Film Noir Friday: Illegal [1955]

IllegalVoiAssasini-Feb2012IT

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 ILLEGAL [1955] starring Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe and Jayne Mansfield.

TCM says:

In Los Angeles, police arrest Edward Clary for murder, despite his protests that he is innocent. Victor Scott, a highly acclaimed district attorney, prosecutes Clary with evidence gathered by chief investigator Ray Borden and assistant Ellen Miles, who is the daughter of Victor’s deceased mentor. In court, jurors carefully chosen by Victor are stirred by his summation and convict Clary. Having won the difficult case, Victor’s reputation soars and he makes plans to run for governor. Then, the real killer confesses and Victor is unable to stop Clary’s execution in time. Ashamed that his drive to succeed has resulted in an innocent man’s death, Victor resigns, drinks heavily and rejects the consolation of Ellen, who loves him although he treats her like a daughter.

Enjoy the film!

Justice Denied, Conclusion

jennie schuchow

Doris’ mother — Mrs. Jennie Schwuchow [Photo courtesy of UCLA digital collection]

Dr. George Dazey’s former in-laws were sure that he had murdered their daughter, Doris Schwuchow Dazey, when he became convinced that the baby boy she had birthed four months prior to her death was not his child. The Schwuchow’s said that he was a rude and uncaring man who never loved the little boy, Walter. Mrs. Schwuchow testified to George’s attitude about the baby:

“The doctor never paid much attention to the child.  One time I was visiting my daughter and I saw that the baby was sick and I called Dr. Dazey at the  Uplifters Clug and he said the the child had been all right in the morning.  I know when a child is sick and I told Dr. Dazey so and he came home and looked  at the child and I heard him say, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that damn brat.’  He said it under his breath and thought I didn’t hear him.”

Mr. & Mrs. Reis

Mr. & Mrs. Reis

If George was an indifferent and uncaring father, he was an equally unpleasant spouse according to Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Reis.

Stanley Reis testified:

“Four of us were at dinner one night when Dr. Dazey said to Doris, ‘It makes me sick to see you eat; don’t put so damned much in your mouth.”

The prosecution’s case against Dr. Dazey was circumstantial but they had a couple of persuasive witnesses. Frances Hansbury, George’s former employee and occasional dinner companion claimed that he had confessed to her that he’d killed his wife and told her to keep her mouth shut or she’d be sorry. Then there was the rent-a-cop, Roland Seal, who said that on the night of Doris’ death he’d been making his rounds as the operator of a residential patrol service in the Dazey’s Santa Monica neighborhood when he heard screams coming from the Dazey home:

“I heard some screaming coming from the house and on my next round, probably 45 minutes later, I got out of my car and went over n back of the Dazey residence   The back door was open and I could see the doctor inside.”

Roland Seal

Roland Seal [Photo courtesy of UCLA digital collection]

Seal said he then saw Dr. Dazey carrying Doris toward the door of the garage.   On cross-examination Jerry Giesler, the defendant’s attorney, managed to get Seal to admit that he’d been in trouble with the law a few times–once for robbery.  Seal’s credibility was seriously eroded.

Frances Hansbury didn’t fare much better–Giesler characterized her as a spurned lover with an axe to grind.

Giesler said that the defense was prepared to call forty-six people to testify on George Dazey’s behalf; and the line-up was strong. Among those to testify was Mrs. Kay Roth, the owner of a Santa Monica beauty parlor visited by Doris a couple of days before her death.

Roth said:

“She visited me in the beauty parlor just a few days before she died and told me that she was suffering from a illness from which she would never get well.”

The illness Doris spoke of was Addison’s disease and she’d been diagnosed by George and her father–although the diagnosis hadn’t been confirmed by anyone outside of the immediate family. George had given her the news of her condition but he wouldn’t give her many details nor discuss her prognosis. Undeterred, she looked it up in one of his medical texts and was, according to George, devastated by what she discovered.

It’s possible that Addison’s was the reason why Doris was unable to regain her strength after the birth of Walter; however she may have been suffering from postpartum depression. Known as the “baby blues”, depression following the birth of a child isn’t uncommon–but in some cases it may become extreme. If Doris was suffering from postpartum depression it may have made her suicidal.

Mrs. Roth further testified:

“She asked me about another girl who had tried to commit suicide but when I told her the girl had recovered she said, ‘If I commit suicide I will plan it so there’ll be no slip-ups…”

Kay Roth thought that Doris seemed “mentally depressed and physically exhausted” .

Others who had been in contact with Doris following Walter’s birth described her mental and physical health in much the same way as Kay Roth had done.

George Dazey on the witness stand. [Photo courtesy of UCLA digital collection]

George Dazey on the witness stand. [Photo courtesy of UCLA digital collection]

When it was Dr. Dazey’s turn to take the stand he testified that he and Doris had been in love and that he had no reason to believe that Walter was not his son.

