carriages designed for comfort and recreational use. Sort of a precursor to high-end “campers” today.
In the past century, Concours d’Elegance evolved into an annual event held at different times of the year. Instead of carriages, they center on fashion, dog and car shows featuring classic luxury, antique & exotic sports cars.
According to the article, Eric de Reynier and Dan Tondevold were featuring their 1954 Rolls Royce. According to his niece, “he used to pick me up in The Rolls-Royce that you’re talking about and take me and my mom to San Francisco quite often when he lived there”.
Eric was 54 years-old at the time, Tondevold was just 24.
When information is limited on an individual, especially with a name like “Tondevold” which I’ve seen numerous different spellings, one of the best methods in locating and/or getting a better understanding of who they might be, is to skip-trace people associated with that individual. It not only gives you an idea of where to look for them, but more importantly, it can give you an idea of their social circles, lifestyle and profession.
Eric de Reynier was an interesting individual and I attempted to find out about his relationship with Tondevold. Eric was known in the Bay Area as “The Count of Oakland”, it was common knowledge that his family had come from nobility, but had to drop the title once his father fled to Switzerland from France in 1890, to escape persecution directed at the Huguenots. After spending three years at Stanford University, he finished his degree at the prestigious Collège de Sorbonne. After college he became an accomplished pianist, from 1935 to 1938, Eric worked on a percentage basis for Victor Sassoon at the Cathay Hotel in Shanghai. It has been said, that Eric made a hell of a lot more money than he ever would have with a top tier recording contact in that era.
In 1943, 40 year-old Eric de Reynier enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve to serve as a storekeeper attached to a Seebee unit stationed in Guadalcanal. Due to his pedigree and status in Oakland as successful businessman and property owner, they ran a story on him for enlisting. His father Eugene de Reynier was also interviewed in the article and jokingly admitted his son Eric was a modern “cosmopolite”. Eric, not only traveled the world and made friends everywhere, he mastered four languages including English. It not only appears that Eric made a lot of money during his years with Sassoon, his father was incredibly wealthy.
Aside from Concours d’Elegance, and often would showcase his collection for the public. He was an avid race car driver, long distance cyclist and even took up hang-gliding in in his seventies. Eric de Reynier had quite a luxury and sports car collection. A member of Sport Cars Unlimited, he often sponsored shows. At the International Sport Car Show held at the Oakland Expo building in 1952, he showcased not only the first Alvis TC21 in the state of California which only 757 were built, he showcased the TC21/100 “Grey Lady”; only 23 were ever produced.
It was no secret that Eric de Reynier was among the Bay Area’s upper crust. He owned a considerable amount of property in Oakland, Diablo and San Francisco, California. In 1989, Eric de Reynier passed away. He was 86 years-old and left behind his longtime partner, William Schang of Vallejo. William Schang was 69 years-old and would lose another lover in 2000.
Living the American Dream
According to passenger crew lists supplied to the Department of Naturalization and Immigration, Dan Tondevold left August 18, 1957 to travel to Tokyo, Japan from Honolulu, Hawaii. Then arrived back in Honolulu from Tokyo on September 24, 1957. Because Hawaii was a US territory at the time, he nor the airlines would not have supplied them passenger manifests. This will become relevant later as far as his career goes.
Then on March 8, 1958, he returned to Oakland from Mazatlan, Mexico. He listed an Oakland address as his residence.
Then on August 30, 1958, he returned to New York from Mexico City, Mexico. There may have been a subsequent connecting flight. Like it is today, he would not have had to been on manifests submitted to the Department of Naturalization and Immigration to travel into Mexico, but would on his return. He listed an address in San Francisco as his residence.
It is then I hit the jackpot, and have been able to substantiate the very earliest The Berry’s and Tondevold were good friends.
On Wednesday, October 16, 1968 at The Ladies’ Hermitage Association’s(LHA) Fall Outing, Dan S. Tondevold of San Francisco appears as a guest of the Berry’s . The event was held every year at the home of former President Andrew Jackson known as The Hermitage, a massive southern plantation near Nashville, Tennessee. The event was held at the Cabin-by-the-Springs on the plantation. Ellen McClung Berry was a member of the LHA and her husband Thomas Berry was a trustee.
