Walter L. Shaw died, at 10:30 in the morning, on July 21, 1996. Sadly, only 28 people showed up to the funeral for a man whose forward thinking mentality, combined with sheer brilliance, originality and talent, created innovations that many of us use on a daily basis. You might be asking yourself, “Who is Walter L. Shaw?” Upon learning the truth behind this man’s story, you will be asking yourself, “Why isn’t this man receiving the honor and credit that he so justly deserves?”
Born in 1917, Walter L. Shaw was a man gifted with many talents. Shaw holds the original patents for the design and development of apparatuses, such as the speakerphone, the touch-tone dialing pad, call-forwarding, and the creation of the first burglary alarm system that automatically called police when tipped off. His unmatched electronics and engineering brilliance led him to file and receive 39 United States patents, from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. In addition to his original designs and patents, he was held in high regard by the Eisenhower Administration for his development of the first direct phone link between the White House and the Kremlin, known as the Red Phone. While his mind and innovative ideas were well beyond his years, his socio-economic status and insufficient business savvy opened the door for corporate America to cheat and bully him out of the very ideas that would propel this country, and the world, into a prolific paradigm shift throughout every area of telecommunications.
Upon meeting Shaw, it was quickly apparent to all that he had a humble spirit and a pure heart. Perhaps, it was these characteristics, in addition to Shaw not having the financial resources and business “know how” to protect himself and his inventions, that led to a life filled with abuse and disappointments. While working as one of the top engineers for Southern Bell in Florida, Shaw spent his free time hard at work, at home, in his kitchen, creating all sorts of telecommunications devices. What put many of Shaw’s inventions into another league was that, to him, they went beyond just a great idea; each meant something personal. For example, Shaw’s idea behind the speakerphone involved a man whose wife was stricken with polio. His wife was living in something known as an “iron lung”, a tank respirator that would kick in and maintain artificial respiration, when the virus would attack and paralyze muscle groups in the patient’s chest. Shaw was asked if he could invent something that would allow this man’s wife to speak to her children, even though she wasn’t able to physically pick up and hold the telephone.
So Walter L Shaw got down to business. He created the device in 1946 and called his machine the “Voice Automatic Loud-Speaking Telephone.” Proud of his invention, he introduced the apparatus to senior engineers at Bell Laboratories, who were not only frightened by the device, but whose feathers were ruffled that Shaw had made it during his “off time”. Apparent that Shaw’s inventions were years ahead of their time, Bell handed Shaw a contract shortly after that would give them all rights to his past, present and future developments, whether he made them on his time or their time. Shaw declined, decided to go off on his own and was subsequently threatened by Bell that they would see to it that he would never be able to use the inventions, if he decided to “go it alone”.
Despite his brilliance and numerous patents, Shaw had a difficult time making ends meet, supporting his family and struggled to pay the continual fees needed to keep his patents in good standing. Corporate America made it clear that, if their hand wasn’t in the cookie jar with Walter, no one’s hand was going to be in it. But, there was one group that offered Shaw an enticing deal – the Mafia. Out of sheer desperation to keep food on the table and a roof over his wife and children’s heads, Shaw became business partners with the wrong people. It became apparent quickly, throughout this “underworld”, that Shaw was respected and liked by everyone that met him. “Gangsters”, “Mobsters”, whatever you want to call them, all knew Shaw was on a different level than them and would not become a hardened mafia “wiseguy”. Instead, they respected him for the hardworking, honest, friendly and peaceful man that he was.
Shaw earned good money from the Mafia with his invention of, what would later be known as the “black box”, a device that prevented phones from being wire tapped and also allowed the user to make toll-free long distance calls. The device enraged the Kennedy Administration and would later land Shaw in hot water. His son, Walter T. Shaw Jr., watched in the courtroom, as his father was called to testify about the nature of his inventions at the McClellan Subcommittee Hearings. A teenager at the time, upset at how his father was being presented to the public, Shaw Jr. recalls Carlo Gambino trying to offer his support. “I remember Carlo stopping me, and telling me in his heavy accent, ‘You remember one thing about these politicians, these judges, these big corporations. They have a license to steal, but we don’t need one. You remember that. Your dad’s not the bad guy, kid. They are the bad guys,” he shares.
Shaw Jr. was fascinated with the lifestyle of the men his father had been working for. A mixture of years of frustration from living in poverty, with watching his father continually have his inventions ripped out from under him, helped Shaw Jr. make a decision that would affect the rest of his life. He became “one of them” and started to work with the Lucchese crime family in New York. Trained by some of the best, Shaw Jr., would not become your average crook. He would in fact earn the reputation as the largest jewel thief in history. Shaw Jr. and his men, known as “The Dinnertime Burglars”, took part in over 2,000 heists and allegedly stole over 70 million in jewelry from some of the biggest names in history, including Liberace and the DuPonts. Former Florida Detective, Dan Riemer, stated at one point during a press conference that, “Walter was indeed the greatest jewel thief who ever lived.”
Shaw Jr. will be the first to tell you that he is not proud of his criminal past and wonders, to this day, how he had become such a “monster”, coming from such a gifted, wonderful man like his father. “There is nothing glamorous about becoming a criminal. No one can be a great criminal forever; eventually you wind up in prison or dead,” he shares. In fact, prison did eventually catch up to him. Shaw spent many years in prison, being transferred from one to another, and eventually ended up on Death Row next to the cell of someone you may recall – Ted Bundy.
