BOOK COMING FALL 2015!

Featured

aggie_bad dame

Aggie interviews a bad dame at Lincoln Heights Jail.
Photo courtesy CSUN

Novelists from Raymond Chandler to James Ellroy  have consistently turned to the corrupt history of Los Angeles for inspiration, and there is good reason. The wicked in Los Angeles have had few peers, and their stories have been so outlandish that they demanded to be told by people who were up to the task.

One of the reporters who proved  time and again to be the match for any wayward youth, homicidal wife, or monstrous child killer was Evening Herald and Express reporter, Agness “Aggie” Underwood.

Read about some of the most unhinged stories Aggie ever covered.

DERANGED L.A. CRIMES FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF AGGIE UNDERWOOD

COMING FALL 2015!

 

 

Film Noir Friday, a day late: Sleep My Love [1948]

 sleep_my_love_xlg

 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 SLEEP MY LOVE, starring Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings and Don Ameche.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Alison Courtland, who is from a wealthy family and married to architect Richard Courtland, wakes up hysterical on board a train from New York to Boston with no idea of how she got there. At the airport on her way back to New York, she meets an old friend, Barby, there to see off explorer Bruce Elcott, who joins Alison’s flight. Richard, meanwhile, has informed police sergeant Strake about Alison’s unexplained absence and because she has disappeared before, he is arranging for her to see an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Rhinehart.

Danger and suspense ensue.

Lois Pantages’s Wild Ride, Part 1

alexander

Alexander Pantages

In 1876,  Pericles Pantages left his home on a small Greek Island and shipped out as a cabin boy on a schooner–he was 9. By age 12 the boy had contracted malaria and was put ashore in Panama where he stayed for two years. Panama wasn’t exactly the best place for a boy who already had malaria, and he was told by a doctor that if he didn’t leave the isthmus he would die there. He shipped out as soon as he could and landed in Puget Sound.

He bounced around for a time nurturing a variety of get-rich-quick schemes before he finally wised up and realized he’d be better off taking money from those who had already made it.  What better means of relieving people of their money than the entertainment business? Pericles, possibly as a declaration to the world of his will to make good, took the name of his hero Alexander the Great.  The young man was every bit as fierce in business as his chosen namesake was on the field of battle. He stumbled and fell a few times, but by the end of WWI he had put together one of the most successful theater circuits in the U.S.

lois_alexander

Lois & Alexander Pantages

Alexander met and married Lois Mendenhall, a pianist, in Seattle in the early 1900s. The couple had two sons: Rodney Alexander (b. 1905) and Lloyd Alexander (b. 1907). They added a daughter, Carmen Elrene (b.1910) and then they adopted another girl, Marjorie Nelson (b. 1908).

He may not have been able to read or write, but Alexander could speak several languages and he was particularly adept at figures. It was his innate business sense that enabled him to beat the odds. Alexander’s was an inspiring rags-to-riches tale and he and Lois lived in luxury.

By the late 1920s Alexander was worth the equivalent of approximately $30 million in current dollars. That kind of money can change a person’s living circumstances. But what about a person’s character?  Do the other family members become spoiled and out of touch?  In Lois’s case it seems very likely.

On  the evening of June 17, 1929  Lois  careened around Hollywood in her large Stutz with a reckless abandon that would have shocked even Mr. Toad.  Used car salesman William Taylor was near Oxford Street and Santa Monica Boulevard when he noticed a woman at the wheel of a Stuz driving erratically. The car swerved and it appeared to Taylor that the driver was not in control of the vehicle. He held his breath as it side-swiped another car and continued down the street at a high rate of speed.  Hoping to stop the woman before someone came to harm, he followed her in his car as fast as he deemed safe. Although he kept her in sight he couldn’t match her pace.

the-wind-in-the-willows-cover-detail

Harry Lederbrink, first saw the Stutz at St. Andrews Place and Beverly Boulevard, and he noticed that it was being driven in a “very careless” manner. He pulled up behind the car and when it didn’t move forward as the traffic signal turned green he got out and went to see if the driver was in distress. He saw the woman with her head down and she had a “glassy stare”  He drew closer and “got a whiff” of whiskey. He also noticed the registration certificate–it was made out in the name of Lois Pantages.  He told the woman that she should pull her car to the curb and call a taxicab, but once she’d snapped out of her trance she became verbally abusive and roared off trailing dust and expletives.

