Deranged L.A. Crimes celebrates reporter Agness “Aggie” Underwood this month in honor of the 121st anniversary of her birth on the 17th.
Aggie liked His Girl Friday (1940), in which Rosalind Russell portrayed a female newspaper reporter. I would love to show the film, but it is not in the public domain. Instead, listen to the 1941 Screen Guild radio version with Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, and Ralph Bellamy reprising their movie roles.
Even though I can’t show the film version of His Girl Friday, I will show the 1931 version, The Front Page, based on the 1928 stage play.
I love the 1940 film for casting Russell as Hildy Johnson–a role originally written for a man–but the 1931 film is also excellent. Billy Wilder remade it in 1974, casting Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the starring roles.
Here is what TCM says about The Front Page (1931).
Chicago’s ace reporter Hildy Johnson wants to quit newspaper work and get married, but his editor, Walter Burns, is determined to keep him on the job. Hildy refuses to talk to Walter, knowing his persuasive powers, so Walter sets off a fire alarm outside the apartment of Hildy’s fiancée, Peggy Grant. Unable to resist, Hildy runs to the street, after which Walter corners him and takes him out for drinks. While the two men drink, Walter reminisces about the great stories that Hildy covered and paints a boring picture of married life. Hildy manages to escape, and drops in on the press room at the courthouse, where the reporters are waiting for the hanging of Earl Williams.
This is a big month for the Deranged L.A. Crimes blog. On December 17, 2012, the 110th anniversary of the birth of the woman whose career and life inspires me, Agness “Aggie” Underwood, I started writing this blog. I also authored her Wikipedia page, which was long overdue.
By the time I began, Aggie had been gone for twenty-eight years. I regret not knowing about her in time to meet her in person. But, through her work, and speaking with her relatives over the years, I feel like I know her. I have enormous respect for Aggie. She had nothing handed to her, yet she established herself in a male-dominated profession where she earned the respect of her peers without compromising her values. She also earned the respect of law enforcement. Cops who worked with her trusted her judgement and sought her opinion. It isn’t surprising. She shared with them the same qualities that make a successful detective.
This month, I will focus on Aggie. I want everyone to get to know and appreciate her. She was a remarkable woman.
Agness “Aggie” Underwood never intended to become a reporter. All she wanted was a pair of silk stockings. She’d been wearing her younger sister’s hand-me-downs, but she longed for a new pair of her own. When her husband, Harry, told her they couldn’t afford them, she threatened to get a job and buy them herself. It was an empty threat. She did not know how to find employment. She hadn’t worked outside her home for several years. A serendipitous call from her close friend Evelyn, the day after the stockings kerfuffle, changed the course of her life. Evelyn told her about a temporary opening for a switchboard operator where she worked, at the Los Angeles Record. The job was meant to last only through the 1926-27 holiday season, so Aggie jumped at the chance.
Aggie arrived at the Record utterly unfamiliar with the newspaper business, but she swiftly adapted and it became clear to everyone that, even without training, she was sharp and eager to learn. The temporary switchboard job turned into a permanent position.
In December 1927, the kidnapping and cruel mutilation murder of twelve-year-old schoolgirl Marion Parker horrified the city. Aggie was at the Record when they received word the perpetrator, William Edward Hickman, who had nicknamed himself “The Fox,” was in custody in Oregon. The breaking story created a firestorm of activity in the newsroom. Aggie had seen nothing like it. She knew then she didn’t want to be a bystander. She wanted to be a reporter.
When the Record was sold in January 1935, Aggie accepted an offer from William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper, the Evening Herald and Express, propelling her into the big leagues. Working for Hearst differed entirely from working for the Record. Hearst expected his reporters to work at breakneck speed. After all, they had to live up to the paper’s motto, “The First with the latest.”
From January 1935, until January 1947, Aggie covered everything from fires and floods to murder and mayhem, frequently with photographer Perry Fowler by her side. She considered herself to be a general assignment reporter, but developed a reputation and a knack for covering crimes.
Sometimes she helped to solve them.
In December 1939, Aggie was called to the scene of what appeared to be a tragic accident on the Angeles Crest Highway. Laurel Crawford said he had taken his family on a scenic drive, but lost control of the family sedan on a sharp curve. The car plunged over 1000 feet down an embankment, killing his wife, three children, and a boarder in their home. He said he had survived by jumping from the car at the last moment.
