Film Noir Friday, on Saturday: Wiretapper [1955]

wiretapper_1955

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 WIRETAPPER starring Bill Williams and Georgia Lee.

Mark Twain succinctly summed up my love of true crime with this wonderful quote: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  This film is based on a true story with an ending that could only happen in real life.  Jim Vaus was associated with Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, but his life took many unexpected turns–which explains why you see Reverend Billy Graham in the poster.  If you are interested in learning more about Jim Vaus you may want to read MY FATHER WAS A GANGSTER by Will Vaus — it’s available on Kindle!

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

During World War II, Jim Vaus, an army electronics specialist, is serving a prison sentence for having stolen equipment from the army. Because Jim has arranged for released prisoners to mail letters he has written to his girl friend, Alice, Alice thinks that he is still on active duty. When the war ends, the prison chaplain informs Jim that the President has reviewed his, and others’ cases, and that he is to be released. The chaplain, aware of Jim’s letters to Alice, strongly advises him to tell her about his past. However, when Jim returns to Los Angeles, he buys a captain’s uniform and some medals, then goes to visit Alice, her mother and younger sister Helen and lies that he has just finished active service.

 

Movie Ticket Giveaway: SUBURBICON

suburbicon_poster

Thanks to Paramount Pictures, I have four pairs of tickets to give away for the movie SUBURBICON.  The passes will be good for an advance screening on Tuesday, October 24th at the Landmark Theater at the Westside Pavillion (10850 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064) at 7:00 pm. Winners will need to arrive by 6:30 pm to pick up their tickets and should proceed directly to the table in the theater lobby — no need to wait in the general admission line.

The way to win a pair of tickets is simply to submit your name to jrenner@derangedlacrimes.com and  reference “SUBURBICON TICKETS” in the subject line. 

Submit your information by 6 pm Pacific Time on Friday, October 20, 2017 for a random drawing. Winners will be announced on Saturday, October 21, 2017. 

GOOD LUCK!

Here is a description of the film:

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic, suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns — the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit and violence.

Film Noir Friday: City That Never Sleeps [1953]

city that never sleeps

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 CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS starring Gig Young and Mala Powers.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Chicago cop Johnny Kelly, dissatisfied with his job and marriage, would like to run away with his stripper girlfriend Angel Face, but keeps getting cold feet. During one crowded night, Angel Face decides she’s had enough vacillation, and crooked lawyer Biddel has an illegal mission for Johnny that could put him in a financial position to act. But other, conflicting schemes are also in progress…

Hollywood Cliff Murder, Conclusion

Illinois native Pearl Wessel moved to Los Angeles for the first time in 1928.  Whatever dreams brought her here died with her on April 2, 1940 at the bottom of a 60 foot cliff in the Hollywood hills.

trail of death_hollywood cliff murder

LAPD arrested two men for Pearl’s death,  Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Neither of them would admit to knowing Pearl, let alone having anything to do with her death.  The problem for Lesley was that a witness had taken down the license plate number of the car that drove away after Pearl went over the cliff–and the number matched the car registered to Lesley.A description of Pearl went out to local eateries and bars in an effort to find out where, and with whom, she had spent her time on the day of her death. William J. Moran, a bartender in a place at 608 S. Western Avenue said he was sure Pearl had been drinking in his bar with two men. He didn’t know the men, but felt he could identify them. LAPD detectives gave William the opportunity to be a stand-up citizen by inviting him to attend a line-up in which the two suspects would participate.hollywood cliff murder headline4

William identified Leslie by his voice. William had recalled that when of the one of the men at the bar was asked about places he had worked he had mentioned Sacramento. Each of the men in the lineup was asked to say “Sacramento”. When Leslie was instructed to repeat the word Moran looked at the detectives and said, “That’s one of the men. I’m dead sure of it.” William wasn’t so sure about the second man, Alberni Roggers. Another witness, Alfred Dobriener, thought he recognized Leslie, but wasn’t willing to go on the record and identify him. All he would say is that, “He (Alberni) looks more like the man than any in the line-up.”

