Swimming World November 2021 Presents – An Aquatots Murder Case: The Kathy Tongay Story (Part 2)

Swimming World November 2021 - ISHOF Feature - An Aquatots Murder Case - The Kathy Tongay Story Part 2
5 year old Kathy Tongay [PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING HALL OF FAME]

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An Aquatots Murder Case: The Kathy Tongay Story (Part 2)

By Bruce Wigo

This is the second of a three-part story about “The Aquatots Murder Case” that first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Swimming World. It is about Kathy Tongay, a little girl whose father, Russell, had been training her almost from birth to be an expert diver and swimmer. When she died at the age of 5, her father was arrested for murdering his daughter.

 

Kathy Tongay and her older brother, Russell “Bubber” Tongay Jr., were known around the world as “The Aquatots” for their performances in water shows, their failed attempt to swim the English Channel and for starring in an Esther Williams film. Then on May 6, 1953, after a morning training session, Kathy went into convulsions and died en route to the hospital—just two weeks shy of her sixth birthday.

When police saw little Kathy’s body, they noticed there were multiple bruises over her chest, abdomen, both thighs and buttocks. It appeared to officers that they were caused by “an extremely brutal beating,” so homicide detectives were called in to investigate.

After hearing of the girl’s death, a next door neighbor of Russell and Betty Tongay told investigators that—through the thin walls that separated their apartments—he heard Kathy cry out the night before she died: “Please don’t, Daddy.” Her cry, he said, was accompanied by sounds as if the child was being spanked or whipped.

Tongay and his wife both denied that he beat his daughter and insisted that the bruises were the result of “a bad dive.” But the police didn’t believe them, and he was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder for beating his daughter to death with “hands and fist.”

However, with no witnesses who actually saw Tongay hit his daughter in the days leading up to her death, prosecutors reduced the charges to manslaughter for causing his daughter’s death by “forcing (her) to execute and perform such dangerous and hazardous feats without regard to her safety and welfare.”

Upon the advice of his attorney, Louis Jepeway, Tongay refused to testify at the preliminary hearing. But at the conclusion of the state’s case, his wife, Betty, a first-grade school teacher, stood up and quietly asked to read a brief statement.

She said she wanted “everyone to know” that her husband was “a loving father and that together they had always had the best wishes of their children.” It “was possible,” she said, that “he might have been a strict teacher,” but that she was at all times present and “fully approved of everything he did.” She said that she wanted to make it clear that if her husband was subjected to any blame, she “was equally to blame.”

Jepeway got Tongay released on $1,000 bond, and as he left the courtroom, the attorney told reporters that the charges came as “an awful shock on top of losing their daughter.” He also told them that he was “a friend of the family” and had previously represented Tongay in several other “unfortunate incidents” that had befallen him.

“UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS”
The first such incident to come to light was in 1945, when the Tongay’s 18-month-old son, Russell “Rusty” Tongay Jr., had also died under suspicious circumstances.

Like Kathy, the baby had been admitted to the hospital bruised and suffering from convulsions. The father was arrested after Mrs. Tongay reportedly told police that her husband had “slapped the baby on both sides of the face and held his nose under water while trying to teach him how to float.”

At the coroner’s inquest, however, Mrs. Tongay categorically denied that she ever said that to doctors, and she swore that her husband “had a deep love for the baby and was always nice to him.” She claimed that the blue marks around the baby’s neck and face and his fractured skull were the result of a fall down a flight of stairs the night before.

The conflicting testimony led the coroner to conclude there was not enough evidence to send the case to the grand jury. The baby’s death was attributed to an accidental fall. Russell was released, and the Tongays would have two more children.

Another “unfortunate incident” occurred in November of 1949, two months after 3-1/2-year-old Bubber and Kathy, only 23 months, had made national headlines for swimming five miles in the Mississippi River.

Two women were stopped in their car at a red light in Miami. There was no air conditioning available in cars back then, so everyone’s windows were down. They heard a man in the next car yelling and saw him hit a little girl with his fist and throw her onto the floor of the car. When one of them yelled at him to stop, he cursed her and told her to mind her own business.

