Murder and Global Warming

It is just possible that the murder of inventor Victor Null in 1972 helped exacerbate the 21st century problem of global warming.
In 1968 Null patented a unique turbine rotary engine that he said would help reduce air pollution because of its more efficient power-to-weight ratio and better fuel consumption. The Null Rotary Engine, patent number 3,398,725, weighed just 35 pounds and, according to Null, cost about half as much as the large-block car engines then in vogue.
Most importantly, according to its inventor the Null engine burned 95 percent of the fuel and burned it hotter and longer, reducing emissions. He estimated that his engine could get more than 40 miles per gallon of gasoline.
At the time of his death Null had been in discussions with Chrysler since 1966 and had been offered $2.5 million by an unnamed lawn mower manufacturer.
Tragically, the 34-year-old Missouri inventor had just begun testing the engine when he fell in with an unscrupulous business partner who cared more about Null’s insurance value than his engine.
Interest in Null’s engine ended with his murder in November 1972 in part because the inventor left no complete plans for the machine beyond what appeared in his patent. His claims for the performance of his engine were never tested (or if they were, they were never publicized).
In 1972 Null completed a prototype of the engine that had taken him 15 years to design. He was ready to take the project to the next step and needed financial backing. This led him in July to form a corporation with several men, including a St. Louis, Mo. Circuit Court judge.
Although Null held a controlling interest in H.C.S. Turbine Co, the other major shareholders were Ronald Calvert and his 73-year-old father, James H. Calvert. The Calverts owned 43 percent of the company stock. Null owned 50 percent and the other men owned 7 percent.
The Calverts had, to put it mildly, a checkered past. The elder Calvert was an ex-con who had served two years in prison in the 1940s for embezzlement and fraud, and was a known associate of the Egan gang of St. Louis.
In July 1970 Ronald Calvert was connected to the “accidental” death of a business associate whom he had insured for $750,000. Jack Edwards of St. Louis was a partner with Ronald Calvert in a waste receptacle firm who was shot by an employee of Calvert’s from an auto dealership he owned.
Donald Deal told police that he was carrying a shotgun when he tripped over a cat. The gun discharged accidentally, killing Edwards. About three months after Edwards died, the attorney for Calvert’s car dealership, Milton Stein, was slain in a botched hold-up attempt. He had recently asked police for protection for Deal.
A grand jury indicted Deal for first-degree murder, but the court issued a directed verdict when the prosecution could not provide evidence of premeditation. Deal’s claim of accidental discharge was backed by witnesses — Ronald Calvert and his brother-in-law, Henry Midden, who was Calvert’s partner in the dealership.
At the time of those deaths, Calvert and Midden were suspects in a nationwide stolen car ring. Midden was subsequently convicted of theft charges and sentenced to probation.
Another business partner of Ronald Calvert’s was abducted, shot, and left for dead in June 1969. Alvin J. Schuchart was president of United Consumer Finance Company, and was insured for $100,000 with Calvert, the company vice president, as beneficiary. Schuchart survived his attack, but refused to cooperate with the police investigation.
On May 24, 1972, James Calvert entered into a partnership agreement with Victor Null to supply funds Null needed to build his prototype. The partnership leased a warehouse in East St. Louis, Ill., where Null went to work.
Meanwhile, Ronald Calvert also went to work, obtaining a number of insurance policies on Null as the partnership’s “key man” with a face value in excess of $2 million. James Calvert was the beneficiary on two policies worth $350,000. The premiums for those policies were paid for by his son.
The other $2 million in insurance was owned by the partnership and named it as the beneficiary.
The policies included special clauses for accidental death which produced a bit of a problem for the Calverts: the first insurer they contacted refused to write the policy because of the extraordinary amount. Shopping around, the father and son team eventually found a company willing to take the risk.
In July the partnership was converted to a corporation when several other men invested in the venture.
Null and his wife were concerned about all of the insurance on his life and the fact that the invention was not insured at all. Over the next few months Null repeatedly tried to change the policies with no luck. He was more concerned that someone would try to steal his prototype than try to hurt him.
“He kept trying to get them to drop the insurance but they wouldn’t,” his wife Shirley said after his death. “It really worried him.”
The Nulls were also puzzled that none of the policies included anything for the Null family in the event of his death.
On November 9, 1972, Null was at work in the East St. Louis lab, putting the final touches on his engine. Earlier in the day he had told his wife that he expected to test the engine soon at Washington University in St. Louis. Once again Null expressed concern that his engine was at risk.
“He told me he might stay overnight at Washington University to guard the engine so it wouldn’t be stolen,” Shirley Null said. “I thought that was the reason he didn’t come home. He got so wrapped up in his work that I just thought he forgot to call me.”
Null never made it to the university, and one of the partners in the venture called police asking them to check on him. They found Victor Null dead in his workshop — four bullets had been fired into the back of his head. The workshop had been ransacked to suggest a theft attempt, but the completed prototype engine was found next to Null’s body.
Suspicion naturally fell on the Calverts and the investigation revealed that Ronald Calvert had attempted to solicit Null’s murder. On November 1 he went to an old friend and offered the man $5,000 to kill “an inventor” whose wife wanted some insurance policies cancelled. Calvert told the man, who twice refused the offer, that he wanted the job done while he was in Florida.
Further investigation showed that Ronald Calvert had approached another man in May 1972 to serve as a front man in a scheme to insure “a businessman with an idea or an invention” and subsequently cause the businessman’s accidental death for profit. The man expressed interest at first but in August 1972 approached authorities and told them he thought Calvert was up to no good.
The plot quickly unraveled and the two Calverts were arrested when they tried to collect on the insurance. The other partners in the enterprise were not suspected of any wrongdoing and police believed they had no knowledge of the Calverts’ plan.
In September 1973 Ronald F. Calvert was convicted of 12 counts of mail and wire fraud in federal court. He was sentenced to a maximum 45 years in prison. His father was never tried because of ill health. Calvert was released in 2000.
The patent on the Null Rotary Engine was allowed to expire. No other patents refer to Victor Null’s Engine, which means that no parts of it have been incorporated into other inventions. If a Null engine was ever built, it was never publicized. It appears that we will never know if Victor Null’s engine might have changed the world.
No one was ever charged with his murder.