With several attempts on his life, by himself and others, prison was indeed one of the worst times for Shaw, but God had him exactly where he wanted him. Shaw began to hear about God from the leader of the prison Life, Larry Boardman, but remembers only half-heartedly listening to what he had to say. It was only after Shaw was out of prison that he attended a church where the preacher’s sermon seemed specifically written for him by the Holy Spirit. Pastor Cohron said at the beginning of the service that, “God has instructed me to change my sermon and preach on the life of King Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes.” Shaw Jr. jokes that he didn’t know at the time what the word meant or how to pronounce it, but once the pastor started to reveal the life of King Solomon, plentiful with gold, silver, women and liquor, Shaw’s ears perked up. God used Shaw’s girlfriend at the time, who became a born again Christian, to bring him into the fold. He accepted Christ in 1980, the week before Thanksgiving. Shaw eventually went on to attend Zoe Bible College and began to preach at revivals and correctional facilities.
At this point in Shaw’s life, the father and son relationship had all but disappeared. Shaw was filled with regret about how he had chosen to live his life, and had a hurting heart about the disappointment he caused his father. He occasionally still gets reminded of all the years he spent in prison and how he lost his entire life chasing after the “fast dollar”. Shaw’s explanation of prison will cut right through you. He offers it up as good advice for anyone looking to make quick money and that may be about to step into a similar lifestyle that he once lead. He shares that “prison time is ‘lost time’, but that people don’t actually have to be in a jail cell. They can also lose their life in self-imposed prisons, such as trying to do things without God’s direction. Eventually we all must realize that we are poor in His absence, but with God that lost time will be redeemed.”
Fast forwarding to the early 1990’s, Shaw Jr. was trying to live the straight life, with God, not money, as his focus. It would come out later, through a relative, that during the same time, Shaw’s father, a visionary who had offered so much to society, was living in abject poverty, sleeping in bus stations and under bridges and was nearing the end of his life.
Diana, Shaw Jr.’s current wife, would become the catalyst that would reunite father and son. Unbeknownst to him, Diana would bring his father down to Florida to attend his 48th surprise birthday party. Shaw Sr. arrived in Florida in tattered clothing and shoes that were constructed with cardboard to patch the holes. Shaw Jr. will never forget the words uttered to him by his father upon seeing him for the first time in years, “I want to tell you something. I have got eighteen months to live and I don’t want us to end this way.”
Shaw knew he now had the opportunity to redeem himself and make up for all the years of hurting his father, the man he loved more than anyone else in the world. He would make certain that his father was well taken care of during the last few months of his life. Although struggling through a horrific battle with prostate cancer, and ultimately about to die penniless, Shaw Sr. vocalized that he never questioned God’s purpose for his life, and was not bitter towards any man, sharing frequently his favorite saying, ” I never met a man that I didn’t like.” Immediately before his death, unable to speak at that point, but with arms flailing, Shaw Sr. embraced his son in a loving hug that Shaw Jr. remembers as his father’s way of saying, “I forgive you. Let me go now. It’s all right, I am ready.”
Shaw Jr. now spends his waking moments trying to bring justice and credit to his father’s legacy. This is the purpose behind his recent book, A License to Steal, the documentary, Genuis on Hold, and the major motion picture that is currently in the works. Shaw knows that his greatest battle in getting his father the credit he deserves is getting people beyond their fascination with his former criminal lifestyle. This is his quest – to bury his mafia-tainted past, and make people aware of the real story that should be getting told. Not one of “hitmen” and “gangsters”, but the story of one man’s mind that paved the way for a telecommunication revolution. People may look down on the Mafia, seeing them as the “bad guys” who make money through illegal means, but are they truly worse than the mega-corporations who have made billions on Shaw Sr.’s inventions, by stealing them through the power of their money and the manipulation of their legal counsel – all things that gave them “a license to steal”. In the end, whether legal or illegal, it still boils down to taking something that doesn’t rightfully belong to you.
If you ever have the opportunity to meet Shaw Jr. in person, I guarantee that you will be touched by his deep abiding love, which is evident as he shares stories about his father. He will tell you how the speakerphone was originally designed to help the handicapped, that thanks to his father, a conference call is made every eight seconds, and how he has been working for 22 years to turn his father’s story into a movie – a movie he feels will be his ultimate shot at redemption
Shaw Jr. believes today’s corporations don’t want to own up to what they did to his father – stealing his inventions and then taking the credit. They would rather use Shaw Jr.’s own past as an excuse and a distraction against him, rather than exposing, to the world, that the true genius behind the future of telecommunications was, in fact, Walter L. Shaw.
Shaw Jr. vows to spend the remainder of his time on earth fighting for his father’s justice, in a world he considers unjust. Whether he wins the battle or not, he trusts that God is the just judge who will not be mocked, for “man will reap what he sows.” Shaw Jr. believes all guilty corporations and parties should be aware – What is hidden in darkness, God will always bring to the light.
For more information on the life story of Walter L. Shaw and Walter T. Shaw please visit, www.alicense2steal.com or for information on Shaw Sr.’s 39 patents can be found by going to the United State Patent Office website www.uspto.gov.