On cross-examination the prosecution hammered hard on a few points they knew were  relevant in proving Dr. Dazey’s guilt. For example it had been suggested that Doris planned to divorce her husband, but George refuted that claim. In fact, George took such exception to the D.A.’s line of questioning the two men nearly came to blows.

By early March 1940 the four week murder trial was finally drawing to a close.  Deputy District Attorney Joseph Carr made the closing argument for the prosecution.

“It has been testified here that Mrs. Dazey was a very fastidious person.  One would not expect her, then, even if she had determined to take her own life, as the defense contends, to go into the garage and lie down in a pool of oil under the car.   She could just as easily accomplished her purpose by sitting in the clean seat of the automobile.

“There is then the fact that she left no notes to anyone.  An unusual procedute by one contemplating suicide.”

The prosecutor was also troubled by the fact that rather than staying to render aid to his wife, doctor Dazey ran into the house to phone for an ambulance. As a doctor shouldn’t he have wanted to try to revive her?

“A Boy Scout–not minding a doctor–would have given this woman first aid.”

The D.A. ended his closing argument by requesting that the jury sentence Dr. Dazey to death.

The prosecution may have made the jurors (10 men and 2 women) think–but it was Jerry Giesler who moved them to tears.

“The grandmother of this child–Mrs. Dazey’s mother–wants that child and will stop at no ends to obtain him.”

Adding fuel to his hyperbolic fire, Giesler continued:

“We might expect Hitler to ravish Poland, or a Stalin to rape little Finland on such trumped up testimony from polluted sources, but we do not expect it in American courts of justice.”

Both sides had done their best, it was time for the jury to review the facts in the case and reach a verdict.

Eight hours into their deliberation the jury foreman George D. Hale asked for the testimony of the several of the witnesses. Then he declared that the jury was stuck at eight to four– but wouldn’t disclose whether it was for conviction or acquittal.

The next day, March 9, 1940, the jury sent a note to the judge saying that they were deadlocked at ten to two and they did not believe it was possible for them to reach a verdict.  The judge asked them to give it another try–and they did.  The next time the foreman reported to the judge he said that the jury was at eleven to one and it appeared a verdict was likely. There was still no hint of whether the lone juror was holding out for acquittal or conviction.

Doris Dazey

Doris Dazey

At last the jury announced that they were ready to render a verdict. They filed into the courtroom and George D. Hale read the final verdict:

Dr. Dazey had been acquitted.

One of the prosecution witnesses, a maid named Nancy Bates who had been employed for a short time by the Dazey’s, had testified to the doctor’s dislike for the baby and his contempt for his wife. Damning testimony indeed, until Jerry Giesler produced documentation which proved that the maid had given false evidence. She had lied when she testified that she’d been in the Dazey’s employ immediately prior to Doris’ death.  Bates got four months in county lock-up for perjury.

Dr. Dazey won custody of his son Walter. Dr. and Mrs. Schuchow had a new will drawn up which specified that George would never get a dime of their money. A portion of their estate was to be placed in trust for Walter’s benefit.

Three years following the murder trial Dr. Dazey was back in court–but not for murder. His third wife, Dorcas Dazey, had sued him for a divorce alleging extreme cruelty.

In October 1943, less than one year after Dorcas had filed for a divorce, George Dazey’s obituary appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Either Dorcas had withdrawn her divorce suit or it wasn’t completed by the time of George’s death because he was described as her “beloved husband”. Services were held at the Little Chapel of the Dawn in Santa Monica.

This is one of those cases where I’m not sure if I agree with the jury or not. How about you? Do you think justice was denied in this case, or did the jury get it right?

Justice Denied, Part 3

Jury selection in the trial of 41-year-old Santa Monica physician Dr. George Dazey for the 1935 slaying his actress-wife Doris began in early February 1940. Guilty or innocent, George Dazey did one thing right–he hired Jerry Geisler to defend him in court.

“Get Me Geisler” (pronounced Geese-lar) was a cry that went up routinely in Hollywood circles. Over the course of his half-century of practicing law Geisler defended Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum, Charlie Chaplin, Lili St. Cyr and many, many  others.

attorney-jerry-geisler-with-client-everett

Jerry Geisler w/Robert Mitchum

Geisler’s practice wasn’t limited to Hollywood luminaries; he also defended Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel as well as the odious Dr. George Hodel (for incest). Hodel is well-known for having been a suspect in the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.

During the voir dire Deputy District Attorney Hugh McIssac questioned potential jurors on their attitude toward circumstantial evidence and capital punishment. The case against George was entirely circumstantial–which isn’t to say weak; after all, most cases are won on circumstantial evidence. Jerry Geisler’s questions to the possible jurors were very different; he wanted to know:

“If it is brought out here that the deceased might have ended her own life, would you be willing to take that into consideration in the matter of reasonable doubt as applied to this defendant?”