Once he had been identified by two witnesses, Leslie copped to having been with Pearl, but he still wouldn’t admit to responsibility for her death. He did, however, name the man who was actually with him. It wasn’t Alberni, it was a 32 year-old married salesman named Brydon Stockdale. Leslie’s statement was enough for police to issue a State-wide broadcast for his arrest. It didn’t take long for Brydon to be found. About two hours after the initial broadcast, he was taken into custody in Redlands by San Bernardino County Sheriff E.L. Shay. According to Shay, Brydon had been arrested as he stepped off a bus.

LAPD Detective Lieutenants Fred Trosper and Emmett Jones left for Redlands immediately to return the suspect to Los Angeles for questioning.

Only Alberni was given good news. Because it was determined that he had had nothing to do with the crime he was kicked loose from the County Jail.

While Brydon was en route to Los Angeles, Lesley’s tongue loosened. He finally admitted that he and Brydon had been bar hopping with Pearl before they drove to Franklin Avenue. He steadfastly maintained that he had not pushed Pearl to her death. Leslie said that Pearl ran from the car and fell over the cliff. Of course his statement begs the question, why did Pearl feel she had to run?

hollywood cliff murder headline3At the Coroner’s inquest Dr. Frank R. Webb, autopsy surgeon, testified that Pearl had died of a skull fracture and that her blood alcohol level was .22, enough for her to be intoxicated.

Brydon took the stand and gave his account of the night Pearl died. He said that he had met Leslie, whom he had known prior to that night, and Pearl, in a bar on S. Western. When he and Leslfey decided to leave, Pearl accompanied them.

Brydon said he took the wheel of Lesley’s car, “I got in the driver’s seat because I didn’t think Williams was in a condition to drive. He directed me to drive to a place he knew where Miss Wessel could get something to eat. We ended up at the end of Franklin Avenue. When I got out of the car and saw where we were, I told Williams the situation was no good. I left the car again and when I returned Williams and the woman were in the back seat.”

“They were having a drunken argument about something and the door, facing the embankment, was open. I told them we were going to get out of there. Then the girl leaped out and started stumbling toward what I thought was a trail. Williams started to drive away. I protested, saying we ought not to leave the woman there. He drove off anyway.” Brydon stepped down from the witness stand and his wife Mildred walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him–then the two of them burst into tears.

Lesley refused to testify.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Brydon and his wife embrace.

Lesley stood trial alone for Pearl’s murder. On June 19, 1940 the jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal and was discharged.

It was reported that Lesley would be retried, but he never was.

So, what really did happen on Franklin that night?

Why was Pearl drinking in a bar on her own? It wasn’t typical behavior for a woman at that time.  I get the impression that Pearl may have been lonely. Is that why she left the bar with two strangers?

Even though Brydon claimed to be entirely innocent, and was subsequently freed, he was driving that night. Why did he drive to the lover’s lane on Franklin?  Did he know it was there, or was he simply following Lesley’s directions?  And when the car pulled into the dark and lonely spot, did Pearl and Lesley have an argument? Did she get out of the car in high dudgeon and run not knowing she was headed for a 60 foot cliff?

Or were the events more sinister? Did one, or both, of the men intend to assault Pearl? Did Pearl realize she was in danger and panic?  And did one or both of them push her over the cliff?

In this case, as in so many, we are left with many more questions than answers.  We’ll never know what transpired between Pearl, Lesley and Brydon, so it is difficult to determine whether or not justice was served. No matter how events played out that April night, the result was a tragedy for Pearl.