In the book, The Animals: Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, which is a collection of love letters between the two men, there is a brief reference to Dan Tondevold who is in a relationship with Tony Harvey, British Actor turned director. The letter is dated April 18, 1969 and says,
“Jim says Tony Harvey is so hysterical and more and more I begin to feel he will throw up on this Cabaret project. He told Jim on the yesterday that he and Dan, after a year’s love, have come to an understanding. That is, Dan has agreed to live with him on the following terms- Tony must guarantee to earn at least as much money as he does! Shades of Krishnamurti! I opened his book at random and read an attack on marriage which is based entirely on the belief that it is a relationship like that”
According to the individual who complied their letters together, this was Dan Tondevold. Sadly, Harvey died about ten months ago before I could get more information on this “arrangement”. While it’s easy to be skeptical of this passage, I have yet to find a second Dan Tondevold in any official record and one in San Francisco. It matches the same time, area and considering that Dan Tondevold earned quite a bit of money, there is no reason to doubt that this is a different Dan Tondevold or a case of mistaken identity.
Why is this all important? As they say, the devil is in the details.
Issac and Mary Magnin, were Dutch born immigrants that first immigrated to England- got married, and subsequently immigrated to the United States after the California Gold Rush seeking riches. They settled in San Francisco, California, in 1875. Yes, the gold rush had been over for 20 years, but, there was also incredible wealth in San Francisco. Known at the time as the “City of Bachelors”, San Francisco, California, had a disproportionate number of men to women at the time. Due to the Gold Rush years prior, it had created enormous wealth and the city and it’s residents of mostly men, who were well know for men living a life of excess. Because of this, the district near the port was known as the “Barbary Coast”(named after the Barbary Coast of North Africa, a known pirate and human trafficking/slave trade haven for centuries).
The new money attracted everyone looking for fortune post Gold Rush. The transient population exploded for men looking for opportunities, leading to an explosion in violent crime. Organized crime set up operations and were entrenched in the area, setting up underground casinos, opening front bars and clubs that in additional to alcohol, sold drugs and pimped out effeminate men dressed as women, often transients desperate to survive. With the mafia in town, their main clientele were sailors and miners who spent all their hard earned cash in their dive bars looking for companionship and frequented their casinos, however, they became targets for muggings and beatings- accused of being homosexuals. So vigilante justice lead by the mafia ensued. Areas of the city became lawless, as police officers were either on the mob’s payroll or afraid to cross fellow officers who were “connected”.
In 1876, Mary Ann Magnin started I. Magnin, a department store named after her husband that focused on high-end fashion and luxury goods. Issac had many business connections in southern California, New Mexico and Texas. This gave them an assortment of vendors and they were also able to expand rapidly.
Oddly enough, in 1913, their son Joseph Magnin who was the operations manager of I. Magnin, left to start his own real estate firm. After success in real estate, he opted to get back into high-end retail and bought into Newman-Levinson, then changed the name to Newman-Magnin. Not long after, he bought out the remaining partners and changed the name to Joseph Magnin Co. and competed directly with his former company and family namesake- I. Magnin.
This infuriated the Magnin family. Since I. Magnin had many more stores and their own logistics team, they were able to move a lot more product and move it quickly and much cheaper. They forced their established providers to work with them exclusively, and they were barred from supplying Joseph Magnin Co. Not long after, Joseph Magnin Co. appeared to be second rate, as they sold cheaper mid-range fashions and goods. So, Joseph returned the favor by naming his stores “J. Magnin” to confuse customers with “I. Magnin”, which many walked into his store first and shopped there. While he remained competitive, Joseph Magnin was still far behind. So he and the directors came up with something to give them an edge. Joseph controlled a substantial amount of real estate, he and professional scouts would recruit upcoming talent in the fashion industry, going to New York, Chicago and as far as Paris and London. By working with Joseph Magnin, he would give them significant discounts to rent and build studios and production factories at properties he owned, many were upper floors above his stores which cut cut out all middle-man and transportation costs.
One of those talents was Eleanor Green and eventually would either win contracts with designers or he would buy the brand outright, which put Joseph Magnin in direct competition with I. Magnin once again. Business was going well and after World War II, Joseph turned over operations to his sons, with Cyril Magnin as president/CEO and chairman of the board. The brand focused on luxury and glamour. Each store would have a room called “Wolves Den”. There, men would be presented clothes and merchandise while being served martinis, cigars and sometimes hors d’oeuvres.
By 1969, Joseph Magnin Co. had grown to 33 stores stationed in the affluent neighborhoods in United States and Europe. Eventually the Magnin heirs wanted to make the they could and get out of the retail business to start new ventures. Cyril Magnin received an offer from Amfac, Inc.(short for American Factors Incorporated), a once dominant sugar company that evolved into land development company headquartered in Hawaii. Then president of Amfac, Henry Alexander Walker, Jr. would buy J. Magnin, and Cyril would remain chairman of the board, however, a substantially smaller stake in the company. In just four years under Walker’s leadership, Amfac acquired 42 different companies, many were stable retailers, but others were distressed companies in foreclosure, that had massive amounts of property. At one point, Amfac had over 60,000 acres of prime real estate between Hawaii and coastal areas.
