Justice Times Two, Part 2

A Coroner’s jury found Gray McNeer responsible for the murder of his wife, Betty.  The gun used in the murder and attempted suicide was a weapon Gray had stolen from Harry Harris, a friend of his.  Harris, a harbor guard, discovered his gun and some shells were missing after Gray’s visit the night prior to the shooting.  When detectives showed Harris the weapon, he identified it as his own.

Gray wasn’t able to appear at any hearings because he was in serious condition. On August 6th his attorney, S.S. Hahn, announced that Gray would appear in court that morning. The defendant was in bad shape as a result of the gunshot wound to his head. He was blind in one eye, deaf in one ear,  partially paralyzed and he still had a bullet lodged in his brain. Despite the gravity of his injuries, Gray appeared for his preliminary hearing before Municipal Judge Galbreth, just as S.S. Hahn said he would. The defendant’s head was swathed in bandages and he was in a wheel chair, but at least he’d made it.

mcneer and motherGray’s mother, Lola, remained at her son’s bed side and on August 24th it was reported that she had given her official consent for an operation to remove the bullet from his brain.  It isn’t clear why a man in his 30s would need his mother’s consent, but it may have been that he was in no condition to give it himself.  S.S. Hahn told the court that in his present condition Gray was in imminent danger of death and that, even if he survived, he might be become “an imbecile.”  The operation was given odds of 100 to 1 that it would succeed; but it was Gray’s only hope.

S.S. Hahn requested a continuance of the trial so that Gray could undergo the potentially lethal surgery.  The request was granted. But would any of the local surgeons be willing to undertake such a delicate procedure?  The answer was no.  Specialists at General Hospital declined to perform the surgery even though they agreed that Gray was doomed without it.  The same group of surgeons put Gray’s odds at less that 1000 to 1 for survival.

Of course S.S. Hahn had a lot to say about the doctors’ refusal: “His mother wants that chance to be taken.  She wants to save her son and we are going to operate if it takes a court order to do it.”  The attorney found four brain specialists who were willing to volunteer for the surgery, but General Hospital balked.  Hahn said: “They tell us that nonresident physicians are not permitted to operate at the General Hospital and since the patient is charged with murder he cannot be removed from there.  Well, we will see what the courts have to say about that, too.” Judge Schmidt responded with a court order which permitted the outside physicians to perform the surgery on Gray’s brain.

Surgery was scheduled for September 8, 1934, but after he took a turn for the better the operation was put on hold indefinitely. Ten days later, Gray appeared in court once again. He was still bandaged and in a wheel chair. He entered a not guilty plea and he still publicly contended that Betty had shot him first and then killed herself.

McNeer and Hahn were in court on October 25th for opening statements. Gray was a pathetic sight. Would the jury be swayed in his favor even if they believed his misery was self-inflicted?  Hahn outlined his case for the jury.  He said that he was going to prove:

  • That Mrs. McNeer on three previous occasions had threatened to end her own life.
  • That several nights before the shooting, Mrs. McNeer went to the home of Harry B. Harris, special officer, at 1030 Hyperion Avenue, and sought to borrow his gun.
  • That the day before the shooting Mrs. McNeer called again at Harris’s home and remained there alone for some time.

Court adjourned when Gray collapsed and had to be returned to the County Jail Hospital.

The following day Gray was in court moaning, groaning and muttering incoherently. He yelled out: “You wouldn’t treat a yellow dog like you are treating me; why don’t somebody give me something?”  Following a few more outbursts, Judge Burnell addressed Gray: “You will have to keep quiet; this sort of thing will not be allowed at all, Mr. McNeer.  Thi sort of theatricalism has got to stop right now, and you might as well know it.”  Then the judge turned to Hahn and said: “Can’t you do something with your client, Mr. Hahn?”

mcneer and mother at trialHahn objected to the Judge’s admonition and there was a short recess.  Once back in the courtroom, Judge Burnell spoke to the jury:  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am making this statement to you at the suggestion and with the consent of counsel for both sides, the People and the defendant.  You, of course, could not help but observe the fact yesterday afternoon that the defendant was making more or loess noise, talking and groaning, and the Court made some remarks about ceasing the theatricals, or something of that sort.  That, of course, is something that you haven’t any business to pay any attention to, and I want you to entirely disregard it.  The defendant is here   on trial for one specific offense, and all the jury have any right to consider whatever is the evidence in the case and nothing else.  I know you will appreciate that and be able to do that, but for your information, in view of the apparent condition of the defendant, I am trying now to get hold of Dr. Blank, the jail physician, to come down here and tell us whether he thinks from his examination of the defendant there is any reason why the case should not continue. In other words, whether or not the defendant is in a condition physically and mentally that will preclude going ahead with the trial.  Until we hear from Dr. Blank, we will go ahead, and if there is any demonstration on the part of the defendant, you will disregard it.  You are not here to try anything except the facts in this case.”