Hollywood Cliff Murder, Part 1

On April 2, 1940, Paul Cote was in his home on the 8700 block of Hollywood Blvd when a young man knocked on the front door. The young man was frantic. He pointed to a spot across the street where a body lay crumpled on the pavement. “Call an ambulance!  A young woman’s been hurt.”  Then the young man disappeared. Cole dialed the operator to summon emergency services and the police.  The woman was taken to Hollywood Receiving Hospital where Dr. G.E. Christian pronounced her dead. She had perished from a skull fracture, broken neck and other injuries. The dead woman was identified as Pearl Wessel.
pearl wesselClose on the heels of the first man’s visit to Cote’s home another young man, twenty year-old Alfred Dobriener of 1625 Sunset Plaza Drive, came to Cote’s door. He said that he’d been hiking in the hills above Franklin Avenue when he noticed an old car parked in an open space at the end of that street. From his vantage point, Alfred saw a man in the front seat and a man and a blond woman struggling in the back seat.

Alfred said, “The woman’s head kept bobbing in and out of the car as if she were being struck in the face.  Soon the man (from the backseat) shoved her from the car and she fell on the ground. The man, who was tall and dark, got out of the front seat and picked her up.  While she was still struggling, he dragged her to the edge of the bluff and shoved her over.  She did not scream.  The men got in the car and left.”

Alfred thought quickly and took down the license plate number of the car–and that is when he ran over to Cote’s house to get help. The police kept the name of the car’s registered owner to themselves until they could locate him and bring him in for questioning.

A third witness came forward. He said that he had seen a woman running down Franklin prior to Pearl’s fall. Was it Pearl?

suspects_hollywood cliff murderDetective Lieutenant S.R. Lopez of the the LAPD said that Pearl had either gone to the end of the bus line and hiked up Franklin to take in the view alone, or she had ridden up in the car with the two men to the top of the hill.  By virtue of its seclusion and spectacular views the spot was a local lover’s lane. But why would Pearl have gone there with two men?”

By the next day police had pieced together a little more of Pearl’s life.  She lived at 694 S. Hobart Blvd. where she roomed with Mrs. P.A. Boyle.  Mrs. Boyle provided detectives with some personal information about Pearl. She said, “Miss Wessel had an income from some property near St. Louis, Missouri and sometimes she took special secretarial jobs (in Los Angeles). She has been happy visiting Southern California.”

Pearl had been dividing her time between Los Angeles and St. Louis since 1928. Sh had gone to St. Louis to celebrate the New Year and then returned to Los Angeles shortly afterward and resumed her work as a stenographer.

On April 4th, police had two men in custody for questioning in Pearl’s death; Lesley Al Williams and Alberni Roggers. Lesley, a self-proclaimed “mixologist” was the registered owner of the car and he was arrested at his home at 815 W. Sixth Street and booked on suspicion of murder.

Lesley’s wife Daisy, from whom he appeared to be estranged, spoke to police from her home at 727 S. Olive Street. She told the police that Lesley was chummy with another bartender named Alberni Roggers. The police busted him at his home at 833 W. Ninth Street.

Lesley and Alberni both denied having any connection with Pearl. At the death scene Police Chemist Ray Pinker found scuff marks consistent with the witnesses statements that Pearl had been dragged from the parked car before going over the cliff. Tire marks discovered at the scene matched the tires on Lesley’s car.

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935 Photo courtesy LAPL

Ray Pinker, Police Chemist c. 1935
Photo courtesy LAPL

The evidence against the two men, particularly Lesley, was damning. Still, it was possible that police had arrested the wrong men. What if the witness had transposed or mistaken a number on the license plate of the car?

NEXT TIME: Another suspect is identified as the investigation into Pearl’s murder continues.

Film Noir Friday: Half A Sinner [1940]

HALF A SINNER

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 HALF A SINNER, based on a story by Dalton Trumbo.  The message is carpe diem, and who can argue with that?  It’s all fluff, no substance, but fun. The film stars Heather Angel and John King.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Ignoring the advice of her crochety old grandmother, straightlaced schoolteacher Anne Gladden decides to discard her glasses, buy a new outfit and relish one day of freedom doing exactly as she pleases. Things don’t work out exactly as she has planned, however, when, to avoid the unwelcome advances of a gangster, Anne jumps into a parked limousine and speeds away. Unknown to Anne, the car is stolen and a dead body is stashed in the back seat.

