Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Robert O. Saber and the Con-Games of Milton Ozaki: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

Between 1949 and 1956, thirteen original crime novels were released under the name Robert O. Saber by a variety of paperback publishing houses. Most of these were private eye books starring an assortment of hardboiled heroes including Phil Keene, Hal Cooper, Max Keene, and Carl Good.

Consistent with the era, the covers of Saber’s paperbacks featured lushly-painted illustrations depicting scantily-clad women, square-jawed heroes, and often a murder weapon nearby. When compared to the lousy cover art we see today, the packaging of these vintage novels demand that the books be purchased and read. Quite deservedly, the author was also a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

All of this begs the question: Who the hell was Robert O. Saber?

Milton Ozaki was a Wisconsin-born, Japanese-American crime fiction author who wrote mass-market paperbacks under his own name as well as the pseudonym Robert O. Saber in the 1950s while living in Chicago and also operating two beauty shops. The economic realities of the publishing world of the 1950s forced many writers to employ pseudonyms to make a living. Handi-Books, for example, probably didn’t want to flood the market with books by Ozaki, so about half of his novels were published under the Saber pen-name. No harm. No foul. Everybody wins.

However, it appears that his double-identity and 27 published novels - plus women’s hair styling - failed to bring Ozaki the lifetime of financial security he desired. As such, he decided to channel his creative energies elsewhere. Life began imitating art as the man who was author of many heist and con-man stories began to turn his fiction into a dark reality.

In the 1970s, Ozaki began operating a “diploma mill” mail-order scam involving the issuance of phony college degrees from non-existent universities including “Colorado State Christian College” and “Hamilton State University” in exchange for a $100 donation to the fake schools. Campus life at these universities must have been rather mundane since they were nothing but post office boxes in Colorado (As an aside, if your urologist received his degree from either university, you may want to get your vasectomy elsewhere). After realizing $70,000 from the scam, the courts ordered him to knock it off in 1974, according to an article by Mike Royko in the Chicago Daily News.

It seems that 1974 was a doubly-bad year for Ozaki who was also sued by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office for another con-game he operated. Ozaki was director of “Ko-Zee Products Corporation” where he sold a phony “mini-turbo charger” guaranteed to give your car 37% better gas mileage. The device didn’t work, but the government’s action did. The former crime writer turned scammer was put out of business, again.

Additionally, Ozaki ran a mail-order school teaching paying students how to develop their powers of E.S.P. and hypnosis. Given this skill set, you’d think Ozaki would have seen the government investigations coming. 

Regarding his multitude of failures as a professional grifter, Ozaki said, “We are trying to do good work, and we just ran afoul of these archaic-minded bureaucrats.” This quote sounds like a re-working of the famous lament of criminals from the Scooby-Doo universe, “And it would have worked if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

Ozaki died in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1989 at the age of 76, and many of his mystery books are still available as eBooks and paperback reprints.