The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City

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The First with the Latest! Exhibit Screen Saver“The First with the Latest! Aggie Underwood, the Los Angeles Herald, and the Sordid Crimes of a City,” explores some of the most deranged L.A. stories that were covered by Agness “Aggie” Underwood, a local reporter who rose through the ranks to become the first woman city editor for a major metropolitan newspaper. Curated by yours truly, Joan Renner (Author/Editrix/Publisher of the Deranged L.A. Crimes website, Board Member of Photo Friends), and featuring photos from the Los Angeles Public Library’s Herald Examiner collection.

Join us for light refreshments and brief remarks as we celebrate the reporter who helped the Los Angeles Herald be “The First with the Latest.” An exhibit catalog featuring many never-before-published images from the Herald’s files will be available for purchase.

The reception is on Thursday, August 13, 2015, 6pm-8pm at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. Christina Rice,Senior Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; Stephanie Bluestein, Assistant Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge, and I  will be making remarks at about 7pm.

I hope to see you there!

Film Noir Friday: Where the Sidewalk Ends [1950]

where_the_sidewalk_ends_ver5Welcome! 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 WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Gary Merrill.

Enjoy the film!

 TCM says:

New York City police detective Mark Dixon and his partner Klein return to the 16th precinct where Inspector Nicholas Foley introduces them to their new commander, Lt. Thomas. Later, Foley meets with Dixon to inform him that more battery complaints have been filed against him, but Dixon is unrepentant.

Gladys Witherell is Missing! — Case Wrap-up

witherell_operatorsIt’s time for a postmortem on the Witherell case.

The two men who kidnapped Gladys Witherell, Floyd and Arthur “Jack” Carr, were sentenced to from 10 years to life in prison. Gladys was returned to her family. But what about the reward?

The reward money was divided among the seven telephone operators who played a significant role in the capture of the Carrs: Bessie Shaeffer, Georgia Pond, Lillian Clark, Bessie Sullivan, Alma Bryant, Lillian Moore and Bertha Heere. The operators kept Arthur on the phone while simultaneously conveying the address of the phone booth he was calling from to the police.

On the evening of February 10, 1921 a ceremony to honor the women was held at Grauman’s Theater. A special film about the case was shown (where is it now, I wonder). Detective Sergeants King and Oaks, and Deputy Sheriff Anderson were introduced as the men who captured the kidnappers. They would also receive rewards.

Nick Harris (owner of the private investigation agency bearing his name) represented Gladys at the theater because her physician said that she was still far too nervous and fatigued to appear in public. On her behalf he handed each of the operators a check for approximately $215–equivalent to $2875 in current dollars.

operator_picsGladys’ father-in-law heaped praise on the women: “Had these girls not been on the job, nobody can tell what might have happened to Gladys. They are the most splendid examples of young American womanhood–alert, quick-witted, sympathetic and instantaneously responsive to the call of need.”

I agree.

Film Noir Friday: The Most Dangerous Game [1932]

Poster-Most-Dangerous-Game-The_01

 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, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, isn’t a film noir but it is a fascinating film starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, and Robert Armstrong. The premise calls to mind real life serial killer Richard Hansen who, from 1973-1983, abducted women (prostitutes, topless dancers, etc.) turned them loose in the Alaskan wilderness and then hunted them down with his rifle. It is estimated that he murdered between 17 and 21 women.

TCM says:

While sailing through treacherous shark-infested channels, the yacht carrying Bob Rainsford, a noted big game hunter, strikes a coral reef and sinks. Bob swims to the shore of a tiny island, the only survivor of the wreck, and locates a mysterious fortress, which is owned by the Russian Count Zaroff. A gracious if intense host, Zaroff introduces Bob to Eve Trowbridge and her brother Martin, who are also recent shipwreck survivors. Zaroff, finding Bob a kindred spirit, reveals his obsessive passion for hunting and refers obtusely to his favorite island pastime, the pursuit of “the most dangerous game.” As the evening progresses, Martin becomes more intoxicated, while his sister tries to warn Bob to be wary of Zaroff. Later that night, Zaroff invites Martin to his “trophy room,” which boasts several mounted human heads, and informs him that his head will soon be joining the others on the wall.

Gladys Witherell is Missing! Part 3

The LAPD, LASD, and Nick Harris of the agency bearing his name, were following leads in the Gladys Witherell kidnapping. They eliminated the Greek man (a man who supposedly had a grudge against the family) from their inquiries, but they were deluged by fake tips, rumors, and prank calls.