NOTE:  There are a couple of commercials, but you can skip them. I put up with the minor annoyance because it’s a good copy of the film.

mother! Ticket Giveaway

motheronlineverticalteaser

Thanks to Paramount Pictures, I have two pairs of tickets to give away for the movie mother!  The passes will be good for any Cinemark theater playing the film in the Los Angeles area beginning Monday, September 18, 2017.  The passes will be honored on weekdays only (excluding holidays).

The way to win a pair of tickets is simply to submit your name and mailing address to jrenner@derangedlacrimes.com

Submit your information by 6 pm Pacific Time on Saturday, September 16, 2017 for a random drawing. Winners will be announced on Sunday, September 17, 2017.

GOOD LUCK!

Here is a description of the film:

A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence. From filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer in this riveting psychological thriller about love, devotion and sacrifice.’

Film Noir Friday: Phantom of Chinatown [1940]

phantom-of-chinatown-poster

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 PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN starring Keye Luke, Lotus Long and Grant Withers.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Dr. John Benton, in San Francisco following an archaeological expedition in the Mongolian desert, gives a film presentation for his colleagues. The film shows his discovery of the precious ancient tomb of a Ming emperor, for which archaeologists have been searching for centuries. The tomb contains a scroll that tells the secret of the Temple of Eternal Fire, which is of great financial importance to China as it could reveal an enormous untapped reserve of oil. The film of the trip shows a violent windstorm that erupted when the tomb was opened, in keeping with an ancient curse. Mason, the co-pilot on the trip, was lost during the storm, and the expedition party was forced to continue on without him.

The Burton Gang’s Last Job, Conclusion

Not long after the bloody shootout between the Burton gang and Sheriff’s deputies at the Union Ice Company, in which all of the bandits except J.W. Gilkye were killed, deputies found Edward Burton’s girlfriend. Investigators located the young woman in a room at the Superior Hotel. She was taken into custody under her alias, Mary Dayke, but quickly revealed her given name, Evelyn Smith.

burton gang_gilkye mug_crop

Smith, like Burton, was from Chicago. Questioned by Chief of Criminal Investigation, A.L. Manning and Deputy Sheriff Chester Allen, Smith said that she had no idea what Burton was up to or why he had left Chicago for Los Angeles. “I know nothing of Burton’s crimes. I did not realize he was leading a life of crime until he was arrested in the raid. Even then I did not believe he was the man who shot the motor officer.

Smith continued: “I came out from Chicago last May to join Burton. Be he soon lost interest in me. He told me I was not the kind of a girl to stick with him. Last Tuesday afternoon, only a few hours before he was killed, he accused me of being too inquisitive. He said I asked too many questions, told me to mind my own business. And then he beat me severely.”

Sheriff’s investigators asked Smith about the two one-way train tickets to Chicago that were found in Burton’s coat pocket, but again she claimed to know nothing. Evidently, Burton had a new woman in his life; a blonde with bobbed hair who had accompanied the bandit gang on a number of robberies. Smith said Burton planned to “ditch” her for his new squeeze and leave Smith in Los Angeles to fend for herself.

burton gang_evelyn smith_chester allen

Sheriff’s deputies conducted raids at several locations in an attempt to round up other members of the gang. The lawmen came up empty. The gunsels, aware that the deputies wielded sawed-off shotguns and were prepared to do battle, had fled the city for parts east.

Only J.W. Gilkye, the lone bandit to survive, was left to answer for the crimes he and his fellow thugs had perpetrated. Gilkye survived only because he had dropped his weapon and refused to fight when deputies drew down on him at the ice company.

During questioning, Gilkye said: “You got enough on me without me telling you more.” And then he proceeded to tell Chief Deputy Manning a lot more.  Like many crooks Gilkye loved the sound of his own voice and couldn’t resist crowing about his criminal accomplishments and playing the tough guy. “I may get hooked for a long time up the road, but I ain’t through yet. We were double-crossed, we were, by one of our own gang. But I’ll get him if it takes all my life. He double-crossed us and caused three of my best pals to get killed. But they were nervy–had the goods.”  The “goods” can’t do much for you when you’re dead.