Dr. Blank examined Gray and ascertained that he was in more pain than he had been in previously and that he was on sedatives continuously.  The doctor feared that Gray’s sanity was being affected and advised the judge to suspend the proceedings until a determination could be made.

The judge did exactly what Dr. Blank had advised him to do, and the trial was continued to October 29, 1934 at 10:00 a.m.  Gray’s sanity would be decided then based on an examination conducted by Drs. Benjamin Blank, Victor Parkin and Paul Bowers.

NEXT TIME: Will Gray McNeer’s trial continue?

Justice Times Two, Part 1

Los Angeles has been home to some of the wiliest and most wicked criminals in the world.  And where there are criminals there are attorneys to defend them.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which group is worse.

Among the defense attorneys who practiced in the city, one of the most fascinating was Samuel Simpson Hahn.  Known as S.S. Hahn, which makes him sound like a luxury liner, Hahn was born Schrul Widelman on September 18, 1888 in Ternova, Besarubia, Russia.  He is believed to have arrived in the U.S. on June 30, 1906 and changed his name to Samuel Needleman.  Contrary to the persistent belief that xenophobic immigration agents arbitrarily changed the names of newcomers many people opted to change their surnames to adapt to their new lives in America.  In any case, by 1912 the newly minted Samuel Needleman had moved to Los Angeles and had changed his name one last time. He became Samuel Simpson Hahn.  That moniker stuck with him for the rest of his life.

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson's trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

S.S. Hahn with a witness in Aimee Semple McPherson’s trial. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

On July 22, 1915, having passed his exam, Samuel Hahn was admitted to the California State Bar and for the next four decades he defended some of the most notorious criminals in the city.  Hahn’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of local crime.  Among those who sought his services were serial killer Louise Peete and naughty evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Hahn didn’t limit his practice to felons. Following WWII there was a sharp uptick in divorces.  Starry-eyed couples who married in the heat of passion during wartime found themselves dreading the prospect of thousands of dreary days in each other’s company. In 1945, LIFE Magazine featured Hahn in an article on divorce mills.   Interestingly, he appears to have met his second wife, Mary Monroe, when she came to him to dissolve her marriage.

HAHN_MARY MONROE

I intend to write more about S.S. Hahn in the coming months.  I find his career worthy of multiple posts.  He was disbarred as a young attorney in the 1910s, possibly for suborning perjury, but appears to have won an appeal to restore his license. His death by drowning in a backyard swimming pool in 1957 was ruled a suicide, but it was highly suspicious. I’ll get to more of Hahn’s life later—I think you’ll find it compelling.

Today I’m going to cover a 1934 case from the Hahn files in which he defended a man accused of murdering his wife.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, June 27, 1934, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kilborane of 4919 Bemis Street were driving on a lonely stretch of dirt road between the Southern Pacific tracks and the Los Angeles River. They were about 200 feet West of the intersection of San Fernando Road and Colorado Boulevard when they noticed a car.  It isn’t clear what caught the attention of the couple but they decided to investigate.  They found a woman sitting upright and dead on the passenger side. Seated next to her behind the steering wheel was a man.  He was severely wounded and semi-conscious. Both had suffered gunshot wounds to the head.

betty mcneerPolice identified the victims as Gray (Grey) Everett McNeer and his estranged wife, Beatrice (Betty) Helene Harker McNeer. While fighting for his life in the General Hospital Gray managed a brief statement in which he laid the blame for the shootings on his dead wife. Unfortunately for Gray the physical evidence suggested a far different scenario.

There were a couple of major problems with Gray’s statement.  First, Betty had been shot three times in the head and second, she was right handed. Even a contortionist would have found it difficult to shoot herself on the left side of her head if she was right handed. Besides, if Betty was the shooter why would she leave her intended victim moaning and alive?  Wouldn’t she have made certain he was dead before she turned the gun on herself—three times? Detectives were convinced Gray was a killer and placed him in the prison ward of the hospital—not that he was capable of taking it on the lam.  Doctors weren’t convinced that he would make it through the night.

gray mcneerWith Gray in the hospital, Detective Lieutenants Sanderson and Hill of the police department began their investigation into the backgrounds of the McNeers.