The final jury was composed of three women and nine men. The proceedings hit a snag when on the day after empanelment one of the jurors became too ill to attend the trial. The alternate jurors had not yet been sworn in which led to a legal dispute over when a trial actually begins. Is it when the jury is sworn; when the first witness is called; or when the first witness opens testimony? Opposing counsel agreed to stipulate that the sick juror, Mr. Gieschen, should be discharged and that selection of a jury should continue on the basis of an incomplete panel.

Unconcerned by the minor legal hiccup, Dr. Dazey spent his time working on a crossword puzzle.dazey crossword

George Dazey’s trial opened with a very unusual situation.  George Merritt, a major witness in the case, admitted to being a personal friend of both the defendant and Deputy District Attorney McIssac.  When Merritt took the stand he testified that Dr. Dazey had called him to the death scene shortly after he claimed to have discovered his wife dead on the garage floor.  But his testimony didn’t go as the prosecution had believed it would–Merritt was suddenly unable to recall the doctor making damaging, self-incriminating, statements.

The Deputy D.A. was not pleased:

“Didn’t you tell me at a lunch we had together within recent months that Dr. Dazey kept repeating, ‘Why did I do it?  Why did I do it?’”

Merritt said he wasn’t certain.

Peeved with his recalcitrant witness McIssac continued:

“Didn’t you tell me that although Dr. Dazey appeared hysterical and incoherent that  you and your friends decided that he was putting on an act?”

Merritt said no.

McIssac told the court that he was taken by surprise. He had every reason to believe that Merritt would testify at the trial the same way in which he’d testified to the grand jury several weeks earlier. At the grand jury hearing he was asked if Dr. Dazey had blurted out, “Why did I do it?” and Merritt had responded: “It might have sound like that.”

Part of the problem faced by the prosecution was that Doris’ death had occurred four years earlier and witnesses are notoriously unreliable even moments after a crime has occurred.

Jerry Giesler made sure to mention that even the police officers who had originally been called out to the scene had to refer to reports they had made at the time of the incident.

After the first day or two of testimony I’d have called the contest between the prosecution and defense a draw. Geisler had made a point about the dim memories of the witnesses, but the prosecution scored a point in refuting the notion that Doris had been suicidal with the testimony of Joe E. Burns, a Frigidaire repairman.

Burns had been called to the Dazey’s home on the day prior to Doris’ death to repair their fridge. He had to return the next day to make further adjustments and he testified that on both occasions Doris seemed to be in a good frame of mind and perfectly lucid when they spoke. That testimony would make it more difficult for Geisler to sell the defense theory that Doris was unstable and suicidal.

Winifred Hart

Winifred Hart during the silent era.

The most flamboyant of the witnesses to testify was a former neighbor the Dazey’s, Mrs. Wiinifred Westover Hart, the ex-wife of silent film cowboy superstar, William S. Hart.

Winifred was an actress during the silent era, which is how she met her ex-husband. Her first screen appearance was a small role in D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film, Intolerance, but her movie career was over by 1930.

The ex-Mrs. Hart arrived at the murder trial wearing dark glasses and holding a magazine up to shield her face. Her first comment upon taking the witness stand was that she was nervous.

On the night of October 3, 1935 Mrs. Hart said she heard screams coming from the direction of the Dazey home. Deputy District Attorney McIssac asked her:

“Did you tell anyone about hearing these screams after you learned of Mrs. Dazey’s death the next day?”

Mrs. Hart said:

“Oh, I told everybody, I was so upset!”

McIssac asked her if she had received any threats and she answered that she had, but she didn’t recognize the voice over the telephone. There was no way to corroborate her testimony about the threatening calls and on top of that it was difficult for the jury to take her seriously because she was so theatrical. According to the L.A. Times the former silent film actress had a flair for the histrionic.

When it was Jerry Geisler’s turn to question Mrs. Hart he opened with:

“Now don’t get nervous at me.”

Mrs. Hart went on to testify that in the late afternoon of October 3, 1935 she and her mother, Mrs. Sophie Westover, had been listening to the radio when they heard screaming and crying. Hart testified:

“It sounded like a boy being teased—boys used to play in a vacant lot next to us–and after a while I got up and shut the window and turned up the radio.”

Hart knew what time they heard the ruckus because she and her mom were listening to a scheduled program featuring Rudy Vallee.

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Winifred Hart c. 1940s

Another witness, Douglas O’Neal, 17, lived near the Dazey’s home and he testified that had seen Dr. Dazey’s car parked by the Dazey residence hours before the doctor said he’d arrived home to find his wife dead.

Jerry Geisler established that the boy couldn’t be certain it was Dr. Dazey’s car because he hadn’t seen the license plate numbers and the car was a popular make and model.

Mildred Guard, sister of the dead woman, testified that she’d visited her sister many times while she was married to Dr. Dazey. She recalled one occasion, a short time prior to the birth of the couple’s child, when there was some rather disturbing breakfast table conversation:

“George [Dr. Dazey] was talking and he said, ‘If the baby looks like_____’ and here he mentioned the name of a certain man–I’ll kill both Doris and the baby.”

