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Yale Alumnus Charged in Torching of Anti-Apartheid Shanties

June 6, 1988

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A Yale University alumnus accused of torching a campus shantytown built to protest apartheid said he’d once worked in South Africa, according to a man who chased him down.

″In my opinion he acknowledged he had done it and he did it because he had strong feelings on this and felt alumni should have their say,″ Dr. Michael L. Charney said Sunday. ″He also said he had given Yale a lot of money.″

Charney, a Boston psychiatrist and class of 1968, said that while jogging across the campus Sunday morning he saw a man running away from the fire.

″I yelled ‘fire’ and ran after him,″ Charney said. ″He was in a tan suit, tie and his class button, which he took off as he ran.″

Charney said he caught the man, Dr. Elwood D. Bracey, in the courtyard of one of Yale’s residential colleges, where the two had a political discussion about South Africa, apartheid and Yale’s investment policies.

Bracey, who apparently was visiting the campus for alumni weekend, said he’d worked for three months at a South African hospital and was a Vietnam veteran, Charney said.

Bracey, of West Palm Beach, Fla., was charged with first-degree arson in the fire that destroyed the shantytown, named Winnie Mandela City after the wife of Nelson Mandela, the jailed South African anti-apartheid leader.

A story published in today’s editions of The Palm Beach Post of West Palm Beach said Bracey once was sued for allegedly shooting a neighbor’s Doberman pinscher, and kept a pet leopard for 10 years until it mauled his daughter.

Bracey, 56, a 1958 Yale graduate, was free on $50,000 bond pending arraignment today in New Haven Superior Court. He could not be reached for comment Sunday, despite attempts by telephone to locate him at hotels.

Students erected the shanties on a white granite plaza in front of the Yale administration building in April 1986 to protest apartheid and Yale investments in South Africa. Officials ordered police to dismantle the shanties, but allowed them to be rebuilt after students agreed to maintain them.

Students occasionally slept in the shanties and Capt. John Rourke, head of the police-fire investigative unit, speculated that was why Bracey was charged with first-degree arson.

Yale President Benno C. Schmidt Jr., who during a Saturday meeting with alumni defended the university’s decision to allow the shantytown to remain standing, denounced the arson as a ″lawless act of violence.″

″To destroy them by an act of impulse is the antithesis of reason and order that is the essence of a university or any civilized community,″ he said. ″Beyond that, to set the shanties on fire furtively in the midst of an urban campus is an extremely dangerous thing to do.″

All that remained of the shantytown was a pile of charred scrap lumber and plywood and a wooden shrine draped in the yellow, green and black of the African National Congress. It was pasted with sheets of paper listing the names of 250 people killed in the struggle against apartheid, the system in which South Africa’s whites rule over a land where blacks are the majority.

Sue Ellen Apte, acting director of the Palm Beach County Medical Society, described Bracey as a popular doctor.

″He’s a well-respected physician, not the type of person who would do something that might have repercussions,″ Apte said. ″He’s not hot- tempered.″

In its report, the Florida newspaper said Bracey kept a pet leopard named Lepy until 1980 when it mauled his then-2-year-old daughter, Blythe. After the attack, in which his daughter suffered a broken arm and scratches on her face and leg, he gave the leopard to a zoo, the Post said.

The newspaper also said Bracey became involved in a lawsuit for shooting to death a neighbor’s Doberman in 1982.

The lawsuit was filed by the neighbor, who was countersued by Bracey because the dog allegedly intruded onto Bracey’s property and destroyed his nine rabbits and a pet chicken, according to the newspaper. The two have since settled the dispute, the newspaper said.

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