At 33 years of age Gray already had an extensive criminal record.  The 1930 Federal Census lists Gray as an inmate in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary where he was a machine operator in the pants factory. He was in prison for his part in the robbery of a paper company in Oklahoma City.  If his life since his release from prison was any indication of his future plans he had no intention of going straight, ever.  At the time of the shooting Gray was wanted for questioning in a recent string of robberies in Los Angeles.

Betty was 29 when she died and she had been married and divorced twice before she tangled with Gray.  She was 19 when she married a wealthy Altadena inventor, E.P. Pottinger. They divorced after two years and Betty wed Arthur Nollau who owned a knitting mill at 1409 West Washington Boulevard.  The marriage to Nollau also lasted roughly two years.  Twenty-four months seemed to be limit of Betty’s attention span for marriage.  In the days prior to her death she had filed for divorce from Gray to whom, you guessed it, she had been married for approximately two years.

Gray’s condition appeared to be improving; which meant that the ex-con would likely be indicted for  his wife’s murder.  In that case he would require the services of an attorney.

NEXT TIME:  Justice Times Two continues.

 

1901

Film Noir Friday-Saturday Matineee: I Wake Up Screaming!

i wake up screaming

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 I WAKE UP SCREAMING starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar and William Gargan.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After beautiful Vicky Lynn is killed, New York City police question Frankie Christopher, a promoter who sponsored Vicky, “glamorized” her and got her jobs as a model. Especially tough on Frankie is obsessed inspector Ed Cornell, who has never failed to get his man. Jerry MacDonald, a more sympathetic policeman, asks Frankie to tell them how he met Vicky, and Frankie tells his story.

 

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L.A. Noir


I’m pleased to announce that I will be the featured speaker at the May 7th meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime!  I’m looking forward to it and I hope that you will come out to the beautiful South Pasadena Library for the presentation.  If you are not familiar with Sisters in Crime, I suggest that you consider joining. The membership is comprised of mystery and true crime writers as well as librarians, booksellers, readers–anyone who loves the genre (men are welcome to join too!)

For details regarding the location of the meeting visit the Sisters in Crime website.

 squiggleJoan Renner—“Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L.A. Noir”

Los Angeles has inspired writers of crime fiction since the Golden Age in the 1930s.  The reason is simple, the City of Angels has been home to the most depraved killers and deranged crimes ever recorded. In her presentation, “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: The Real L. A. Noir”, writer and social historian, Joan Renner, will introduce you to a few of L.A.’s grittiest true tales and most fascinating real life characters, and offer tips on how to research them.

Joan Renner is a social historian and writer specializing crime. She’s been an invited speaker at the California Association of Criminalists, and has appeared in over 20 episodes of numerous Investigation Channel programs including Deadly Women. Her blog, Deranged L.A. Crimes, tells true tales of murder and mayhem from the 20th Century.

 

Film Noir Friday: Wicked Woman [1954]

wicked woman

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 WICKED WOMAN (aka FREE AND EASY) starring Beverly Michaels and Richard Egan. The film has been described as “Eisenhower era sleaze” and “delicious trash”.  I leave it to you to decide.

TCM says:

After a Trailways bus delivers voluptuous blonde Billie Nash to a small town, she checks into a rooming house. Her rooming house neighbor is Charlie Borg, who runs a tailor’s shop next door and offers her a meal. The next day, Billie gets a job as a waitress, at $6.00 a night plus tips, at a bar run by Dora Bannister and her husband Matt. Needing new clothes, Billie cons twenty dollars out of the lecherous Charlie by promising to date him. Billie discovers that Dora is a secret drinker and decides to go after Matt. She is even more determined when Gus, the cook, tells her that Matt used to work for Dora’s drunken father, who owned the bar, and that Matt saved the business. Later, when Matt and Billie are alone after the bar closes, she seduces him.

Agness Underwood: First Lady of the Newsroom

AggieUnderwoodFlyer-FINAL

Please join Prof. Stephanie Bluestein, Linda Deutsch, Prof. Randi Picarelli, and me for the screening of a documentary and panel discussion on one of my favorite topics, newspaperwoman Aggie Underwood.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Conclusion

Marion Linden morphed from a Ohio high school football star in 1932, to a failed felon with a death wish in Nebraska in 1936. His plan to die in a hail of police bullets in Omaha, thereby easing his parent’s Depression era monetary woes, went south faster than a freight train to Georgia. Marion was given a break, three years probation, and didn’t do any prison time for his dangerous and idiotic behavior.