Prosecutor McIassac asked Mildred how Doris had replied. Mildred said that her sister had admonished George, asking him not to talk like that.mildred guard.jpg

The mystery man was referred to in court only by his first name, which was Carl. During questioning by Jerry Gisler, Mildred testified that she knew that her sister had been going out with Carl up to the time she began dating Dr. Dazey. When asked if Doris had quit seeing Carl after starting a relationship with George, Mildred admitted that she had no idea.

Geisler said:

“Well, you know the baby didn’t look anything like Carl?”

To which Mildred replied that the baby didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Carl. Mildred’s testimony concluded with her description of an incident that had occurred on a night when she was staying at the Dazey home.  She said she heard Doris scream then call out her name:

“I went to her room and she was partly sitting up in bed and had a frightened look on her face.  The doctor was standing about three feet from the bed, fully dressed and apparently sober.  He looked very mean.  His hands were clenched, his face was purple and he was grating his teeth.  She had a look of terror on her face.”

Dr. Dazey allegedly told Mildred he was “only fooling” and asked her to leave the room.  Doris never explained the incident to Mildred.

As George Dazey’s trial entered its second week the prosecutors offered their version of Doris’ death–they contended that the doctor had incapacitated his wife in some way then carried her body into their garage and placed her head near the car’s exhaust pipe. In fact Doris’ face was so near to the exhaust pipes that she received burns which the prosecution declared would have been highly improbably if she had committed suicide as had been suggested by George’s defense team.

spectators dazey trial

Unidentified women queued up to watch the trial of Dr. George Dazey.

Everyone who came to the courtroom on February 13, 1940 was there to hear the testimony of Dr. Dazey’s former nurse, and occasional “social companion”, Miss Frances Hansbury.  Frances had testified at the grand jury hearing that George had confessed to her that he had murdered Doris.

If the jury believed Frances it could be all over for George Dazey–he might dance into eternity at the end of a hangman’s noose.

NEXT TIME:  The trial and verdict.

The Woman in the Window [1944]

woman_in_the_window

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 WOMAN IN THE WINDOW [1944] starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea.

TCM says:

After seeing his wife and children off on a summer vacation, Richard Wanley, a middle-aged psychology professor, heads to see his friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor and Dr. Barkstane, at their men’s club. On his way to the club, the professor passes a portrait of a woman displayed in a gallery window and, mesmerized, pauses to admire the model’s beauty. While seated with his friends at the club, the professor confides that his life is stodgy and devoid of adventure, prompting Lalor to tease him about his wife’s absence and to warn him of the dangers of committing the slightest indiscretion.

What are the chances that Dr. Barkstane will heed his friend’s advice? How about zero to nil.

Enjoy the flm!

Justice Denied, Part 2

doris parentsDoris Dazey’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Walter B. Schwuchow, had spent the four years since their daughter’s death investigating their former son-in-law, Dr. George K. Dazey.

In 1935 Doris was found in the garage of the Santa Monica home she shared with George. She was wearing a night gown and her face was only inches away from the car exhaust–she expired from carbon monoxide poisoning. The authorities ruled her death a suicide, but there was no note and seemingly no cause for her to have taken her own life.  Her parents never believed that she would kill herself, not with a four month old child depending on her, so they undertook an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding her demise.

In bits and pieces the Schwuchows began to assemble a picture of their daughter’s marriage to Dr. Dazey, and it was very different from the public face the couple presented to the world. After speaking with Doris’ friends, and her former neighbors, the Schwuchows learned that her marriage to George was not ideal; in fact Doris had been contemplating divorce even though she’d been married to George for only a year.

As soon as George got wind of the Schwuchow’s statements he issued an immediate denial regarding their accusations:

“We were always happy, never quarreled. Sometimes Doris thought I was working too hard, but you couldn’t call that a quarrel, even when she protested my professional labors.”

“Once in a while she complained that she felt she was not doing her share because of ill-health, but I said we could keep all the servants necessary to aid her.”

If George had murdered Doris and then staged the scene in the garage, what was his motive? Doris had been an actress–she played the lead in “Ramona” for several years in the annual Hemet pageant–what if Doris planned to return to her career sans husband? She’d consulted with attorney Russell Parsons about a divorce, but it wasn’t clear if she had talked to George about it. If she had spoken with George he may have decided that one expensive alimony payment was enough–he was still paying off his first wife. In fact his ex- had taken him to court for back alimony and they’d had an acrimonious courtroom encounter not long before Doris died. It may have been enough sour George on another divorce and drive him to murder. Even though he made a bundle as a physician supporting two ex-wives, one with a child, would have been a financial burden.ramona

The money motive was a strong one, but then the Schwuchow’s revealed a secret that upped the ante even further and provided Dr. Dazey with a very compelling motive for murder. They said that Doris had told them the baby boy she’d had four months before she died may not have been George’s child.

George pooh-poohed the notion:

“Our boy was born two months prematurely.  I am a physician and know a premature baby when I see one.  The boy is in splendid health and looks just like me.”