The Witherells received a letter with a demand for $20,000 promising that Gladys would be released, unharmed. But unlike other crank letter this one had an enclosure–a plea written in Gladys’s hand. They were finally in contact with the actual kidnappers. The letter instructed the family to drop a package containing the ransom near a red lantern on Valley Boulevard, and it also informed them that could could expect a telephone call by midnight on Saturday, February 5th.

Detective Sergeant King and Deputy Sheriff Lips guarded the Witherell’s home and Nick Harris, Detective Sergeant Oaks and Deputy Sheriff Anderson were stationed at the home of Gladys’s parents. None of the detectives would leave their posts for any reason.  They were at their posts around the clock. Telephone operators were alerted and monitored incoming calls to both homes. A phone call was received at the Witherell home and a quick thinking operator stalled him before putting the call through to Otto, husband of the victim.kdnapper sentenced pic_resize

The kidnapper stayed on the phone with Otto for fourteen minutes, which was enough time to trace the call to a bus depot at Fifth and Los Angeles Streets. Detective Sergeants Stelzriede, and Paulmeyer  sped over to the location and waited outside the phone booth for the crook to finish his conversation. When he came out of the booth the detectives approached him with a question: “Who were you talking to?” The man froze for a few seconds and then said: “Witherell.”

The man identified himself as Jack Carr, he denied knowledge of Gladys’s whereabouts and claimed that he was a “tool” and he was working for some “higher up” whose identity he didn’t know. The detectives were skeptical and turn up the heat on the suspect for over two hours before he broke down. He gave up the whole story of the kidnapping of Gladys and implicated his cousin, Floyd Carr.

Floyd and Jack had been holding Gladys in a cabin in Corona. A posse was gathered to accompany the detectives to the hideout. Sitting between two detectives, Jack gave directions. It took two hours to get to the cabin.  It was located off a dirt road and had once been the home of a sheepherder.

long hunt endedIt was approximately 2 a.m. on January 31st when Detective Sergeants King and Oaks, and Deputy Sheriffs Lips and Anderson and Detective Curtis silently approached the rear door of the small structure. The door had been left unlocked. Deputy Anderson kicked open the door and ran into the kitchen. No one was there. The door to the bedroom had been nailed shut but was easily smashed open. Inside  the room lying on a filthy bed was Gladys. She became hysterical and refused to believe that the men in the room were law enforcement until they produced their badges. When asked about the treatment she had received at the hands of her kidnappers she assured officers that she had not been harmed. A statement with which the law would later disagree.

kidnappers sentencedFloyd was discovered in a closet. He pointed his .45 Colt automatic at the officer’s chest, but only for a moment. The officer yelled: “Throw up your hands or I’ll blow you through the wall!” Floyd raised his hands above his head. He was dragged from the closet and, stupidly, decided to put up a fight. He got the worst of it: “For God’s sake–don’t kill me. I’m not at the bottom of this!”

Actually, Floyd and Jack were at the bottom of the kidnapping. There was no “higher up” or gang, just two losers looking for a big payday. District Attorney Woolwine knew what to do; hustle them through the justice system and then to prison.

witherell mobThe Carrs were taken from Corona to jail, and then to court, but not without incident. A mob of people outside the County Jail shouted “hang them, lynch them, and let’s string them up.” Guards ran for the doors and dragged Floyd and Jack with them. In little more than 12 hours following their capture the Carr’s were in front of Judge Reeve where they entered guilty pleas. Then the Judge told them that they had the right to an attorney, and they had not less than two days and not more than five before he sentenced them. The cousins requested representation.

Public Defender Aggeler appeared five minutes later and conferred briefly with his clients. When they returned to the courtroom Aggeler argued for leniency because Gladys had not been hurt. D.A. Woolwine rose to his feet and told the court that the kidnapper’s lied. Gladys had been harmed. Judge Reeve set sentencing for Wednesday, February 2, 9:30 a.m.   Sentencing wouldn’t be difficult,, there was only one option under Section 208 of the Penal Code and that was ten years to life in the prison.