When asked by Sheriff’s investigators for her opinion, Aggie said she had observed Laurel’s clothing and his demeanor, and neither lent credibility to his account. She concluded Laurel was “guilty as hell.” Her hunch was right. Upon investigation, police discovered Laurel had engineered the accident to collect over $30,000 in life insurance.
Hollywood was Aggie’s beat, too. When stars misbehaved or perished under mysterious or tragic circumstances, Aggie was there to record everything for Herald readers. On December 16, 1935, popular actress and café owner Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her Pacific Palisades ho9me. Thelma’s autopsy was Aggie’s first, and her fellow reporters put her to the test. It backfired on them. Before the coroner could finish his grim work, her colleagues had turned green and fled the room. Aggie remained upright.
Though Aggie never considered herself a feminist, she paved the way for female journalists. In January 1947, they yanked her off the notorious Black Dahlia murder case and made her editor of the City Desk, making her one of the first woman to hold this post for a major metropolitan newspaper. Known to keep a bat and startup pistol handy at her desk, just in case, she was beloved by her staff and served as City Editor for the Herald (later Herald Examiner) until retiring in 1968.
When she passed away in 1984, the Herald-Examiner eulogized her. “She was undeterred by the grisliest of crime scenes and had a knack for getting details that eluded other reporters. As editor, she knew the names and telephone numbers of numerous celebrities, in addition to all the bars her reporters frequented. She cultivated the day’s best sources, ranging from gangsters and prostitutes to movie stars and government officials.”
They were right. Aggie dined with judges, cops, and even gangster Mickey Cohen. I hope you will enjoy reading about Aggie, as much as I will enjoy telling her stories.
This is the third of a series of articles by an International News Service staff correspondent who obtained the first comprehensive inside story of California’s unique all-woman prison.
Tehachapi, Cal., May 2 — Forbidden to read newspapers, their only source of information being occasional letters and visits by friends, the 145 women inmates of California’s “City of Forgotten Women,” Tehachapi, have one question that is always asked early during a visit.
“Something new?” It was the first question asked me by Mrs. Anna de Ritas, 39-year-old convicted slayer of her sweetheart Mike Lotito. The dormitory in which she is housed is by far the “happiest” sounding building of the prison group. Anna de Ritas shot her lover to death.
Housed with her are Miss Thelma Alley, Hollywood actress, convicted of manslaughter in connection with an automobile accident; Mrs. Eleanor Hansen, who murdered the husband whom she charged failed to properly feed her and their daughter; Emma Le Doux, who has spent more than 20 years in state prisons for murder in Stockton.
Another interesting inmate of Tehachapi, and another really happy one, is Mrs. Trinity Nandi who has spent more than 17 years behind prison walls for murder. She is to be released in May, and she is full of plans for the future.
Since her removal from San Quentin to the Tehachapi institution, Mrs. Nandi has been working in the rabbitry and has qualified as an expert. It is her hope to start a rabbit farm when she is released. The women in Tehachapi are learning how to make themselves useful when they leave it.
When Burmah first entered Tehachapi, she was full of ambition and conducted classes in commercial courses, Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, says Burmah did a fine job of it. She taught oral English, typing, and dramatics to fellow inmates.
She fell ill for almost two months and during that illness her ambition and vivacity seemed to disappear.
“I’ve gone into it very thoroughly,” Burmah said softly, and sadly, after announcing that her interviewer was the first visitor she has had since last November. Her father, who was loyal to her throughout her arrest and trial, is dead now.
“The prison board can’t do a thing. The judge who sentenced me fixed that up and I just can’t see any sense in working hard every day when there’s nothing to work for. I can’t see any sense in hoping for the future, when there’ nothing to hope for. I can’t see any sense in training for work to do when I get out of here, because I’ll be an old lady then–maybe not old physically, but I know from what it’s already done to me that I’ll be hundreds of years old mentally.”
The girl the nation read out as the “jazz baby,” Burmah White, the blonde bandit moll, wife of one of Los Angeles’ most notorious slain criminals, Thomas White, has vanished. The “tough,” cynical 19-year-old girl who entered the prison 16 months ago has been transformed into a quiet mannered, sad-eyed girl, her face framed in soft dark brown hair which she had let grow back to its natural color.
“You know,” she said, with a slightly cynical smile, “they tell me there’s civilization beyond them thar hills!”