In the late 60’s, speculators, hedge-fund managers and investors were banking on a new idea, a new market with unlimited potential. They focused on the Far East. China and Japan had been isolationist nations, their economies cut off from American executives who were looking to cut labor costs, find new customer bases and thrust America into a service economy. With the war waging in Vietnam, most investors bet that Japan was the safest bet. Their economy was stable and their social views were already considered westernized. One of the most vocal executives about penetrating the Far East, was Robert A. Berry, who was a vice-president at Neiman-Marcus.
Amfac, Inc. began to court Robert A. Berry. A World War II Army Air Corps fighter pilot, Berry was shot down and was held as a POW in Germany for six months until the US liberated concentration camps at the end of the war. Berry, then went on to graduate from Stanford and then went on to Harvard business school. To this day, he is highly regarded and considered a trailblazer… a maverick… and legend in the modern retail industry.
As a vice-president at Neiman-Marcus he was able to close major deals with vendors and be the first to campaign new styles. He’s often credited for ushering in fashions of the upper-middle class and the elite, nearly doubling their projected revenues during his tenure. He was highly sought after and Cyril Magnin was bought out, Walker, Jr, offered him a position of President and CEO of Joseph Magnin Co.
In 1973, Robert Berry’s first move to open retail stores in Japan, starting with their Tokyo location- something no other American retailer had done. Japanese and US relations were still normalizing since World War II. One of his first orders was to market the Joseph Magnin Co. brand as “JM”. He felt too many high end retailers carried similar names that sounded like law firms. JM was “simple, chic, slim and memorable”.
Speaking to staff and the press at the Century City JM, he was the first to ride up the newly installed escalator that went up only. Puzzled, he explained, “The ride up and walking down way of shopping is a custom in Japan-one custom we’re observing mainly because it saves space, and as you know, space in Japan is at a premium”.
It was then Berry revealed that the three key players from Joseph Magnin Co. San Francisco were opening their flagship store in Tokyo, October of 1973. One thing nobody knew until, they had already there.
Heading the team was Joseph Magnin Co. San Francisco, Director of Merchandise Daniel Sterling Tondevold.
Tondevold had Emily Lee, Director of Divisional Merchandise and Display Director Don Crawford. The plan was for the remaining management to be Japanese nationals. It was a two year contract with an option to return, and because of the high cost of living, according to Robert Berry, “They are receiving overseas bonus pay and we’re leasing their apartments for them”
“It’s a bold move”
The Grand Opening of Joseph Magnin, Co. in Tokyo, was a three day international spectacle that took place on the world stage. Fashion icons Liz Claiborne, duo Shannon Rodgers & Jerry Silverman and Edwin Schulman had never set foot in Japan, but arrived to see the biggest names in Japanese show-business in attendance wearing their designs. Dozens of diplomats from the US State Department, including then Ambassador to Japan and future Deputy Secretary of State Robert S. Ingersoll and his wife were in attendance along with their Japanese counterparts. Dozens of Far East ambassadors from NATO member states saw it as an opportunity to meet with the Japanese officials and their elite. Corporate executives from every industry all over the world were in attendance with hundreds of Tokyo VIPs, many who forge partnerships not long after.
Overseas guests were flown in first-class on Japan Air Lines and provided accommodations at the luxurious Okura Hotel in Tokyo for three nights, a state-of-the-art and high security hotel which has housed every President of the United States since Richard Nixon. Every evening the guests were treated to cocktail parties, dinners and entertainment at geisha houses and provided gifts, courtesy of JM and the Empire of Japan.
The international press was in full force, including NBC filming the event as part of a much larger documentary. While J. Magnin was the first American retailer to open on Japanese soil, it was much more than that on the world stage. At the height of the Cold War, this was the start of an American and Japanese partnership. The emergence of a global free market economy, punctuated by wealth, luxury and excess. Tokyo JM Number One, was the first of eleven stores planned in Japan. Robert Berry saw it as an opportunity to bring together partners from all over. Unlike all the other JM stores outright owned by Amfac, Inc., Number One was a joint venture and first of several partnerships with C. Itoh & Co. & Dei’Ei Inc.