At 6 p.m. on February 2nd, as they were preparing to leave for San Quentin, Floyd and Jack addressed the assembled reporters. Jack said: “Boys before we leave, we want to let the world know that Mrs. Witherell is the pluckiest little girl in the world.” Floyd echoed his cousin’s sentiments: “You tell the world she is, she’s too good to wipe her feet on any man.”

They also had a confession to make regarding an alleged accomplice. According to Floyd: “All that stuff about the ‘Old Man’ that I told you while we were coming in from the shack that morning was all the bunk. Lord, you fired those questions at me like a machine gun, and I was sore and i wasn’t feeling very good, so I just doped out a bunch of lies for you. It was all the bunk.”

NEXT TIME: The Witherell case wrap-up.

Film Noir Friday: Caught [1949]

caught_1949_poster+01Welcome! 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 CAUGHT [1949] starring James Mason (in his first American motion picture), Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Ryan.

Enjoy the film!

 TCM says:

Leonora Eames, a young woman from Denver, and her roommate Maxine, a gold-digging model, share a modest Los Angeles apartment and the determination to move up in the world. To that end, Leonora, who works as a carhop, has enrolled in Dorothy Dale’s charm school. After graduating from the school, Leonora gets a well-paying job modeling fur coats at a department store. One day, while modeling a coat, a man named Franzi Kartos introduces himself to Leonora and invites her to a party aboard millionaire Smith Ohlrig’s yacht. Leonora rejects the invitation because she does not approve of rich men sending scouts to find pretty young women to attend their parties. Maxine, however, convinces Leonora to attend the party, calling it an “investment” in her future.

Gladys Witherell is Missing! Part 2

WITHERELL_GREEKThree days following the abduction of Gladys Witherell from her Hollywood home, LAPD Detective King and Oaks and private investigator Nick Harris, were on the trial of a mysterious Greek merchant. The man was thought to have a vendetta against the Witherell family and on the morning of the kidnapping he had been overheard saying that the only way to get even was “… to make the whole family suffer.”

While the Greek merchant lead was being explored a second note was rumored to have been received from the kidnappers. Confirmation of the note was not given by the police, but specualtion that it contained a demand for $20,000 in cash appeared in newspaper reports.

A description of the gray-haired man who initially went to a neighbor’s house seeking Gladys was widely distributed, but had so far come to naught. Gladys’s husband, Otto, waited impatiently for any word from the kidnappers. Nick Harris was quoted as saying: “We are convinced that the time has come when some advance is to be made by Mrs. Witherell’s captors, if they have kidnaped (sic) her for ransom.” When asked about a plan regarding payment of a ransom, Harris made the distinction between how the Witherell family might react to a demand, and how they would: “Naturally, we, as officers, cannot view the matter from anything but the legal aspect, but on the other hand you cannot blame the relatives of the woman for being anxious about her welfare, and desiring to obtain her release at any cost.”

Unwilling to leave Gladys’s fate entirely up to law enforcement, pastors of local churches issued a statement declaring that they would pray for her safe return. As the pastors and parishoners sent prayers heavenward, Chief of Police Pendegast asked the Hollywood Post of the American Legion to form a volunteer vigilance committee. Apparently the cops felt that they needed all of the help they could get.WITHERELL_PRAY2

January 30, 1921 found scores of men and women gathering in the rain to volunteer to search for the missing woman. Under LAPD direction they scoured the hillsides, canyons and groves–any place where Gladys may have been taken. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lent a hand in the search, but even though hundreds of people turned over thousands of rocks there was no sign of Gladys. The young mother had been missing for nearly a full week.

During the 1920s L.A. seemed to have cornered the market on firebrand preachers. Among the most vocal was Dr. J. Whitcomb Brougher, pastor of the Temple Baptist Church who decided that a sermon on “Hell” was called for. During his firey oration Dr. Brougher said: “Los Angeles is suffering at the present time from a reign of lawlessness. Our mild climate invites not only tourists, but also a big criminal class to spend the winter months here. Wherever good people congregate in large numbers, evil-doers go also, looking for a chance to exploit the good.”

witherell_prayDr. Brougher made a valid point about snow-bound crooks seeking a more welcoming climate. Why carry out a kidnapping in the freezing cold of an Eastern or Midwestern winter when you could commit the crime under gently swaying palm trees? Brougher continued to rail against the evil out-of-towners: “It is a pity that a beautiful city like ours should be the center of such revolting crimes as have been perpetrated here recently. Robbers, hold-up men, bunko operators, kidnapers (sic), attackers of women, murderers, bootleggers and other lawless elements seem to have congregated here, and are giving Los Angeles a name for being the center of crimes more revolting than can be found in the frontier districts of Mexico.”