As C.F. Holmes, his wife, and another couple were driving down Western Avenue the Stutz passed him on the wrong side of the road and clipped his fenders. The big car didn’t slow down or stop, so Holmes followed it and watched in disbelief as the westbound car swerved into the eastbound lane of Sunset Boulevard. The driver made no hand signal and gave no indication of what she was intending to do. Then, as several people watched, the car crashed into a small slow moving sedan jam-packed with people. The sickening sound of metal-on-metal was accompanied by screams.

NEXT TIME:  The aftermath of the crash.

Film Noir Friday: Angel On My Shoulder [1946]

 angel-on-my-shoulder-movie-poster-1946-1020207329

 

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. We’ve been closed for a couple of weeks to scrape the gum off the floor and refill the soda machine. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER, starring Paul Muni, Anne Baxter and Claude Rains. Directed by Archie Mayo who also directed The Man With Two Faces and The Petrified Forest among many others.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Soon after his release from prison, gangster Eddie Kagle is killed by his longtime friend and associate, Smiley Williams, and wakes in Hell. When Eddie realizes what has happened, he immediately attempts to break out of Hell and avenge his death. His actions draw the attentions of Nick, the Devil, who notices Eddie’s close resemblance to Frederick Parker, an incorruptible judge who is running for governor. Nick offers to help Eddie escape and get even with Smiley, if he, in turn, will help Nick destroy Parker’s reputation. Eddie readily agrees and, accompanied by Nick, returns to earth.

A Jealous Man

Jay William Campbell enlisted in the Navy in October 1942, but he wasn’t cut out for military service. He spent about 4 months in a Navy hospital before he was diagnosed as a psychoneurotic and discharged in 1943.

Jay’s wife Mary felt partly responsible for his mental problems. She had lost their first child in an accident while Jay was in the Navy and she said that it had a “very bad effect on him.”

mary judy

Mary and Judy

The couple moved on with their lives and in 1946 they were blessed with another child, a little girl they named Judy. Jay had found work as a milkman and by the end of 1951, the family was living in Van Nuys at 14205 Burton Street. Their home was across from Judy’s elementary school where she was in the second grade.

Theirs should have been the perfect post-war family, but Jay couldn’t resolve his emotional problems. He was, according to Mary, “…a worrier by nature.”  But Jay’s worrying had taken a troubling turn–he was becoming paranoid and jealous. He was convinced that Mary was cheating on him with a family friend named Chet, and his suspicions were causing a rift in their marriage. Mary and Chet were friends, but she vehemently denied that they was anything untoward between them.

In mid-December Mary wrote Jay a note and packed it with his lunch. The note read:

“Jay Dearest–I gave you a reason to doubt my love for you and now I have to do something to chase away the doubt.  I couldn’t live without you at my side where you belong.   I’ll always want to be yours and please dear be as you are and don’t change.  I really love you.
Your Mary.”

By New Year’s Eve Mary had reason to hope that Jay had overcome his jealousy. He had the day off and he wanted to spend the afternoon with his little girl. He told Mary: “Be ready at 4:30. I’ll take you and Judy to dinner.”

At 4:30 Mary heard a small plane buzzing the house. Jay was a pilot–maybe he’d taken Judy out for a plane ride–he’d done it before.  She stepped outside but didn’t recognize the aircraft; even so she had a premonition that it was Jay and Judy. As she watched the small plane appeared to stop for a second in sky; then it spiraled downward ripping into several 4800 volt power lines. The neighborhood was plunged into darkness. The only light came from the burning plane.which had smashed into the school playground across the street.

Plane_crash_kills_two_1951-1

Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection.

Mary’s premonition had come horrifyingly true–the victims were Jay and Judy. Fireman had to cut the twisted metal away from their bodies before they could pull them out. They had died on impact. A color photo of Mary and Judy was found among Jay’s personal effects. The photo had been a Christmas gift.

What had happened? Jay was a competent pilot, he’d had a commercial license for 3 years. Had there been a mechanical failure?

Jay had rented the plane from Mort Kamm, manager of the San Fernando Airport, and it was Kamm who found a note in the glove compartment of Jay’s car.  The note was addressed to Mary and it read:

“It seems that the price one has to pay for happiness isn’t so easy to pay.  I have lost everything so that you may start anew.  You have lost me and every part of me today, including Judy.  Can you ever tell yourself that Chet was worth it all?  Please pay Mort Kamm about $600 for his airplane. Keep telling yourself that everyone gets over everything.  It may help you, but I doubt it. I have always loved you even if you haven’t loved me.  Don’t ever live a lie again.