Even if the baby was George’s as he contended, Miss Frances Hansbury, a nurse and personal friend of his, said that he had bragged to her about having committed “the perfect crime”.  Oh, and then there was a former watchman, Roland Seal, who said that on the fatal day he saw Dr. Dazey carrying what he thought was a woman’s body into the garage.

hansburyDr. Dazey continued to deny any responsibility for Doris’ death and said that the Schwuchow’s were trying to frame him:

“Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow have been trying to get the boy for themselves and because I won’t let them have him they are stirring up all this trouble.”

A grand jury was convened to delve into the circumstances of Doris Dazey’s death. The D.A. posited that the forty-one year old doctor had killed his wife in a domestic dispute. Seal, the former watchman, said that he had heard screams coming from the Dazey residence on the day Doris died. It was around dusk, he said, that he saw the physician carry the limp form of a woman from the house to the garage.

If we take Frances Hansbury’s and Roland Seal’s statements at face value they beg the question: why the hell didn’t one of them ever go to the police?

District Attorney Buron Fitts was satisfied with the case against Dr. Dazey, in fact he believed it might be strong enough to seek the death penalty. Dazey was indicted for murder.

George had no intention of giving his accusers the last word:

“Doris was the best wife any man could want—why in God’s name would I want to kill her?”  Not long before I found her dead, apparently a suicide from monoxide poisoning in our garage, a boy was born to us and we had everything to be happy about.”

Dazey continued:

“Why should she take her own life I do not know.  There is a far-fetched possibility that someone else may have done her harm, but the idea is so remote and I can think of no reason for it that I scarcely give credence to the thought.”

The doctor dismissed the accusation of his former nurse, and occasional dinner companion, by saying:

“As for Miss Frances Hansbury, who says I boasted to her of the ‘perfect crime,’ I can say nothing except that she was a friend–or I thought she was–and am at a loss to understand her action.”

“I knew Miss Hansbury about four years before my wife died.  I went out with her once or twice socially before marrying Doris and I think that once after I found my wife dead.  She is a nurse and I had employed her.  Our relationship was friendly, but also professional.”

As for the watchman, Roland Seal, Dr. Dazey seemed to be completely mystified by his involvement in the case:

“Roland Seal is a man I have never met, nor ever talked to to my knowledge.  Just what his interest in the case is I may never know, but he is not telling the truth when he says he saw me carry the body of my wife–or any woman–from my house to the garage on the day Mrs. Dazey met her tragic death.”

Dr. Dazey’s trial began in February 1940. The prosecution called its two star witnesses to the stand to lay the foundation for the case against him.

Roland Seal testified that:

“On the day Mrs. Dazey was found dead in the garage of her home I had occasion to pass her house several times.  Once I heard a scream, and just at sunset I saw Dr. Dazey carry a scantily clad woman from the house to the garage.  I paid no attention, thinking she was ill, and he might be taking her to a hospital.  Since then a friend of Dr. Dazey’s warned me that the physician would ‘take care of me’ if I talked.”

Interestingly, Seal’s memory seemed to improve with each retelling. At first he’d stated that he’d seen Dr. Dazey carrying something that he thought may have been a woman’s body into the garage. In court he said that it he definitely saw observed Dr. Dazy carrying a woman’s limp body and that she was “scantily clad”.

Miss Frances Hansbury was also an interesting witness for the prosecution.  She testified that she’d known Dr. Dazey for nine years and she still thought of him as a friend. She said:

“Dr. Dazey once confided in me he had committed the perfect crime.  Then, apparently fearful I might talk out of turn, he threatened my life and said he would ‘frame’ me as a dope addict.  I feel very sorry for Dr. Dazey and never would do anything to hurt him.  But I was in fear of my life and was forced to leave here and go to New York City.”

Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow reiterated what they had always believed: “We feel now as always that there was no cause for our daughter to take her own life. Beyond that, we have nothing to say.”

And Russell E. Parsons, Doris’ attorney (who became Deputy District Attorney in the years following her death) said:

“While a private attorney, Mrs. Dazey consulted with me about marital difficulties she said she was having with her husband.  Naturally, I cannot disclose publicly the nature of our conversation.”dazey and son

Even as he was preparing to face a jury on a murder charge, George Dazey went to court to battle his former in-laws for custody of four-year-old Walter who may, or may not, have been his biological son. Juvenile Judge W. Turney Fox denied the Schwuchow’s petition to have the child declared a ward of the court. There was sufficient evidence that Walter was devoted to his stepmother, Hazel Dorcas Dazey, and that it was in his best interests to let him stay where he was–Hazel was awarded custody of the little boy while George sorted out his legal problems. Dr. and Mrs. Schwuchow were given the right to take Walter for a visit every other weekend.

Would George Dazey’s murder trial go as well for him as the custody hearing had?  Maybe. If Hansbury and Seal were the D.A.’s best witnesses it would likely be an uphill battle to put the doctor in prison.

NEXT TIME:  Dr. Dazey’s murder trial.