“I was an example to the youth of this country when I was sentenced for the wrongs I had done. That was the sole purpose in giving me that stiff sentence–to set an example. I wonder if it has deterred any girls in Los Angeles from a life of crime–I doubt if it even made an impression on any of them,” she said bitterly.
I found she had been making a new blouse out of a bit of silk that she had managed to obtain. A particularly becoming blouse–peach colored, with a white lacing down the front.
“Oh, can you wear those things up here?” I asked her, and then she grinned her old grin and said, “Well, we can wear dark skirts and blouses on Sunday–only the blouses have to be white–but making it helped pass the time of day.”
NOTE: This is the final installment of Aggie’s interviews with inmates in the Women’s Prison in Tehachapi. . When the series appeared, Aggie had been working for William Randolph Hearst for less than a year. The series was syndicated which gave her national exposure, and helped her earn a reputation as a reporter to be reckoned with.
This is the second of a series on California’s unique women’s prison, which has bestirred national interest among sociologists and penologists. An International News Service staff correspondent was able to obtain the first comprehensive “inside story” of the institution where Clara Phillips and other noted women offenders are now confined.
Tehachapi, Cal., May 1, 1935 — Eight months in the “death house!”
Eight months in which to sit in one tiny room, forbidden to talk to anyone except matrons–Eight months in which to remember–what?
Possibly the sound of six shots, ringing out in the still of night–six shots which ended the life of Eric B. Madison, movie studio cashier.
Eight months in which to hear over and over again, the voice of a judge saying “You are sentenced to hang by the neck until dead”.
That is the fate of Nellie B. Madison, comely widow, who is the only woman in California now under sentence to die on the gallows.
Just eight months ago last March 12, Nellie Madison entered Tehachapi prison and was placed in the “death cell.”
This “cell” is merely a room in the prison hospital. Architects who designed the state institution for woman at Tehachapi omitted “death cell.” That’s another way this prison is different.
So, in this room on the second floor of the administration building, Nellie Madison sits day after day. She seems a quite different person from the Nellie Madison who amazed Los Angeles court attaches during her trial with her cool, calm demeanor.
Her nattily tailored clothes are, of course, discarded for the regulation prison costume–blue denim dresses with a white pinstripe.
Her jet-black hair, now greying, has grown from the trim modern bob until it almost reaches her shoulders.
“In Los Angeles, I was thoroughly benumbed by all that had happened,” she said after the first glad welcome of seeing someone whom she had seen in the outside world.
“I couldn’t realize just what had happened to me, but now that I have been here–let’s see is it only eight months or is it ten years–well, I’ve begun to get all the confidence in the world that the State Supreme court will reverse my conviction.”
This was Mrs. Madison’s only interview since she has entered the state institution.
“It seems to me that one’s conscience would be the greatest punishment in the world,” she said.
“My conscience doesn’t bother me one bit, but I do feel the disgrace that I have brought on myself and my family. One’s past good name and character seem to mean nothing when a person gets into trouble, but it apparently doesn’t mean a thing.”
Mrs. Madison’s recreation consists of short walks on the grounds each day–in company with a matron and the letters she receives from friends.”
Aggie became interested in Nellie’s case when she covered it for the Herald. As she learned more about the abuse Nellie suffered at the hands of her husband, Eric, the less she believed Nellie deserved to hang. Through her coverage of the case, and her advocacy, Aggie and others were successful in getting Nellie’s sentence commuted to life; which made her eligible for parole. On March 27, 1943, nine years and three days after the murder, the state released Nellie.
In her 1949 autobiography, Newspaperwoman, Aggie said this about the case.
“While one’s work as a reporter may serve justice and work for or against a defendant, one shies from taking bows for presumed triumphs. Even in commendation, one does not want to feel one’s fairness impugned. I was embarrassed, therefore, when Nellie Madison embraced me gratefully at Tehachapi when I informed her that her sentence to be hanged had been commuted to life imprisonment by Governor Frank F. Merriam.”
“‘You did it! You did it!’ she wept. ‘I owe it all to you!’”
NEXT TIME: In the third article, Aggie tells of interviews with other inmates at Tehachapi.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is TRY AND GET ME! aka THE SOUND OF FURY, starring Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, and Lloyd Bridges.