Your Jay and Judy.”

The deaths were officially listed as suicide and murder.

Airplane_suicide_and_murder_1952_wife

Photo courtesy of USC Digital Collection.

Funeral rites were conducted in Wee Kirk o’ the Heather on January 5, 1952.  Jay and Judy were buried in the same grave at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  Judy was accompanied  into the afterlife by the doll she had received as a Christmas present.

cat and doll

Film Noir Friday (on Saturday) Behind Locked Doors [1948]

behind-locked-doors

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 BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, starring Richard Carlson and Lucille Bremer.

Enjoy the movie!

IMDB says:

Newspaper reporter Kathy Lawrence (Lucille Bremer) is hot on the trail of judge-turned-wanted-fugitive Finlay Drake (Herbert Heyes). Lawrence believes Drake is hiding out in a mental institution and avoiding arrest by pretending to be insane. To prove her theory, Lawrence hires private investigator Ross Stewart (Richard Carlson) to infiltrate the asylum. But Drake soon catches on and, before long, Stewart finds that his life is in the hands of the very man he is there to capture.

The Street With No Name [1948]

STREET_WITH_NO_NAME

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 THE STREET WITH NO NAME, starring Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan, and Barbara Lawrence.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

After two gang-related killings in “Center City,” a suspect (who was framed) is arrested, released on bail…and murdered. Inspector Briggs of the FBI recruits a young agent, Gene Cordell, to go undercover in the shadowy Skid Row area (alias George Manly) as a potential victim of the same racket. Soon, Gene meets Alec Stiles, neurotic mastermind who’s “building an organization along scientific lines.” Stiles recruits Cordell, whose job becomes a lot more dangerous…

If I Had a Hammer

willys tiger2 Early in the morning of December 9, 1935,  38 year-old Mabel Willys ran from her home at 2737 Clearwater Street and accosted milkman Earl Hopper as he was making his deliveries.  “I’ve just killed my old man.” she said.  Indeed she had.  And he’d been dead for about 12 hours.

Mabel had delivered multiple hammer blows to the head and body of Dr. Walter Hammond, her 61 year-old common-law husband, thus ending his 10 day drinking spree and 8 years of abuse at his hands.

Mabel and Walter’s relationship had never been a happy one. Walter had a drinking problem of gargantuan proportions and would often go on binges that lasted for days. He wasn’t a maudlin, teary-eyed drunk, nor was he a lovable one. When Walter had consumed too much booze he became violent, and the object of his rage was Mabel.

Everyone has a limit, and 8 years of continuous abuse was it for Mabel.

willys inquestWhen Detective D.R. Patton arrived at the scene he found Hammond dead on the floor with the hammer still embedded in his head.  Mabel immediately admitted the slaying. She said that “…he had it coming.” She went on to tell detectives: “Sure I did it, he beat me and I decided a long time ago to kill him.”  Apparently she had taken her inspiration from the 1922 Clara Phillips case. Clara had taken a hammer to Alberta Meadows, the woman she thought was stealing her husband. The attack was so vicious that Phillips was dubbed “Tiger Girl”.

Mabel grinned at the detectives and announced: “I’m Tiger Woman No. 2.”

She went on to say that she wasn’t sorry for what she had done: “He has never treated any woman right–he never treated me right.  He treated me awful.  I took it as long as I could.”  In a matter-of-fact tone she told Detective Lieutenants Patton and Hurst that she was neither intoxicated nor insane at the time of the murder. She told them that Hammond had accused her of having hidden $5,000 in the back yard. When she denied it, Hammond began to beat her.  Mabel said:  “…I’m black and blue all over.  He has hit me a lot lately–we’ve been drinking steadily since Thanksgiving.  You saw those empty bottles at the house.”

willys candidCalmly Mabel described the murder in detail:  “After I hit him the first time with the hammer and knocked him down he began to howl.  I went over and put the window down so nobody would see it.”

“He crawled back and forth in the hall–I don’t know how many times I hit him then, four or five.  He is the hardiest person.  It did not seem he’d have that much energy. He crawled to the end of the hall and then back by the bed.”

willys booze“He was talking all of the time until the last time.  When he got back by the bed he died. Just before he died, he said ‘What is the matter, have you gone nuts?’ and I told him I couldn’t live with him and I couldn’t live without him.”