The main event kicked off at the luxurious Tokyo JM Number One with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Aside from the three Magnin San Francisco operating managers, all management staff were Japanese. Twenty-six sales women dressed up in terracotta JM uniforms with bows in their hair, reminiscent of the popular yet stereotypical grade school sailor look- lined up behind a podium as JM President Robert Berry, Director Dan S. Tondevold, and numerous executives gave speech after speech to whistles and applause. For now man of the hour was President Robert Berry, who long with Mrs. Ingersoll, wife of Ambassador to Japan Robert Ingersoll, cut the ribbon with a pair of solid gold scissors.
Former New York attorney turned fashion icon, Jerry Silverman exclaimed to the press, “The Japanese women are elegant, chic, feminine and seductive and on our wavelength. And they was to please! Gloria Steinem is not here yet!”
Tondevold exclaimed from the podium, “Just show me the Jerry Silvermans, please?”, then a popular phrase in the haute couture circles.
Everyone’s attention quickly turned to JM’s Director of Merchandise, forty year-old Daniel S. Tondevold who Berry had enlisted to spend a significant amount of time in the country. When he was asked whether or not he believes new American fashion trends would be embraced by Japanese women, Tondevold replied, “They accept and like the new almost immediately. They have a great eye for style”.
Magnin President Robert Berry agreed with his young director, “When they see the absolute fashion look they take to it, immediately”.
Prior to the Grand Opening, fashion designers whose clothing lines were contractually Magnin exclusives had expressed concerns on whether their lines would carry over to the Japanese market. Tondevold appeared to not only know his product, but the market and the customer. He eased their prior concerns and stated that their efforts were first aimed at the “18 to 24 age bracket. This is our market”.
He then explained, “After that we try to carry our customers through. We start by selling sportswear to them as young girls… As time goes on, bring them to American couture. American high fashion”.
Dan Tondevold and his two other managers had spent a significant amount of time in Japan prior to launch, learning the culture, the language and then recruited and trained a Japanese staff. This was a significant investment not only for Magnin, but the Japanese.
“They’re different than us”, many designers spoke within earshot of the press.
Perception is reality. It was just a generation ago the Japanese were our enemy, attempting to destroy us. Years of public perception influenced by years of government propaganda, ignorance and fear had created misunderstandings, so Americans were naturally interested on whether or not these characterizations of the last few decades were true. Suddenly all the questions centered on the men and women of Japan, less on the business, diplomacy and trade.
“How do they travel?”
“How do they treat staff?”
“How they paid for items, was there a market for high end fashion?”
Only Dan Tondevold could answer the media and Robert Berry didn’t mind, not one bit. Tondevold knew the answers and handled the press.
Tondevold spent a significant amount of time dispelling rumors and perceptions of the Japanese that had circulated for decades. The one question he absolutely refused to answer was about his Japanese employee’s wages. He did explain that there was a difference “in culture and customs” when it came to wages in Japan. One custom he explained that was interesting, was that it was customary for employers to pay for their staff’s time and expenses travelling to and from work. While it was not law, it was their culture, and it was something Dan Tondevold said, “We respect and honor”.
“The way I hear it compared”, Tondevold explained, “is to say that Americans work in order to play, while the Japanese work to live”.
On the last day of the JM’s Grand Opening three-day extravaganza, designer duo Shannon Rodgers & Jerry Silverman, Liz Claiborne, Magnin President Robert Berry, San Francisco native Jane Rees who resided in Tokyo for twenty years and traveled the world as a columnist for Asahi Evening News the past twenty years was just a few high profile names in attendance, along with many others. They all had gathered at Daniel Tondevold’s “apartment” described as a Far East “palace” that overlooked all of Tokyo. Serving guests with the finest champagne and cheese blintzes whipped up by Joan Itoh, Tondevold and Silverman went back and forth about the next city JM was to “invade”, by opening a second store.
Lawyer turned fashionista now visionary, Jerry Silverman looked out the window at all of Tokyo, squinted his eyes, stretched out his arm and said, “Can’t you see it? Masses of flowers… and the Emperor and Empress present!”
Everyone applauded. It was one hell of a night to remember.
It’s unclear when exactly Dan Tondevold returned to the United States, but he was employed with JM until Amfac sold it in 1977 to a private equity firm. Just a short time later in 1978, Dan Tondevold would arrive in Berrymount. According to his niece, the last time she saw him and spoke to him was in 1979 when she was pregnant with her daughter. Sadly, he drifted from a family that loved him very much. During his time at Berrymount, his family had no idea where he was and were concerned. His sister Dona searched for him for years according to his niece, “My mother searched for him for years. She even went to a psychic trying to find him”.
You already know the rest of the story.
