28 June 1963
The main incident described in the song took place in the early hours of February 9, 1963, at the white tie Spinsters' Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. Using a toy cane, Zantzinger drunkenly assaulted at least three of the Emerson Hotel workers: a bellboy, a waitress, and -at about 1:30 in the morning of the 9th- Carroll, a 51-year-old barmaid. Carroll "had borne 10 children" (at least according to the song) and was president of a black social club. According to a 1991 story in The Washington Post, Carroll was the mother of nine children.
Already drunk before he got to the Emerson Hotel that night, the 6'2" Zantzinger had assaulted employees at Eager House, a prestigious Baltimore restaurant, with the same cane. The cane was a 25-cent toy. At the Spinsters' Ball, he called a 30-year-old waitress a "nigger" and hit her with the cane; she fled the room in tears. Moments later, after ordering a bourbon that Carroll did not bring immediately, Zantzinger cursed her, called her a "nigger", then "you black son of a bitch", and struck her on the shoulder and across the head with the cane. In the words of the court notes: "He asked for a drink and called her 'a black bitch', and 'black s.o.b'. She replied, 'Just a moment' and started to prepare his drink. After a delay of perhaps a minute, he complained about her being slow and struck her a hard blow on her shoulder about half-way between the point of her shoulder and her neck." She handed him his drink. After striking Carroll, he attacked his own wife, knocking her to the groundand hitting her with his shoe.
Within five minutes from the time of the blow, Carroll leaned heavily against the barmaid next to her and complained of feeling ill. Carroll told co-workers, "I feel deathly ill, that man has upset me so." The barmaid and another employee helped Carroll to the kitchen. Her arm became numb, her speech thick. She collapsed and was hospitalized. Carroll died eight hours after the assault. er autopsy showed hardened arteries, an enlarged heart and high blood pressure. A spinal tap confirmed brain hemorrhage as the cause of death. She died in Mercy Hospital at 9 a.m. on February 9, 1963.
Zantzinger was initially charged with murder. His defense was that he had been extremely drunk, and he claimed to have no memory of the attack. His charge was reduced to manslaughter and assault, based on the likelihood that it was her stress reaction to his verbal and physical abuse that led to the intracranial bleeding, rather than blunt-force trauma from the blow that left no lasting mark. On August 28, Zantzinger was convicted of both charges and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Time magazine covered the sentencing:
In June, after Zantzinger's phalanx of five topflight attorneys won a change of venue to a court in Hagerstown, a three-judge panel reduced the murder charge to manslaughter. Following a three-day trial, Zantzinger was found guilty. For the assault on the hotel employees: a fine of $125. For the death of Hattie Carroll: six months in jail and a fine of $500. The judges considerately deferred the start of the jail sentence until September 15, to give Zantzinger time to harvest his tobacco crop.
After the sentence was announced, the New York Herald Tribune conjectured he was given a sentence that short to keep him out of the largely black state prison, reasoning his notoriety would make him a target for abuse there. Zantzinger served his time in the comparative safety of the Washington County county jail, some 70 miles from the scene of the crime. In September, the Herald Tribune quoted Zantzinger on his sentence: "I'll just miss a lot of snow." His then-wife, Jane, was quoted saying, "Nobody treats his niggers as well as Billy does around here."