The good pastor then concluded his rant, or sermon if you prefer, with a multi-part plan for coping with lawbreakers. “First, …the Mayor and Police Commission call in six or seven of our leading citizens and devise some method by which an organization of about 3000 of our able-bodied men can be enlisted in an active campaign to capture the thugs in our city and deport them.”

Evidently, Dr. Brougher believed that there was no such thing as a home-grown Los Angeles bad guy. He then suggested that mass meetings be held in different sections of the city to “…arouse public sentiment.”

So far Dr. B’s plan sounds potentially dangerous  to me–like maybe someone should be at the mass meetings to pass out lit torches. But he wasn’t finished.

Finally, he made a suggestion which sounded less like justice and more like the prelude to a lynching: “If those who attack women are caught, they ought to be put through the process of law and hanged within three days.”

Due process in three days would certainly break some kind of record.

Whoever was responsible for kidnapping Gladys Witherell had better hope that Dr. B wasn’t in charge of meting out justice–otherwise he (or they) should be prepared to hang in three days.

The fire and brimstone sermon ended–but the search for Gladys continued. For a day or two the police were uncharacteristically mum. Did that mean that they had a solid lead? Was the mysterious Greek merchant responsible for taking Gladys?

NEXT TIME: The search for Gladys concludes.

Film Noir Friday–Saturday Matinee: Shack Out on 101 [1955]

SHACK ON 101Welcome! 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.

It’s time for a Saturday Matinee.  Today’s feature is SHACK OUT ON 101 starring Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn and Lee Marvin. I’ll watch pretty much anything with Lee Marvin in it.

Enjoy the film!.

 

TCM says:

George Bater owns a diner located near the 101 highway in California, and although he enjoys his somewhat isolated existence, he tires of the bickering between his staff, waitress Kotty and cook Slob. Kotty, who is dating Professor Sam Bastion, a nuclear physicist at a nearby laboratory, is irritated by Slob’s constant harassment. George, who secretly loves Kotty, reprimands Slob, a slovenly man who resents George for never calling him by his real name, Leo. Their latest quarrel is interrupted by the arrival of Sam, after which Kotty announces that she has been studying for the civil service exam. Kotty hopes to better herself in order to make Sam proud, although he tells her that he loves her as she is. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Slob receives a shipment from commercial fisherman Perch, who sells him a small film canister, which Slob hides. George is cheered by the arrival of his pal, Eddie Miller, with whom he fought in World War II. Eddie, who has never recovered from the bloodshed he and George experienced during D-Day, is a traveling salesman. Although Sam presses Eddie to seek psychiatric help for his aversion to violence, Eddie protests that he has recovered from a minor nervous breakdown and is anticipating his upcoming vacation to Acapulco with George.

 

 

Gladys Witherell is Missing!

gladys_pic1On January 25, 1921 a stranger knocked on the door of Hollywood resident Elizabeth Warden and asked if Mrs. Gladys Witherell was at home. The man seemed slightly agitated and told Elizabeth that there “had been a bad auto accident on the boulevard” and a woman, who had been seriously hurt, was calling for Gladys. Elizabeth told the man that the Witherells lived next door to her in a bungalow owned by J.C. Kratz, Gladys’s father.

Gladys was at home at 6:10 p.m. when a man, approximately 45 years of age, knocked at her door. The man was tall, gray-haired, and smooth-shaven. He told her the same story he had shared with Elizabeth. The woman the man described could easily have been Gladys’s mother-in-law so she pulled on her coat and took her 18 month-old son, Jack, to Elizabeth’s home. She told Elizabeth she would return as quickly as possible–and then she vanished.

gladys_pic3When Gladys’s husband Otto arrived home later that evening his wife still had not returned. When he spoke with Elizabeth he became truly frightened and phoned the police. LAPD detectives King, Oaks, McMahon and Hurt arrived followed by LASD detectives Lips and Anderson. Private Detective Nick Harris was also called in. The motive for taking Gladys didn’t seem to be anything other than money. Otto declared: I have no enemy, as far as I know, and Mrs. Witherell never at any time told me of anyone who might have become infatuated with her and taken such means to take her away from me. Our married life ever since we were married in 1917 and when we were sweethearts in the Hollywood High School has always been ideal. Never at any time has there been a word of difference. We have many friends, and they all have treated Mrs. Witherell with greatest respect. I do not believe that she has been taken for immoral purposes or by a degenerate. The manner in which she left does not indicate it. I am more inclined to thing that I will soon hear from some asking for money.”