As the man sped off, the women noted the license plate number. Police traced the number to Russell Tongay, and he was arrested on a charge of “unlawful punishment of a child by excessive chastisement.”

“Thank goodness” began a letter to the editor of The Miami News. “Mrs. Hargrett had the courage and sense of moral obligation to report the disgraceful incident and his two tiny children. When I read last summer about his exhibiting his children by having them swim five miles in the Mississippi River, I wondered what manner of father could do such things to children only two and four years old.”

To read more about the Aquatots murder of Kathy Tongay,
Click here to download the full November issue of Swimming World Magazine, available now!

Swimming World November 2021 - Ana Marcela Cunha - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - COVER [PHOTO BY KAREEM ELGAZZAR / USA TODAY SPORTS]

 

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FEATURES

012 2021 OPEN WATER SWIMMERS OF THE YEAR
by Dan D’Addona and David Rieder
Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock both captured Olympic gold in Tokyo and repeated as the world’s elite open water swimmers in both 2019 and 2021.

014 2021 OPEN WATER HIGHLIGHTS
by Dan D’Addona
Although the Tokyo Olympic Games commanded the spotlight in 2021, there were many other open water highlights throughout the year.

018 ISHOF FEATURE: AQUATOTS MURDER CASE—THE KATHY TONGAY STORY (Part 2)
by Bruce Wigo
This is the second of a three-part story about “The Aquatots Murder Case” that first appeared in the October issue of Swimming World. It is about Kathy Tongay, a little girl whose father, Russell, had been training her almost from birth to be an expert diver and swimmer. When she died at the age of 5, her father was arrested for murdering his daughter.

022 PERHAPS OVERLOOKED…BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
by John Lohn
As we creep closer to signing off on this Olympic year, Swimming World offers a look at six athletes—all members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame—who hold a special place in history, even if they are not always at the forefront of the mind.

025 CONTINUING TO MAKE AN IMPACT
by David Rieder
Anthony Nesty’s accomplishments as a swimmer in the late 1980s and ’90s made him a national icon. But decades after that, he is still making a huge impact on the sport from a different vantage point—as a coach.

028 MENTAL PREP: BEFORE THE BEEP WITH DAVID CURTISS
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

030 NUTRITION: THE IMPORTANCE OF IRON—LOW MEANS SLOW!
by Dawn Weatherwax
Iron is a mineral that directly impacts performance.

COACHING

016 COACHING IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT (Part 1)
by Michael J. Stott
In the first of two articles, Swimming World explores how coaches and administrators coped with the recent unpleasantness of COVID-19.

036 SPECIAL SETS: AUDREY DERIVAUX—KILLER QUEEN
by Michael J. Stott
Young Audrey Derivaux of Jersey Wahoos has turned in comparable times to the 11-12 age group superstars who have excelled before her.

040 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: DISTRUST IN SWIMMING SCIENCE IS NOT A MYSTERY
by Rod Havriluk
The fact that general scientific information is routinely ignored provides some perspective about the difficulty in applying science to the sport of swimming. While a single technique element cannot guarantee success, American Lydia Jacoby’s Olympic victory suggests that using science can provide a competitive advantage.

042 SPECIAL SETS: DANIEL DIEHL—DEFINITELY DRIVEN
by Michael J. Stott
Daniel Diehl, 15, of the Cumberland YMCA Sea Otters is Maryland’s—and the nation’s—top-ranked male swimmer in the Class of 2024. In recent months, he has either broken or knocked on the door of several national age group records. In October, as the youngest male on the U.S. National Junior Team, he notched seven top 10 individual finishes at the FINA World Cup meets in Germany and Hungary.

044 Q&A WITH SWIM IRELAND’S NATIONAL PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR JON RUDD
by Michael J. Stott

045 HOW THEY TRAIN IRISH OLYMPIAN DARRAGH GREENE
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

039 DRYSIDE TRAINING: BACK TO BASICS (Part 2)
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

047 | UP & COMERS: AVA BUHRMAN
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS & SPECIAL SECTIONS

007 THE OFFICIAL WORD

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

009 DID YOU KNOW: ABOUT “DO YOU KNOW THAT….”?

032 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

048 GUTTERTALK

049 PARTING SHOT

 

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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