Transitory Periods of Common Sense
Looking for words to describe my theory on what exactly occurred in this Unsolved Mysteries episode, I watched the episode several times thinking that just maybe, I missed a critical detail or evidence presented. Then a few other cases on the show came to mind, which without a shred of evidence took very similar liberties and I was going to use them as examples to provide evidence to my theory. Then I flipped through notebooks and read through my investigative journals and came across one particular quote by John Cosgrove I documented.
In one of the DVD commentaries John Cosgrove actually summed up precisely what I was attempting to convey,
“The interviews were so important to the way Unsolved Mysteries was produced. People would think that the most important thing was the recreations, but really, having articulate people who can summon up the emotions of what it felt like[was key]”
Director Keva Rosenfeld later stated:
“You trusted the interviews, if you didn’t have that, you didn’t have a good episode”
Cosgrove and Rosenfield’s admissions is exactly what often put the show into an unsettling tailspin of dubious perpetuity. Using veneer not only to conceal damage, but to sell it “brand new”. Interviews certainly are the most important element to a “true story”, especially if that is the only evidence of the mystery available. In criminal investigations and general fact-finding inquiries, while it’s common knowledge that interviewees or shall I say “witnesses” are not infallible- it’s imperative that they’re credible and reliable. Simply put, they must honestly believe what they are saying is true. If they are unreliable or worse, misleading or deceptive, the premise of the entire episode is nothing but fiction.
We don’t know if the lead interviewee is credible or not. While Cosgrove and his staff could never be 100% sure, I as a consumer, expected due diligence on their part. You should too, unless Jersey Shore and the culture in the White House is your thing and divine truth at face value.
By John Cosgrove’s own admission, reliability and credibility is irrelevant though. The interviews are simply “articulate enough to drum up emotions”, because they are operating under the presumption we, the audience trust the process. This undermines the shows premise as a whole. Here we are exploring Unsolved Mysteries, but the goal isn’t getting the facts and presenting the truth as accurate as possible or to the best of our knowledge. This is no different when Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger produced Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills- interview after interview for decades, Joe Berlinger peddles that the goal of the documentary wasn’t “fact-finding” or at very least an “exposé” but subjective activism, a distortion of facts and reality to provoke the audience:
“I totally acknowledge that this film is very subjective. Hopefully what the film is doing, and why I feel OK about the subjectivity, is that we’re going for a higher emotional truth”
Joe Berlinger – interview Industry Central presents “The Director’s Chair”
Subjectivity in the name of “higher emotional truth” is not only fraud, but a dangerous game. Subjectivity has no place in documentary film making or being presented in the mainstream in quasi-journalism presented as a “fact-finding” Let’s be honest here, there are plenty of real Unsolved Mysteries which we do not know the answer to, however, to undermine your own credibility, simply to create a mystery out of whole cloth because there is nothing there in reality. It’s no different than when tabloids set up “tip lines” and publish whatever people tell them on those “tip lines”. Who cares if it’s true, we were provided a tip and published it. As time goes on, an evolving culture of outlandish and unsubstantiated claims thrives. Then it becomes the norm and ordinary, then ultimately the standard.
This ploy is used today by filmmakers today, when they claim a film is “based on a true story”. At first this was limited to the occasional film, but now every other film claims to be such. While some say it’s creative, it’s also lazy. Writers know that by claiming something is based on truth in part, if the plot is not sound or plausible, the fault is glossed over because they’re just telling the story that unfolded, not create it.
At the end of the day, it was lazy and simple hit job. It was quite obvious Tondevold was dead and without good folks to step in on his behalf. In 1985, a gay man in a frail state of mind was used to produce a cheap episode. Who really was going to intercede on his behalf?
Evidence & Analysis
Where do we begin?
As John Cosgrove summarized in his DVD commentary the foundation of each episode is not the re-enactment, but “having articulate people who can summon up the emotions of what it felt like”.
Keva Rosenfield affirms this right after Cosgrove, “You trusted the interviews, if you didn’t have that, you didn’t have a good episode”.
What is a re-enactment or more importantly what is a re-enactment to a viewer? It is the acting out a past event and in this case, what leads to a mystery. Cosgrove and Rosenfield knows the viewer is watching, and confident that they[Cosgrove and co] are presenting the case in good faith. What the interviewee tells us has been vetted by a fact checker and researcher, to the best of their ability. Obviously they cannot find a ghost or UFO, but then again, the operators of a UFO are not going to file a lawsuit for accusing them of destroying corn fields.
The problem with this Unsolved Mysteries segment is the same problem we have today with millions of YouTube videos, podcasts and other media platforms where anyone with a modest investment can be presentable & articulate and act sincere as they narrate or pontificate from a professional looking video created by software. Then without opposition or someone to at least correct them accordingly, they’re allowed to distort facts, spin, grossly exaggerate, outright lie and then tell you how to interpret information.
