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In the 1940s, a freelance wiretapper named Big Jim Vaus got mixed up with the cops, the mob, and the most famous evangelist in America. This week on The Last Archive: The ballad of Big Jim and what the intersections of telephone history and American spirituality reveal about how we understand the phone. 

Key Sources

The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States by Brian Hochman

The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy by Hannah Zeavin

“Connecting Lines: L.A.’s Telephone History and the Binding of the Region” by Emily Bills, Southern California Quarterly , Spring 2009, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 27-67

Collection 693 Papers of Jim Vaus in the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository at Wheaton College

L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City by John Buntin

God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America by Aaron Griffith

Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication by John Durham Peters

Gary’s Antique Telephone Collection by Gary Goff

My Father Was a Gangster: The Jim Vaus Story by Will Vaus

They Called My Husband A Gangster by Alice Vaus

Why I Quit Syndicated Crime by Jim Vaus

The Devil Loves A Shining Mark by Jim Vaus

Thicker’n Thieves: The 1950 Factual Expose of Police Pay-Offs, Graft, Political Corruption and Prostitution In Los Angeles and Hollywood by Charles Stoker

Wiretapper (1955)

America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer

The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern

The Phone Boom of the 1950s (AT&T Archival Film)

Along Party Lines (Bell System Archival Film)

1946 Telephone and Telegraph Careers (Archival Instructional Film)

Billy Graham Newsreel (1949)

CALIFORNIA: Brenda’s Revenge,” TIME magazine, July 11, 1949

NEW YORK: Reaching the Unreachables,” TIME magazine, December 19, 1960

“Nation’s Telephone System Expansion Tops All Records” The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · 28 Apr 1946, Sun · Page 13.

‘Wiretapper’ Will Bring Bill Williams’ Return; ‘Pompey’ Plans Shaped

Schallert, Edwin Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Dec 27, 1954; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. B9

The Hosts

Ben Naddaff-Hafrey

Ben Naddaff-Hafrey is a Senior Producer at Pushkin Industries and host of The Last Archive. Prior to hosting, Ben was the lead producer on The Last Archive. Prior to Pushkin, Ben…

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper Professor of American History and Affiliate Professor of Law at Harvard University and a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she writes about politics,…