The film is based on the 1947 novel The Condemned by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay. The Pagano novel was based on events that occurred in 1933 when two men were arrested in San Jose, California for the kidnapping and murder of Brooke Hart. The suspects confessed and were subsequently lynched by a mob of locals. The 1936 film, Fury, directed by Fritz Lang, was inspired by the same incident.
Enjoy the movie.
Impoverished Howard Tyler decides to move his pregnant wife Judy and their young son Tommy from Massachusetts to the friendly town of Santa Sierra, California, to find his fortune working in the mines. Once there, however, Howard cannot find a job and the family’s poverty deepens to the point where Judy cannot even afford a doctor to monitor her pregnancy. In his desperation, Howard meets a petty thief named Jerry Slocum and is easily convinced to work for him, helping him to commit a series of robberies. Convinced that the town is experiencing an incipient crime wave, publisher and editor of the Santa Sierra Journal Hal Clendenning assigns featured columnist Gil Stanton to sensationalize the new trend.
Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, introuced this film for TCM’s Noir Alley, which he hosts. Check it out.
What’s a cold turkey pinch? In the 1930s, it was cop speak for an officer who made an arrest with no effort–no gathering of evidence, no investigation, nothing.
Thanksgiving Day on “The Nickel” (Fifth Street) in 1937 was desperate living personified. LAPD Detective Lieutenants Bailey and Olson sat in the Chicago Cafe at 209 Fifth and watched as drunks shuffled past, oblivious to those who would do them harm. Old Man Depression brought an abundance of misery, leaving The Nickel devoid of warmth, joy, and delicious aromas found in other city neighborhoods.
The detectives sipped their coffees and kept their eyes peeled for predators who preyed on helpless drunks. Known as drunk rollers, the vultures robbed Skid Row inebriates of their few possessions. A man, seemingly down on his luck, seated himself beside Bailey and said, “you wouldn’t mind staking a thirsty guy to a nickel beer would you.” After looking the stranger up and down, Bailey bought the man a brew.
Chicago Cafe at 209 Fifth Street c. 1937. [Photo is from Schultheis collection at the LAPL]
The man sat silently nursing his beer, then he turned to Bailey and pointed at a man in a booth who had obviously passed out. “Watch me,” the beer drinker said–then he walked over to the unconscious boozer and searched through his clothing.
When he returned to his seat he grinned at Bailey and Olson and said, “See what I got?” and held up a dollar bill. “Now I guess it’s my treat.”
“Yes, brother, I sure guess it’s your treat all right,” said Bailey as pulled out his badge and arrested his would-be benefactor. Bailey booked Jack Orchard, 35, at the City Jail on suspicion of robbery.
If you wonder what Jack Orchard’s Thanksgiving repast was like in the county slammer, they served prisoners veal turnovers w/cream gravy, mashed potatoes, sugar peas, combination salad, one doughnut and coffee. The jailers, however, got turkey with all the trimmings. Crime doesn’t pay.
May your Thanksgiving be happier than Jack Orchard’s (although he got a free beer.) Have a great Holiday and stay safe. Those Black Friday sales can be murder!
NOTE: I’ll pick up the rest of Aggie Underwood’s Tehachapi series in my next post.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is AND THEN THERE WERE NONE . It is based on a 1939 Agatha Christie novel, and stars Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and Louis Hayward, Enjoy the film.
On a stormy Friday afternoon, Judge Francis J. Quincannon, Dr. Edward G. Armstrong, Philip Lombard, Vera Claythorne, General Sir John Mandrake, Emily Brent, William H. Blore and Prince Nikita Starloff are taken on a fishing boat to Indian Island, off the coast of Devon, England, for a weekend visit with the mysterious U. N. Owen. The eight passengers, who are all strangers, are greeted by butler Thomas Rogers and his wife Ethel, the cook, who reveal that they have not met their new employer. While eating in the dining room, the guests become intrigued by the centerpiece, which consists of ten figurines of Indian boys. Vera begins to recite the nursery rhyme about ten little Indian boys who are killed, and Starloff continues the rhyme in the parlor. Rogers then puts a record on the phonograph, as he was instructed to do, and the guests are astonished to hear Owen accuse them of various crimes that led to the deaths of others.
In the spring of 1935, reporter Aggie Underwood wrote a three-part series of articles for the Herald about women incarcerated in Tehachapi. Aggie maintained a relationship with the prison’s administration. They kept her informed about prisoner releases, and anything of interest to the Herald’s readers. Bad girls are undeniably fascinating.
