death and taxes

Who Is J.C. Owsley, Mystery Taxpayer?

As the debate continues over who will get to keep their Bush-era tax cuts — people making under $250,000? People making under $1 million? Everybody? Nobody? (Ha, no) — it’s worth remembering that a few decades ago, taxes in America used to be ridiculous. The Times’s list of what 1941’s top ten highest-salaried Americans gave back to Uncle Sam — courtesy of a document compiled at the behest of FDR and recently released by the National Archives — puts the government’s tax tyranny in stark display. Gun manufacturer Carl G. Swebelius, for example, earned $893,593 but kept only $243,204 due to a tax rate of 73 percent. Ouch.

There’s one other thing that’s especially intriguing about the list. Though it’s mostly composed of notable names, like those of movie-studio chiefs and corporate leaders, there are two names that the Times was unable to identify: J.C. Owsley and C.S. Woolman, who were fourth and sixth on the list. In a footnote, the Times speculates that these may be the result of “typographical errors” by the Treasury Department. It does appear that sloppy typing is to blame for “C.S. Woolman” — all one has to do is plug his name into Google, and it becomes clear that he’s probably supposed to be Delta founder C.E. Woolman.

But Google fails to solve the riddle of “J.C. Owsley.” A Wikipedia search of “Owsley” finds no suitable possibilities. Out of curiosity, we also searched Google and Nexis for a “J. Cowsley,” but he isn’t a person, either. Now we’re totally out of ideas.

Compensation and the I.R.S.: It’s Not the ‘Good’ Old Days [NYT]
Mystery Man [TPM]

Who Is J.C. Owsley, Mystery Taxpayer?