Swimming World December 2021 Presents – Aquatots Murder Case: The Kathy Tongay Story (Part 3)

Swimming World December 2021 - Aquatots Murder Case - The Kathy Tongay Story (Part 3)
Kathy Tongay with her father, Russell [Photo Courtesy: Newspapers.com]

 

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ISHOF FEATURE

Aquatots Murder Case: The Kathy Tongay Story (Part 3)

By Bruce Wigo


This is the final story of a three-part series about “The Aquatots Murder Case” regarding the death of 5-year-old Kathy Tongay and the subsequent murder charge against her father, Russell.

This month’s episode: Russell Tongay’s appeal, life in (and out) of prison, what happened to Kathy’s brother, Bubba, and the impact the case had on age group sports in America.

 

After Russell Tongay was convicted of 1954 for killing his daughter by forcing her to dive from aof manslaughter in January 10-meter tower, he was sentenced to 10 years hard labor. But his attorneys immediately appealed the verdict to the Florida Supreme Court, and Tongay was released on $5,000 bond.

Confident in his ultimate vindication, Tongay calmly proceeded to promote his son, Bubber, whom he now called Bubba, in swimming exhibitions in Mexico and in Central and South America over the objections of the bondsman. But when they entered Nassau on their last stop before returning to Miami, Tongay was ordered to leave by British authorities as an “undesirable alien.”

It would take 17 months before the Supreme Court would render its decision. During this interval, it was Bubba Tongay who was making headlines.

In the summer of 1953, shortly after his sister’s death, but before his father’s trial, Bubba had entered his first AAU swimming meet and amazingly broke three Florida Gold Coast AAU records for the 10-and-under age group as a 7-year-old.

But negative publicity and his jaunt south of the border kept him away from meets until January of 1955. That’s when he was entered in the AAU’s International Telegraphic dual meet between all-star teams from Berlin (Germany) and Miami. Before the event could take place, some local officials challenged Bubba’s amateur status, but the AAU allowed him to participate in the “goodwill” meet sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

The teams swam the events at the same time in their respective cities, and results were announced on the Voice of America. While Berlin defeated Miami 227-195, 9-year old Bubba Tongay was the American star, setting two American records for the 9-10 age group, swimming the 50 meter free in 34.2 and 50 back in 40.7.

SENTENCED TO PRISON
Five months later, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Tongay’s appeal and ordered him to Raiford Prison on May 13, 1955. When he entered the prison, Russell Tongay weighed 280 pounds. Because of his poor physical condition, rather than hard labor, he was assigned to light farm work, picking peas, stripping cane and the like.

One night in July, he made a noose from an army belt, strapped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from his bunk. But a guard found him choking and loosened the belt in time. He was hospitalized for four days, and when he returned to the prison, he was reassigned to secretarial duties. It was at this time he thought to spare his wife from having to suffer without him for 10 years and filed a petition to divorce her, based on mental cruelty because she “no longer loved him.” But she swore she still did, and the petition was denied.

Tongay then revealed he had a spot on his lung, which was confirmed by prison doctors who examined his X-rays. He was losing a lot of weight, and as a veteran of the Coast Guard, Tongay asked for a pardon so he could be treated at a VA hospital rather than by prison doctors.
His request for a pardon was turned down, but the board, composed of Florida’s elected cabinet officers, agreed to break precedent and free him temporarily so he could be treated at a VA hospital in New Orleans.

Then came the incredible series of events that provoked nationwide headlines.

ON THE RUN
The board assigned a prison guard to drive Tongay to the VA hospital. On the way, the car was involved in an accident, and Tongay claimed to be injured. He was treated at a local hospital, but no injury could be found. While the car was being >> repaired, he was taken to a restaurant to eat. When the guard was paying the check, Tongay ran out the door and vanished between cars in a parking lot.

Two weeks later, William “Red” Burell, Tongay’s friend and coach of Coral Gables High School in Miami, received a call from Tongay, who was in a VA hospital in Los Angeles. It was Tongay, who said he was in a VA hospital seeking treatment for lung cancer. He had amnesia and didn’t know how he got there, but he wanted Burell to intercede with the governor of Florida for a pardon. But when his whereabouts became known, he was arrested, and the governor immediately issued an extradition order.

In the Los Angeles jail, Tongay slit both of his wrists with a double edge razor blade in what hospital officials described as “an insincere attempt” to commit suicide. This time, while he was held in a padded cell, two guards were sent to retrieve him.