The number of women committing violent felonies has risen since Aggie covered the crime beat. For many decades, women committing such crimes were an anomaly. Alienists (psychiatrists) and penologists offered various theories to explain their behavior.
In 1924, Sigmund Freud suggested menstruation reminded women of their inferiority and inflamed them toward revenge. Let that nonsense sink in for a moment. His theory is absurd and offensive, but we still accept variations of it today. We may characterize an ambitious woman as unfeminine or vicious. We may praise a man exhibiting identical traits for his business acumen and strength. Make no mistake, even in the 21st Century women are still competing on an uneven playing field.
There is an ongoing debate about the punishment of women, regardless of whether they were driven by homicidal PMS rage or something else. Throughout history, women have avoided the death penalty more often than their male counterparts.
In his 1931 criminology course, Dr. Paul E. Bowers said, “We hate to send a woman to the penitentiary, we hate to electrocute or hang women. We think it’s the wrong thing to do. Many women have been convicted of murder, but it is only rarely that women are hung or electrocuted for committing murder.”
One of the most notorious executions of a woman was the electrocution of Ruth Snyder in New York in 1928. She and her lover, Judd Gray, received death sentences for the murder of her husband. Tom Howard, a clever newspaperman for the Daily News, smuggled a small camera, strapped to his ankle, into the death chamber. At the crucial moment, he snapped a photo of Ruth in her death throes. The photo made front page news around the world. Snyder and Gray inspired James M. Cain’s novel, Double Indemnity, which became the eponymous film noir in 1944.
Perhaps because her own upbringing was as tough as many of the women she interviewed behind bars, the lives of female convicts intrigued Aggie. She didn’t romanticize their crimes, nor did she condone their actions. She empathized.
Below is the first part of Aggie Underwood’s series on the lives of the forgotten women of Tehachapi, as it appeared in newspapers in 1935.
Tehachapi, Cal., Apr. 30 —
Nestled in a range of snow-covered mountains, eight and one-half miles from the nearest town, is California’s home for forgotten women.
Here is Clara Phillips, the celebrated “Hammer Murderer”; Louise Peete, Nellie Madison, Josephine Valenti, Anna De Ritas, Burmah White and 140 others who ignored man-made laws and are spending long, long years in a miniature city of their own.
Ruler of this city surrounded by a high wire fence is Miss Josephine Jackson, deputy warden, who works under orders from the head of the state prison at San Quentin, James B. Holohan.
For 18 years she has been employed in California prisons, and for 18 years she has been caring for women whom the state has tagged “bad” and sent away to do penance behind prison walls.
Miss Jackson moved the first group of girls from San Quentin into Tehachapi in August 1933, and by November of the same year, they had transferred all the inmates of the state prison.
Life runs smoothly, and quietly, as the days go by with the only break in a monotonous existence being an occasional visit by some unexpected outsider.
The buildings which comprise the prison group are in an administration building, detention building, and two cottages.
All work in the prison is volunteer—none compulsory, and each inmate is given an opportunity to do the work she likes best.
Many of them prefer garden work, many laundry, many cooking, and table serving, many secretarial and some even beauty work.
There is no official chef at the state institution and the inmates have proven themselves splendid cooks, even to the extent of making all the bread that is used by the inmates.”
Six a.m. is regulation “get-up” time; 9 p.m. lights out.
Work on the various necessary duties is started immediately after breakfast and groups may be seen leaving the various buildings in which they are housed for the rabbitry, the chicken yard, the barn yard where there are several cows to be milked.
And, as groups gather around electric washing machines, or in the yard planting trees, or in the chicken yard tending the fowls, loud shouts of laughter may be heard ringing through the echoing mountainous section.
No supervisor stands over these 145 women to drive them to their tasks. No one waits around to scold or correct them. They are on an honor system to do their best work in their best manner, and according to Miss Jackson, this system succeeds remarkably.
Each building has a nicely furnished recreation room where the girls gather when their daily tasks are completed to play cards, checkers, sew or play the piano. But, because the architects failed to provide for an auditorium, there are no picture shows because there is no room large enough to seat all the inmates.
Just as Sing-Sing, an Eastern prison, has an outstanding men’s football team, so does Tehachapi have its baseball team.
In fact, two teams have been organized. Josephine Valenti, who gained prominence in Los Angeles when she was convicted of burning her small baby to death, is captain of one team and Pauline Walker, a colored girl, is captain of the second team.
