Hartford, Connecticut, Courant – January 30, 1983
Fred Curry, with muscled arms, a gnarled face, a cauliflower ear and a mane of wiry, black hair, roams the “cage” in Hartford Superior Court.
His dark eyes dart from beneath bushy, black eyebrows; when he growls, his face is shadowed with fearsome wrinkles. But when he smiles, showing his gold-capped teeth, his face becomes a sun.
They used to call him “Wild Bull” Curry, back when he traveled the country as a pro wrestler and boxer. Now he’s just plain “Bull” to most people, although there are other names — “The Werewolf,” “The Monster” — muttered by some of his charges.
Deputy Sheriff Bull Curry guards, and sometimes tames, the city’s most dangerous criminals — the murderers, the rapists, the burglars and, most of all, the escape artists — in the Hartford courthouse lockup. At 6 feet and 215 pounds, he looks fierce; his reputation confirms it. Fellow sheriffs say he is indispensable — few, if any, of them want his hot seat in the cage.
Curry’s quickness with troublemakers is legendary.
A few years ago, two prisoners handcuffed together fled into an alley leading to the court parking lot. Curry shouted a warming, but they kept running. He threw a padlock, hitting one of them in the back. The man fell down, pushing his companion face first into the steel door that locks the sheriffs’ van inside the garage. Within seconds, said a sheriff, Curry jumped them and muscled them back into the lockup.
Another time a notoriously tough inmate tried to hang himself in his cell. “He was halfway to three-quarters of the way gone,” said Curry’s huge former sidekick, Bobby Quinn. “Bull took him down and pressed so much water at his face, the guy wished he was dead. He kept gasping, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK.’ Bull told him, ‘If I’m going to save you, I’m going to make sure you’re OK all the way.'”
But Curry can be tender, too.
A mother began crying and screaming as her 16-year-old son was led off to begin a prison term. “They’re going to ruin my boy!” she shrieked. “They’re going to kill him!” The courtroom was in chaos. The judge froze and the spectators watched the mother fall to the floor. Curry stood next to her son inside the cage and put his arm over the boy’s shoulder. “While he’s with me, ma’am, nobody’s going to touch him,” he shouted. The mother’s screams turned to low maons. Consoled by sheriffs, she left the courtroom.
Curry (this is his ring name; his give name is the Lebanese ‘Koury’) has been a boxer, a wrestler, a Hartford police officer and a Texas sheriff — he spent about 15 years working part time as a sheriff in Houston between wrestling and boxing matches all over the world. Curry refuses to say how old he is — “When you’re in shape like me, what the hell difference does it make?” — but friends say he is in his 60s.
He joined the Hartford police just as his wrestling career was budding during the Depression in 1939 — “You had to grab a buck while you could,” he said — and patrolled his old, tough neighborhood on Windsor Street. “He was rough enough that when the force was down men, they’d send him out on the street alone,” said Chief Dupty Sheriff Francis M. DeLucco, who has known Curry for many years.
But in the mid-1940s, Curry began to make better money in the ring as his reputation as a colorful wrestler expanded. “I was getting … what … ? $42 a week as a copy. I just couldn’t make it on that.” He resigned from the force so he could spend more time wrestling.
In the mid-50s, Curry moved to Houston and took up residence as one of the stable of wrestlers in the city’s Coliseum, where he grappled with such ringmen of the day as Lou Thesz, Danny McShain and Duke Keomuka. “Houston was closer to South America and the South Pacific, where I got a lot of bouts. Later, I went all over the world wrestling a half-dozen times,” Curry said. Meanwhile, he sidelined as a sheriff tracking criminal suspects in Galveston County.
Finally, in 1972, the wild life and the traveling took its toll — Curry came down with jaundice in Tokyo. He couldn’t get the treatment he need there, so he flew to Alaska. There, too, treatment was unsuccessful, so finally Curry returned to Hartford, where he recovered after seven hours of surgery. “The doctors told me to take it easy,” laughed Curry, “so within 30 days I was working out in Johnny Datro’s gym in the South End. After that I took my (wrestling) shots here and there … five, six, seven a month. In 1979, I got tired of it and got out.”