All the way back on a train from California to Florida, Tongay refused to eat, saying he was ill. He lay in his bunk and soiled his bedclothes rather than get up to go to the restroom. He had to be helped by the guards wherever he went. When transferring trains, he was taken in a wheel chair, and his guards were thoroughly convinced he was a weak and very sick man.

Then near Mobile, Ala., he found some clothing and covered up his prison garb while the guards were unaware. The “invalid” was miraculously revitalized, and he dashed through a couple of cars and leaped off the moving train. The guards got off at the next stop and called Mobile detectives, who were able to capture the fugitive. For the rest of the trip, Tongay was placed in shackles.

To continue reading the final installment of the Kathy Tongay murder case,
Click here to download the December 2021 issue of Swimming World, available now!


Bruce Wigo, historian and consultant at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, served as president/CEO of ISHOF from 2005-17.


Swimming World December 2021 - World Swimmers of the Year - Caeleb Dressel and Emma McKeon Lead the Way - Double COVER[Dressel Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher / USA Today Sports]

 

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FEATURES

014 2021 SWIMMERS OF THE YEAR
by Dan D’Addona, Matthew De George, John Lohn and David Rieder
World: Caeleb Dressel (Male American) & Emma McKeon (Female Pacific Rim)
Male Pacific Rim: Zac Stubblety-Cook
Female American: Katie Ledecky
European: Evgeny Rylov & Sarah Sjostrom
African: Ahmed Hafnaoui & Tatjana Schoenmaker

022 THE TOP 10 PERFORMANCES OF 2021
by John Lohn
Five-time Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel heads the list of the best swimming performances produced in 2021, thanks to his world record in the 100 meter butterfly at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Overall, the top 10 performances consisted of seven women’s efforts and three from the men. A further breakdown reveals seven individual swims and three world record-setting relays.

025 HONG KONG HERO
by David Rieder
People gathered in shopping malls, crowding in front of big screens to watch their national hero race for Olympic medals. Others watched on office conference room TVs, while passengers on the train had their mobile devices tuned to the Tokyo Games. What they saw was Siobhan Haughey become the first and only Olympian from Hong Kong to capture multiple medals—two silvers in the 100 and 200 freestyle.

032 ISHOF FEATURE: AQUATOTS MURDER CASE—THE KATHY TONGAY STORY (Part 3)
by Bruce Wigo
This is the final story of a three-part series about “The Aquatots Murder Case” regarding the death of 5-year-old Kathy Tongay and the subsequent murder charge against her father, Russell. This month’s episode: Russell Tongay’s appeal, life in (and out) of prison, what happened to Kathy’s brother, Bubber, and the impact the case had on age group sports in America.

044 NUTRITION: HOLIDAY/INTENSE TRAINING
by Dawn Weatherwax
To train hard, you need to eat hard! Make sure you put as much emphasis on nutrition and sleep as you would on your workouts.

COACHING

036 COACHING IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT (Part 2)
by Michael J. Stott
Last month, in Part 1, Swimming World explored how COVID-19 altered swim training as we have known it. This month, we look at some issues and opportunities facing club swimming as it strives to be the sport of choice for a younger generation.

042 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: MAXIMIZING SWIMMING VELOCITY (Part 6)—THE PUSH PHASE
by Rod Havriluk
In freestyle and butterfly, swimmers typically decrease the push phase time to increase stroke rate and swimming velocity. In doing so, the premature upward motion of the elbows pulls the hands upward and compromises propulsion. Most swimmers can gain additional propulsion on the push phase by pushing the hand backward instead of pulling the hand upward.

045 SPECIAL SETS: ZOE DIXON—VERSATILITY IS KEY
by Michael J. Stott
Zoe Dixon, 2021-22 National Junior Team member, has had quite a year. Swimming for Coach Norm Wright at NOVA of Virginia, the 17-year-old is ranked No. 1 in Virginia and 11th nationally for the Class of 2022, and has committed to the University of Florida.

047 Q&A WITH COACH BRENT BOOCK, ELMBROOK SWIM CLUB (Wis.)
by Michael J. Stott

048 HOW THEY TRAIN CAMPBELL STOLL
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

041 DRYSIDE TRAINING: FINISH STRONG
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

051 UP & COMERS: THOMAS HEILMAN
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS & SPECIAL SECTIONS

012 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

013 DID YOU KNOW: ABOUT THE 1951 PAN AMERICAN GAMES?

028 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

050 HASTY HIGH POINTERS

052 GUTTERTALK

Swimming World is now partnered with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. To find out more, visit us at ishof.org

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