Mabel continued her recounting of the killing:

“When I first struck him he fell on the bed and then he came back at me. He was a big powerful man.  He took the hammer away from me and began kicking me and we fought back and forth. He was up and down several times, then he began crawling on his hands and knees and I kept hitting him.”

Detectives asked Mabel why she’d continued to hammer Walter when he was on the floor, and she replied:  “Because he was so hard to knock out.”

Given everything that had transpired during their relationship it should come as no shock that Walter and Mabel had met in 1927 at the Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney boxing match. Walter had recently separated from his wife and according to Mabel: “…he fell for me and I fell for him.”  They had separated once about six years before the murder, but got together again. She had begun as his housekeeper, but fairly quickly they began living as man and wife.

After Mabel  ambushed Earl Hopper, the milkman, she asked him to walk her to the house. Along the way she told him that she had pulled a “..second Clara Phillips hammer murder.” Once they’d arrived at the house Mabel asked Hopper to phone the police, which he did from a cafe at Fletcher and Riverside Drives. Mabel had stayed in the house with Walter’s corpse for about twelve hours before she had stopped Hopper’s milk wagon. Why had she waited so long? “I wanted to get the house cleaned up before anybody came,” she said. She told detectives that after Walter died she had collapsed in a faint over his body. When she came to and realized what she’d done she decided to clean the house, take a bath, and change her clothes.

Radio officers responded to Hopper’s call and arrived at the house. When Mabel opened the door they were surprised to see that she appeared to be freshly bathed.  She explained her tidy appearance to them by saying: “Yes, I knew you would be coming and I wanted to look nice.”

On December 12, 1934 Mabel was formally charged with Walter’s murder.  The Coroner’s jury found that Walter’s death was the result of a compound skull fracture caused by hammer blows, and  brought in a verdict recommending that Mabel be held for trial.

Despite her confession, Mabel entered a plea of not guilty. At her trial several witnesses came forward to corroborate her assertions that Walter had frequently beaten her and threatened her life. Strange that at least 4 witnesses testified to having been present when Mabel was given a thrashing, yet none of them intervened to stop the violence.

The jury was given a lot to ponder. They weren’t quick to arrive at a verdict and spent one night sequestered before returning to Judge Fox’s courtroom on March 12, 1936. They had found Mabel guilty of manslaughter.

willys verdictMabel was all smiles as the foreman read the verdict and she later said: “Of course I knew all the time they’d never hang me.  My conscience is clear.  I didn’t murder that man.  I merely retaliated against him.”

For beating Walter to death Mabel believed she ought to be given probation, but instead she received a sentence of from 1 to 10 years in the women’s prison at Tehachapi.

willys_mug

Photo of Willys from San Quentin mug book found on ancestry.com and courtesy of the California State Archives.

Mabel didn’t seem to mind, she smiled again at the camera when she was led away to begin her term. Maybe she thought prison life couldn’t be worse than living with Walter had been.

I haven’t been able to confirm Mabel’s release date from Tehachapi, but my best guess is that, provided she behaved herself, she was out in 5 or fewer years.

Pushover [1954]

PUSHOVER_1954

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 PUSHOVER [1954], starring Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey, and Kim Novak.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

A carefully planned bank heist by hoodlum Harry Wheeler and his partner leaves a policeman dead and $200,000 stolen. After the police investigation, headed by Lt. Carl Ekstrom, identifies Wheeler as the culprit, Eckstrom assigns detective Paul Sheridan to befriend Wheeler’s girl friend, Lona McLane, who has moved into an apartment in town. Paul stages a meeting with Lona and a powerful attraction develops between the two. Paul takes Lona to his apartment for the night, then spends the next several days with her. Later, Eckstrom, Paul and his partner, Rick McAllister, devise a stakeout across from Lona’s apartment, and wait for Wheeler to contact her. On Paul and Rick’s first shift, Lona leaves the apartment and Paul follows her, only to be startled when she drives to his apartment. He meets her there and she accuses him of having staged their meeting and asks if he is a cop. Paul admits to being a detective, but insists that he has been seeing her for personal reasons.

The Good Die Young [1954]

gooddieyoung

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 THE GOOD DIE YOUNG [1954], the film stars Laurence Harvey, Gloria Grahame, Richard Basehart, Joan Collins and John Ireland.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Three good men – a broken boxer, an American veteran trying to win back his mother-dominated wife, and an air force sergeant married to a faithless actress – are corrupted by Miles Ravenscourt, an amoral “gentleman.” Because they need money, they let Miles lure them into his scheme to rob a postal van with a large cash cargo.