They play every Sunday with all the inmates gathering on the sidelines to do the rooting.
At present, the field isn’t much good, but the girls are gradually doing their own work and making a real diamond.
They have made their own uniforms—white blouses and black bloomers with red stripes down the sides, and, according to Miss Jackson, they welcome the opportunity to don these costumes and break the monotony of everyday life.
Each goes on in the same fashion, light tasks, few laughs—a drab life, for the 145 women who must pay for their transgressions of the law. yet Tehachapi represents notable changes in the American penal system and is being studied as a model.”
NEXT TIME: Agness Underwood’s series on the “city of forgotten women” continues.
NOTE: This is an updated version of a post from 2013.
Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.
Today’s feature is ROAD HOUSE starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Celeste Holm.
At a seedy nightclub and bowling alley near the Canadian border, owner Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark) is in love with his new cabaret singer, Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), who only has eyes for Jefty’s best friend, bar manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde). Although he tries to keep his distance, Pete soon falls for Lily’s charms. But when the couple tries to run away together, Jefty and jealous cashier Susie Smith (Celeste Holm) conspire to frame them for a crime they didn’t commit.
If you have hair, you have endured an inevitable bad hair day. But have you ever had a haircut so awful it drove you to violence?
Newlyweds Barbara and William Mihich struggled to adapt to married life. After getting married in Las Vegas in March 1956, they had already split up once by August. They argued about money, and they also argued about how often Barbara’s hair was in curlers. William became so incensed by Barbara’s beauty routine he cut her hair. Whether by consent or by force, Barbara ended up with a ragged looking pixie. William, a plumbing contractor, not a hair stylist, took too much off the top, the back, and the sides. Barbara was not pleased.
After the hack job on her tresses, Barbara met friends at a local bar for a few drinks and to cool off. She arrived home in the pre-dawn hours, even more pissed off than when she left. Still keyed up, she put a record on the player and turned up the volume. William objected to the music, and to the fact she had stayed out so late. The hostilities resumed.
Their argument spilled out to the front yard, where they raged at each other until Barbara bolted for the front door. Before William could catch up, Barbara locked him out. She grabbed a gun and shot through a window. The round ripped into a neighbor’s house and they called police. Other neighbors hid behind trees and cars to avoid being struck by a wayward bullet.
The first officer to arrive outside the Mihich home ducked for cover when four bullets struck his patrol car. He called for back-up. Reinforcements pulled up. Lights flashing and sirens blaring. They cautiously approached, and placed searchlights around the house to prepare for a siege.
Police lobbed cannisters of tear gas through the home’s broken windows. Screaming, rubbing her eyes, and choking, Barbara stumbled out of the smoke. They placed her under arrest and transported her to the Lincoln Heights Jail, where they booked her on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
William came to Barbara’s defense. “She wasn’t shooting at me. She was just shooting away her temper.” Maybe, but she wrecked the interior of their home, scared the shit out of the neighbors, and got herself into a major jam.
Barbara told police William beat her. “I just got mad at the world. I wasn’t shooting at anybody in particular.” No target required. Any of the over fifty rounds she fired at random from a shotgun, two 22-caliber rifles, and a 22-caliber pistol were potentially fatal.
Detectives asked her what caused her rampage. She said William told her he’d trim her hair because he was tired of seeing it in curlers. Describing the chop, she got mad all over again. “He trimmed it all right, and how! He went hog wild and gave me a butch haircut.”
William described the incident to reporters. “We were just having a little argument on the front lawn when she ran off in a huff. She dashed into the house and slammed the door. The next thing I knew, bullets started pouring out of the windows.”
They freed Barbara on $3000 bail ($34,00.00 in 2023 USD), to await trial. Rather than face a jury, she opted to appear before a judge. A jury would have seen the coverage where reporters described her as the “pistol-packing blonde from Van Nuys,” and “the Butch Hair Cut Woman.” Unflattering and prejudicial depictions to be sure.
Judge Allen T. Lynch treated her fairly. On December 28, 1956, he fined Barbara $300 ($3400 in 2023 USD), and placed her on five years’ probation.
Did Barbara embrace the pixie cut, or did she grow her hair to Rapunzel length? Did the Mihich marriage survive the hair cut incident? I honestly don’t know. The couple stayed out of the news after 1956.