Marion wasn’t supposed to leave Nebraska, but that didn’t stop him. He married 18-year-old Arlene Fagor in Denver, Colorado, on December 5, 1936. Marriage can be a maturing experience for some, but evidently not for Marion. His good behavior and his marriage lasted all of two months before ending in gun fire. Marion shot Arlene in the heart when he learned that she had been unfaithful to him while he searched for work in Texas. Found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, Marion was sentenced to from seven to eight years in a Colorado prison.

linden headline2By now may be wondering what Marion’s criminal behavior in Ohio, Nebraska, and Colorado has got to do with Los Angeles. Simple. Like many others before him, following his release from prison the ex-con moved to Los Angeles–land of bright blue skies, sunny beaches and, in Marion’s case, third chances. Prison may have mellowed him, and perhaps it did–for a while.  From 1940 to 1957 if he committed any crimes they weren’t serious enough to get his name into the newspapers. Unfortunately, Marion proved to be incapable of keeping his life on track.

On Sunday, March 17, 1957, St. Patrick’s Day, Leo Wise, a 34-year-old LAPD officer from  University Division, was on his evening rounds when he responded to the shouts of a bartender at a bar at Pico and Figueroa. Wise arrived to find an extremely intoxicated man creating a disturbance. Wise pulled the man onto the sidewalk outside the bar and patted him down, but didn’t find a weapon. Officer Wise said, “I don’t want to see you on the street anymore. Go home.” The patrolman then walked off in one direction and the drunk lurched off in another. After watching Officer Wise depart, the man returned to his spot in front of the bar.

When Officer Wise returned later in the evening he found the man where he’d left him. Wise said, “I thought I told you to go home.”  He patted the man down and once again he didn’t find a weapon.  Because the man hadn’t complied with his suggestion to go home and sleep it off, Officer Wise had no other option but to arrest the scofflaw.

Wise walked over to the police call box to request transportation for the man’s trip to the drunk tank–he never saw the pistol.  The man shot twice, hitting Wise in the neck and side. The wounded officer fell to the sidewalk but he managed pull out his service revolver. He got off two shots before the man jumped into a car and drove away.

A small crowd gathered around the fallen officer to render aid. Wise waved them off and gasped, “Take the number of those plates and call the police!”  Officer Wise died of his wounds.

Mexican national Luis Alatorre was driving by the bar with three companions. He witnessed the shooting and didn’t hesitate to drive after the suspect.  Alatorre and his friends flagged down motorcycle officers, Charles Sturtevant and Lloyd Nelson, who continued the pursuit. They stopped the man at Alvarado and 11th.  Alatorre and his companions, who had followed in the motor officers’ wake, pulled up and shouted, “Be careful, he has a gun. He just shot a policeman.” The man yelled at the officers, “you took me, but I got one …  I would like to shoot some more, just like I did the last copper. I’ll bet he is dead.”  The suspect spat in the face of the officer who was handcuffing him.

More officers arrived and one of them said, “Let me have him for a while and I will fix him.” The arresting officer replied that the suspect  “is under arrest and in my custody, so leave him alone.” The suspect said: “Thank you, buddy, for stopping these $#!%&* from beating me up. I’ll beat this in court. You are a good guy.”

linden booked photoLieutenant Gebhart took the suspect to Homicide Division. As they drove, the suspect said:  “I hope you have me for murder. I shot that #@$%&*cop and I intended to kill him. If I had an opportunity I would kill all of you. … I tried to shoot him in the heart. … I shot him with a .32 and I didn’t think it would do that much damage, but I hoped it would.”

The suspect was taken to LAPD’s Homicide Division where he was identified as Marion Linden. Lieutenant Gebhart, and several other officers later testified that Linden, even though he was handcuffed, had kicked and spat at officers and knocked furniture about. Lieutenant Gebhart heard Marion say that three years earlier he had been “framed” by two policemen on a charge of interfering with an officer.  He insisted that the officers had perjured themselves . He was convicted of the charges and during his 90 days in jail he made up his mind that he was going to kill a cop.

Marion bragged that: “it took the jury eight hours of deliberation on a misdemeanor charge to convict me …I’m very tough to beat.”  He also said that he had beaten one other murder rap and he would beat the charges against him for the murder of Leo Wise.

Marion was wrong. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Two years later, on July 30, 1959, Lt. Governor Glenn M. Anderson granted Marion a clemency hearing. The hearing came just in time. Marion was scheduled to go to the gas chamber in about a week. Governor Brown told reporters he wouldn’t interfere in the case, and left for a junket in Puerto Rico.

Marion’s execution was delayed while he acted in Pro Per and filed his own appeals. A few minor errors were corrected in the trial record but, apart from that, nothing substantive was changed. Marion’s death penalty stood.