Otto, the head of the Financial Loan and Investment Company, stated his willingness to pay whatever he had for the safe return of his wife. In fact he and his father, A.J. Witherell offered a reward of $500 to anyone who could provide information as to her whereabouts.

Support for the kidnap theory came the following day in the form of a telephone call to the Nick Harris Agency from John Baldwin, a student at the Harvard Military School. He said he had seen a young woman in a battered looking five-passenger Ford on Washington between Western and Vermont and it looked to him as if the woman was been forcibly restrained and possibly drugged.gladys_pic2

Baldwin and the friend who was with him, Don Savage, were driving toward downtown when they noticed the Ford. The engine’s hood was missing and there was steam billowing out of the radiator. They followed the car trying to get the license plate number but when they got closer they saw that the plates were missing. A swarthy man, wearing a cap, was at the wheel of the car and when Baldwin and Savage pulled up next to it he gave them a look so filled with malice that the two turned up a side street.

The Ford was also spotted by J.E. Baumann, a gas station owner, at Thirty-eighth Street and Hooper Avenue. The top was down on the car and he he saw a woman who looked like the photo of Gladys that had appeared in all of the local newspapers. Kidnapping cases bring out the best and worst,in people. False clues, and even a fake ransom note were received by the family.

gladys_pic4There was a huge number of cults forming every day in Los Angeles during that time and so of course the Witherells were encouraged by some to engage the services of a clairvoyant or to employ other supernatural means to locate Gladys. The family relied instead on law enforcement. A much better choice, I think. Interest in the occult was at its zenith during the 1920s. After the death of his mother master magician Harry Houdini attempted to contact her through a spirit guide. What he discovered was that the mediums were con artists. Disgusted, he then made a crusade out of debunking and denouncing the supernatural abilities of the “vultures who prey on the bereaved”.

Mediums were not receiving mental transmissions from Gladys, nor were there visions of her glimpsed on the etheric plane,  but here on Earth there were Gladys sightings a-plenty.  John Baldwin and Don Savage had seen her, and so had gas station man, J.E. Bauman–but they weren’t alone. A taxi driver, G.L. Cope, who had a stand near Sixth and Hill Streets, told police that he had seen a battered Ford near Twenty-third and Main. Two other men saw the car on Sunset Boulevard.

Police were frustrated by the lack of viable clues in the case. Some of the most prominent citizens in Hollywood banded together and started a reward fund hoping that the offer of money would produce results. In less than a day they had received contributions in excess of $1500.

There was money to pay a ransom, if the real kidnappers made contact. All that was needed was a valid clue–anything that would lead the law to Gladys.

NEXT TIME: Will Gladys Witherell be found alive?

Film Noir Friday: Out of the Past [1947]

Poster - Out of the Past (1947)_03

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.

 I was trolling the internet for a film for a film for tonight and I found OUT OF THE PAST, one of my all-time favorites! I’m not sure why it is suddenly available, but I plan to take full advantage of it.  This film is a perfect example of film noir–great script, incredible cast (Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas) and fabulous director, Jacques Tourneur.  If you have never seen this before I suggest that you drop everything and spend approximately 97 minutes in film noir heaven (or perhaps more appropriately, hell).

Enjoy the film!

 TCM says:

In the small town of Bridgeport, California, gas station owner Jeff Bailey is tracked down by Joe Stefanos, a former business associate, who tells him that his boss, Whit Sterling, wants to see him the next morning in nearby Lake Tahoe. After he reluctantly agrees to meet with Whit, Jeff reveals to his trusting girl friend, Ann Miller, his recent past: Three years earlier, while working as a private detective in New York, Jeff, whose real name is Markham, and his partner, Jack Fisher, are hired by gambler Whit to find Whit’s girl friend, Kathie Moffat. According to Whit, Kathie shot him and then disappeared with $40,000 of his money. Assured by Whit that Kathie will not be harmed, Jeff locates her in Acapulco and immediately falls in love with her.

And that, my friends, is when the shit hits the fan.