This isn’t limited just to radicalized individuals pushing a political agenda from their momma’s basement either. Major production companies and news agencies who claim to be accurate and balanced have engaged in this behavior. Over and over again, they’re fact-checked, and clearly lying and causing a stir.
Regardless, Pete Ballard’s interview though articulate and well thought out, is unreliable from the start. There is no evidence to support his claim. Aside from a fifteen year-old resume and classified ad in the Post and Courier for a South Carolina individual to go back to Berrymount with Ellen Berry- there is nothing. Rather than it indicating that Dan Tondevold faked his own suicide by killing a lookalike and then shooting both he and Ellen’s dog, I believe it indicates his concern for Ellen, perhaps someone to travel back with her and fill in the void his death will leave.
I could end this analysis here, because other than Pete’s accusations, not a shred of evidence corroborates his claims.
Examining the Relationship of Dan Tondevold and Ellen Berry
We know that The Berry’s knew Dan Tondevold at least since 1968, which they invited him as a guest to the Ladies Hermitage Association. Ellen was a member and Thomas was trustee. Sources state that Thomas and Ellen met Tondevold, at a clothing store in San Francisco, which Dan worked at J. Magnin and lived in San Francisco. Perhaps he reminded them of Hugh, or perhaps the son they always wanted? Professional, intelligent, good looking and carried himself as a successful socialite and wealthy businessman. He amazed them. He was in their likeness, their image.
We do know for an absolute fact that Tondevold didn’t just show up at Berrymount one day. Tondevold was going to write a book and Mrs. Berry asked him to come and stay at Berrymount and live out of the guest house. This way, he could tend to the needs of Ellen Berry, take her places and manage the finances and operations of Berrymount. The most important thing was companionship. Also keep in mind, Ellen had a staff on hand that included a live-in cook and maid. Certainly would have had gardener or two during the spring and summer seasons.
Unsolved Mysteries and Pete failed to convey and express, that this was a seven year relationship between Ellen Berry who lost her son and husband and Dan Tondevold who had no family.
During Pete and Officer Dean Smith’s interviews, it’s almost perpetuated that Tondevold showed up at Berrymount one afternoon, stayed for a couple months and swindled her out of her money. Sure Robert Stack mentioned the year he showed up, in 1978 and then when Tondevold was made her “power of attorney” in 1982, but none of them speak of their relationship of seven years. Ballard, who is supposed to be a good friend of Ellen Berry’s, was trusted enough to go through her paperwork, yet he conveys as if he only met Tondevold a few times in passing over the course of those seven years.
Sorry, but this is not a con-artist gaining the trust of a mark over the course of a few weeks or months. This was in fact a seven year relationship which is unprecedented for con-artist . Perhaps this is why Pete Ballard and producers veered away from the subject?
Examining the Evidence of Wrongdoing and Motive (or the Lack Thereof)
If I had one question for show producers, Cosgrove specifically, I’d ask if they contacted their NBC legal department or their film vault and looked through the film catalog for some of those profiled on the show? It’s very possible they could have had a lead from the beginning. A NBC film crew was in Tokyo, in 1973, covering the JM opening over the course of three days. They were filming a documentary about Japan and the first retail store opening in Japan was the beginning of an economic pact that would propel the Japanese economy from fourth in the world to second- until the United States entered a trade agreement with China. The footage taken for that documentary was reviewed again for additional shots when they were filming another documentary called, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?”
It’s unclear if anything of substance was used from the 1973 documentary, but it would be interesting to find out if Dan Tondevold is in the NBC vault. While it’s very possible Tondevold’s name wasn’t cataloged in their film archive, we simply don’t know. We do know that they were at an international event which Dan Tondevold gave numerous speeches and was the head man of the operation. While I certainly could understand if it wasn’t a standard practice by UM researchers to search NBC archives or legal, or they did and he’s not in it, the question is, did they try?
Dan Tondevold was not a tramp by any means. He was successful- a bilingual high level executive in the retail industry at it’s height. In the 70’s, retailers and malls exploded across the United States, breaking into new markets such as Europe and the Far East which lead to profits unimaginable. For whatever reason he decided to get out of the industry, whether he burned out, couldn’t find employment elsewhere or simply abandoned it all to help out Ellen Berry, we’ll never know. While we don’t have a snap shot of Dan Tondevold’s financial situation, it’s safe to assume he made quite a bit of money.