Curry’s retirement from wrestling didn’t mean an end to the strenuous life, however. Three years earlier he had been appointed a sheriff and was immediately thrust into the cage in Superior Court. “I don’t know why I got into this law enforcement stuff. It’s always been a mystery to me,” he said.
Ask Curry why he wrestled and boxed for 35 to 40 years and the answer is clearer: “You’ve got to put on a show. You’ve got to give the crowd some entertainment like that Yankee manager Billy Martin, like Muhammad Ali. You’ve got to be a little different, believe me … And, when you get in the ring you let that guy in there with you do the worrying. When I walked in that room, I made goddamn sure the people knew who Wild Bull Curry was!”
Anyone at Hartford Superior Court who doesn’t know who Bull Curry is soon finds out — like the recently arrived judge who at the end of a busy day asked a sheriff if there were any suspects left to be arraigned. “No,” the sheriff answered. The judge leaned discreetly forward, pointed toward Curry inside the cage, and whispered, “How ‘bout him?” A 10-year-old girl sat in court in the midst of a loud, dramatic scene — a convicted murderer yelling at his defense attorney in front of the judge as sheriffs and spectators watched tensely. The episode held no interest for her, though; she leaned toward her father, pointed at Curry, and asked, “What did he do, Daddy?”
Defendants soon learn that Curry tolerates no nonsense. A man on trial for murder refused to cooperate with anyone — his lawyer, the judge, the sheriffs — and at one point refused to go downstairs to the lockup during a recess. Curry walked out of the cage and into the courtroom. He looked right at the man and cocked his index finger toward his chest. The man got up in silence and walked down to the lockup. Sheriffs, lawyers and court employees insist Curry’s looks, his reputation as a professional fighter and, even more significantly, his ability to cajole dangerous and emotionally upset prisoners, make him indispensable in a potentially explosive courthouse.
The court on Washington Street averages between 10 and 12 attempted escapes a year. Prisoner suicide attempts are almost as common. On a recent week in January, 14 men accused of murder were mixed with the average 30 prisoners in the downstairs lockup that feeds the court hearing room upstairs. Several summers ago, Curry said, he sensed something was wrong when most of those dozen or so men in the humid general lockup began asking to go to adjacent individual cells. Fortunately, Curry said, the last one out warned him in a whisper, “Hey, Bull, you’d better watch out!” When Curry went inside to check, he caught “a real creep” around a corner ready to hit him over the head with a metal toilet seat freshly ripped off the toilet. “How can I stand it down here?” he asked, repeating the question. “The thing doesn’t bother me, because I’ve been raised that way. I was raised on Windsor Street, and that’s like being raised in Hell’s Kitchen.”
An annual average of 8,000 prisoners spend the court day with Curry and his two sheriff assistants in the cellar court lockup. “You never know from one morning to the next what’s going to happen,” Curry said in his gravelly voice. “Sometimes there’s 35 to 40 guys in here … Every guy who comes down here cases the joint. They case where the keys are; they case where you are, and don’t you forget it. You’d better change your habits or they’ll get you.”
“If you don’t let them know who you are and get their respect, you’re in trouble. They’ll run you right out of the building. You do a favor for one and they’ll all get the idea. I don’t consider myself a good guy or a bad guy. I consider myself a fair guy,” said Curry, who has spent six years working in the lockup, and who makes $40 a day and vehicle-expense mileage to and from prison and the jails.
Quinn, who is bigger than Curry and now works the equally dangerous city courthouse lockup on Morgan Street, said, “If they didn’t have Bull down in that lockup, they’d be in serious trouble. He’s the one who keeps it all under control. Some of those guys (prisoners) have totally lost it when they come to court, but Bull calms them down. He just tells them what is going to happen and they’ve got to accept that.”
Other sheriffs who have known Curry for years believe his reputation as a ruffian is exaggerated. “Fred Curry,” said Gayle Fisher, a special deputy whose head wouldn’t reach Curry’s chin, “he’s a real pussy.”