Gilkye wasn’t as nervy as his pals had been, so he lived to tell the tale.  He was tried and convicted for his part in the ice company job, but before he left Los Angeles County Jail for San Quentin, he nearly made good on his promise to get even with the man who had dropped a dime on the gang.

The snitch was Roy Melendez. Melendez and Gilkye encountered each other in the County Jail where, according to witnesses, Gilkye “roared like an infuriated animal” when Melendez was placed in lock-up. Gilkye would have murdered Melendez with his bare hands if jail attendants hadn’t intervened.

Melendez may have met a bad end even though Gilkye wasn’t able to lay another finger on him. When Melendez failed to appear in court on a bum check charge an unnamed official opined: “Either Melendez has been killed or they have made it so hot for him he is afraid to show up.” A bench warrant was issued for Melendez, but he was nowhere to be found.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department breathed a sigh of relief. The Burton gang’s brief reign in Los Angeles was over.

* * *

Late in February 1923, two men from Chicago arrived in Los Angeles. The men weren’t tourists, they were on a mission to assassinate the deputies they held responsible for killing Edward Burton and two members of his gang during the shootout at Union Ice Company. The men made inquiries around town in an attempt to learn as much as they could about their targets. While the hitmen were compiling dossiers on their targets, the targets themselves were conducting their business as usual.  Deputies William Bright, Spike Modie, Chester Allen and Norris Stensland didn’t know they were being hunted.burton gang_gunmen headline

At about 1 a.m. on the morning of March 7, 1923,  William Bright and Spike Moody left Sheriff’s headquarters. They climbed into Moody’s Stutz and headed up Broadway. They turned west on Temple and continued down the dark, deserted street. After traveling a few blocks they eyeballed a sedan with the side curtains pulled down. They wouldn’t have paid the automobile much attention except that it was trailing them too closely for their comfort. Knowing that they had enemies in the underworld Moody and Bright readied their weapons. As they prepared themselves for a possible gunfight, Moody and Bright watched the sedan suddenly swing off into a side street and disappear.

A few blocks later the mysterious sedan lurched out of a side street onto Temple and passed the Stutz at a high rate of speed. Moody and Bright saw the side curtains part and a shotgun appear. A second shotgun appeared from the tonneau, the rear passenger compartment of the sedan, and both unleashed a volley fire at Modie and Bright. The deputies pulled out their revolvers and returned fire. Bright fired through the windshield of the Stutz. Fortunately for the deputies, the would-be assassins aim went high when their sedan hit a pothole.

Stutz c. 1923

Stutz c. 1923

Moody jammed his foot down on the accelerator and gave chase as the sedan drew away. Bright continued to return fire. Bright may have scored a hit. The sedan skidded across the street into a telephone pole. The sedan sagged with one broken wheel. Three men jumped from the car and fled, but not before firing again at the deputies.

Bright and Moody gave chase on foot but the men vanished into the darkness. Returning to the crippled sedan Bright found a hat with a jagged hole through the crown. The wearer had narrowly escaped death. The hat bore the name of a Chicago hatter.

Sheriff’s investigators located the gunmen’s hotel room. They also identified a few of the shooters acquaintances who, under orders from Sheriff Traeger, were kept under surveillance.

Deputies Bright, Moody, Stensland and Allen prepared themselves for the possibility of another attack–but it never came. The Burton gang seems to have departed Los Angeles forever.

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

This is such a great photo I decided to post it again!

NOTE:  Once again, I am indebted to Mike Fratantoni. His knowledge of L.A.’s law enforcement and criminal history is encyclopedic.

It can be frustrating to pin down accurate spellings of proper names in these historic tales. Often reporters phoned a story into a rewrite person at the newspaper who phonetically spelled a person’s name. Edward Burton was in some reports, Edwin. Another example, Spike Moody’s surname has appeared as Modie. Judging from the above photo it should be the former spelling.