One thing we know for a fact, Ellen Berry’s financial situation isn’t that clear either.
The most tedious and burdensome investigations an investigator can take on is fraud and/or embezzlement. Reason being, the sheer amount of documentation involved in financial crimes. Certainly officer Dean Smith and Pete Ballard went through all of Ellen Berry’s financial records, before making this accusation? One thing is for sure, neither men produced a single financial record that showed that Tondevold transferred funds to foreign banks.
At no point are we given a snapshot of Ellen Berry’s worth around 1978 nor are we given any evidence of Dan Tondevold liquidating her accounts, stocks, bonds, properties and antiques. We do know that Ellen and Thomas Berry were making their money by flipping houses- taking small mountain top and mountain side homes, turning them into beautiful palatial estates. They added thousands of square footage, cathedral ceilings, importing plants to fill acres of gardens. This all stopped after Thomas Berry passed away. There was little income by Ellen Berry’s standards, only interest coming from their $300,000 endowment to the University of Tennessee. We do know that Ellen had a staff on hand at all times that included a cook and a maid. Also, she had Dan Tondevold which probably received a salary as well.
By 1983, Ellen Berry also financed Dan Tondevold’s personal hobby, seven Tennessee Walking Horses, which each were named Berrymount with numbers 1 though 7 to identify them individually. It was said to have cost upwards of a million dollars. Charlene Freeman, Dan Tondevold’s personal assistant, whose service was also financed by Ellen Berry, explained that when someone pointed out that Tondevold had spent her money on expensive horses, Mrs. Berry made it clear, “Mr. Tondevold’s hobby didn’t make a dent in my fortune”, that, “[It]was a hobby, I wanted him to have them”.
I’m certain that Dan Tondevold and Ellen Berry didn’t personally take care of the horses, boarding them at a farm or stable is expensive and having someone feed, brush and train them is expensive. It’s no secret that Ellen Berry and Dan Tondevold were accustomed to the high life. Tondevold lived the high life since he was 24 years-old when he was with Eric de Reynier.
Pete Ballard and Officer Dean Smith at the very least had to have Mrs. Berry’s bank and investment statements and balances of her money and real estate records obtainable through the tax assessor county records- which is public record, before Daniel Tondevold’s arrival at Berrymount? At least one record of a savings, personal or business account he liquidated? Certainly Cosgrove would have required evidence of such?
Perhaps it’s just simply not true?
Surely a sharp Ellen Berry who after spending four months on Fripp Island with “staff” on hand, arrived at Berrymount with her phone and electric cut off, yet never filed a single police report. She never made any declaration, signed an affidavit or filed suit against the estate of Daniel Tondevold once he was declared deceased? Just in the event he had assets tied up somewhere?
She didn’t. In fact, she never told a single soul that Dan Tondevold took her for everything. Now one can remain subjective here and simply claim “Yes she did, Unsolved Mysteries just didn’t show it”
I can assure you, had Mrs. Berry filed police reports or a lawsuit against the estate of Dan Tondevold, this would have been featured on the show.
Once again, perhaps it’s just simply not true?
This case is really simple, once you get past the “higher emotion truth” distortion by Cosgrove and Keva Rosenfield. The question really is, how much money and assets did Daniel Tondevold defraud Ellen Berry of?
If you’re smart, you’ll see what I’m getting at here. Before we even get into Dan and Ellen’s relationship that lasted for years, we have nothing, not a single record that can substantiate the worth of Ellen Berry. The one single crime that is traceable and will produce a bevy of evidence, no matter how sophisticated the embezzlement and theft is- not one police report or bank record is presented.
Sadly, this is another “Unexplained Death” segment on Unsolved Mysteries, typically reserved for parents who cannot accept their child’s suicide which producers inject a “sinister element” that not one shred of evidence supports. Not a single one. While I’m not completely opposed to the show exploring possibilities and different avenues even with minimal evidence, what makes this despicable, is that this was at a man’s expense, one who had been institutionalized for mental issues once before. It’s quite evident that Dan Tondevold was not just some scrub who lived up on an old woman, but a successful man, who contributed so much more and perhaps his only crime was assisting in spending a wealthy woman into oblivion. Then again, what if he put his money up as well? Without financial records, we don’t know what Tondevold spent, more importantly, where the money was spent. They sure the hell offered no evidence of embezzling it- no transfer in Ellen or his name to foreign banks, buying stocks and bonds or real estate, how most would liquidate another’s wealth.
I’m sure the 1954, arrest that Unsolved Mysteries researchers couldn’t find seals the deal in the minds of the show’s devotees, who now learn that Tondevold was a thief and con-artist.
