By Gary Herrity
Special to the Herald
Picture: Major General Robert Sadler, a well-known, highly-decorated Air Force officer and DEW Line innovator, was from Clinton.
In 1941, a family by the name of Sadler moved from Belle Plaine, Iowa, to Clinton. Mr. Sadler worked for years on the railroad. Now that times were improving from the Depression Era, he took a new position with the Chicago Northwestern here.
There were four sons and two daughters to uproot and bring to Clinton. The senior Sadlers, Ed and Elsie, were hard-working folks who lived on south Fourth Street, Near the Old Dutch Mill -- with its big red cone over the door. They were well thought of, and all their children were bright and ambitious.
Their oldest, Robert Sadler, graduated from Clinton High School in 1942, at age 16. He went to work on the railroad for a year and then, at age 17, enlisted and began a distinguished Air Force career. Bob and his bride, Kathleen, would raise six children in the service and, despite needing to move frequently, all would become college graduates.
Many years later, when informed their dad was being honored by the family’s hometown of Belle Plaine, son Michael remarked, “Mom (Elsie Sadler) should be the one honored!”-- for raising a family who succeeded so well in life.
Bob was a jovial fellow and was known to break into the song “I’m from I-O-Way!” often.
He was a well-liked navigator, who rose through the ranks (with service during WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam) to head an Air Force global communications network… that was after achieving his electrical engineering degree at the University of Colorado and graduating from the Air War College in the 1960s.
General Sadler was a lynchpin in the important DEW Line defense system guarding America, and was one of five key Air Force generals at the time of his retirement. He received the seldom-awarded honor of “The Order of the Sword,” and other distinctions too numerous to list. His picture hangs with honor in the Pentagon, and the Air Force gives an annual “top communicator” award that is named for him.
After retiring from the military in 1979, Robert Sadler became Vice President of Magnavox of northern Virginia. His life was successful and serene. Unfortunately, that life was shattered when, in 1984, Kathleen, his beloved wife of 33 years, succumbed to cancer. Till then, no man could’ve asked for a happier life.
The General was sad and lonely for nearly two years. Missing his dear wife, he passed the time reading… including romantic “want ads” in local papers. One particular ad caught his attention: ATTRACTIVE, PETITE BLOND - widow of senior military officer, young 49, intelligent, romantic, loyal, sensitive, sense of humor, excellent hostess, published author, world traveler, multitude of interests, politics, hiking, and much more, SEEKS successful doctor, lawyer, senior executive, military officer, or politician, seeking true love. Have never been in a singles bar, nor participated in singles organizations. Believe the great love of my life is in the Washington D.C. area. Do not hesitate to respond.
She seemed made-to-order. The lonely and vulnerable widower answered her ad… although he never divulged this to family and friends, instead hinting theirs had been a chance meeting in a restaurant, after which they began dating… in March of 1986.
Mary Faye Craft was not beautiful, but she had a personality that captivated most men. Many before Bob had come under her spell. She had, in fact, been married four times, and also had one husband who died under “mysterious circumstances.”
A southern belle, Mary Faye loved being the “center of attention.” She’d traveled all over the world, including to Viet Nam on her own -- at a time when few single women were allowed to go. Her past was murky, but occasionally she boasted of a lengthy affair with a senior Senator. Bob Sadler was impressed, skipping over details which might otherwise have led him to be cautious. They were married within four months.
The Sadlers stayed in the Washington area, and things seemed fine between them the first year… But then issues started surfacing. Mary Faye once lost a house to arsonists in South Carolina. She told Robert’s daughter that they were not getting along -- though their friends failed to notice. Just before they were married, a break-in had occurred at Mary Faye’s home, where $150,000 in jewels and silver were reported stolen -- insurance money was involved. And all those secret trips. Much was peculiar in the new marriage of Robert and Mary Faye, and in her past.
Then, on the evening of April 9, 1986, tragedy struck. A 911 call was made by Mary Faye that her husband had accidentally shot himself.
Two neighbors were summoned and “inadvertently” helped to compromise evidence at the scene before police arrive. Oddly, Robert’s children weren’t even notified and, at first, the death was ruled a suicide. When his family finally did receive word, and arrived at the funeral home for the wake, Robert’s brother David was amazed to find it was to be an open casket visitation.
This started him and the rest of the family to begin asking questions. Just what were the true facts surrounding the shooting?
Evidence indicated that General Sadler was shot from above and behind, with the gun some 15 to 16 inches from his head -- very unusual for a suicide. Mary Faye later used the story that they had grappled for the gun that Robert was carelessly cleaning and it accidentally went off. This also seemed unusual, since he was an accomplished and cautious gun owner. Far from despondent, he had been observed to be happy the day of the tragedy.
Eventually, the cause of his death was changed to “homicide.”
Over time, the plot thickened, -- with more irregularities about Mary Faye coming to light.
Three trials came to pass, and General Sadler’s memory and the family’s good name went on trial with Mary Faye.