Film Noir Friday: The Chase [1946]

ChasePoster2

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 CHASE [1946] starring Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan, Steve Cochran and Peter Lore.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Returning a lost wallet gains unemployed veteran Chuck Scott a job as chauffeur to Eddie Roman, a seeming gangster whose enemies have a way of meeting violent ends. The job proves nerve-wracking, and soon Chuck finds himself pledged to help Eddie’s lovely, fearful, prisoner-wife Lorna to escape. The result leaves Chuck caught like a rat in a trap, vainly seeking a way out through dark streets. But the real chase begins when the strange plot virtually starts all over again…

Justice Denied

In January 1923 Dr. George Kendall Dazey married Miss Frances French of Santa Monica. Frances was a graduate of Marlborough Girls’ School and, according to the wedding announcement in the Los Angeles Times she had “a wide circle of friends both in Phoenix and Salt Lake, as well as in this city.”  Dr. Dazey was originally from Forth Worth, Texas but had found his way to San Francisco which is where the couple was going to live following their honeymoon. The couple didn’t put down roots in the bay city though because sometime between 1923 and 1926 the Dazey’s returned to Southern California and settled in Santa Monica, not far from Frances’ family.

George’s medical practice was successful enough to allow him to invest in an exclusive beach club, Las Olas, that was going to be built on a stretch of beach midway between Venice and Playa Dely Rey.  The total cost for the site, structure, and furnishings was estimated to be approximately $350,000 (equivalent to $4.6 million in current dollars).  It would have been tasteless to report on the amount of money each man ponied up to earn a seat on the board of governors, but George must have kicked in a bundle because he was the chairman.las olas

Part of the reason for Dr. Dazey’s success was he treated celebrities. Among his famous patients was actress Mabel Normand.  Dazey was in constant attendance at Normand’s hospital bedside as she recovered from bronchial pneumonia during the early months of 1927.normand_dazey.pdf

George’s success as a doctor meant major lifestyle changes for the couple–they moved from Santa Monica to Beverly HIlls and lived in a large house on Moreno Drive.  But George and Frances’ marriage fell apart and in September 1931 she filed for a divorce. According to Frances, George had been living with a woman in a Santa Monica apartment. Frances wanted a share of $150,000 community property ($2.3 million in current dollars), custody of their child, and $1000 (equivalent to $15,400 in 2014 currency) a month for support.  She said George could afford it–he made $60,000 a year (that’s about $1 million dollars today).

In April 1935 Frances returned to Los Angeles from Honolulu to try to collect more than $750 in back alimony from George. She hadn’t managed to get the $1000 a month she’d asked for, but she did get $100 every month. One hundred dollars doesn’t sound like much now but in 1935 it had the same buying power as $1700–a fortune during the Great Depression when the average annual salary was $1500.

Frances figured George was good for the dough because he was living in luxury with his second wife, Mrs. Doris Dazey, a former actress. A superior court judge ruled against George’s request for a reduction in alimony payments and also cited the doctor for contempt for failing to deed a piece of real estate to his ex. George claimed that he had been ill and besides he had to support his second wife.

Wah, wah, wah.

However the judge did let George off the hook for the attorney fees that Frances had incurred while trying to get her money.

frances dazeyPresumably Frances took the next cruise ship back to Hawaii. George stayed in Los Angeles and tried to maintain his second wife in the style to which she had become accustomed.

On October 3, 1935, just months after his court battle with Frances, George’s second wife thirty-one year old Doris was dead. Doris and George had been married for only a year and they had a four-month old son. George said he found her body on the floor of the garage at their home on Twenty-third Street in Santa Monica. Her face was only eighteen inches away from the exhaust pipe of the car.

An autopsy was performed and it was determined that Doris had died of carbon-monoxide poisoning. George said that his wife was subject to fainting spells. Her father, Dr. Walter B. Schwuchow, corroborated George’s statement.

It was suggested that Doris may have committed suicide, but nobody who knew her believed that for a minute. Captain Greer of the LAPD said: “It is possible that she had a fainting spell while stepping from the car to open the (garage) door.”– and that was that.

Doris’ death came only a few months following George’s court battle with his ex-wife Frances. I have to wonder if Doris’ death solved any financial problems for him. There was no mention of life insurance in the newspaper reports. Some of the Dazey’s neighbors said that they had heard arguments and screams coming from the doctor’s home on the night of Doris’ death, but there was insufficient evidence to make a case.

Dr. Dazey buried his wife and resumed his life and medical practice–he even remarried in March 1938. But four years of innuendo and rumor finally caught up with him. In December 1939 he was charged with Doris’ murder.

Justice had been delayed–would it be denied?

NEXT TIME: Strange burns on the victim’s face and a motive for murder.

Film Noir Sunday Matinee: Alias Boston Blackie [1942] & After Midnight With Boston Blackie [1943]

I’ve been crazy busy the last couple of weeks so I slept right through Film Noir Friday! But the projector is back up and running, the popcorn machine is heating up and the sodas are chilled.