On January 1, 1960, a fist fight broke out on death row. Marion and several other inmates, including the infamous “Red Light Bandit”, Caryl Chessman, got into an argument in their exercise area as they were about to watch the Rose Bowl game on TV. The fight ended when one of the combatants smashed the television on the floor and guards came in to separate the inmates. The fray was likely instigated by Chessman, but each of the other men saw an opportunity to mix it up and jumped in. They had nothing to lose.linden executed

Marion’s early life had showed promise, but somewhere along the line he lost his way. He became a violent and bitter man intent on murder. On July 12, 1961 forty-three year-old Marion James Linden paid for his life of crime in California’s gas chamber.

Film Noir Friday: Cry Danger [1951]

cry danger 1951

 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 CRY DANGER starring Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

As he steps out of Los Angeles’ Union Station, ex-convict Rocky Mulloy, fresh from serving five years of a life sentence for robbery and murder, is greeted by Lt. Gus Cobb, the detective responsible for his incarceration. With Gus is Delong, the decorated, disabled Marine who provided Rocky with the alibi that finally freed him. The cynical Gus invites Rocky and Delong for a drink, and at the bar, Delong explains that, because he shipped out the day after the holdup, he was unaware that Rocky, with whom he and some other Marines had been drinking the night before, was in trouble.

Marion Linden’s Life of Crime, Part 1

In March 1932 the Elyria, Ohio Chronicle Telegram sang the praises of an Avon High School sophomore for scoring ten field goals, bringing his team to its eleventh straight win for the season. The young man had his whole life ahead of him.

Fast forward to Omaha, Nebraska, April 1936. Marion James Linden, former high school grid iron star from Ohio, was living up to the speed he showed in scoring ten field goals. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old was speeding towards a life of crime. Marion was busted for stealing two automobiles, kidnapping three men and staging a holdup in only 45 minutes. Quite an accomplishment.

News-UT-OG_ST_EX.1936_04_03_LINDEN_headlineWhy was Marion on a crime spree? He told reporters: “I wanted to commit self-destruction in such a way my insurance policy would not be invalidated through the suicide clause.” Suicide by cop would have been his parents the princely sum of $1200 (equivalent to $20,814.77 in current USD). No doubt the cash would have helped his family weather the Depression. Marion entered a guilty plea, but a few days later he reappeared in court and changed his plea to innocent. He was placed on probation for 2 years.

By early February 1937, Marion was living in Denver, Colorado. By mid-February he was in jail on a murder charge. Marion shot Arlene, his 18-year-old bride of two months, in the heart.NEWS-NE-EV_ST_JO.1937_02_22_LINDEN_headline

Marion believed that while he was in Texas trying to find employment as an oil field worker, Arlene was in Denver having an affair. When Marion returned from Texas he immediately went to the home of his in-laws, the Cochrans, where Arlene was staying. He told Detective Captain James E. Childers that he pleaded with Arlene to give up her lover, and when she refused he shot her. But there may have been more to Marion’s motive than jealousy. Capt. Childers quoted Marion as saying that a divorce would have revealed a violation of his Nebraska probation agreement and he would have been compelled to return there to serve out the three year sentence for his mini-crime spree in April 1936.

News-CO-GR_DA_TR.1937_04_24_LINDEN_headlineMarion was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Judge Henry A. Hicks pronounced sentence–from seven to eight years in the state penitentiary. Lewis D. Mowry, Marion’s attorney, said that the his client had no plans to appeal, nor would he seek a new trial.

After serving only three years of his sentence, Marion was released in 1940. At that point he falls off the radar. Did Marion go straight? As an ex-con he may have found it difficult to get a fresh start, but If he committed any further crimes they weren’t newsworthy.

Marion resurfaced in Los Angeles in 1957 where he would once again be the topic of news stories.

Next time:Marion’s story concludes.

Film Noir Friday: They Made Me A Fugitive [1948]

they made me a fugitive_criminal

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 THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE (aka THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL) starring Sally Gray and Trevor Howard.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Narcy, the mastermind of a black market operation run out of the Valhalla Undertakers in London, informs his confederates, Soapy, Bert, Curley, Aggy and Jim, that Clem Morgan, a former soldier, will join their organization. Later, Narcy meets Clem at a bar and is immediately attracted to Clem’s girl friend, Ellen. The following day, when Clem arrives at Valhalla, he is stunned to find Ellen in Narcy’s office. Then, when Clem discovers drugs mixed in a shipment of nylons, he tries to renege on his arrangement with Narcy, who explains that this was a one-time favor for another criminal. Privately, Clem tells Ellen that he intends to pull out after the next job. That night, Narcy, who distrusts Clem, frames him with Soapy’s help, for the hit-and-run murder of a policeman, and Clem is sentenced to fifteen years in prison.