Now it is no secret that a significant portion of runaways and teenagers kicked to the streets are gay(much worse fifty years ago). Whether due to lack of acceptance by one or both parents, their community around them and the “culture” of America in general. That brings us the incident on June 20, 1950, Dan Tondevold a Las Vegas High School honors student was taking summer classes at the University of Nevada. While at an assembly, his suitcase with his suit inside was stolen. The yearbook states he is an honors student, two newspaper articles state that he was taking summer classes at the University of Nevada- between his junior and senior years. We have to wonder if he even had a place to stay. He’s taking a summer classes 450 miles from home, yet has a suitcase with his suit at an assembly? Not at a dorm, hotel or friends house?
Then comes the arrest of Tondevold in June of 1954 for extortion. He was 20 years-old. While this arrest very well may have been out of desperation, there are few things that bothers me with the whole ordeal.
What bothers me most is the plea deal that involved him being committed to a “mental institution” . In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I) as a disorder. Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that Tondevold approached the judge and claimed to be homosexual. Shortly after his arrest, eleven days to be precise, he plead guilty. While the crime, yes stupid, I’m really not seeing how the judge agreed that extortion was out of a mental disorder. This was a Clark County Circuit Court judge in Las Vegas after all. I’m sure he’s seen his fair share of extortion attempts and protection dues from mafia shakedowns, due to the mob explosion after 1952 when seven mob connected casinos were built.
Another strange element about the extortion attempt, what possibly could “Danny” write about the “master baker” that he felt would destroy him? One thing Las Vegas detectives told the paper, Tondevold “refused to answer why he targeted the bakery or Roy Quenzer”. The owner was adamant he didn’t know Dan. Is it possible that Dan was abused or a jilted lover seeking revenge? Is that why Dan or the judge felt he had a mental disorder that required him to be committed? One can assert that there is no proof. Well there is as much proof as he swindled an old lady out of millions, killed a man and is living it up somewhere reading about himself as you are. What we do know for a fact, is that by 1957 he was living in San Francisco with Eric de Reynier, both open and proud gay men. Eric was 30 years Tondevold’s senior.
The problem with the Dan Tondevold story begins with Pete, who by the end of the episode simply admits,
“You can’t negate the possibility that he[Tondevold] did indeed kill himself, that’s possible. I just don’t believe it. It doesn’t make sense to me that somebody who went to all that trouble to get all that money and to be as nefarious about the whole thing from beginning to end as he was, was out to kill himself“
Trouble indeed. An incredibly intelligent and successful gay man left San Francisco, to spend seven years with an old lady he knew for almost 20 years to defraud her? It doesn’t make sense. Deprives himself of love and a lasting relationship, which he typically had with other successful men?
I’ll add a final and probably the most crucial caveat that perhaps will put an end to this once and for all, Tondevold’s Redemption- In April of 1982, Dan Tondevold became Ellen Berry’s Power of Attorney. Legally and technically speaking, he no longer needed her signature for anything. Tondevold could take out lines of credit, mortgages, second mortgages, reverse mortgages, etc…etc… Why would he wait an additional three years and spend thousands, possibly millions of more dollars? Why blow a million of those dollars on horses that he wouldn’t be keeping? A significant waste for someone planning on defrauding someone he was already Power of Attorney over, yet burning a million of liquid cash.
For someone so greedy and nefarious, hard to imagine he’d allow Berrymount go for a paltry $85,000.
While Arthur “Pete” Ballard and Officer Dean Smith of the White Pines Police Department is certain that she was defrauded of her money by Tondevold, there are a litany of problems with the theory, not just from a standpoint of financial and circumstantial evidence, but a lack-thereof.
It’s not hard to imagine that two people with a full-time staff and no income to burn through a chunk of money over seven years, especially if you’ve blown a million dollars on Tennessee Walkers.
Is it really hard that to imagine that Ellen Berry, perhaps the only family that Dan Tondevold felt he had at that point, was months away from financial ruin and Tondevold took her on a final trip, hoped to find suitable replacement and spent every last dime before he took his life? Of course, Dan may had been sinking in despair and his own mental demons eating him alive slowly over the years as he further isolated himself from those who truly had his best interests in mind, instead to be at Ellen Berry’s beck and call.
Like Ellen Berry, this was a man who had everything and for the first time in his life, he couldn’t pay for anything. While he had a family that loved him, we just don’t know what his state of mind was, we sure as hell known that “Grande Dame of the Old School” probably didn’t give a damn either. In the end, contrary to Pete and Ellen’s standards, she certainly didn’t live the rest of her life in squalor.