William Zantzinger, who "killed poor Hattie Carroll" as described by Bob Dylan in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," is dead at age 69, according to the New York Times and The Guardian. The astonishing piece of news to me is that the man was only 69, whereas somehow I had imagined Dylan's song, because it has such an overtone of long-standing injustice, as describing an event that had taken place perhaps late in the nineteenth century, in the period of reconstruction following the American Civil War. Of course, that's part of Dylan's point: that such outrages against humanity, decency and justice had been around for a long time. But the original news story that prompted Dylan to immediately write the song had appeared on August 29, 1963. That the man lived for another 45 years afterwards is, alas, yet one more indication that "God's away on business" (Tom Waits).
The story reveals that Carroll was, in fact, the third person in a row whom Zantzinger had struck with his cane. So killing Hattie Carroll was by no means an isolated incident of violence. Nor did it mark the end of his criminality, for as The Guardian reports, in 1991, Zantzinger was convicted of fraud. He enjoyed yet another relatively light sentence, however, of 2,400 hours of community service and a $62,000 fine. Zantzinger's sentence for killing Hattie Carroll had been six months imprisonment and $625 of fines.
Zantzinger was apparently asked just a few years ago by Dylan biographer Howard Sounes what he thought of Dylan's song. Zantzinger called Dylan a "no-account son of a bitch" and "a scum bag of the earth." Fitting words for Zantzinger's epitaph.