Real Name: Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael
Aliases: Liz Carmichael, Jerry Dean Michael (given name)
Wanted For: Conspiracy, Grand Theft, Fraud and Counterfeiting
Missing Since: 1980
Details: In 1973, Liz Carmichael seemed to be the consummate Los Angeles businesswoman. She claimed to be a farmer's daughter, a widow of a NASA engineer, and a graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. She founded 20th Century Motor Car Corporation, which designed a fuel-efficient low-priced car with only three wheels. She claimed the lack of a fourth wheel eliminated 300 pounds from the car's weight, allowing better gas mileage than four-wheeled cars.
The nationwide aftershock of the 1973 oil crisis had shifted customer tastes to more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Dale, claiming 60 miles to the gallon, seemed the solution to the oil crunch. The car was said to cost less than $2000. It was made of a special aerospace plastic and could withstand an impact against a brick wall at 50 miles per hour. It was also impossible to tip over.
Carmichael told investors and the press that her company was renting three large aircraft hangers, where they would soon start production. Investment money poured in, aided in part by a mention of the Dale by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. She was also interviewed by Newsweek and People Magazine. One political cartoon showed Carmichael staring down well-heeled Detroit automobile magnates, which also gave the impression of women making their way in the workplace. The Dale, a sedan, was meant to be produced with the Revelle, a full-size, and the Vanagon, a family van, all 3-wheeled. However, as it seemed too good to be true, the Dale was.
In 1974, investigators from the California legislature began to examine Carmichael and her company. She was originally accused of illegally selling both dealer franchises and cars that did not yet exist. The California DMV discovered that the company did not have a state permit to manufacture cars and that there was no evidence that these cars were even being manufactured.
Investigator Bill Hall went to the lab where the cars were being designed. To him, it appeared that no actual work was being done. He also went to the aircraft hangers rented by Carmichael and found that they were empty; there were no tools, machinery, or equipment. It was also discovered that the company's rent had since expired on the hangers, meaning that they had no place to make the cars.
Hall found that the Dale cars that were made had been constructed from shoddy materials. The vehicles had many problems, including: no engine; two-by-fours holding up the rear wheel; an unattached accelerator; windows that could bend back and forth; and doors attached by regular house door hinges. Of the three Dales in existence, only one was able to run on its own power. No Vanagons or Revelles were ever reputed to have been produced.
With the authorities closing in, Carmichael moved her business to Dallas. Two weeks later, however, the D.A. filed criminal charges against her for grand theft. Armed with a search warrant, Dallas police arrived at her home. She and her five children had since vanished. While looking through her home, investigators found evidence that Carmichael may have been hiding her true identity, particularly finding prosthetics.
Nine weeks later, she was discovered living in Miami with her five children. A neighbor recognized her from a news photo and called the police. Carmichael was working for a dating service and calling herself "Susan Raines". Investigators soon discovered another identity for Carmichael: Jerry Dean Michael. Carmichael claimed that she had begun taking hormone treatments in preparation for a sex change operation. As Jerry Michael, she was wanted for bilking people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as having an outstanding warrant issued against her by the federal government for counterfeiting.
On April 12, 1975, Carmichael was arrested, extradited to Los Angeles, and put on trial. During the entire trial, she maintained that the Dale was a real car and could still be released. When asked why such little progress had been made, Carmichael countered with inability to do so due to failure of the California legislature to grant a license to manufacture. On January 24, 1977, she was convicted of conspiracy, grand theft, fraud and counterfeiting. She was released on $50,000 bail which was paid by a TV company that wanted the rights to her story. For four years, she appealed her conviction. Finally, in 1980, she failed to show up in court for sentencing. She and her five children have not been seen in almost a decade.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 5, 1989 episode.
This case was also featured on "Mysteries at the Museum."
Results: Captured. Thanks to a viewer tip, Carmichael was finally arrested on April 19, 1989, two weeks after the broadcast. At the time, she was living with one of her children in Dale, Texas, near Austin. She was working as a flower vendor going by the name Kathryn Elizabeth Johnson. Interestingly, the town she was located in has the same name of the car that she "planned" to make.
On April 26, Carmichael was returned to California where the judge gave her a one-to-ten year sentence. She served two years in prison for her Los Angeles convictions. Carmichael died of cancer in 2004. A prototype of the Dale is in permanent collection of the Peterson Automobile Museum in Los Angeles, California.
A documentary series about Carmichael and the Dale, The Lady and the Dale will be released by HBO in January 2021.
- Liz Carmichael on Unsolved.com
- 20th Century Motor Car Corporation at Wikipedia
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