Put your feet up and get ready to enjoy a double feature.

Since it’s Sunday I thought it would be nice to offer a light weight film selection. So find a seat and join me in the Deranged L.A. Crimes screening room for a couple of WWII era BOSTON BLACKIE films starring Chester Morris.

Our first feature is ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE.

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TCM says:

Prompted by the sentiment of Christmas, reformed safecracker Boston Blackie persuades the cast of a musical comedy company to help him entertain the inmates at his “alma mater,” the state prison. The stars of the troupe are Roggi McKay, the famous clown, and a young dancer, Eve Sands, whose brother, Joe Trilby, is an inmate at the institution. Eve is anxious to see her brother, who was jailed on false evidence and who now he seeks revenge on Duke Banton and cab driver Steve Caveroni, the two men who framed him.

TIME FOR INTERMISSION!  YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS–LET’S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY!

Now for our second BOSTON BLACKIE feature, AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE.

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When Diamond Ed Barnaby is paroled from prison after serving a sentence for stealing diamonds, his fellow gang members, Joe Herschel, Sammy Walsh and Marty Beck, spring into action to reclaim the jewels. Anticipating trouble from Herschel and his gang, Diamond Ed tells his daughter Betty that he must leave town but will meet her at the Arcade Building on Friday. After retrieving the gems, Diamond Ed locks them in a safe deposit box at the Arcade Building, intending to give them to Betty. Several days later, a porter with a telegram for reformed jewel thief Boston Blackie pages him on a train. Inspector Farraday, Blackie’s nemesis, who is also a passenger on the train, identifies himself as Blackie and accepts the telegram.

Film Noir Friday: The Turning Point [1952]

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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 TURNING POINT [1952] starring William Holden, Edmond O’Brien, Alexis Smith. Remember, it’s not suitable for children.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Special prosecutor John Conroy hopes to combat organized crime in his city, and appoints his cop father Matt as chief investigator. John doesn’t understand why Matt is reluctant, but cynical reporter Jerry McKibbon thinks he knows: he’s seen Matt with mob lieutenant Harrigan. Jerry’s friendship for John is tested by the question of what to do about Matt, and by his attraction to John’s girl Amanda. Meanwhile, the threatened racketeers adopt increasingly violent means of defense.

Til Death Us Do Part, Conclusion

farewell kissGrace had been married to Francisco Mariani for four months before L.A. County Sheriff’s detectives told her that he was soliciting a hitman to kill her. Her first reaction was to file for a divorce—she should have gone through with it. I’d say that hiring a hitman to kill you rates orders of magnitude higher than the customary grounds for divorce such as infidelity and mental cruelty. But inexplicably Grace had a change of heart and resolutely stuck by her man.

Grace’s friends thought she was mad. The evidence against Francisco was compelling. They advised her to cut herself loose from the “dapper Puerto Rican” as he’d been described in the newspapers. At Francisco’s preliminary hearing Grace testified that on the morning of March 25th she’d handed him $100 check made out to cash. He said he needed the money to pay the taxes on his secondhand furniture store at 2198 Fair Oaks Avenue in Altadena. He pocketed the check gave his wife a “farewell kiss” and left. Several hours later he was arrested in a Gardena gambling joint for masterminding the murder plot.

Here at Deranged L.A. Crimes we know the value of keeping your own counsel. Taking another person into your confidence when you’re planning homicide is a mistake which often leads directly to the green room at San Quentin. Don’t pass GO. Forfeit the insurance money, property and your freedom. It’s a sucker’s game—but greedy people are short-sighted and they rarely see past their own desires. According to Mariani’s friend, Francisco Rodriguez, on an auto trip to Stockton in mid-March Mariani told him he wanted to do away with Grace. In an act of love and trust, Grace had signed her property into joint tenancy with her new husband. Isn’t that what married couples do? As soon as the paperwork had been notarized the plot against her gained traction.

It may have seemed to Marriani that having friends in low places, like Rodriguez, was going to come in handy. Rodriguez said he knew of an ex-con who might do the job—then stalled Mariani by telling him the guy was in Chicago. Rodriguez promised to see the assassin on Monday, March 23rd and arrange a meeting—but instead he high-tailed it over to the Pasadena Police Department and ratted out his future former friend.grace atttorney

Pasadena cops weren’t prepared to undertake the investigation so they referred Rodriguez to the Sheriff’s Department. That’s how Sgt. Clarence Serrano ended up playing the part of a killer-for-hire.

Grace wasn’t the only person to testify at Mariani’s preliminary hearing—Sgt. Serrano also took the stand. Serrano described Mariani as “cool customer”. They’d met three times: the first time was at Rodriguez’s apartment on East Holly Street in Pasadena; then later that same day they met for a second time at Mariani’s home. While Grace was out shopping her husband gave Sgt. Serrano a tour of the home. The third meeting was held the next morning at a downtown Pasadena street corner and final arrangements were made while the two men drove around the city in Mariani’s car and discussed how and when Grace would die.

Serrano asked Mariani when he wanted the job done and was told “Today would be fine. In fact, 12:30 this noon would be a good time. My wife will be alone”. Mariani then handed Serrano one of his old ties to be used as garotte to strangle Grace. Ostensibly the motive for the crime would be robbery. Mariani gave the false hitman instructions to ransack the house to make it look convincing but admonished: “When you’re ransacking the house, don’t muss up my shirts.” The sight of his wife’s purple and bloated face in death would not be too much for the grieving widower to bear, but wrinkled shirts, that was another matter entirely.

As proof that “the job” was done Serrano was to bring Grace’s diamond ring to the Gardena poker parlor where Mariani would be establishing an alibi for the time of the murder.

When Serrano arrived at the Gardena gambling den he walked up to Mariani, who turned away from his card game for a moment, and asked: “Did you get the job done?” The deputy/hitman said “Yeah, man!” Mariani asked: “Did she scream?” Serrano replied: “No—but I had a little trouble. Hurry up and give me the money.” “Let me see the ring” Mariani demanded. That was when the other Sheriff’s detectives appeared and took Mariani to jail.

The D.A. was confident that he had enough evidence to take Mariani to trial. He couldn’t wait to get Sgt. Serrano on the stand to describe the conversations he’d had with Mariani about the murder. Even better Mariani had been recorded describing the plot in great detail to the would-be killer.

Mariani was held to answer for the plot against Grace, but he lucked out on the suspected poisoning of his sister-in-law. Grace had signed-off on the exhumation of her sister, Emeline Sullivan. The Frederick Newbarr, the coroner, had autopsied the body and found no evidence of strychnine. That was the only good news Mariani would get.

At his trial Mariani entered dual pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. He professed his undying love for Grace: “I’m still in love with my wife. I hope that this trial will bring out the true facts of the case, and that we can go back together again when it is over.” It remained to be seen if the jury of eleven women and one man would buy his story.

Even as the case against her husband grew stronger Grace told reporters: “I definitely feel he is innocent of trying to have me killed. I still love him.” Grace was finally permitted to visit her homicidal spouse. It was an emotional reunion—the two fell into each others arms and sobbed.grace francisco

Grace made a surprise appearance at the trial on the day the wire recording of Mariani, coldly plotting her murder, was played. When she first entered the courtroom she darted over to the defense table, took her husband’s hands in her own and said: “Darling, it is so good to see you again.” On the recording jurors heard the softly accented voice of a Puerto Rican man as he complained to the hitman how difficult it was to hire a killer in L.A. County: “It’s easier in New York.” he said. Further into the recording Mariani described himself as a godless man. According to Sgt. Serrano the defendant held the small gold cross dangling from his neck and said: My wife thinks I believe in this now. She thinks she converted me when she married me but I don’t believe in this at all.”

Nothing she heard seemed to matter to Grace—she was a woman in love, or at least a woman with serious delusions. She flatly refused to testify against Francisco.

Mariani at first denied that it was his voice on the wire recording—he insisted that someone was playing a very unfunny prank. He later admitted that the voice was his but claimed entrapment. That line of defense went nowhere so he backtracked and claimed that he had been forced by his former pal, Francisco Rodriguez, to plot Grace’s murder. He said he’d been duped into becoming involved in the plot. The alleged motive for Rodriguez to pressure Mariani into murder was that he wanted the two of them to open a gambling casino in Puerto Rico.Untitled

Grace was unshaken by the testimony or the recording and reaffirmed her commitment to stand by her husband: “I am in this situation because I believe that I love my husband, yes; but also I am involved out of a sense of duty as a wife.” Her resolve may have been weakening. Maybe her friends were finally getting through to her. She told reporters that the fact that she was standing by her spouse didn’t mean that they would automatically reconcile following the trial: We will have to talk that over between ourselves. We will have to find some common ground on which to build a new life together.” A murder plot doesn’t sound like a very sturdy foundation on which to build a marriage—but maybe that’s just me.

I’ve got to hand it to Grace, she took her marriage vows seriously. She even said that she would devote her life to her husband’s mental recovery. Apparently she ascribed the murder plot to his mental state rather than his avarice.

In the end it didn’t matter what Grace did because the jury found Mariani guilty of soliciting murder.

Pasadena Superior Judge Benjamin J. Scheinman sentenced the “dapper Puerto Rican” to from one to five years in prison. Mariani wept as the verdict was read, wiping his eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief (a gift from Grace).

“I am not guilty. This whole deal was engineered by Francisco Rodriguez, my supposed ‘friend’ who hoped to entrap me with the law and take over the money and the affections of my wife.”mariani guilty

Francisco Mariani was hustled off to the state pen where, if he behaved himself, he likely got out after three years—but that’s merely speculation. I couldn’t locate any information on him subsequent to his imprisonment.

Did Grace wait for him? I couldn’t find out, but I sincerely hope not.